The Case for Baseball’s GOAT: Mike Trout

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Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

By Andrew Meyers

Let’s talk about Mike Trout.

Currently in his 10th full season, Trout is off to his best start yet. Through 25 games, Trout has a slash line of .407/.514/.779, adding eight home runs, 17 RBIs and eight doubles.

Those are extraordinary numbers to start a campaign, and while they will inevitably go down throughout the season, they are amazing to see a month in.

The debate around whether Trout has already established himself as the best baseball player of all time has been talked about for some years now. It seems absolutely crazy to think that we’re talking about a guy who hasn’t even turned 30 yet as the greatest player of all time, but Trout is special.

Very special.

First, let’s start with the individual accolades that Trout has accumulated so far. (Strap in, there’s a lot to unpack here.)

Trout is a three-time MVP (never finishing lower than fifth in voting), eight-time all-star (two all-star game MVPs), eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner, four-time league leader in runs scored, OBP and OPS, three-time league leader in slugging percentage and walks and led the league in RBIs & stolen bases once each.

Oh, he also produced possibly the greatest season by a rookie in MLB history in 2012, posting a 10.5 WAR (the only plus-10 WAR season by a rookie) en route to winning AL Rookie of the Year and finishing second in AL MVP voting.

Now, there are other players in baseball history that can match or at least come close to those accolades in their first nine seasons, but there are two statistics that separate Trout from the pack: OPS+ & WAR.

Let’s start with OPS+.

OPS, of course, is a player’s on-base percentage plus his slugging percentage. As the analytical age of sports statistics has taken over, these percentages have typically been used to measure how good a player is at the plate.

OPS+ adds in the player’s home ballpark as a factor.

Trout currently has a career OPS+ of 176, the highest among active players and the fifth highest all-time. The four players ahead of him are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds and Lou Gehrig. Not bad company to keep.

Here is how Trout stacks up among those four through their first eight full seasons (minimum 400 at-bats):

Click image for interactive.

First off, let me start by saying how absolutely absurd these numbers are. There have been 60, 200-plus OPS+ seasons in MLB history. Ruth, Williams, Bonds & Gehrig have 26 of those seasons.

While Trout himself does not have a 200+ season, nor does he lead in any of the eight seasons compared in the graph, he is the most consistent.

The difference between his highest and lowest OPS+ seasons (30) is by far the lowest of the five. Ruth is the next closest (73), followed by Williams (75), Gehrig (93) and Bonds (103).

Trout established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball right out of the gate his rookie season, and he hasn’t had a slip-up since. In fact, his lowest OPS+ number of 168 came in his rookie campaign.

Now let’s move to WAR.

WAR, or wins above replacement, measures a player’s value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement-level player at his same position.

The number nerds, myself included, love to use WAR as the best comparison to a player’s full body of work.

Babe Ruth, according to Baseball Reference, has the highest WAR of all-time at 182.5.

Suffice to say, Mike Trout is on an absolute WARpath (I’m so sorry) to catch Ruth as the best wins above replacement player in MLB history.

Trout came into the 2021 season with a 74.1 WAR, good enough for 82nd all-time.

In the first month of the season, Trout has already accumulated 1.9 WAR to push him up to 75th on the list.

If Trout finishes with anything above a 7.6 WAR this season, which he has done seven times in his career and is well on his way to doing so, he will move into the top 60, passing the likes of Robin Yount, Brooks Robinson, Joe DiMaggio and Nolan Ryan.

Both Trout and Ruth debuted at the age of 19, making it very easy to compare their careers to this point.

With 2021 being Trout’s age-29 season, here is how he compares to Ruth in terms of WAR through their age-28 seasons:

Trout has a WAR more than 10 points higher than Ruth at this point in their careers. Pretty mesmerizing to see.

Of course, Ruth spent half of those years primarily as a pitcher, which accounts for the slow start.

After his age-28 season, Ruth had six double digit WAR seasons. He played until the age of 40.

Trout’s current contract runs through 2030, which would be his age-38 season. If he retires after that contract, he will need to average 10.84 WAR per year for the next ten seasons (including 2021) to catch Ruth.

If he plays two more years and matches Ruth through age 40, he will need to average 9.03 WAR per year.

It won’t be easy, but man am I excited to see if Trout can do it. We truly are witnessing greatness ladies & gentleman, let’s not take it for granted.

I think Trout is already the most talented player in the history of baseball. He may very well already be the greatest player of all time.

If he can top Ruth in WAR however, he will go down as the undisputed GOAT in baseball history.

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