Discussing Mike Trout's Hall of Fame case at age 22 seems wildly premature and somewhat negligent. Trout is still in the nascent stages of his career, and his cumulative numbers reflect such. However, Trout is a legendary talent, one that reminds us that we must still write the record books in pencil. No one will dispute that Trout is on pace to become a member of the Hall of Fame, however it is worth investigating how he far off he truly is.
One of the largest debates in Hall of Fame discussion is that of peak vs. longevity. We know neither Trout's peak numbers, nor his longevity. His body is not one that alludes to an enduring career, and while pessimistic, it's not far-fetched to think that Trout may already have reached his ceiling. Before we get into hypotheticals, let's look at where his case stands as of today.
He has produced 24.7 rWAR, and is on pace to end the season with around 30.3 career rWAR. He will be far and away the best player of all time through his age 23 season. Primarily using Jay Jaffe's JAWS score, which averages a player's seven-year peak with his career WAR, Trout would lie well below the 57.2 JAWS rating of the average Hall of Fame center fielder. In fact, he would need to increase his JAWS rating nearly 26.9 points in order to be considered even an average Hall player. The Hall of Stats, which combines peak and longevity in terms of WAR and then weights it to a Hall of Fame average of 100, pegs Trout at 54% under the average Hall player in terms of rWAR. Obviously, Trout could not hang up his spikes in October and waltz right into Cooperstown.
However, his case becomes quite interesting when looking at the fact that the weighted average WAR of a Hall of Fame center fielder's seven-year peak is 44. If he holds pace for the rest of 2014, Trout will have accrued about 70% of the average seven-year peak WAR of a HOF center fielder in only three years. The average career WAR of a Hall of Fame center fielder is 70.4. Trout will have accumulated nearly 45% of the average HOF CF's career WAR by the time he is 23.
For the following exercise, we're going to play under the assumption that Trout suddenly tires of baseball after the 2018 season and decides to hang up his spikes in search of greener pastures. This gives us seven complete seasons of data of which to play.
Now let's put on our best optimistic hats and say Mike Trout actually improves starting next year. Let's say he posts four consecutive seasons of 11.0 rWAR. For some historical context, two players in the past 40 years have posted 11+ rWAR, Barry Bonds a few times in the 2000s and Joe Morgan in 1975. Using 2012-2018 as his seven-year peak, he would have a peak rWAR of 73.6, well above the average Hall of Fame CF's 44. His career rWAR from 2011-2018 that time would be 74.3, just above the average 70.4 career WAR of the Hall of Fame CF. His JAWS rating would be 73.95, an astounding 16.75 points higher than the average HOF CF.
If Trout merely stays steady and produces four more years of 10.0 rWAR, his JAWS rating would still be just under 70, well above-average compared to the average 57.2 rating. If he tumbled one rung down to a consistent 8-win player, his JAWS rating would be 61.95.
Trout's annual value could decrease as much as 20% over the next four years and he will have still built an excellent Hall of Fame case by the age of 27. As we discussed earlier, it's quite hard for a player to maintain health and performance over a seven-year stretch, especially at such an elite level. It's fun to take a step back and realize that while Trout could be worthy of a Hall of Fame spot by age 27, it's even more exhilarating to imagine just what he could do if he plays for ten years after that.
. . .
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Daniel Schoenfeld can be reached @DanielSchoe.