As Mike Trout celebrates his 28th birthday today, he’s arguably the greatest baseball player of all time at his age. The case is a fairly easy one to make. Here’s what our Leaderboards look like for all players through their age-27 season.
|Alex Rodriguez||– – –||1275||5687||62.0|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||Mariners||1214||5262||57.0|
|Tris Speaker||– – –||1065||4551||54.4|
|Babe Ruth||– – –||795||3130||51.9|
Trout is at the very top, and by the end of the season, he’s projected to add another 2.7 WAR to bolster his lead. Right now, the gap between Trout and 10th-place Eddie Collins is the same as the gap between Collins and 54th-ranked Joe Torre. To calculate WAR, we know the run-values of many of the plays on the field. We know how many runs a single, a walk, and a homer are worth, and we can make those determinations based on the ballpark they are hitting in and the run-scoring environment at the time in order to compare players across eras. We do the same for stolen bases and extra bases taken and look at a player’s value on defense. We can put in all that information and determine that Trout is the best player this game has ever seen through a 27-year-old season. He’s already 52nd among position players all time, and a solid finish to this season and an average Trout season in 2020 might put him in the top 30.
WAR makes it really easy to appreciate the greatness of Trout, but what if we didn’t have WAR? What if we looked at Trout through a different lens? One without advanced statistics. Would we still be able to make the case for Trout as the greatest player of all time through age 27? Let’s find out.
First, here are a bunch of statistics, some more en vogue than others, that show Trout’s numbers and where he ranks among the 2,500-some qualified players with at least 1,000 plate appearances going back to 1871.
|Stat||Current Totals||Rank||Proj End of ’19 Rank|
Trout looks impressive with homer and extra-base hit totals that rank highly along with a huge walk number that shows he’s been on base more times that all but a few players in history at Trout’s age. He does really well in runs, is in the top 1% in hits and RBI, the top 5% for steals, and the top 10% for batting average. He is two stolen bases away from becoming the youngest player in history to reach 200 homers and 200 steals. These are all good numbers, but it is tough to compare them to other greats. To draw up a comparison group, I looked at all the players with at least a .300 batting average who were in the top 10 of either extra-base hits or hits plus walks. Then I looked at all of their ranks and came up with an average and geometric mean for those ranks.
|Player||H||BB||H+BB||2B||HR||XBH||R||RBI||SB||BA||Avg Rank||Geo Mean|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||17||23||10||14||4||7||20||8||274||234||91||25.7|
If we averaged the ranks, Rodriguez and Trout are an incredibly tight 1-2 at the top with stolen bases weighing down most of the other candidates. Using a geometric mean to soften the blow a little bit for the outlier numbers, A-Rod still takes the top spot with Jimmie Foxx (1925 debut), Mel Ott (1926 debut), and Ty Cobb (1905 debut) the only other players ahead of Trout. While the statistics above are pretty easy to understand, it’s possible that people didn’t used to care as much about things like walks, doubles, and stolen bases.
If you only cared about the really traditional numbers like runs, RBI, home runs, hits, and average, and you believe they should all count equally and compared among the players without using rankings, I have another solution for you. I looked at the top 1,000 players by plate appearances in history through age-27 seasons, which requires around 2,300 plate appearances. I looked only at runs, RBI, home runs, hits, and batting average. I looked within the 1,000 players to find averages and standard deviations for these numbers and created IQ scores for each individual player stat where 100 is average and 15 points are given for each standard deviation away from the average. Then I took the average of the five IQ numbers for a final score.
|Name||H IQ||HR IQ||R IQ||RBI IQ||AVG IQ||AVERAGE|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||139||160||141||150||114||140.9|
These numbers aren’t adjusted for era or ballpark. Hits are heavily weighted and essentially counted twice due to batting average’s inclusion. We know nothing about walks or other extra-base hits. Baserunning and defense aren’t included at all while we know runs and RBI are teammate-dependent. Despite removing a lot of the aspects of Trout’s game that make him a great player, and then more heavily weighting less-important factors like singles and numbers reliant on teammates, Trout still comes out as one of the greatest players in history. Traditional stats underrate Mike Trout and don’t do justice to his complete body of work, but they still put him alongside the all-time bests. We don’t need WAR to appreciate Mike Trout, but it certainly helps his case.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.