The 1920s had Babe Ruth. The 1940s had Ted Williams. The 1990s had Barry Bonds. We have Mike Trout. At age 25, Trout has already put up Hall of Fame numbers, despite being so young. How good can Trout actually be? When it’s all said and done, will he be considered one of the best players of all time?
Before looking at what Trout can do, let’s take a quick look at what he has already done:
- He has already hit 168 home runs and stolen 143 bases, all while slashing .306/.405/.557 in 811 career games
- He has generated 48.5 wins above replacement, already more than several Hall of Famers, including Lou Brock, Jim Rice, and Bill Mazeroski
- In his first five full seasons, Trout has led the American League in WAR in all of them. He joins Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth as the only players in MLB history to lead their respective leagues in WAR in five consecutive seasons, regardless of age and experience.
- Since 1970, he is one of only three players to be worth 45 fWAR in a five-year span, the other two being Joe Morgan and Barry Bonds.
- Of the 18,918 players to ever play in the MLB, only 89 of them have hit more home runs and stolen more bases than the 25-year-old center fielder.
I could go on and on about insane numbers that he has already put up, but I’ll get to the reason you’re all here.
The Worst-Case Scenario
Barring a career ending injury, this seems to be the worst possible scenario for Trout: His first five full seasons in the league were just a fluke. Trout plays league average baseball (2.4 WAR/season) for the rest of his career, until he decides to retire after his age 36 season. In this unlikely turn of events, Trout finishes his career with 77.3 WAR. Unbelievably, Trout still ranks 42nd in WAR among all position players in MLB history, right in between Joe DiMaggio and Robin Yount. You’ve heard of those guys, right? One was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and the other is, well, Joe DiMaggio. Basically, Trout just needs to play at the level that Neil Walker (the second baseman who recently agreed to a qualifying offer) did in 2016 for the rest of his career to still be a no-doubt Hall of Famer. In this scenario, Trout would be remembered in the baseball world as the player who saw his career crash before his eyes; luckily, the cushion he provided for himself so early in his career proved to be plenty.
The Bad-Case Scenario
In this scenario, Trout has already seen the best seasons in his career, but is still a decent-to-good player the rest of his career. He still plays in several All-Star Games before calling it quits, but doesn’t finish in the top five in the MVP voting again. He retires after his age-38 season, and from now until then he averages 4.5 WAR/season (about the level of Charlie Blackmon in 2016). This case, while much more likely than the previous, still seems like a very conservative estimate of the rest of his career. Even then, the once-young superstar finishes his career with 111.5 WAR, thanks to the brilliance he brought at such a young age. Despite the huge drop in production, Trout ranks as the 14th-best position player in baseball history (by career WAR), in between Lou Gehrig and Rickey Henderson, both widely considered all-time greats.
The Likely Scenario
Mike Trout is good at baseball, and for the rest of his career shows it. He plays until after his age-39 season, averaging 6.0 WAR/season (about what Carlos Correa did in 2016). The great beginning of his career continues, as he wins a couple more MVP awards while still in his prime. As he ages, so do his numbers, and during the end of his career he becomes unable to play at the same level as he had 15 years prior. Trout goes out with 138.5 career WAR, putting him sixth all time behind only Ruth, Bonds, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Hank Aaron. He’s a near unanimous, if not unanimous, first-ballot Hall of Famer, and it is argued by baseball fans that Trout was the best player to play in the Live-Ball Era. Despite not reaching the high bar he set for himself in his early 20s, Trout still finishes as one of the best players in baseball history.
The Best-Player-Ever Scenario
Trout’s first few seasons are just a glimpse of what he will do over the course of his career. He retires after his age-42 season, averaging 7.0 WAR/season until then. He still has a few 10-WAR seasons left in him, and as he develops a better eye, cutting his relatively high strikeout rate, his game increases mightily. He wins five more MVP awards (which will be renamed the “Mike Trout Award” following his retirement), and just shows off his pure dominance. He sort of slows down after turning 38, only putting up All-Star numbers after that. After a truly amazing run, Trout finishes his career with 174.5 WAR, edging out Babe Ruth as the best position player the MLB has ever seen. He receives a Hall of Fame vote from every BBWAA member, as they’re too scared to face their Twitter mentions, and other consequences, if they don’t vote for him. Trout goes down as the best hitter in baseball history, and the baseball world debates for years to come whether Trout’s lack of an ability to pitch keeps him behind Babe Ruth as the GOAT.
The crazy thing about this scenario is how not crazy it is. If Trout puts up 7.0 WAR next year, it would be his worst full season in his career to date. He has averaged 8.1 WAR in his first six seasons, despite only playing 40 games in the year of his debut. In his five full seasons, he has averaged 9.6 WAR per season. Asking him to put up an average of 7.0 WAR per season for the rest of his career isn’t actually an impossible task, or close to one. For example, Lou Gehrig averaged 6.6 WAR per season in his career, and that’s including the three seasons that he didn’t play more than 15 games. Trout even has room for an injury now and then, and even then could pretty easily go down in history.
Whatever the rest of his career is like, one thing is for certain: it’s going to be a heck of a ride. If you get a chance, watch an Angels game (I know it may be hard), because Mike Trout is really good at baseball and he’s one of those guys that you have to see play the game.