Mike Trout Has Reached a Hall of Fame Threshold—But What If His Career Collapses?
- The Los Angeles Angels superstar just turned 26 and is chasing the likes of Cobb, Mantle and Mays. These various scenarios show where he might wind up on the all-time list.
On Monday night, Mike Trout celebrated his 26th birthday in style, and not just because his teammates gave him the clubhouse version of a birthday cake. In a 6-2 loss to the Orioles in Anaheim, the Angels superstar reached another milestone in what will likely be a long line of them, picking up his 1,000th hit by lacing a double down the leftfield line. In his next plate appearance, he homered, the fourth time in six years he had done so on his birthday.
Trout has been on fire since the calendar flipped to August, going 14-for-31 with two doubles, four homers and a 1.478 OPS, and he's more or less picked up where he left off since returning from a six-week absence due to a torn ligament in his left thumb. His .347 batting average, .468 on-base percentage, .710 slugging percentage and 216 OPS+ all represent career highs, and all but the batting average would lead the league if he had enough plate appearances to qualify; he's 47 short, and has a shot at making up that ground before the end of the season barring another absence. Even with the missed time, his 5.0 WAR ranks fifth in the American League, 0.3 behind Boston's Mookie Betts and New York's Aaron Judge, and 1.4 behind Houston's Jose Altuve, who's the presumptive MVP leader thanks to his own insanely hot second-half streak.
Because he has averaged 94 walks per full major league season, Trout was hardly the youngest or fastest player to reach 1,000 hits. Ty Cobb was the youngest, at 24 years and 145 days old, while 1930s Phillies rightfielder Chuck Klein was the fastest since the 19th century, doing so in his 683rd game. Trout needed 879; and as Emma Span discovered both he and the Hall of Famer to whom he is most often compared, Mickey Mantle, collected their 999th hits in their 878th career game.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, this is as good a chance as any to marvel at the speed with which the Millville Meteor is soaring toward Cooperstown (just as the Commerce Comet did). Trout technically isn't qualified yet because he has not appeared in the minimum of 10 major league seasons (one game is sufficient to count); the only time the Hall has waived that requirement was in 1977, when it did so for Addie Joss, who starred for nine seasons (1902-10) with Cleveland’s entry in the nascent American League but died of meningitis in April 1911, two days after his 31st birthday.
With 1,003 hits and 191 home runs, Trout obviously doesn't have the career totals that would typically impress a Hall voter. But if a career-ending injury prevented him from ever playing again, his sheer dominance over the 2012 to '17 period would make a compelling case for another waiver. From a sabermetric standpoint, his case is already coming into focus. According to the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor—which dishes out credit for things like seasons or careers with batting averages above .300, leagues led in key stats and playoff appearances—Trout's score of 100 already marks him as a "likely" Hall of Famer.
What's even more remarkable is his standing in my own JAWS system, which measures a candidate’s Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players at his position who are already enshrined by using the baseball-reference.com version of Wins Above Replacement to estimate a player's career hitting, pitching and defensive value and his peak value (defined as his best seven seasons at large).
In five full seasons and two partial ones, Trout has compiled 53.5 WAR, the second-highest total through a position player's age-25 season, 1.5 WAR ahead of Mantle and 2.2 behind Cobb. His injury actually cost him the top spot, which he owned through ages 20 to 24, though he's got enough time left in the season to regain his ground. That WAR total already ranks 22nd among all centerfielders; he's accumulated more value than several short-career Hall of Famers such as Kirby Puckett (50.9 in 12 seasons), Earl Averill (48.0 in 13 seasons), Hack Wilson (38.8 in 12 seasons) and five others.
That's impressive in its own right, but even more impressive is that Trout's 53.5 WAR already ranks sixth in peak score among all centerfielders, and he could be fifth by next week. Trout trails only Willie Mays (73.7), Cobb (69.0), Mantle (64.7), Tris Speaker (62.1) and Ken Griffey Jr. (53.9). Again, that's with five full seasons and two partial ones. If he maintains this year’s breakneck pace, he’d add another 3.3 WAR this year, and then assuming he outdoes his 40-game, 0.7 WAR 2011 cameo, will keep adding to that peak score. More on that in a moment.
As it is, Trout's 53.5 JAWS—the average of his career and peak WAR totals, which in this case are the same—ranks 13th among centerfielders, tied with Hall of Famer and 21-year veteran Andre Dawson and ahead of 10 of the 18 other enshrined centerfielders. With that projected 3.3 WAR for the rest of the season he would be at 56.8, surpassing Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn (53.9) and 2018 candidate Andruw Jones (54.6) and within a whisker of the the Hall of Fame standard at the position (57.9).
That's a player who's Cooperstown bound, but what if Trout tails off a bit, and, say, decides to hang up his spikes as soon as his contract ends following the 2020 season, when he'll have 10 years under his belt? Farfetched, I know, particularly that he'd be leaving enough money on the table to approximate the cost of a new ballpark. But let's bracket it by imagining a few scenarios.
Scenario 1: Trout regresses into an average player overnight
Roughly speaking, a full-time regular produces 2.0 WAR per year, which prorates to 1.4 to this point in the season. If Trout woke up Thursday morning and spent the rest of the season producing more or less like Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones (1.6 WAR thus far) on both sides of the ball, he'd add another 0.6 WAR to this year's total (5.6, for a career total of 54.1) and then 6.0 WAR for the remainder of his career.
Final line: 60.1 career WAR/55.1 peak/57.6 JAWS, 8th all time among centerfielders, 0.3 below the Hall standard for centerfielders
Scenario 2: Trout regresses into "just" an All-Star overnight
Generally speaking, an All-Star caliber season is in the 5.0 WAR range, which prorates to 3.5 to this point in the season. If Trout continues at that clip, he'd finish this year at 6.5 WAR, and add another 15.0 for the remainder of his career.
Final line: 70.0 career WAR/59.4 peak/64.7 JAWS, 6th all time, just ahead of Joe DiMaggio (64.5), trailing only Mays (115.0), Cobb (110.0), Speaker (97.9), Mantle (87.2) and Griffey (68.8).
Scenario 3: Trout maintains a Trout level through 2020
Suppose that Trout matches his 2012 to '16 level of 9.6 WAR per season through the end of his deal. That would add another 2.8 WAR this year, bringing his total to 7.8, and then another 28.7 for his career. Doing that would send his peak score skyrocketing, since he’d be outdoing both his comparatively meager 7.9 WAR from 2014 (the year he won his first AL MVP award) and this year’s projected total.
Final line: 84.0 career/65.3 peak/74.7 JAWS, fifth all-time, surpassing Griffey but lacking the longevity to overtake Mantle. Even so, his peak total would surpass the Mick and trail only Mays and Cobb.
Of course, the likelihood is that Trout will play past 2020, when he won't even be 30 years old. It boggles the mind that he could continue producing anywhere near his current level, but he has certainly done enough to start working on his induction speech.