History, Peaks, and Mike Trout: The Five-Year Update

It’s possible, if not probable, that the BBWAA will fail to elect Mike Trout next month as the American League’s Most Valuable Player for the fourth time in five years, a near half-decade-long stretch of what’s difficult to be viewed as anything other than illogical thinking or misguided debate mongering that, if continued, will likely be looked upon decades from now by the baseball community with a sense of regret and confusion.

This marks the third consecutive year (2014, 2015) in which I’ve updated the historical context of Trout’s current run, and each season, the already obvious becomes even more apparent: Mike Trout isn’t just the best player in baseball; he’s one of the greatest ever to walk the earth. He is Mickey Mantle. He is Willie Mays. He is Barry Bonds, before the steroids. Steroid-era Bonds aside, Trout’s probably the best baseball player most people reading this post have ever seen.

The back and forth over the finer points of the subjectivity of the word “valuable” has grown tired, as has the common refrain of those who suggest “It isn’t the Most Outstanding Player Award.” And, it’s true — that’s not the name of the award. But, at a certain point, doesn’t “outstanding” win out? When the “outstanding” stands for “as or more outstanding than Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski and Joe DiMaggio ever were,” can’t that make up for whatever arbitrary standard one has set in order to create a universe in which all-time great season after all-time great season can be met with a second-place finish and a pat on the back at the end of the year?

Mike Trout took 11% of the Angels’ plate appearances this season and pitched 0% of their innings. Who cares who his teammates were? Does anyone remember who Ernie Banks‘ teammates were in 1959, when the Cubs went 74-80? No, because Ernie Banks played on those teams, and that’s all that mattered, because Ernie Banks was clearly the Most Valuable Player in baseball that year. Mike Trout is the most valuable player in the world.

It doesn’t actually matter to any one of us, personally. But it’s unfortunate for Mike Trout. It’s unfortunate for Mike Trout’s parents, and for Mike Trout’s friends, and his fiancee, and his coaches past and present, and for the scout who signed him, and for anyone along the way who’s helped him become the person and player he is today. Not that any of those folks, especially Trout himself, should require any sort of added recognition in order to fully appreciate what Trout’s achieved. But it’s a shame that all those people aren’t getting the chance to rightfully celebrate what they all know to be true, particularly when Trout’s organization has already necessitated such a shortage of celebration as is. And it’s a shame for the future fans of baseball, as we’re writing a history that will lie to them.

Maybe we can all be pleasantly surprised when the year-end award results are announced and, the voters having realized it’s nearly impossible to build an objective case to the contrary, Trout wins the MVP. Maybe all those people will get to celebrate, and the history books will be able to tell a more authentic story than the one they’ll tell about 2012, 2013, and 2015.

We can all hope to be pleasantly surprised, but at the same time, there’s nothing most of us can do about it. So we look to the numbers. We look to the numbers, because they’re the one thing over which Mike Trout has complete control, the thing which no vote can change. We look to the numbers and we smile, regardless of which stranger gets to put the octagonal plaque with Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ face in the middle of it on their bookshelf of the home we’ll never be inside. We look to the numbers and we smile, because we get to watch Mike Trout play baseball.

And so without further adieu, below is the massive, annual, sortable table, containing the 100 players in the modern era with the greatest stretches of dominance, this year in five-season peaks, and a collection of assorted musings after the jump. Please, spend some time sorting and playing around with this, and share your favorite fun facts in the comments below:

The Top-100 Five-Year Position Player Peaks, 1921-Present
No. Name Years Age AVG OBP SLG wRC+ HR SB BsR Def tWAR HOF?
1 Babe Ruth 1920-24 25-29 .370 .511 .777 218 235 59 -5.3 10.4 59.0 X
2 Barry Bonds 2000-04 35-39 .339 .535 .781 220 258 46 1.4 -13.7 53.0
3 Ted Williams 1941-48* 22-29* .362 .508 .658 207 168 9 -3.0 -25.3 51.9 X
4 Willie Mays 1962-66 31-35 .304 .382 .601 170 223 59 6.9 82.5 51.2 X
5 Rogers Hornsby 1921-25 25-29 .402 .474 .690 201 144 43 -2.5 25.2 51.1 X
6 Mickey Mantle 1954-58 22-26 .325 .451 .618 189 192 57 10.3 6.0 48.0 X
7 Lou Gehrig 1927-31 24-28 .354 .458 .677 189 196 47 -14.3 -33.4 47.8 X
8 Joe Morgan 1972-76 28-32 .303 .431 .499 165 108 310 39.1 52.1 47.5 X
9 Mike Trout 2012-16 20-24 .310 .410 .564 171 163 139 41.0 10.9 47.4
10 Jimmie Foxx 1932-36 24-28 .348 .454 .675 177 227 35 2.7 -13.0 44.1 X
11 Stan Musial 1948-52 27-31 .350 .441 .616 179 156 26 1.2 -17.1 44.0 X
12 Alex Rodriguez 2000-04 24-28 .304 .396 .593 152 233 87 17.0 70.0 43.3
13 Albert Pujols 2005-09 26-32 .334 .439 .631 172 206 48 3.0 -6.7 42.6
14 Wade Boggs 1985-89 27-31 .357 .454 .496 158 48 7 -7.4 48.8 42.2 X
15 Hank Aaron 1959-63 25-29 .323 .383 .600 164 202 91 8.0 2.2 42.2 X
16 Carl Yastrzemski 1966-70 26-30 .297 .405 .529 160 163 69 -0.9 49.9 41.8 X
17 Ron Santo 1963-67 23-27 .301 .384 .520 150 149 17 -2.3 64.8 41.4 X
18 Jackie Robinson 1949-53 30-34 .329 .430 .505 150 80 115 17.0 71.1 40.7 X
19 Mike Schmidt 1974-78 24-28 .264 .379 .521 146 171 100 3.0 94.9 40.3 X
20 Joe DiMaggio 1937-41 22-26 .350 .420 .638 165 169 17 -0.3 24.3 39.4 X
21 Chase Utley 2005-09 26-33 .301 .388 .535 138 146 77 39.2 78.6 39.0
22 Ernie Banks 1955-59 24-28 .299 .361 .584 144 207 29 -2.1 85.5 38.3 X
23 Duke Snider 1953-57 26-30 .311 .407 .618 161 207 37 -1.1 20.6 38.2 X
24 Charlie Gehringer 1933-37 30-34 .347 .428 .512 138 71 42 -2.5 78.3 38.2 X
25 Mel Ott 1934-38 25-29 .316 .424 .568 168 166 22 2.7 4.5 38.0 X
26 Ken Griffey Jr. 1993-97 23-27 .304 .394 .622 153 207 63 4.4 84.6 37.5 X
27 George Brett 1976-80 24-28 .330 .383 .532 149 85 90 0.4 67.7 37.4 X
28 Arky Vaughan 1934-38 22-26 .339 .442 .499 158 52 41 6.5 55.5 37.4 VC
29 Roberto Clemente 1965-69 30-34 .328 .381 .516 151 99 30 3.4 34.9 37.2 X
30 Rod Carew 1973-77 27-31 .358 .422 .490 155 46 186 9.1 4.6 36.9 X
31 Eddie Mathews 1953-57 21-25 .289 .400 .577 160 197 23 2.7 18.3 36.7 X
32 Todd Helton 2000-04 26-30 .349 .450 .643 158 186 20 0.6 -23.0 36.0
33 Rickey Henderson 1986-90 27-31 .294 .405 .473 145 115 443 46.0 33.2 35.7 X
34 Ralph Kiner 1947-51 24-28 .294 .420 .609 165 234 12 1.8 -40.4 35.3 X
35 Cal Ripken Jr. 1982-86 21-25 .291 .353 .487 131 133 11 -3.4 97.0 35.1 X
36 Tris Speaker^ 1920-24 32-36 .371 .460 .565 163 48 33 1.3 -8.4 35.1 X
37 Jeff Bagwell 1994-98 26-30 .310 .430 .588 168 168 98 4.8 -14.2 34.6
38 Harry Heilmann 1921-25 26-30 .379 .449 .587 164 81 38 4.8 -37.6 34.3 X
39 Jason Giambi 1999-03 28-32 .311 .444 .596 170 196 9 -4.5 -70.5 34.2
40 Frank Robinson 1960-64 24-28 .308 .402 .567 157 157 102 8.5 -16.1 34.0 X
41 Lou Boudreau 1944-48 26-30 .319 .397 .446 140 34 21 -3.5 96.3 34.0 X
42 Robin Yount 1980-84 24-28 .303 .355 .498 137 95 64 5.5 63.4 33.9 X
43 Johnny Mize 1937-41 24-28 .337 .421 .603 173 139 13 1.0 -33.7 33.8 VC
44 Al Simmons 1927-31 25-29 .375 .419 .641 165 122 27 -1.4 10.0 33.7 X
45 Bobby Grich 1972-76 23-27 .263 .374 .410 135 69 75 0.1 84.2 33.7
46 Andruw Jones 1998-02 21-25 .274 .346 .503 116 162 91 3.6 150.7 33.5
47 Gary Carter 1981-85 27-31 .280 .355 .477 134 121 7 -4.3 108.9 33.4 X
48 Johnny Bench 1970-74 22-26 .267 .347 .499 133 170 22 0.0 82.1 33.4 X
49 Joe Gordon 1939-43 25-28 .282 .368 .478 128 117 55 -6.8 110.5 33.3 VC
50 Robinson Cano 2010-14 26-37 .312 .375 .518 141 131 31 -4.7 13.3 33.2
51 Sammy Sosa 1998-02 29-33 .306 .397 .649 160 292 34 -2.6 -43.2 33.1
52 Jim Edmonds 2000-04 30-34 .298 .410 .593 155 181 28 -0.1 38.2 33.0
53 Frankie Frisch 1923-27 24-28 .332 .380 .462 125 45 143 18.3 117.2 33.0 X
54 Brooks Robinson 1964-68 27-31 .281 .337 .452 126 108 8 -0.1 113.3 32.9 X
55 Miguel Cabrera 2009-13 26-34 .335 .419 .598 170 190 18 -24.3 -62.9 32.8
56 Andrew McCutchen 2011-15 26-30 .302 .396 .509 152 123 99 12.5 -2.7 32.7
57 Willie McCovey 1966-70 28-32 .295 .410 .587 172 187 9 0.7 -55.7 32.5 X
58 Joe Cronin 1930-34 23-27 .313 .393 .471 125 43 47 -4.0 107.0 32.5 X
59 Tim Raines 1983-87 23-27 .318 .406 .467 143 57 355 51.4 -19.6 32.4
60 Josh Donaldson 2012-16 26-30 .280 .367 .506 141 140 30 4.2 50.2 32.4
61 Frank Thomas 1991-95 23-27 .323 .450 .598 178 175 16 -2.0 -91.9 32.4 X
62 Goose Goslin 1924-28 23-27 .348 .413 .544 146 77 87 2.9 12.1 32.2 VC
63 Craig Biggio 1995-99 29-33 .304 .399 .472 136 95 183 15.4 27.7 32.2 X
64 Al Kaline 1955-59 20-24 .318 .387 .515 139 120 41 0.1 46.0 31.9 X
65 Ken Boyer 1958-62 27-31 .308 .376 .513 130 131 49 -0.6 66.9 31.9
66 Mike Piazza 1993-97 24-28 .337 .401 .583 162 156 10 -2.9 31.0 31.9 X
67 Dick Allen 1964-68 22-26 .302 .381 .552 162 145 55 3.2 -45.4 31.8
68 Chipper Jones 1998-02 26-30 .320 .422 .578 154 179 72 1.9 -20.2 31.8
69 Sal Bando 1969-73 25-29 .268 .381 .449 140 119 17 -4.6 34.6 31.8
70 Pete Rose 1972-76 31-35 .314 .396 .425 135 31 31 -0.7 25.0 31.5
71 Andre Dawson 1979-83 24-28 .296 .341 .507 133 121 159 14.4 55.1 31.4 X
72 Ryne Sandberg 1988-92 28-32 .291 .357 .494 135 141 104 5.6 35.8 31.3 X
73 Adrian Beltre 2010-14 26-38 .316 .364 .535 139 145 6 -5.9 38.0 31.3
74 Hack Wilson 1926-30 26-30 .331 .419 .612 158 177 33 5.1 -30.2 31.2 VC
75 Charlie Keller 1939-43 22-26 .295 .416 .526 155 122 41 0.2 2.0 31.1
76 Scott Rolen 2000-04 25-29 .290 .379 .534 135 144 49 3.5 80.4 31.1
77 Reggie Jackson 1971-75 25-29 .275 .361 .508 151 154 89 4.0 1.0 31.1 X
78 Ben Zobrist 2009-13 26-35 .269 .366 .446 126 89 85 13.4 59.0 31.1
79 Bill Terry 1930-34 31-35 .357 .405 .529 148 74 23 3.8 11.4 31.0 X
80 Mark McGwire 1995-99 31-35 .287 .438 .702 181 284 5 0.3 -80.9 31.0
81 Ozzie Smith 1985-89 30-34 .281 .362 .355 105 11 191 49.0 141.5 30.8 X
82 Joe Medwick 1935-39 23-27 .347 .388 .568 152 107 17 2.0 -8.8 30.7 X
83 Al Rosen 1950-54 26-30 .298 .396 .528 150 156 34 -2.2 2.7 30.7
84 Dave Parker 1975-79 24-28 .321 .377 .532 147 114 84 0.7 5.8 30.7
85 Cesar Cedeno 1972-76 21-25 .298 .365 .485 141 104 276 23.9 5.5 30.6
86 Chuck Klein 1929-33 24-28 .359 .414 .636 157 180 51 9.5 -58.7 30.6 VC
87 Larry Doby 1950-54 26-30 .286 .399 .513 148 138 23 1.6 18.6 30.6 VC
88 Bobby Bonds 1969-73 23-27 .278 .356 .493 135 156 206 25.2 -9.6 30.5
89 Richie Ashburn 1954-58 27-31 .319 .420 .402 127 9 76 2.3 61.3 30.5 VC
90 Evan Longoria 2009-13 26-36 .275 .360 .509 136 135 30 -3.7 67.0 30.5
91 Joey Votto 2009-13 25-29 .318 .431 .548 163 129 39 -3.6 -37.8 30.2
92 George Foster 1975-79 26-30 .302 .369 .560 152 174 29 1.0 13.9 30.1
93 Edgar Martinez 1995-99 32-36 .334 .455 .579 165 136 17 -2.6 -79.5 30.0
94 Ivan Rodriguez 1996-00 24-28 .320 .356 .527 118 122 51 1.1 128.4 30.0
95 Bobby Abreu 1998-02 24-28 .312 .415 .534 144 113 141 6.0 8.2 29.9
96 Alan Trammell 1983-87 25-29 .301 .365 .468 128 90 109 4.3 65.2 29.7
97 Carlos Beltran 2004-08 26-31 .274 .363 .514 125 155 125 46.7 33.6 29.6
98 Vladimir Guerrero 1998-02 23-27 .325 .391 .602 146 197 111 -3.5 -3.8 29.6
99 Ryan Braun 2008-12 24-28 .312 .375 .558 148 168 111 24.1 -54.7 29.5
100 Kenny Lofton 1992-96 25-29 .316 .382 .437 117 39 325 34.7 71.7 29.4
*Interrupted by WWII
^True peak occurred before 1921
tWAR: Even split of FanGraphs WAR and Baseball-Reference WAR
  • I think one of the biggest things the casual fan might unfortunately fail to realize is that Trout isn’t just an “all-around player” who racks up value by being good at everything. He’s legitimately already one of the best hitters of all time. The rest is just icing. Trout’s wRC+ over the last five years is higher than Miggy’s best five-year stretch. Edgar Martinez, too, and he’s got a real Hall of Fame case based solely on his bat.
  • Trout’s first five full seasons mix peak-Albert Pujols‘ bat with peak-Rickey Henderson‘s base-running value and peak-Mickey Mantle‘s defensive value. Offensively, he’s had peak-Willie Mays‘ batting average, peak-Carl Yastrzemski‘s on-base percentage, and peak-Jason Giambi’s isolated slugging percentage, while playing in some of the most pitcher-friendly run environments in baseball’s history.
  • The newcomers to the five-year table: Josh Donaldson (No. 60), Al Rosen (83), Dave Parker (84), Bobby Bonds (88), Richie Ashburn (89), Bobby Abreu (95), Alan Trammell (96), Carlos Beltran (97), Vladimir Guerrero (98), and Kenny Lofton (100).
  • Gone from last year’s four-year table: Hank Greenberg (No. 39), Nomar Garciaparra (51), Grady Sizemore (77), Willie Stargell (80), Tony Gwynn (84), Chuck Knoblauch (87), Ken Williams (93), David Wright (95), Don Mattingly (98), and Eddie Murray (100).
  • Josh Donaldson presents a fascinating case, as his current five-year run ranks 60th all-time in the modern era, ahead of recent Hall of Famers like Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio and within spitting distance of third-base legend Brooks Robinson. And that five-year run begins with a 1.5-WAR 2012 in which Donaldson appeared in just 75 games for the Athletics. If he posts even a 5-WAR season next year, Donaldson could easily jump into the 30s or better, putting his peak alongside the likes of Cal Ripken and Eddie Mathews. It’s a shame it took Donaldson this long to reach his level of greatness, because he’s truly on one of the best runs the hot corner has ever seen.
  • The six players who immediately precede Chase Utley in the top-100 table are in the Hall of Fame, as are the 10 immediately following him. He’s at 63 career WAR, and he’s still going. The only second basemen in modern history with more WAR over any five-year stretch are Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, and Jackie Robinson. Yes, Chase Utley is a Hall of Famer, and no, it really shouldn’t be a difficult decision.
  • Let’s go ahead and get Todd Helton in, too, yeah?
  • In a chat of mine a couple weeks back, there was a discussion regarding the Hall of Fame candidacy of Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Dustin Pedroia, who are all within 5 fWAR and two years of one another. I figured they all had similar shots, and that one would probably wind up an obvious yes, one would wind up an obvious no, and one would make it tough. Well, Cano’s got a top-50 peak, and the other two aren’t present on the table. I’d like to revise my answer with a leader in the “most likely eventual obvious yes” column.
  • Richie Ashburn had a top-100 peak with nine homers (walks!) and so did Ozzie Smith, with 11 homers (defense!). Wade Boggs and Lou Boudreau each had top-100 five-year peaks with 55 combined home runs + steals, the lowest such figures present in this table. Pete Rose wasn’t far behind, with 62.
  • Miguel Cabrera and Lou Gehrig are the only players present in the table with double-digit negative run totals of base-running and defensive value.
  • I hope Carlos Beltran doesn’t get Kenny Lofton‘d.
  • Mike Trout has one of the 10 greatest five-year peaks in the history of modern baseball in his first five seasons.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at [email protected]

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eyesoverthecity
5 years ago

I love that you marked Chipper Jones as being in the HOF.

At this point it’s just a matter of time.