Mike Trout: One of the Greats?

***This is meant to be an exercise, I’m aware of the factors that could derail this projection such as regression and injuries.

Mike Trout has obviously dazzled in his first few seasons in the major leagues. He only played in 40 games in 2011 to replace some injured Angels in the Los Angeles outfield. Then in 2012 after spending some time in Triple-A Salt Lake, he was called up to replace a struggling Bobby Abreu. The rest is a story in progress and since then, Trout has been the best player in the game according to fWAR.

For the past two seasons Trout has accumulated a fWAR of 18.4. The great Miguel Cabrera is a full 4.0 wins above replacement level behind Trout during this time thus proving there’s more to the game than offensive statistics. However, it’s safe to say that Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball.  Trout’s career fWAR total is 19.2 in 302 total games. If you simply subtract 302 minus 162 you get 140. So Trout is 20 games away from being two full seasons into his major league career. To keep it at a nice round season total, let’s round up to two full seasons for the sake of comparing him to other all-time greats.

If Trout were to be shutdown for the rest of the season, (which is not happening) then he’d be averaging a fWAR of 9.6 a season. The scary thing is that this will likely get up to at least 10.0 by season’s end. Let’s also assume that regression does not exist for a while because regression is impossible to predict for any player. Even though it’s inevitable, so yes I realize this won’t be 100% accurate, but lighten up. It’s a fun exercise.

Determining the right amount of years to multiply Trout’s 9.6 fWAR by was difficult. Studies shown that the average MLB player’s career is 5.6 seasons. Yet, this is inaccurate in this case because Trout isn’t going to have to stop playing baseball because he’s not good enough. Trout is another Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, or Chipper Jones. These players have played at least 19 seasons each, and of course two of them will likely go into their early 40′s before retiring. So this make it much more difficult to determine the amount of years. Do I go ahead and give Trout the benefit of the doubt that he’ll have a career as long as long as the greats of this generation? I think it’s okay to say Trout will play 15-17 years at least. By picking a number I think he will surpass there’s room for the real Trout to regress and accumulate smaller fWAR totals in the years that the fake Mike Trout (this exercise) will be earning 0, since he’ll be retired. Get it?

So 9.6 multiplied by 16 seasons will equal a total of 153.6 fWAR. This would place him right between Barry Bonds and his 164.1 fWAR and Willie Mays 149.9 fWAR and that would be good enough for 3rd all-time. It’s a scary thought to say Trout’s on pace to be essentially the third greatest player ever according to fWAR with a little over a month to raise his seasonal fWAR average.

What’s cool about Trout’s success is that 1.) he’s only 22 and 2.) he’s improving offensively. The big argument against Trout in the MVP debate in both 2012 and now 2013 is that he’s not as good an offensive player as Cabrera. This is true, Cabrera is without a doubt the best hitter in baseball. Yet, Trout is just simply an all-around better player. Meaning his defense and base running are amazing as well as his bat. Do these factors outweigh Cabrera’s hitting though? That’s a conversation for another time.

A season ago Trout finished with a line of .326 BA/.399 OBP/.564 OBP/.409 wOBA/166 wRC+. This season, he has increased his offensive totals to a line of .330 BA/.427 OBP/.569 SLG/.425 wOBA/177 wRC+. While we have seen regression in his defensive metrics going from 13.3 to 3.2 and his base running going from 12.0 to 7.7, I don’t see these things as concerns. The real concern is for the rest of the league now that Trout is becoming a better hitter.

If Trout keeps this up, we may be talking about one of the greatest players of all time when it’s all said and done. For now, we should just sit back and watch him go to work. I can’t wait for him to hit his prime.

*All stats courtesy of Fangraphs.