What Would a Peak Year From Mike Trout Look Like?

Every full season Mike Trout has put together as a Major League Baseball player has been great. Through his age-24 season, Mike Trout has been worth roughly 48 Wins Above Replacement, averaging around +9.5 wins per season. Through age-24, that is more than any other player, with Ty Cobb a close second, and Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, and Ted Williams a bit further behind. Trout is already in third place through age-25, 10th place through age-26, and 23rd place through age-27 with three seasons to be played before he gets there. Mike Trout is great. Everybody knows that.

But what would happen if Mike Trout had a good year in comparison to, well, Mike Trout?

Steamer and ZiPS have weighed in on Mike Trout’s 2017 season and they see a player worth +8.5 to +9 wins next year. That is sort of the midpoint of what should be expected given his track record. Over the past five years his WAR has been +10.3, +10.5, +7.9, +9.0, and +9.4, but much of the variation has had to do with defensive fluctuations. Trout’s wRC+ has been remarkably consistent, in between 167 and 176 every season. While Trout has few historical comps, it is interesting to look at how the players he is closest to have accumulated their WAR through a similar age. Unlike Trout, players like Mantle and Cobb saw big increases in their performance that we have not seen from Trout.

Trout’s route to greatness has come with an incredible consistency that has literally never happened before. With many players who are maybe one-fourth the player Mike Trout is, we often wonder what would happen if they put all together. Maybe the player had patience one year, power the next, a good strikeout rate in another year–we wonder what would happen if they put it all together. That player goes from being average or slightly above average to an all-star, maybe even an MVP candidate.

We can’t make the same leaps with Mike Trout. There simply isn’t enough inconsistency in his performance to allow for a great leap. He is Mike Trout and already an all-time great. However, there is some room to imagine that if a few things broke his way there might be a slightly higher ceiling than what we have seen thus far. If his projections see him as a 9-win player, certainly there are some fluctuations that could put him higher than that. It really isn’t even that hard.

Here’s Mike Trout’s stat line from each of the past five seasons with a few career highs highlighted:

Mike Trout: 2012-2016
Season PA HR SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
2012 639 30 49 10.5 % 21.8 % 0.238 0.383 0.326 0.399 0.564 167 14.1 64.2 13 10.3
2013 716 27 33 15.4 % 19.0 % 0.234 0.376 0.323 0.432 0.557 176 7.8 70.1 3.3 10.5
2014 705 36 16 11.8 % 26.1 % 0.274 0.349 0.287 0.377 0.561 167 6.5 58.1 -8.4 7.9
2015 682 41 11 13.5 % 23.2 % 0.290 0.344 0.299 0.402 0.590 172 3.3 59.9 2.1 9.0
2016 681 29 30 17.0 % 20.1 % 0.235 0.371 0.315 0.441 0.550 171 9.3 67.7 0.7 9.4

We could just go through and give him his career highs in counting statistics and see how things come out, but it is probably more prudent to take some of his rate stats and adjust them in a full, healthy season. So we are going to give him 716 plate appearances. We will give him the 17% walk rate that he got last year and the 19% strikeout rate that he got in 2012. While a 19% strikeout rate does seem rather low, remember that his career strikeout rate is around 22% and he has lowered it each of the past two seasons, down to 20% last year. These numbers aren’t too far off from what he did in 2016.

So out of 716 plate appearances, we just made 122 walks and 136 strikeouts. He’s averaged nine intentional walks per season, and while it is fair to think he might get a few more than that like he has the past couple years, we will stick with that number this year. We’ll do the same with his seven sacrifice flies. He hit 41 homers in 2015, but that was in sightly fewer plate appearances than we’re giving him, so that will up things to 43 homers. Last season, Trout’s BABIP was .371 — his career average is .360 — but in his first full season it was .383, so we’ll go with that number.

Given that knowledge, we have his batting average at .343 and his on-base percentage at .461. Both would be career highs but within 20 points of past figures. In 2015, Trout’s ISO was .290, so let’s run with that figure. We already know he has 43 homers and 198 hits. His career average for triples is seven so let’s go ahead and give him that. Leaving just the singles and the doubles, we can give Trout 25 doubles and 123 singles. We might be selling the doubles short here a bit, and we could probably turn some of the singles into outs and doubles, but we aren’t too far off base here.

Given those components, and assuming the constants from 2016 stay the same, Trout ends up with a .343/.461/.633 stat line and a .455 wOBA on the season, about 30 points higher than his current career high from the 2012 season. Using the formula for wRC, we can convert Trout’s wOBA to runs, which gives us 81 offensive runs above average. We’ll add three runs for his park. Last season, Trout was worth 9 runs above average on the base paths, and his career high is just above 14, so let’s give him 12 runs in a good Trout season. On defense, Trout has averaged around 2 runs above average with a high of 13 in his first full season, so let’s give him six runs above average on defense. Then we’ll add 2.5 runs for being in the American League, 20.5 for replacement and end up with 125 runs above replacement.

Last season 9.778 runs was worth one win, so we take 125 runs above replacement, divide by 9.778 and come up with the greatest non-Babe Ruth season of all time.

Greatest Seasons of All-Time
Season Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA BsR Off Def WAR
1923 Babe Ruth 699 0.393 0.545 0.764 0.571 -3.2 117 13 15.0
1921 Babe Ruth 693 0.378 0.512 0.846 0.575 0.2 119 0 13.9
1920 Babe Ruth 615 0.376 0.533 0.849 0.598 -0.3 111 -5 13.3
1927 Babe Ruth 691 0.356 0.486 0.772 0.545 -1.8 103 6 13.0
Peak Mike Trout 716 0.343 0.461 0.633 0.455 12 96 6 12.8
2002 Barry Bonds 612 0.370 0.582 0.799 0.544 -1.2 109 -2 12.7
1924 Babe Ruth 681 0.378 0.513 0.739 0.549 -1.5 101 3 12.5
1927 Lou Gehrig 717 0.373 0.474 0.765 0.540 -2 103 -2 12.5
2001 Barry Bonds 664 0.328 0.515 0.863 0.537 1.3 118 -12 12.5
1924 Rogers Hornsby 640 0.424 0.507 0.696 0.537 -2 94 11 12.5
1926 Babe Ruth 652 0.372 0.516 0.737 0.551 -2 99 -2 12.0
2004 Barry Bonds 617 0.362 0.609 0.812 0.537 -0.3 106 -4 11.9
1908 Honus Wagner 641 0.354 0.415 0.542 0.459 5.9 67 10 11.8

A normal Mike Trout season is already great. We’ve now seen enough seasons to know what a normal Mike Trout season looks like. It is highly likely that we will never see anything above a normal Mike Trout season, given that the bar is already incredibly high. However, the possibility exists that Mike Trout might have a few things go his way where he equals his best power year, replicates his walk and strikeout numbers from last year, has a good year running the bases, and puts up good numbers on defense. If those things happen, we are going to see one of the very greatest statistical seasons of all-time, better even than any season Barry Bonds has ever produced. It’s probably unfair to everyone to dream of a more amazing version of Mike Trout, but Mike Trout is already a little unfair.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Brian Reinhartmember
5 years ago

This is my favorite kind of Mike Trout article: the kind that sneakily turns into a Babe Ruth article.

If you’re a younger reader and don’t visit Babe Ruth’s page 3-4 times a year to let your jaw hang open in sheer disbelief and amazement, now’s the time to start.

Brian Reinhartmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Brian Reinhart

Just looking at 1923, the greatest season ever played:
– Babe had a 24.3% walk rate. Second place guy Lu Blue was at 15.6%.
– (sidebar: Lu Blue is an amazing name)
– Babe led the majors in SLG by .132, OBP by .064, ISO by .090, and total runs scored by 18.
– He had 13 triples and 17 steals to go with 41 homers.

Compare that to 2016:
– Zero players reached 13 triples. (asterisk for ballpark size changes over time)
– Only one player (Dozier) reached 41 homers and 17 steals.
– The league leader in SLG (Ortiz) led by only .025.
– The leader in OBP (Trout) led by only .007
– The leader in BB% (Harper) was at only 17.2%, leading Trout by 0.2%.

output gapmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Brian Reinhart

When there are millions of dollars reward for being good at baseball and the lowest barriers to entry of the baseball labor pool in history, competition will in fact be better.

dodgerbleu
5 years ago
Reply to  output gap

There weren’t millions available in the 20’s. Baseball was the primary sport in America. There were only 16 teams. 40 man rosters didn’t exist. Less talent pool yes, but less spots and no loss of elite athletes to other sports. There are two sides of that competition coin…

Kevin Bannon
5 years ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

There were half as many teams, but the US population was roughly 1/3 what it is now. And there were no foreign players, so a much shallower talent pool for baseball in general.

And while there was no loss of elite athletes to other sports, there were many elite baseball players who were not allowed to play against Babe Ruth (outside of the occasional exhibition) because of their race.

There is no doubt that the variance in talent from player to player in 1920 was much higher than it is now.

bananas
5 years ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

You’ll have a pretty tough time arguing the other side – the number of MLB roster spots has not increased to the same rate as the population of the US. We weren’t pulling international talent to the MLB. Most potential athletes were probably working their family farms. Nutrition (especially for children) was terrible and probably prevented many athletes from realizing their potential. Polio. Training was relatively stone-age compared to present day. WW1 had just gutted an entire generation of young men which would have turned into some great ballplayers.

But really none of those arguments even matter, because a much simpler argument exists:

Baseball wasn’t integrated until 1947.

whiptydojoe
5 years ago
Reply to  bananas

@bananas – that was the first one I thought of! Barrier to entry? How about skin color

jdbolick
5 years ago
Reply to  bananas

It should be noted that Latin Americans had played in the major leagues not only during but also before Babe Ruth’s time. Lou Castro is believed to have been the first in 1902, while Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida became the first Cubans to reach the majors in 1911. Racism definitely kept out many more, so that’s a fair criticism of the player pool, but dodgerbleu is correct to note that MLB was the only professional sports league of any significance back then. Players were also compensated pretty lavishly for the time period, as Babe Ruth famously made more than President Hoover and justified it by noting that he had a better year than Hoover. There are a lot of variables here to consider, some that have strengthened the quality of the player pool and some that have watered it down. The biggest difference isn’t one of demographics but rather nutrition and training. Athletes are simply in much, much better shape now than they were in those days. They are bigger, stronger, and faster now.

formerly matt w
5 years ago
Reply to  jdbolick

Ruth wasn’t wrong about having a better year than Hoover. Hoover had like a -12.5 million JARP that year (jobs above replacement president).

output gapmember
5 years ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

Babe Ruth famously made $80,000 in 1930 as President Hoover made $75,000. Kershaw makes $32m, Obama makes $400k. The relative valuation of baseball skills compared to alternatives in the economy has risen substantially. 24 CEO’s of publicly traded companies made more money than Kershaw in 2015. Out of thousands of CEO’s.

cartermember
5 years ago
Reply to  output gap

80k is “only” 1.1m in todays dollars. So Ruth in reality made far less than an average major league player does now.

jdbolick
5 years ago
Reply to  carter

Baseball salaries changed dramatically when they gained the right free agency. Prior to that they were fairly steady when adjusted for inflation. Regardless, the point is that the top baseball players made more than the top employees in most industries, so there was plenty of incentive to pursue that career if you had the talent.

rasouddress
5 years ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

There’s also the development of the bullpen that goes into this. Strong bullpens negate offense. Early 20th century games were all too often complete games and featured a tiring pitcher holding on to a one run lead for dear life in the 8th and 9th innings against another tired pitcher working on a complete game loss.

mateodh
5 years ago
Reply to  rasouddress

He did gain about 200 points of OPS(1.220 vs 1.034) against SP the 3rd & 4th times through, in the 1800 PA of said data that bbref has. But he also hit 1.187 vs RP the 1st time, so if you replace all his SP3&4 ABs with RP1s, he only loses 14 points of OPS. meh.

mbs2001
5 years ago
Reply to  rasouddress

Until recently all pitchers who required tommy john would have been finished. Now they’re either starting again or they’re bullpen specialists. The only pitchers who lasted back in the day were physical freaks and that doesn’t mean they had a lot of break on their curve.

bostnboy3member
5 years ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

Maybe there was no loss of elite athletes to other sports, but there was a loss of elite athletes to entirely different industries that paid better… like farming or railroad construction.

Also with virtually no youth development programs, it’s fair to wonder how many kids born in 1900 hit the “genetic lottery” but lived their whole life on a ranch in Texas without ever picking up a baseball.

fredsbankmember
5 years ago
Reply to  output gap

Can’t we ever just appreciate great players without turning into a race thing?

output gapmember
5 years ago
Reply to  fredsbank

If the discussion is regarding Babe Ruth vs post-integration MLB players, there is very much a “race thing”‘ that differentiates their accomplishments.

tl:dr Mike Trout is way better than Babe Ruth.

Anon
5 years ago
Reply to  Brian Reinhart

Ruth’s career .690 SLG may be the most unbreakable career mark in baseball, if not sports (with a nod to Jerry Rice’s and Wayne Gretzky’s various records). There have only been 36 SEASONS by players other than Ruth with a SLG higher than that and none by anybody active. Even Pujols’ best in his prime was .671. Luis Gonzalez in 2001 hit .325 with 57 HR, 100 XBH and 419 TB and still came up short at .688

Famous Mortimer
5 years ago
Reply to  Anon

Something that crazy indicates that he really must have played against some garbage teams.

Dan25
5 years ago
Reply to  Anon

It’s an amazing SLG, but I wouldn’t say unbreakable. A guy retired less than 10 years ago with a career SLG of .607 .

If you are talking all of sports unbreakable records/statistics (and from a similar time as Ruth) Don Bradmans career cricket batting average (Test cricket – i.e. international level) was 99.94
Next on the list are around the low 60s. Elite current players are around the 50 mark.

Anon
5 years ago
Reply to  Dan25

Don’t know anything about cricket but I’ve read that some guy has completely absurd career numbers – I’m assuming that’s the guy you mentioned.

Nobody is getting to Ruth’s SLG though. Just not going to happen.

buckeyewalker
5 years ago
Reply to  Anon

I’m pretty sure it’s either Cy’s wins total or Gretzky’s Points total. Gretzky has more assists than any other player has points! Sidney Crosby’s career high in points is 120- he’d have to play nearly 24 full seasons hitting that mark to break Gretzky’s record!

Anon
5 years ago
Reply to  buckeyewalker

I actually think CY’s win total will be broken as pitching schemes change. It just won’t be by a starter. Eventually we’re going to see starters not go 5 and some middle relievers are going to start winning 30 games a year.

Agree on Gretzky – that’s why I put him and also Jerry RIce’s receiving records. I just don’t see anyone getting to his numbers either

mbs2001
5 years ago
Reply to  Anon

With stem cells coming into play you’ll be surprised how long some pitchers could last. UCL’s are healing miraculously for some pitchers to the point where they could eventually be used as preventative maintenance.

bostnboy3member
5 years ago
Reply to  Anon

They will change, or eliminate the Wins stat long before RP start getting credit for 30 Wins per season pitching 1-2 innings at a time

tz
5 years ago
Reply to  Anon

Hank Aaron’s career total bases mark is an under the radar contender for toughest to break. If Trout can keep hitting like he does until his early 40s, he might have a chance.

mbs2001
5 years ago
Reply to  Anon

Some folks forget that Ruth broke into MLB as a pitcher, and was awesome. His world series record: 33 innings 3 earned runs… he held the lowest world series era record up only until recently. His pitching stats age 20-24: 84-45 with a 2.16 ERA 1.140 whip. The guy would have been a hall of famer as a pitcher before he started hitting full time IN HIS 6TH SEASON.

Incredible athlete and a transcendent talent.

output gapmember
5 years ago
Reply to  mbs2001

He was worth 2 war per 200 innings based on a career HR/9 rate of 0.07. “Dead ball era”. That’s not hall of fame.

YKnotDisco
5 years ago
Reply to  mbs2001

Regular Season: K-BB% of 0.6% & a FIP- of 100
Postseason: K-BB% of -1.7%(as in negative) and a FIP- of 120

That = a HoF pitcher?

evil kevin towers
5 years ago
Reply to  Brian Reinhart

“younger reader” – implying that anyone here was actually alive to watch Ruth play