Mike Trout Without WAR

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.

Best Position Players Through Age-27 Seasons
Name Team G PA WAR
Mike Trout Angels 1173 5157 72.5
Ty Cobb Tigers 1241 5258 68.8
Mickey Mantle Yankees 1246 5409 67.9
Rogers Hornsby Cardinals 1119 4768 64.6
Jimmie Foxx Athletics 1256 5239 64.6
Alex Rodriguez – – – 1275 5687 62.0
Mel Ott Giants 1438 5988 61.5
Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners 1214 5262 57.0
Tris Speaker – – – 1065 4551 54.4
Eddie Collins Athletics 1013 4294 53.7
Eddie Mathews Braves 1177 5139 53.5
Albert Pujols Cardinals 1091 4741 53.5
Arky Vaughan Pirates 1149 5055 52.9
Joe DiMaggio Yankees 979 4417 52.5
Hank Aaron Braves 1194 5201 52.4
Babe Ruth – – – 795 3130 51.9
Johnny Bench Reds 1236 5193 50.4
Lou Gehrig Yankees 921 4024 49.7
Stan Musial Cardinals 915 4026 49.7
Willie Mays Giants 914 3981 49.3

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.

Mike Trout’s Traditional Numbers and Ranks in History
Stat Current Totals Rank Proj End of ’19 Rank
BB 780 5 3
XBH 573 8 4
H+BB 2081 6 4
HR 278 7 5
R 881 10 9
2B 250 26 17
H 1301 34 22
RBI 737 26 22
SB 198 91 82
BA .306 186 186

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.

Mike Trout’s Traditional Numbers Competition
Player H BB H+BB 2B HR XBH R RBI SB BA Avg Rank Geo Mean
Alex Rodriguez 5 28 6 5 1 1 2 3 133 162 50 7.1
Jimmie Foxx 9 4 3 20 2 2 4 2 884 27 154 9.6
Mel Ott 2 4 1 5 8 3 1 1 847 99 160 11.2
Ty Cobb 1 149 5 8 825 30 11 15 3 3 148 18.2
Mike Trout 22 3 4 17 5 4 9 22 82 186 51 19.8
Mickey Mantle 16 1 2 92 7 12 3 13 393 140 95 23.8
Albert Pujols 23 19 12 2 6 5 14 10 1075 50 193 24.7
Ken Griffey Jr. 17 23 10 14 4 7 20 8 274 234 91 25.7
Hank Aaron 8 150 17 11 12 6 16 9 731 92 144 29.8
Frank Robinson 27 31 22 30 10 10 15 16 261 226 90 33.5
Miguel Cabrera 15 33 13 3 14 9 37 5 1352 130 258 40.0
Joe Medwick 10 594 38 1 98 7 28 7 1321 33 249 42.5
Al Kaline 7 38 8 39 42 19 24 18 457 164 121 54.4
Arky Vaughan 14 15 7 56 490 72 33 64 626 56 224 117.4

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.

Mike Trout’s Rank Using Only Traditional Numbers
Name H IQ HR IQ R IQ RBI IQ AVG IQ AVERAGE
Jimmie Foxx 146 162 157 171 136 154.5
Mel Ott 155 155 163 173 124 153.9
Alex Rodriguez 149 173 161 162 118 152.7
Mickey Mantle 140 156 159 147 120 144.3
Albert Pujols 136 156 144 149 132 143.6
Joe DiMaggio 137 140 145 156 136 142.8
Hank Aaron 147 149 142 149 124 142.4
Ken Griffey Jr. 139 160 141 150 114 140.9
Mike Trout 137 159 151 140 117 140.6
Ty Cobb 162 95 147 144 154 140.3
Miguel Cabrera 140 147 133 151 121 138.4
Joe Medwick 146 120 136 150 136 137.7
Frank Robinson 135 151 142 143 115 137.2
Al Kaline 148 132 138 142 118 135.4
Eddie Mathews 128 161 141 141 102 134.5
Lou Gehrig 122 131 136 144 138 134.4
Rogers Hornsby 146 112 132 135 144 133.7

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.

We hoped you liked reading Mike Trout Without WAR by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Kaline never hit 30 homers? CJ Cron > Kaline