Because we’ve been here for every moment of his career, we may have somehow lost track of just how good Mike Trout is. Obviously we know he’s the best player in the show right now, but it’s a not as easy to wrap your head around his historic greatness. Trout’s excellence isn’t the kind that lends itself to flashy highlight-reel plays, except for his trademark leaping home-run robberies. He isn’t a high-intensity player. His home runs aren’t moonshots, and he’s not a disciple of the Bryce Harper–Jose Bautista school of flare. He plays for a bad team, so we don’t often get to watch him on national television. Looking at WAR leaderboards and seeing his name at the top of the chart has become a mundane fact of baseball since 2012.
Let’s look at it another way, though. Consider Moises Alou. Had a pretty good career, no? He played his first big-league game in 1990 and his final in 2008. During that time he appeared in 1942 games and accumulated 47.7 WAR. He made the All-Star team six times. A fine career.
Mike Trout has played in 811 games. During that time he has also been worth 47.7 WAR, or roughly the value of Alou’s entire career. Take that with a grain of salt, of course, as the defensive metrics for Alou only go back so far, but yeah. We can somewhat confidently say that Trout has provided a similar amount of value in the span of 811 games that Alou, a pretty darn good player in his own right, provided in nearly 2000.
Trout is the sort of player who generates fun facts like this. You could easily do a recurring series of Mike Trout Fun Facts and not run out of material for a good while. Generational talent leads to statistical madness, and Trout is nothing if not a generational talent, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He’s 25, and has already put together almost 50 wins. Only two players in history have compiled greater WAR totals through age 25, and they’re both inner-circle Hall of Famers. One of them is Mickey Mantle, to whom Trout is so often compared. The other is Ty Cobb.
Trout has yet to play his age-25 season.
If Trout adds just one WAR to his ledger this year, he’ll already have become one of the 30 most productive center fielders ever. If he adds his usual 8-10 WAR, he’ll appear among the top 20. The JAWS leaderboard on Baseball Reference indicates that the average Hall of Fame center fielder was worth 71.1 WAR, and that Trout has been worth 48.5 by their measurement. Here’s the top of the chart, with Trout already on it.
|Willie Mays (HOF)||156.2||73.7||115.0|
|Ty Cobb (HOF)||151.0||69.0||110.0|
|Tris Speaker (HOF)||133.7||62.1||97.9|
|Ken Griffey Jr. (HOF)||83.6||53.9||68.8|
|Joe Dimaggio (HOF)||78.1||51.0||64.5|
|Duke Snider (HOF)||66.5||50.0||58.2|
|HOF average at position||71.1||44.5||57.8|
|Richie Ashburn (HOF)||63.6||44.3||53.9|
|Andre Dawson (HOF)||64.5||42.5||53.5|
|Billy Hamilton (HOF)||63.3||42.6||53.0|
You’ve been hearing a lot about JAWS lately, since it’s Hall of Fame season. In case you haven’t, it’s a metric that represents the average a player’s career WAR and the WAR total from his seven best years in an effort to measure that player’s worthiness for enshrinement. It’s a pretty good system. Trout’s JAWS score is 48.5, equal to his career WAR, because he hasn’t played seven or more years yet. It’s still enough to put him roughly one normal Trout season below the average for the Hall, and over Hall of Famers like Earle Combs, Kirby Puckett, and Hack Wilson.
This is all a very long way of saying that, yeah, Mike Trout is going to the Hall of Fame, if current trends continue. Barring some sort of catastrophic injury, there’s no reason to suspect they won’t. Trout’s default setting is “MVP frontrunner,” and again, he’s just 25. If we expect him to age like a normal player, the best may be yet to come. Of course, Trout isn’t a normal player or a normal physical specimen. He may have already peaked, or he may just operate at this level for the next five or six years. Either way, he’s going to accumulate the WAR and the counting stats to do it, as well as the hardware. Trout already has 168 home runs while playing in a pitcher’s park, has won the MVP twice (and has never finished lower than second in the balloting), was Rookie of the Year, and has yet to miss an All-Star team or failed to win a Silver Slugger. The only real question (again, barring a catastrophic injury) is how long it will take him to get in once he’s eligible.
Mike Trout may be the best player we’ve had the privilege of watching since Ken Griffey Jr. He is a true five-tool player — especially now that he can snipe runners down, too — and shows no signs of slowing down. We’re in the midst of something truly special. If that peak is still to come, we could very well be looking at one of the 10 best players of all time. He’s got a long way to go before we can anoint him like that. If he keeps this up, it’ll be hard for him to not be an inner-circle Hall of Famer.
Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.