Angels outfielder Mike Trout is celebrating his 28th birthday today. It’s poignant because he has already put together a Hall of Fame career and is well on his way to his third American League Most Valuable Player Award. Just about everyone acknowledges Trout as the best player, by far, in the game today, but let’s take the occasion of his birthday to find out just how good he has actually been.
Baseball Reference kicked things off this afternoon, listing players with the most seasons of 7 or more WAR before their 28th birthday, dating back to 1900. Trout leads the way with seven such seasons, followed by Álex Rodríguez, Jimmie Foxx, and Walter Johnson with six.
Between 2011 — the year Trout debuted in the majors — and right now, Trout has accrued 72.5 WAR according to FanGraphs. No one else is remotely close. Buster Posey is second at 49.0 followed by Andrew McCutchen at 43.0. If you throw in pitchers, Clayton Kershaw has 54.8 and Max Scherzer is at 49.6, but FanGraphs’ pitcher WAR is based on FIP as opposed to strictly on-field results, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Regardless, Trout blows everyone out of the water.
Trout has 71.7 WAR per Baseball Reference. If he were to retire today and compared to current Hall of Famers, he would have the 50th-most WAR. He has been in the league for nine years, so that’s an average of about 8 WAR per season. If Trout plays just three more years and racks up 8 WAR in each of those years, he would have about 96 WAR, which would place him just outside of the top-20 in WAR among Hall of Famers.
Let’s go back to the MVP Award. He deservedly won in 2014 and ’16, and will likely win it this year. He was a runner-up in ’12, ’13, ’15, and ’18. There are arguments to be made that Trout deserved it in all of those years as well. In 2012, the first time he finished second to Miguel Cabrera, Trout had a 10.5 to 7.1 WAR lead, per Baseball Reference. Cabrera, however, was the first player to win the Triple Crown — lead in batting average, home runs, and RBI in the same season — since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. In 2013, the gap was a bit closer but Trout still led in WAR 9.0 to 7.3. In 2015, Josh Donaldson won the AL MVP Award mostly because he knocked in 123 runs. Trout not only had the WAR lead at 9.4 to 8.5, but tied Donaldson in homers with 41 while leading him in average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Last year was the only year in which Trout was a true runner-up as Mookie Betts led him in WAR, 10.9 to 10.2.
Trout is a five-tool player in every sense of the term. Going back to 1871, there are only seven players who have a career batting average of .300 or better, hit at least 250 home runs and stole at least 175 bases. Those players are Trout, Derek Jeter, Vladimir Guerrero, Larry Walker, George Brett, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays. Trout’s career, hopefully, is not even halfway over.
Lastly, it’s worth highlighting just how much better than his teammates Trout has been because it’s often pointed out, as a knock on Trout, that the Angels have been to the playoffs exactly once during his career. The Angels were unceremoniously swept out of the ALDS by the Royals in 2014. But it’s really not Trout’s fault; his teammates just haven’t been anywhere near good enough over the years. Since 2011, when Trout debuted, his 72.5 WAR is almost five times better than the next-best Angels player in that span of time, Kole Calhoun at 15.1 WAR, per FanGraphs. Only three other players got into double-digit WAR: Andrelton Simmons (14.7), Howie Kendrick (14.5), and Erick Aybar (13.6). On the pitching side, only Jered Weaver (13.0) and Garrett Richards (11.2) got into double-digit WAR. I just want to stress this again: in order to replicate Trout’s production, the Angels would have had to clone their second-best player five times. Five times!
We are watching not just a generational talent, but one of the very best players of all time. When all is said and done, it is reasonable to think Trout might retire as one of the five best players of all time. It is even possible for him to eventually be considered the greatest player of all time.