Is Mike Trout the Best Player in Baseball Already?


Excuse me for sounding a little hyperbolic in my title, and for jumping on what’s becoming an already sickeningly overcrowded bandwagon, but Mike Trout is so good it’s starting to get a little overwhelming. How many other 21-year-olds — and Trout has played most of the season at age 20, actually — have ever been good enough to make this kind of immediate impact on the league in the entire history of the game?

I resisted the Trout hype for quite some time, even when he was called up for action this season and proceeded to produce exactly the kind of results everyone had projected he would. I certainly resisted it as he blazed through five levels of the minor leagues in parts of just four professional seasons (he’s still in just his fourth year since being drafted even as he tears up the majors), hitting a cumulative .342/.425/.516 with 108 steals. After all, players with supernatural physical abilities have existed in the past and failed to make good on their promise plenty of times, so as good as the minor league triple slash line is, I would have at least doubted the power would manifest itself this quickly into his numbers, if ever.

Now that we have 580 plate appearances worth of sample size between 2011 and 2012 at the major league level to speak of, I’m officially done resisting. Mike Trout is an amazing player, who — in his own right — is every bit as special of a prospect as his current teammate Albert Pujols was when he got the call to the majors in 2001. Obviously, they’re very different players, so I’m not trying to draw a comparison there. Pujols was (is?) a hulking slugger that was first and foremost a hitter, a modern day Ted Williams so to speak. Trout is just a ridiculous all-around player that can do no wrong at anything on a baseball field.

The scary thing is that this is probably the worst Trout will ever be; he just turned 21, so it’s not like this is anything close to his prime years of baseball. For a guy who’s already doing everything just about as well as anyone in baseball, it’s hard to fathom how much room he could still have to grow, but it’s there. Trout, who’s actually beating his career minor league OPS line in 2012 by hitting .339/.402/.594 (look at that incredible isolated power number), is tied for first in all of baseball alongside Joey Votto in wRC+ with a mark of 181. Votto, a ridiculous hitter in his own right, walks nearly twice as often as Trout (the one area you might have the balls to ask Trout to improve in if you’re his manager) and strikes out a little less but is otherwise not doing much the young phenom isn’t. Obviously Votto is still the better overall hitter at this point in their careers (he does edge Trout .444 to .436 in wOBA), but who knows if that will be the case in a few years? The fact that Trout does everything else so well and sits neck-and-neck with Cincinnati’s offensive juggernaut first baseman is just ridiculous.

When I say he does everything else so well, I mean UZR data rates him as one of the game’s very best defensive players, and at a premium position at that. Sure, UZR has its quirks and not everyone puts a lot of stock into it, especially over a one-year sample size, but he’s getting high marks in every defense measuring system; as a center fielder, he’s a +5 according to Total Zone and +17 per BIS Defensive Runs Saved. It’s also not surprising, given his incredible speed, that he’s one of the best base runners in the game as well. FanGraphs base running data ranks Trout as the third most valuable base runner in all of baseball this season behind only Jason Heyward and Alejandro De Aza. Oh, and speaking of the speed, he’s also used it to swipe 38 bases in just 41 attempts, good for a 93% success rate.

With this package of tools and the instant statistical results to back them up, it’s not worth questioning — and has not been for some time already — whether or not he’s the Rookie of the Year in the American League. Based on WAR, a category he leads all players in handily using either the system at FanGraphs (7.1) or Baseball Reference (8.0), it’s not even a question as to whether or not he should also capture the AL MVP vote as well. A better question, at this point, involves asking whether he’s already the best player in baseball. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few more years of data to work with before conceding such a claim, but he’s starting to make a pretty good case for himself.

Can’t get enough of Spencer? Check out his work at StanGraphs and follow him on Twitter at @shendricks221.