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Mike Trout: Yet another career milestone

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Every time I think nothing more can be written about Mike Trout, it turns out I'm mistaken.

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Mike Trout points out his career trajectory --  and future salary
Mike Trout points out his career trajectory -- and future salary
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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:

Player Team Years HR
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:

Player Team Years Age rWAR
Ted Williams Red Sox
1939-1941 20-22 23.6
Albert Pujols Cardinals 2001-2003 21-23 20.7
Mike Trout Angels 2011-2013 19-21 20.3
Evan Longoria Rays 2008-2010 22-24 20.0
Paul Waner Pirates 1926-1928 23-25 19.0
Snuffy Stirnweiss Yankees 1943-1945 24-26 18.5
Eddie Mathews Braves 1952-1954 20-22 18.4
Johnny Mize Cardinals 1936-1938 23-25 18.3
Joe DiMaggio Yankees 1936-1938 21-23 18.2
Jackie Robinson Dodgers 1947-1949 28-30 18.1
Wade Boggs Red Sox
1982-1984 24-26 17.9
Frank Robinson Reds 1956-1958 20-22 17.7
Arky Vaughan Pirates 1932-1934 20-22 17.4
Ralph Kiner Pirates 1946-1948 23-25 17.3

See the complete list here

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.

I strongly urge anyone who doesn't already own Baseball Prospectus 2014 to try to find it and read Russell Carleton's outstanding essay at the end titled "N=1." He makes this statement:

. . .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?

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.