The Angels have struggled recently, losing seven out of 10 games to the Twins, Astros, and Rays and falling from a tie atop the AL West to 3.5 games back. Over the weekend, though, Mike Trout did something special. While going 3-for-8 with a double, a pair of homers, and four walks in 12 plate appearances against Tampa Bay, he pushed his seasonal WAR (Baseball-Reference flavor) to 4.0 and his career WAR to 58.2. With that, he reached the JAWS standard for center fielders, the average of each Hall of Fame center fielder’s career WAR and his seven-year peak WAR.
Mike Trout is two-and-a-half months shy of his 27th birthday.
Mike Trout has played six full seasons and parts of two others — roughly a quarter apiece — in the majors.
Mike Trout has not played long enough to be eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Mike Trout is very, very, very good at baseball.
You probably knew most of the above, qualitatively if not down to the first decimal place, and after six-plus years of reading about his feats at the plate, on the bases and in the field, you might be somewhat jaded as to his exploits. Right now, he might not even the most popular Los Angeles Angel thanks to the virtually unprecedented two-way prowess of Shohei Ohtani, the Most Interesting Man in the World. Trout, aside from his baseball excellence and his earnest fascination with meteorology, is not that interesting, much to the chagrin of those who fret about Major League Baseball’s lack of a Lebron James-level Face of the Game.
While overshadowed by Ohtani, and briefly by Albert Pujols‘ pursuit of hit number 3,000, Trout is currently amid one of the best stretches of his career. His 188 wRC+ represents a career high, though it’s currently second in the AL to Mookie Betts‘ off-the-charts 214 mark. From his .294/.440/.632 line, only his slugging percentage represents a career high; that mark is fourth in the league, while his OBP is tops. Trout has led the AL in wRC+ in each of the past three years and in four of the past six, finishing no lower than third in the other two seasons. Indeed, he’s dominated the stat sheets: his 172 wRC+ since the start of 2012 is 11 points ahead of second-ranked Joey Votto and 18-points ahead of third-ranked Miguel Cabrera, while his 57.7 WAR (FanGraphs version) in that span is 22.0 more than second-ranked Josh Donaldson.
Despite differences in the underlying components and season-to-season values, Trout’s career WAR measures up nearly identically via the FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference flavors, with 58.4 of the former and 58.2 of the latter. Via the B-Ref version (which I’ll be using for the rest of this JAWS-flavored piece), he’s already 16th all-time among center fielders, ahead of nine of the 19 Hall of Famers including the BBWAA-elected Kirby Puckett (51.1) and about halfway between 17th-ranked Johnny Damon (56.4) and 15th-ranked Jim Edmonds (60.4). His seven-year peak score — again, without the benefit of seven full seasons — of 57.7 ranks fifth, trailing only Willie Mays (73.7), Ty Cobb (69.2), Mickey Mantle (64.8) and Tris Speaker (62.4). He’s eighth in JAWS:
|Rk||Player||Career WAR||Peak WAR||JAWS|
|Avg of 19 HOF CF||71.2||44.6||57.9|
JAWS is the average of a player’s career WAR and his peak WAR (best seven seasons at large).
In this season alone, Trout has surpassed Jones, Lofton and Beltran in JAWS, and he’s likely to pass Snider by the end of the month. Overtaking DiMaggio eventually is an inevitability, but doing so this year is a tall order, as he would need another 6.6 WAR, bringing his line to 64.8/64.3/64.6. That would require a career-best 10.6 WAR for the season (his high is 10.5, set in 2012 and matched in 2016), and while he’s on pace for 13.8 over 162 games, it’s highly doubtful he can maintain that breakneck clip, mainly because there’s little in his career defensive numbers to suggest he’ll finish with 24 Defensive Runs Saved; he’s at 7 now, and his high of 19 was set in 2012, so regression in that area appears most likely.
Passing Griffey is an inevitability as well, but beyond this year, Trout’s climb up the list will be slower due to the large gaps between the metric’s elites at the position. Boosting his peak score is still doable, but the bar will be higher after this season, as his next two least valuable full seasons are of 6.7 and 7.6 WAR. Those are numbers that would put anyone in MVP consideration — and, in fact, the latter mark is from 2014, when Trout won his first award.
Even though we’re still in the first third of Trout’s age-26 season, he’s already third in WAR in among players at any position through that age:
Climbing to first place on the list would only require Trout to finish the season with 9.3 WAR, and if he does that, he’ll have reached the top in fewer games. That said, he’s already held the lead on age-base lists like this, with Cobb the only other player to top him since age 21:
Cobb was third at age 21, behind Ott (17.9), but after that, it’s been a two-horse race. Mays’ military service, which cost him all but 34 games of his age-21 season and all of his age-22 season, prevents him from making a major splash in this context.
Having tracked the incremental progress of many active and recently retired players towards the JAWS standards at each position, Trout appears to have gotten there the fastest — among 21st century players, that is. Mind you, I’m figuring this out based upon the current edition of JAWS, which switched from Baseball Prospectus’ WARP to B-Ref’s WAR in 2012; WAR has since undergone some tweaks, most notably when the two versions were placed on the same scale in 2013.
By current calculations, Rodriguez would have reached the shortstop standard — he’s classified there since that’s the position where he accumulated the most value — sometime during his age-26 season, in 2002. A-Rod finished that season at 55.2 career WAR, 55.9 peak WAR (his first two cups of coffee had produced -0.7 WAR) and 55.6 JAWS. That’s a few hairs higher than the current shortstop standard of 55.0, which has risen with the elections of Cal Ripken (2007, 76.1 JAWS), Barry Larkin (2012, 56.9), and Alan Trammell (2018, 57.8); without those three, the standard circa 2002 would have been 53.5, a mark he would have reached when he accumulated 6.8 WAR in what ended up as an 8.8 WAR season.
Comparing a few other recent players, Pujols reached the first-base standard (54.7 now, but 53.6 at the time, before Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, and Jim Thome were elected) in 2007, his age-27 season; with no cup-of-coffee seasons on his resumé, he finished that year at 54.9/54.9/54.9.
Griffey reached the center-field standard (57.9 now, 59.1 at the time, before Kirby Puckett and Andre Dawson were elected) in his age-28 season, 1998. Barry Bonds reached the left field standard (53.5 now, 52.4 at the time, before Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines were elected), in his age-28 season, 1993. Ripken reached the shortstop standard (53.5 circa 1990, before Phil Rizzuto, Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith, Larkin and Trammell were elected) late in his age-29 season, 1990.
Going even further back, Johnny Bench reached the catcher standard (44.0 now, 39.1 then, before seven of the 15 enshrined catchers were elected, including all of the top five) in his age-26 season, 1974. Bench would have needed to reach 3.5 WAR in a season where he finished with 7.9, so likely somewhere closer to the halfway point than Trout. As noted, though, that’s a much smaller player pool for comparison. Mike Schmidt reached the third-base standard in his age-27 season, 1977, but at that point only four third basemen (Frank Baker, Jimmy Collins, Freddie Lindstrom and Pie Traynor) had been enshrined, and they’re now four of the lowest six in the JAWS rankings. You can only go back so far with this method before it falls apart.
That shouldn’t detract from how remarkable Trout’s latest accomplishment is. We are witnessing a player who is already fully qualified for the Hall of Fame save for the 10-season requirement, which he’ll reach on Opening Day 2020. (For Hall purposes, one game equals one season.) By the time he’s 30 years old, we’ll be talking about how inner-circle he is. Enjoy the ride.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.