For the fourth time in five years, Mike Trout may not win the AL MVP award, despite yet another outstanding season by the Los Angeles Angel. Entering play Monday, Trout had put up a triple-slash of .312/.431/.546, accumulating 24 home runs, 21 stolen bases, 82 RBI’s and 98 runs. Defensively Trout has ranked about league average, but advanced metrics have been bullish on him in the past, and to the naked eye he can still impress with his glove. His base-running has been great, per usual, and looks to once again be in the running for AL MVP. Other candidates, like Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve, come and go from year-to-year, but Trout can always be counted on to be right in the thick of the race.
A friend of mine recently asked me, “How good is Mike Trout really?” Most people probably wouldn’t give much thought to this question, for Trout is the best, but it sure is a good one. In the context of baseball history, where is Mike Trout? I myself would like to know. Therefore, I decided to study up on this question so that I could provide a way-too-long-and-probably-unnecessary answer. For the purposes of this exercise, I will be looking at players primarily through their age-24 seasons, as Trout just turned 25 on August 7th, 2016 is considered to be in his age-24 season as well.
The first thing I would like to look at is how Trout compares to some of the best players of the last 30 years or so. The following graph compares the beginning of Trout’s career to 15 of the best players of the recent past, sorted by total WAR, through each player’s age-24 season:
As you can see, Trout is ahead of everyone; and frankly, it isn’t even close. The names on this list are nothing to joke about either. Despite what you may think about Alex Rodriguez, he is one of the 10-15 best position of all time. Ken Griffey Jr. was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Barry Bonds has more home runs than anybody in history. Even the names towards the bottom of this list, such as Carlos Beltran and Manny Ramirez, are potential Hall of Fame candidates. Essentially, based on WAR, Trout has shown better early-career production than any of the top position players of the past three decades.
For people who prefer not to rely strictly on metrics like WAR, I have gone through and highlighted the top three players in each stat category as well. I chose to exclude runs and RBI’s, as those numbers are partially related to a team’s batting order as a whole (although Trout did rank 2nd and 5th respectively in those categories). What should jump out at you is that no player on the list made it into the top three in any more than two stat categories, that is, other than Mike Trout. Trout, in fact, leads in double that number with four. Despite being tied for 6th on the list in batting average, he jumps up into 3rd place in overall OPS on the strength of a .402 OBP and a .558 SLG%. Furthermore, by placing top-3 in triples and stolen bases as well as in home runs, Trout demonstrates the speed/power combo that has made him such a standout player early in his career.
Now, let’s up the standards a bit and compare Trout to some of the best players of all time, again taking the accumulation of numbers through each players’ age-24 season (note that I have excluded Babe Ruth, who did not do much hitting prior to the age of 25)…
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