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How Good Is Mike Trout?
Trout's 2012 Season Ranks Among The Best Ever
by Asher B. Chancey and Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
November 16, 2012

This summer, we had all been assuming Mike Trout was having one of the all time great rookie seasons. Turns out that this is like saying Hurricane Katrina was one of the all time great rainstorms. The dialogue then shifted to whether Trout was the Most Valuable Player in the American League. That is like examining whether Sandy was the most devastating Atlantic hurricane of 2012.

Putting a 10.7 WAR into Perspective

At 10.7, Mike Trout is tied for the 79th best single-season Wins Above Replacement mark of all time (according to Baseball-Reference.com) with big names such as Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, and Ted Williams (this was Teddy Ballgame's highest WAR season, 1946).  It also ties him with some outstanding pitcher seasons back when workhorses were guys who basically pitched complete games every other day.  In 1897, eventual Hall of Famer Kid Nichols led the National League with 31 wins, a 1.17 WHIP, a 168 ERA+, and 368 innings pitched, good for a 10.7 WAR.  In 1904, Jack Chesbro set the modern day single-season wins mark with 41after pitching over 450 innings - good for a 10.7 WAR.  In 1886, Bob Caruthers not only went 30-14 with a 232 ERA, but he also played 45 games in the field, leading the American Association with a .974 OPS.  That, too, was good for 10.7 WAR.

To better put it in perspective, let's examine Trout's season only against other position players.  Now that 10.7 mark is tied with Mays and Williams for the 20th-best ever.  Only a dozen position players in the history of the game have managed a WAR over 10.7 in a single season; all save Barry Bonds are in the Hall of Fame.

But Wait - Wasn't He Called Up Late by the Angels?

Of course, it is important to remember that our boy has done what he has done in only 139 games, which makes this even more awesome.

Among position players who have played in fewer than 140 games in a season, Trout is one of only two players to eclipse the 10.0 WAR mark.  In 1925, Rogers Hornsby became the second player ever to win the major league Triple Crown by hitting .403 with 39 homers and 143 RBI in 138 games.  The second baseman's season was worth 10.1 Wins Above Replacement.

This, of course, is cheating.   The Raja played in an era of 154-game seasons, so while Hornsby played in one fewer game, he actually played in a much higher percentage of his team's games in 1925 than Trout did in 2012.  What if we compare Trout only to players in the 162-game era, 1961-the present?  First of all, Trout's season is good for the 7th-best mark ever in that period.  Secondly, he is one of only three players in the expansion era to manage a WAR over 9.0 in fewer than 140 games.  In 1990, Rickey Henderson boasted a 9.8 WAR in 136 games.  Ten years earlier, George Brett amazingly had a 9.3 WAR in only 117 games.

I'm Sick of WAR.  What Else Have You Got?

Well, by this point, you've heard that Trout is the only player ever to score at least 120 runs, steal at least 45 bases, hit at least 30 homers, and bat at least .320 in a single season.  He was also one stolen base shy of becoming the third player ever to join the 30-50 club.  But again, we're ignoring the fact that he spent most of April dominating Triple-A.  What do his combined numbers for the season look like?

159 G, 636 AB, 213 H, 150 R, 32 2B, 13 3B, 31 HR, 96 RBI, 55 SB, 6 CS, 76 BB, 155 K

.335 BA/.406 OBP/.571 SLG/.977 OPS

Putting some of these numbers into context...

  • 213 hits would have been the second-highest single-season hits total for a 20-year old behind Alex Rodriguez in 1996 (215).
  • .977 would have been the 10th-highest OPS among players with at least 210 hits in a season.
  • 150 runs would have been the most runs scored in a season by any AL player since 1949.  The only other major league player to score that many runs in a season since the 40s was Jeff Bagwell, who crossed home 152 times in 2000.
  • With 49 steals, Mike Trout had the 5th-highest total ever for someone successful more than 90% of the time.  Including his minor league totals, 55 stolen bases would have been second all-time to Wily Taveras (68 in 2008).

Understanding that those 20 games in Triple-A can't be weighed equally with games at the major league level, they do give an idea of what Trout could have done with a full season.  And whereas the Rickey Hendersons and George Bretts of the world rested the games they did not play in their superlative seasons, those 20 games might have contributed to Trout wearing down a bit in September.

Looking Forward

Given that Trout is only 21-years old, it's hard to imagine just how good he can become.  Will he finish stronger in 2013 now that he is used to the rigors of a 162-game season (his slash-line at the end of July was .353/.411/.608)?  Will he develop a stronger grasp of the strike zone, cutting down on his strikeouts, adding to his walk total, and ballooning his other numbers (he drew more walks in September than in any other month)?  Will he, like most players, develop even more power as he matures?

Mike Trout's 2012 season probably ranks somewhere among the top 25 position player seasons of all-time.  It's hard to believe that he won't have a couple in the top ten by the time 2025 rolls around.



Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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