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Miami Marlins taking "three true outcomes" approach

The Miami Marlins' offense lead the league in walks and strikeouts and they are not far behind the lead in home runs, making the club's offensive approach a "three true outcomes" affair.

Giancarlo Stanton typifies the three true outcomes approach of the 2014 Marlins.
Giancarlo Stanton typifies the three true outcomes approach of the 2014 Marlins.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

An interesting tidbit came about during a recent Miami Marlins broadcast and during my interview with Kyle Lobner prior to the start of the Milwaukee Brewers series. The Marlins' offense, which has surprised many during this regular season, lead all of baseball in walks and strikeouts heading into this past weekend's series with the Brewers. This is a surprising number given that last season, Miami was a fairly nondescript 23rd in baseball in walks and 10th in the league in strikeouts. The team has boosted its ability to get on base, but struck out a lot more along the way.

Whenever you get into a discussion about walks and home runs, it should be mentioned that those are "true outcomes," or outcomes that are independent of defensive or fielding play. The Marlins actually excel in the third part of that category as well: home runs. The Fish garnered a major power surge in 2014, tied for fifth in all of baseball with 54 homers so far this season. This is also a far cry from last year, when the Fish were dead last in home runs with just 93 to their name.

With that, it is clear that Miami has been emphasizing the "three true outcomes" in 2014, with a huge share of their offense covered by strikeouts, walks, and home runs. In fact, the Marlins are sixth in baseball in three true outcomes percentage (TTO%) this year.

Rank Team, 2014 K% (Rank) BB% (Rank) HR (Rank) TTO%
1 Minnesota Twins 22.5 (T-5) 10.3 (2) 36 (25) 33.4
2 Houston Astros 23.2 (3) 8.3 (13) 54 (T-5) 32.2
T-3 Boston Red Sox 21.5 (9) 9.9 (T-3) 39 (20) 32.0
T-3 Chicago Cubs 23.4 (T-1) 8.1 (16) 42 (19) 32.0
5 New York Mets 22.2 (7) 8.6 (T-8) 33 (28) 31.5
T-6 Miami Marlins 22.5 (T-5) 8.8 (7) 54 (T-5) 31.4
30 Kansas City Royals 15.2 (30) 7.1 (T-24) 20 (T-30) 22.6

The Marlins are getting a lot of each of the results, as they are the only team in baseball ranked in the top 10 of every category in the three true outcomes. The Fish have ridden a patience-and-power approach to a top-10 offense that ranks fourth in baseball when not including pitcher hitting.

How are the Marlins accomplishing this feat? The club is surprisingly not doing it with an over-the-top patient approach. Miami ranks 18th in swing rate and 15th in swing rate on pitches outside the zone. This means the team is pretty solidly middle-of-the-pack in terms of plate discipline and selection. The reason for their strikeouts is still obvious, as Miami is third to last in contact rate.

It turns out the crucial difference this year is the percentage of pitches inside the strike zone. Miami's zone percentage is second to last in the majors, ahead of only the San Francisco Giants. The Fish are getting very little to hit, which is a huge difference from last season. Last year, due to the Fish boasting a horrific lineup for most of the year, the team ended up with the eighth-highest zone percentage, having seen about three percentage points of pitches in the zone more than this year. That huge chunk of extra strikes has made the difference in the Marlins' walk rate despite the team's average plate recognition. To some degree, that is understandable; after all, Giancarlo Stanton is seeing the lowest number of strikes in baseball.

But is the three true outcomes approach borne of this change in zone rate the actual reason why Miami is doing so well? As you will note, none of the other teams in the top six in three true outcomes have a top-10 offense like Miami's. The best of those teams is the Twins, who rank 20th in baseball when considering non-pitcher hitting. Miami is one of two teams in the top 10 in offenses with a strikeout rate above 20 percent as well, meaning the only negative true outcome is a rarity for teams at the top.

It turns out Miami is helping to keep their offense afloat with their batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is still third-highest in baseball at .321 for nonpitchers. But the fact that Miami is still depending on that is less relevant now than it would have been, say, last season. Miami's top marks in walks and home runs should help keep them afloat when the team's streak of good fortune on balls in play falters. When the balls stop dropping in bit by bit in Miami, the Marlins of old would have suffered because they had no power and could not get on base otherwise; last year's roster was filled with pop-less bats that needed singles to get aboard. This year, the additions of Christian Yelich full time, Derek Dietrich, Garrett Jones, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have added more power and more ability to get on base outside of base hits, so the team should be better able to weather the storm.

The three true outcomes approach itself is not what is making Miami a juggernaut offensively early in the season. But having that patience and the home runs should help the Fish do better even when their luck runs out. That is a far cry and a major improvement from last year.