Over the last few weeks, we've offered introductions to our Best Players of 2015 series. We set the stage for the whole endeavor, and we then revealed the players who landed between 45th and 11th on the list. If you need a refresher on the methodology, nine of our writers ranked players based on how well they thought players would perform during the 2015 season. They ordered them from No. 1 to No. 20, and those players got point values (20 for first, 19 for second, etc.) and were ranked by the sum of their points. The highest possible score is 180. We're already told you Anthony Rendon ranked 10th, Jose Bautista finished ninth, Miguel Cabrera landed at eighth, Josh Donaldson ended up seventh, Buster Posey was sixth, Felix Hernandez took fifth, and Giancarlo Stanton nabbed fourth. Finally, we had Clayton Kershaw third and Andrew McCutchen second.
No. 1: Mike Trout, Center Fielder (Los Angeles Angels)
Jayne Kamin-Ochea/USA Today
Surprise! It's Mike Trout. We all knew this was coming. Trout's been the best player in baseball for the last three seasons and somehow he's only 23 years old. He's already a 30 WAR player and he can't even rent a car without paying those silly underage fees.
He's the best hitter in the game, probably. He's a great base runner, assuredly. He certainly has the skills to handle center field, although the numbers haven't liked him lately, which leaves things a little up in the air. He's an incredible player, our voters acknowledged that, and we're all here as a formality.
Why We Love Him
Through age 22, Trout is one of the five best hitters ever. Through age 22, he's the best all-around player, ever. He's been the best player in the game for three years running and he led the best team in the AL to a playoff berth a year ago. Even if he's already peaked, the Hall of Fame is very much in reach.
A lot was made about his added strikeouts last year, but he paired them with a bunch more power (+40 points of ISO) to mitigate the negatives. He didn't steal a ton of bases, but no one is better at avoiding double plays, and while the numbers didn't love him in center field last year, he's always capable of making a big play out there.
There's Mike Trout and then there's everybody else.
So Steamer calls for an 8.5 WAR in 661 PA, which is insane. Until you look over at ZiPS and see that it's projecting a 9.6 WAR in 705 PA. Nine point six.
PECOTA's the wet blanket of the group, lining up at 7.2 WAR in 676 PA.
Where He Fits In
Not only did Trout top our list, he was the unanimous top pick. All nine writers put him at the top and it wasn't really close. I had the writers throw an approximate WAR on every selection and the gap between McCutchen at second and Trout at first was massive. McCutchen was hovering around 7 WAR, while Trout averaged around 8.4 WAR.
If our writers are right, Mike Trout's in line for another MVP season and the Angels should have the best outfield in the sport without much trouble. Realistically, Trout has probably just peaked early and he'll slowly decline over the next few years. It seems unfathomable that he'd get better just because there's not much room to get better.
If you assume a pretty normal aging curve, but start it at 25 instead of 30, Trout still winds up around 100 WAR before he turns 35. Of course there are so many things that can happen between now and then, but it speaks to what he's already done as a professional. Not only has Trout ruined prospects for us forever, he's essentially built the biggest Hall of Fame cushion in quite some time.
If he stays healthy, it's going to be one heck of a decade.