Angels slugger's numbers on par with all-time greats
By Richard Justice
Maybe the most amazing thing about Mike Trout's brief career is that he may already have punched his ticket to Cooperstown. Roll that one around in your brain a time or two.
At the very least, Trout has done enough to be in a discussion about who does or doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, and shouldn't that remind us how lucky we are to get to watch this guy play baseball?
As we prepare for the announcement of the 2017 Hall of Fame class -- which will be live on MLB Network and MLB.com beginning at 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 18 -- it's only natural to wonder which current players belong in Cooperstown, and Trout is right in the middle of that conversation even though he is all of 25 years old and has spent just four full seasons in the Majors. To think he could still get better isn't a stretch.
And we've seen very few players this good.
Trout's 48.5 career Wins Above Replacement* is already higher than a handful of Hall of Famers, most notably Jim Rice (47.4), as well as Lou Brock (45.2) and Chuck Klein (43.6), among many, many others. And with anything resembling his performance thus far in the 2017 season, Trout will launch past the likes of Ralph Kiner (49.3), Orlando Cepeda (50.3) and Tony Perez (53.9) and into the top 100 all time in terms of position player WAR.
While not everyone is sold on WAR as the ultimate measure of a player's career, it does provide context for Trout's 811 games.
If his next 811 are as good as his first 811, Trout's WAR would pass a long list of iconic players: Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, George Brett, Ken Griffey Jr., Al Kaline, Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski.
Trout would also have 336 homers, 350 doubles, 954 walks and 1,200 runs. And he would be 30 years old. (He'd also have reached 10 years in the Majors, which is a requirement to be HOF-eligible.)
Back to Trout. He will not be moved by these kinds of comparisons. To him, they're for another time and place.
It's not that Trout is still in the first half of his career, either, and that it seems like only yesterday -- it was 2012 -- that he began the season in the Minors and wasn't sure Pujols even knew his name.
To Trout, as much as any player in the game, the joy is in the journey. He's as unpretentious and as transparent as a prominent athlete can be.
Trout loves the game on its purest level. That means, not just the game, but the preparation, details and especially the competition. To watch him play any random game is to know you may see something that will bring you out of your seat.
Even on nights when he does not hit a ball over the wall or into the gap, Trout has the capability of impacting a game in center field or on the bases.
One of the highest compliments a scout or a manager can assign to a player is this simple sounding one: He's a baseball player. Mike Trout is the best of his generation, a defining player and a measuring stick for every other.
Trout is the sixth player to win two Most Valuable Player Awards before his 26th birthday, and every other one on the list is already in the Hall of Fame: Bench, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Hal Newhouser.
Trout is also the first to finish first or second in MVP voting in his first five seasons. Barry Bonds is the only other to finish first or second in five straight seasons at any point in his career.
Let's not obsess over numbers. Apart from the awards and the statistics, sometimes you just know. You know it when Pujols steps to the plate or when Beltre makes a breathtaking play at third.
In Trout's case, we know. We know it with his talent and his attitude and his raging competitive fire. We know this must have been what it was like to watch Willie Mays or Frank Robinson when they were young. We just know there have been very few baseball players this good. Ever.
* The Baseball Reference version of WAR was used in this article.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.