All hail Mike Trout, greatest living baseball player

September 27, 2020

In honor of the Los Angeles Angels finishing out of the playoffs and firing their general manager, here is a brief recitation of facts about Mike Trout, in my estimation one of the two or three best baseball players who has ever lived.

In this shortened season, Trout put up the worst season-long wRC since his abbreviated rookie year: 164. By that measure, he was 64 percent better on offense than the average MLB player this year. While Trout’s 172 career wRC isn’t quite as awesome as, say, Ted Williams’s career mark of 188, Trout is also a fine defensive center fielder, grading out as around average to above average at various points over his career.

By Fangraphs’ measure (fWAR), Trout is second among all active players in career WAR, behind only Albert Pujols. Trout won’t turn 30 years old until next August.

Trout has played in one playoff series, way back in 2014. He did not play well, slashing .083/.267/.333 in 15 plate appearances, and the Angels were swept in the ALDS by the eventual AL Champion Kansas City Royals.

Since Trout came up to the bigs for good, the highest season-long fWAR for any of his teammates was the 5.4 accumulated by Andrelton Simmons in 2018. That’s a great season! It placed 13th among field players that year.

Trout put up 9.8 fWAR in 2018. His previous lowest fWAR in any season since his rookie year was the 6.8 he produced in only 114 games in 2017. That was good for fourth among MLB field players

This season is the first since Trout’s rookie campaign that he won’t lead the Angels in fWAR, thanks to his slight decline in performance and Anthony Rendon’s excellent showing at the plate and in the field. Rendon finished with 2.8 fWAR in 52 games played, while Trout finished with 2.6 fWAR in 53 games played. That placed Trout ninth among all MLB field players. 

Perhaps the greatest indictment of the Angels’ management in the Trout era is that the team’s best pitching performance was probably Garrett Richards’s in 2014, when he put up 4.3 fWAR, and the next-best was probably Matt Shoemaker’s in 2016, with 3.5 fWAR. Richards was 18th among all pitchers in fWAR in 2014.

Trout is very good at baseball, and it’s an ongoing travesty that the Angels haven’t been able to build a consistent winner around him. Look at how much fun he is!

I mentioned earlier that Trout is probably one of the two or three best baseball players ever. Obviously, he hasn’t had a long enough career yet to have the kind of total production the game’s all-time greats did, but on a year-to-year basis, there aren’t many players who consistently approach 10 fWAR per year the way he does.

The most recent example is probably Barry Bonds, an inner-circle Hall of Fame talent who hit the 10 fWAR mark only once before 2001 and who last played Major League Baseball in 2007. While there are players active today who were in MLB at that time, on balance today’s players are better than the ones from 15 to 20 years ago, let alone the ones from 70 years ago. Therefore, it’s appropriate to frame Trout — head and shoulders better than anyone else of this era — as among the very best ever before he even turns 30.

And the Angels are squandering (have squandered?) this man’s prime.

(Photo: “Mike Trout” by Erik Drost. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)