I was listening to 670 The Score in Chicago on Monday when Terry Boers of the Boers and Bernstein Show shared this list of players in baseball history with three seasons of 25 or more home runs prior to turning 23 (listen to the audio clip here -- begin at the 20:35 mark. Also skip ahead to 23:00 for a brilliant question). The full list with 25+ home runs prior to their 23rd birthday can be seen here, but players with three such seasons make for a very short list:
|Mike Trout||Angels||2012-2014||30, 27, 27|
|Frank Robinson||Reds||1956-1958||38, 29, 31|
|Mel Ott||Giants||1929-1931||42, 25, 29|
|Eddie Mathews||Braves||1952-1954||25, 47, 40|
There are conflicting forces at work -- even though ball parks are far more hitter-friendly than in the past, players aren't rushed to the majors as quickly as they used to be, making it extremely difficult to play three seasons by age 22, let alone demonstrate power at that tender age. On the other hand, with the increase in power numbers from 1995-2007, I'm surprised no one accomplished this feat in over 50 years. That's the sign of something special that should get our attention.
Mike Trout turned 23 on August 7th and had his 25 home runs by then. Making lists like this can be an exercise in selective choice of what to include, but there's no denying the greatness of the players on this list.
This chart shows the highest Baseball-Reference WAR values (rWAR) in a player's first three seasons:
|Wade Boggs||Red Sox
Note carefully the years for Trout -- it includes his partial debut season of 2011 and completely omits his accomplishments this season. If I were to make that small adjustment, his cumulative 2012-2014 rWAR of 25.8 would be a full two points better than Ted Williams.
. . .when you have a big data set, everything looks like a question that can be answered with a large N database query. . . Just about every piece of Sabermetric research contains some variation of the line "I looked for all players who . . ."
As a person who routinely "looks for all players" (like I did in this post), I'm keenly aware of the shortcomings of this approach and try to temper my enthusiasm. However, when looking at career starts that are similar to Trout's it's difficult to not notice that he's right there with the best players in baseball history. In our own skewed way, the ability to see Trout almost at will, view his data and make comparisons has jaded us to the fact he's not just good, not just really good, but possibly off to the best start we've seen in our lifetimes.
Mike Trout: Four tool player?
His throwing arm isn't perfect, and that's about the extent of his shortcomings as he hits for average and power power, fields his position well and is excellent on the base paths. He doesn't start making significant money until 2016 and his paycheck won't reach the stratosphere until 2018. I've written it before, I'm sure I'll write it again at some point, but in my mind it's an open question as to whether he'll make it through his current contract -- if he continues to perform as he is now, he'll make even $30 million look like a bargain. The Angels will be paying Josh Hamilton $89 million through 2017 and Albert Pujols $189 million through 2021 -- how much will they be willing to pay to a player who actually performs?
If Trout keeps it up, there's a very good chance he will be part of an N=1 analysis since he'll separate himself from the rest of baseball past and present. Barring the unpredictable, Trout is about to force us to view him on his own, since he'll be like no other very soon. With great data comes great responsibility, and our job going forward is to constantly remind ourselves of how special he is.
All data from Baseball-Reference
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.