The Unique Greatness of Mike Trout

As I’m sure you know, there are scores of internet writers who write exclusively about baseball, and dozens more who write about baseball in addition to other topics.  To the best of my knowledge, none has written a word about Mike Trout this season.

In case you haven’t heard, Mike Trout is a rookie outfielder for the California Angels of Orange County, and he’s got a pretty good chance of winning the Rookie of the Year this year.  In fact, if super slugger Miguel Cabrera hadn’t already locked up the AL MVP, we might be talking about Trout for that award as well.  Click below to see why.

Fangraphs breaks its version of WAR for position players into three components: value from batting, value from fielding, and value from baserunning.  At the moment, Trout leads the AL, and indeed all of baseball, with 51.5 batting runs above replacement.  He leads the AL in baserunning runs above replacement.  And he’s third in fielding runs above average, trailing only Mike Moustakas and Ichiro Suzuki.

Baseball-Reference tells us that Trout trails Cabrera by a tenth of a run in batting runs above average.  This is presumably because fangraphs includes stolen bases in its batting runs, while B-R includes steals in baserunning runs (in which Trout has been almost as valuable as the next two players combined).  B-R also has Trout leading the league in fielding runs above average.

What does this tell us?  Almost certainly, Trout has been the best hitter in baseball this year.  B-R tells us that Cabrera has created one more run, but he’s done it in 60 more plate appearances.  It’s really not that close.

Almost certainly, Trout is the best baserunner in baseball.  Jason Heyward has a .1 run advantage in fangraphs baserunning, which excludes stolen bases, where Trout leads Heyward, 45-19.  In case you were wondering, Trout’s four caught stealings are half of Heyward’s.  B-R gives Trout ten baserunning runs above average, eight more than Heyward and three more than anyone else in baseball.  It’s not really that close.

These numbers don’t necessarily tell us that Trout is the best defensive player in baseball.  The eye test certainly supports his candidacy, as he’s probably made more highlight-reel catches than anyone  in the game.  B-R thinks he’s brought more value relative to his position than anyone else, but he’s played almost as much left field as center, so it’s hard to make a case that he’s a better defensive player than the best shortstops in the league (Brendan Ryan comes to mind) or the best catchers (Yadier Molina, for instance).  Defensive numbers also fall prey to sample size issues, as a player’s UZR can be boosted by more opportunities and his zone factor can be disproportionately affected by one or two misplays.  Still, we can’t have a conversation about the best defensive outfielders in baseball without mentioning Trout, and by extension, he’s in the best defensive player discussion.

Should Trout finish in the top three in his league in each component, how unique would that be?  Fangraphs’ baserunning runs only go back to 2002, since the elements that comprise it haven’t been tracked forever.  In the past ten seasons, no player has finished in the top three in his league in each component. Stretch it to the top five (I’ll stick to fangraphs because B-R adds a fourth component, double play runs, which are calculated separately from fielding runs), and we’re still not particularly close to finding anyone.  Five players have finished in the top ten in their league in all three categories: Grady Sizemore in 2006, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran in 2008, Chase Utley in 2009, and Carl Crawford in 2010 (Crawford’s been worth half a win since then- has anyone written about him?).  Utley’s season, in which he was sixth in batting, third in baserunning, and seventh in fielding, was the most balanced between the three disciplines.

If we limit the requirement to two of three categories, we still don’t find a single player since ’02 who led either league in two.  Crawford was second in fielding and third in baserunning in ’09; Matt Holliday was second in baserunning and third in hitting in ’07.

If we dig back a little further and ignore baserunning, the last player to finish in the top three in hitting and fielding was Cal Ripken in 1991, who finished first in fielding with 23 runs and second to Frank Thomas in batting runs, with 50.7.  The last player to lead his league in both?  Barry Bonds in 1990 (55 batting, 28 fielding).  Bonds stole 52 bases that season, good for third in the NL, so this seems like a good comp for Trout’s season.   Bonds earned 10.1 fWAR (9.5 rWAR) and won the MVP.  Someone should write a blog post about him too.

I’m willing to reserve the Greatest Player in Baseball tag until Trout has kept this up for a few more seasons, but it’s hard to argue that he’s not already the most well-rounded player in the game.

Now that this has been written, does anyone want to tackle the Orioles outperforming their peripherals?

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98 Comments on "The Unique Greatness of Mike Trout"

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MikeD
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I was wondering when the East Coast bias and the love for Mike Trout would finally make its way to HHS. Sure he plays for the Angels, but he was born and raised in New Jersey, and grew up a Yankee fan. Clearly East Coast bias! Miguel Cabrera is the real MVP. Signed, all fans from Detroit. Seriously, though, what an incredible season. As Keith Law likes to say, the narrative has been building around Trout for MVP, so he will win it, and certainly should, yet I am hoping Miggy can somehow pull out a triple crown. It shouldn’t… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Cabrera just got 2 homers and six ribbys – it’s on!

Nash Bruce
Guest
Mike, a few weeks ago, I looked up Mike Trout’s page on B-Ref…..and my jaw went through the floor. Rather than growing up in “New Jersey”- by which I mean, when I tell anyone out here that I “grew up in New Jersey” they start in with the awful Sopranos/Jersey Shore accent, or ask about city life, etc.- Mike Trout grew up in Millville, New Jersey, a town that from all accounts has 20,000 residents or so…..a town that I lived in, during my teenage years. I absolutely **** hated it. Nothing was going on there, except for pine trees,… Read more »
MikeD
Guest
I’m reading! And I sure hope that there isn’t some guideline on HHS that I missed that all postings have to be along sabermetric lines. If so, I’ve been violating the guidelines for quite some time, mixing in saber with general baseball observations, or the ocassional bit of humor. Sounds like you have an interesting story yourself. Yet I find the description of pine trees, sand dunes, and a couple of crack houses and ghetto apartments an interesting contradiction of images. Now, in the middle of it all, I see Mike Trout, best baseball player on the planet, at least… Read more »
nightfly
Guest

New Jersey is very diverse… we have urban hellholes, dead-souled suburbs, and many charming hick towns! Something for everyone!

(More seriously, NJ is also surprisingly beautiful and interesting in many places. There’s a lot to do that doesn’t involve crime or stereotypes.)

Jim Bouldin
Guest

It was the 49 for 53 in SB attempts that really caught my eye. That ain’t easy.
Dude’s a phenom, no question. Not sure why you think Cabrera has the MVP locked up though, I don’t.

EstebanNotYan
Guest

Mike Trout? Sounds fishy, or just a fluke. Must have a long way to swim upstream before being considered the Greatest Player in Baseball.

John Nacca
Guest

Trout is the best player to come down the pike. He plays the game with a porpoise not seen in years. Anyone who attempts to tackle this argument, well their outlook seems bleak, since he doesn’t seem to be floundering at this point in the season. I mean holy mackerel, this guy is the reel deal…so confidently perched on the steps of the dugout being chummy with his teammates, the sole reason the Angels are still alive. All you suckers who think otherwise, you mullet-wearing hippies being bullheaded…SCAT!

John Autin
Editor

I hate to carp, but….

nightfly
Guest

Now you guys are just baiting the commenters.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

You tried to sneak a salt water mammal by us there didn’t ya?

Nash Bruce
Guest

He’s still so young….Walleye be around to attend his HOF induction?

Doug
Guest

Trout seems to have that Gary Carter-style boyish enthusiasm. Great to see.

If Trout wins the SB and batting titles this year, he will join Ichiro as the only rookies with that distinction.

I see that Rajai Davis is right on Trout’s heels in the SB race. If Davis should win the SB title and maintain his current sub-.300 OBP, he would be just the 4th player with that combination and 40+ SB, joining Brian Hunter, Luis Aparicio and Bert Campaneris (Campy did it twice).

GrandyMan
Guest

He’s the best Angels outfielder since the likes of Tim Salmon. Even Catfish Hunter would’ve clammed up in fear of facing him. Walking him would not be the solution, as he can steal bases just for the halibut. Oh, and good luck getting anything past him – he’s a shark in the outfield. People in Anaheim look at his numbers and think, “I can whistle to the tuna this.” He’s only 21, but in the sea of professional baseball players, he’s no shrimp.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

I think that warrants a permanent site ban.

Daniel Longmire
Guest

If he is banned, that would be a reel shame.

John Autin
Editor

Tigers fan though I am, Trout gets my vote in a heartbeat, as of now. Still 15 games to go; Trout’s WAR lead is unassailable, but it’s conceivable that someone could go nuts enough from here in to change the playoff races and change my mind — like what George Brett did in the final week of ’85.

One little thing for Cabrera — he leads in WPA/LI, by an eyelash.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/AL/2012-win_probability-batting.shtml#players_win_probability_batting::none

Hartvig
Guest

If Miguel (and JV) can lead the Tigers to the promised land over the White Sox with a big finish to the season I agree an argument could be made. Otherwise…

I’m too tired to come up with an appropriate response to the string of fish(ing) related puns above but I am certain that there has to be a chum-bucket one in there somewhere.

Ed
Guest

I tend to think the AL MVP vote will show the split between the SABR crowd and the traditionalists. What Cabrera might due this year is fairly unique and is hard to overlook. Only 40 times has a player put up .330+, 40+ HRs, 130+ RBIs. 27 of those seasons occurred between 1920-1940, so it’s only been done 13 times in the past 70+ seasons.

Ed
Guest

Oops…”what Cabrera might do” not “due”.

Ed
Guest

One more note on Cabrera’s season…assuming he pulls off .330+, 40+ HRs, and 130+ RBIs, he’ll only be the 3rd non-outfielder, non-firstbaseman to do it. The others being Hornsby in ’22 and Al Rosen in ’53. Again, Cabrera’s season is hard to overlook even if he has a lot less WAR than Trout.

bstar
Guest

OK, but there have only been 34 players to put up a 10.2 WAR season or better, which is where Mike Trout is at right now. When you qualify the season to less than 125 games (Mike has 124), Trout stands alone as the only player to ever accumulate that much WAR in so few games.

Ed
Guest

Oh I agree Bstar. If I had a vote it would go to Trout. That being said, I felt it was important to acknowledge what Cabrera might do. He’s obviously not up to Trout’s level but he’s also not Juan Gonzalez in ’96 and ’98.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

#22 – Ken Caminiti came close in his MVP year of 1996 as a third baseman:
.326 BA/ 40 HR/130 RBI

Brent
Guest

Not that Brett’s final week in 1985 helped him beat out Mattingly (145 RBIs) for the MVP. Glad to know that you would have voted for Brett though. (although THE Rickey probably was the best candidate).

And that final week was special. In the 6 games that pushed the Royals into the Playoffs (they went 5-1), the Royals scored 22 runs. Brett either scored and/or drove in 13 of them.

mattmaldre
Guest

Yahoo has him ranked as the #1 player based on his performance thus far in the 2012 season.

no statistician but
Guest

Before the coronation, it might be well to look at Trout’s recent slowdown. The last 28 days show a .270 BA, .728 OBP., 3 HR, 7 RBI, 4 SB. I’m not suggesting that he’s not an excellent player, but there have been other great rookie seasons that led to unfulfilled expectations. Give the kid a chance. Don’t put him on a pedestal too soon.

In terms of batting performance, right now his stats resemble somewhat those of Fred Lynn in 1975. Lynn’s career was by no means a failure, but he had only one more really high octane season.

birtelcom
Editor

On the other hand, Fred Lynn was 23 not 20 when he had his great rookie season, he had 10 SBs and 5 CSs and he was not quite as impressive in center.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

OTOH, Lynn played all of his 144 defensive games in CF, whereas Trout has 97 CF/60 LF/4 RF; also Lynn had a higher OBA and SLG.

OTOH, if you run them both through Neutralized Batting, Trout beats Lynn by in those categories by 13 and 21 points, respectively.

Hartvig
Guest
Other good comps might be Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds & Grady Sizemore. Sizemore is the closest in terms of numbers but, like Bonds, was a couple of years older. Junior didn’t quite match the power (yet) and certainly not the stolen bases. But I think the best comp of all might be Cesar Cedeno. Like Trout he started at 19 but unlike Trout his breakout season was at 21. But at that point his numbers are pretty similar: 55 stolen bases, 22 home runs (playing in the Astrodome in 1972!), Slugging % of .537. OPS+ of 162. The biggest… Read more »
Dalton Mack
Editor

Great piece, however I couldn’t disagree more about the “none has written a word about Mike Trout this season” line. Since May there have been scores of articles written about Trout and his magnificent year, often in sabermetric circles.

Ed
Guest

Dalton – I sensed extreme sarcasm in Bryan’s comment.

bstar
Guest

I think there was definitely sarcasm there, but I do believe this is the first time we have discussed Trout’s season in detail. Credit Bryan for tackling two issues which have been ignored all summer long on this site: Steven Strasburg’s shutdown and Trout’s historic rookie season.

If somebody could possibly discuss Chipper Jones’ last season and his iconic status in the game…..at the very least, he’s a dying breed as far as playing for the same team at such a high level for so long.

Timmy Pea
Guest

Four games down with 14 left I think the Phillies may have run out of gas, but the Brewers still might sneak in because of the hot bat of one Rickie Weeks. Also I’ve seen Troutdog written about in newspapers and magazines and such, maybe not on the internet.

Brent
Guest

The Cardinals have 8 games of Astros/Cubs in the next week and a half. That should mean that the chasers are going to have a very difficult time catching them. And Chris Carpenter starts on Friday.

John Autin
Editor

The Phillies and the Pirates could tell you about the dangers of taking the Astros and Cubs for granted.

mosc
Guest

Bryan, more charts! You want to say a guy’s third in a stat, give us a chart with the top 10 or something. That way we can see the context for the type of players that succeed in that stat and understand more specifically what it’s talking about.

Chad
Guest

Full disclosure: I am a Tiger fan also.

I agree that Trout has had a more complete season and is more deserving of the MVP, but if Miggy can pull off the Triple Crown and somehow lead the Tigers to the playoffs while the Angels stay home, I think it will be an extraordinarily interesting vote. Of course, even in that scenario the Angels missing the playoffs would probably not have happened had Trout played the whole year instead of missing April.

I’m hoping we get to see that interesting vote play out.

Dr. Doom
Guest

Hands-down, THE funniest post in the history of the HHS/B-R blog history. You cracked me up yesterday, and I came back to read it again today, just ‘cuz. Good stuff. Keep it coming.

John Autin
Editor

Nice post, Bryan.

However, the question “How unique would that be?” has only two possible answers: “unique” or “not unique.”

As for the Orioles — I caution you that the baseball gods are watching us scribes with a very protective eye towards their anointed birds. The merest hint of skepticism directed at the orange & black will only spur an acceleration of their outperformance.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

What I want to know is how a cold water fish is thriving in LA climes and Bryan’s not even remotely touched on it. This post is a failure.

Also, why haven’t you posted anything about how the Orioles record in one run games is due to luck? This post is a failure.

And for the sarcasm recognition challenged /sarcasm usually works.

tag
Guest

Jim, I think if salmon can be introduced into the Yemen, or whatever that lousy book/rom-com had happening, then Trout can survive in the only semi-arid climes of SoCal.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

Fair enough tag. However, you’ll note that Bryan never even mentioned Yemen in his post. Complete and utter failure in all respects.

Coincidentally, I believe Tim Salmon played a couple years in the Yemeni winter league. Of course, that was the norm back in those days.

tag
Guest

Agree on the failure; you just gotta be culturally nuanced in these posts.

I remember those Salmon winter league years in the Yemen. He kind of spawned a huge Yemeni baseball cult for a while.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

You’re right on there tag. It was an awesome Salmon run there for a few years that Salmon spawned. I believe even the Marlins got involved, and man I’m telling you–have you ever seen the Marlin run up those Yemeni rivers?

Jonas Gumby
Guest

tag, I completely agree with you that Ewan McGregor is a dreamboat.

tag
Guest

I actually saw about 15 minutes of the film on my last plane trip to the US. The things you’ll do on planes to kill time…

Jonas Gumby
Guest

They played “Sack Lunch” on my last plane trip…

tag
Guest

Completely agree, John. At every mention of the *uck word they reel off another six or seven one-runners in a row. It would not surprise me in the least if they captured the WS by sweeping every series by scores of 3-2, 5-4 and 10-9 in extras at this point.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

You asked and the Icturids delivered….

3-1 win in 11 innings last night.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

Good God there’s been a latin spelling error identified. Make that “Icterids”

We wish to emphasize however nothing in the phylogenetic analysis or fundamental points of the work are affected, nor is there any truth whatsoever to the rumor that said Icterids are proceeding by what is colloquially referred to as “luck” by certain elements.

Brent
Guest

Bah, I think we should be voting per really old school lines, which means players from teams that aren’t going to make the playoffs, like the Tigers and Angels, should be eliminated. That makes it a two horse race, Cano and Beltre.

John Autin
Editor

Uh, if it’s old school, then it’s Hamilton, according to the “outfielder with gaudy HRs & RBIs” clause. Cano would be eliminated by his crappy RBI total.

Timmy Pea
Guest

It’s funny that Hamilton can look so uninspired and still put up big numbers.

Doc_Irysch
Guest

How about imagining Trout as a slot receiver in the Patriots offense. . .

tag
Guest

And since Hernandez might be out for a while, installing LeBron James as a TE. If b-ball also-rans like Gates and Jimmy Graham can succeed wildly at the position, image what the King could do.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

He played receiver in high school before hanging it up for the hardwood. My nephew had the balls to go up to him on the sideline during a game in his sophomore season and ask him to autograph a basketball, which he did.

Ed
Guest
I’m going to go ahead and say it…Cabrera will win the AL MVP. For the following reasons: 1) Much stronger finish (which will likely to continue given the Tigers competition for the rest of the year – except for today’s game against the A’s, the Tigers only play the Twins and the Royals the rest of the way). 2) A lot more Black Ink. 3) Much of Trout’s lead in WAR comes from defense but it doesn’t seem like even the SABR crowd completely buys into his defense being that good. 4) I’ve said before that I don’t think prior… Read more »
John Nacca
Guest
I dare say we could be looking at Miguel Cabrera the same way we look at Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez, and Derek Jeter. Three all-time greats who had big years over and over again, but years that were not out of the realm of their own consistency, and never big enough to win an MVP because there was always someone who had a year/years that transcended stats (Murray in 1981 and 1984 when Fingers and Willie Hernandez won; Jeter in 1998 finished behind Juan Gone and Garciaparra; Manny in 1999 finishing behind Pudge Rodriguez). Cabrera just routinely cranks out seasons… Read more »
Lawrence Azrin
Guest

Interesting that the four AL MVP awards you cite are considered amongst the more questionable selections, particuarly the two years that relievers won, in 1981 and 1984.

There are a some other unquestioned HOFers who put up many great seasons, but never won the MVP:

– Mel Ott
– Eddie Mathews
– Wade Boggs
– Al Kaline
– Paul Molitor
– Johnny Mize
– Dave Winfield
– Gary Carter
– Tony Gwynn

Bill Johnson
Guest
As a Tigers fan let me at least mention one more thing- though I am not saying voters will or even should take it into account. When the Tigers picked up Fielder to offset the loss of Victor Martinez- Miggy made that work by agreeing to play third. Not only did he not pout about it, he came into the Spring having lost weight, and in his best shape in years. The Tigers’ team defense is awful and playing Miggy at third has been part of that, but he actually has not been as bad as I though he would… Read more »
John Nacca
Guest
I am NOT a Tigers fan, but it sure seemed like Hanley Ramirez bitched a lot when the Marlins picked up Jose Reyes, and he had to switch positions. And I still remember Cabrera’s attempt to save Gallaraga’s perfecto…he VERY easily could have said to himself “I’m not gonna be the goat who makes an error now”. The guy may….and I say may…have off field issues, but it sure looks from afar that he comes to play every day. And if you haven’t seen the clip where he takes the “Fire Leyland” sign from the fan and signs it (along… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest

The “Most Diverse Post of the Yet-To-Be Specified Timeperiod Award” hereby goes to…
Bryan!

Topics mentioned or discussed in this thread include:

Natural History (quite heavy on aquatic environments):

trout
pike
mackerel
suckers
carp
walleye
catfish
tuna
salmon
shrimp
chum
porpoises
marine mammals more generally
marlin

Icterids, particularly Orioles
pine trees
sand dunes
wombats

Gegography:

New Jersey
Los Angeles
Anaheim
Detroit
SoCal
Yemen
Rivers in Yemen

Other:

hippies
crack houses
pimps
philosophical discussion of uniqueness
the potential flexibility of the use of the word “unique”
the actual or potential uniqueness of various definitions of the word “unique”
chairs, wooden
chairs, titanium
tables, wooden
seat cushions
marmalade
giants
giants made of marmalade
giant piles of marmalade

bunch of baseball stuff, players etc and related nonsense

Fireworks
Guest
I like advanced statistics. I like Mike Trout as much as I can possibly like him while knowing that the Angels picked him with the pick they got from the Yankees when the Yanks signed Mark Teixeira as a free agent, and that Yankees claim that he was high up on their board. However, if Cabrera continues killing the ball and the Tigers win the division, I’d vote for him for MVP. Instead of criticizing advanced stats like the “purists”, I’d focus on something else that has value, though it is not quantified: Cabrera moved to third base to allow… Read more »
Fireworks
Guest

I kinda ended abruptly there but even I tire of reading my inanity.

Miggy for MVP!

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