In fact, Trout’s name needs to be mentioned among baseball’s greatest to ever play. Through his age-27 season, Trout has amassed a major league-high 71.4 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs. That’s more than Ty Cobb (68.8), Mickey Mantle (67.9), Joe DiMaggio (52.5), Hank Aaron (52.4) and Babe Ruth (51.9) had compiled at the same age.
But Trout does not lead the majors in Baseball-Reference’s WAR metric (bWAR) this season, which raises the question of whether another player could overtake him as baseball’s best player. That conversation begins with bWAR leader Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich.
Bellinger hit his 31st home run Saturday at Fenway Park, pushing his career total to 94, the most ever by a Los Angeles Dodgers player 24 or younger. He is setting career bests in walk rate (15 percent), strikeout rate (15 percent), batting average (.335) and slugging percentage (.689), and he leads all National Leaguers in FanGraphs’ version of WAR (5.7 fWAR) in addition to bWAR (6.7). Bellinger is also creating runs at a rate that is 83 percent higher than the league average after factoring in league and park effects. If he can sustain that production, it would be the seventh-highest rate since 2006, the first year Major League Baseball instituted leaguewide drug testing.
Yelich, the reigning NL MVP for the Milwaukee Brewers, is the closest position player (5.1 bWAR) to Bellinger. Like Bellinger, he is also setting career highs. The 27-year-old is batting .330 with a league-leading 32 home runs, creating runs at a rate that is 80 percent higher than the league average.
While Bellinger and Yelich compare favorably to Trout this year, if you compare them on more level aging terms, it isn’t close. Trout’s overall performance at similar ages dwarfs those of both superstars. Bellinger, over three seasons from 21 to 23, has amassed 13.4 fWAR through Sunday’s game. Trout produced 27.7 fWAR over that same range. Yelich was assigned 31.1 fWAR for his production from 21 to 27. Trout had 60.6! Looked at another way, throughout their careers, Trout is worth more than Bellinger and Yelich combined.
If Bellinger and Yelich aren’t about to surpass Trout, who is? No one is close.
Manny Machado and Bryce Harper have fallen by the wayside. Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals got his big league career off to a strong start in 2018 as a 19-year-old, but his 5.9 fWAR since 2018 lags well behind Trout’s rookie-year total of 10.1 in 2012. Not even heralded rookies such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (minus-0.2 fWAR so far in 2019, 4.2 projected for 2020 and 4.8 in 2021) or Fernando Tatis Jr. (3.4 fWAR so far in 2019, 2.6 projected for 2020 and 3.4 in 2021) are expected to get off to as strong of a start as Trout did.
But the end of Trout’s career could be equally amazing. According to the favorite toy, a formula created by Bill James that estimates the probability that a player achieves a cumulative statistical goal, Trout has the best chance of breaking Barry Bonds’s record of 762 home runs (13 percent, with an 84 percent chance of 500 home runs), a 13 percent chance of 3,000 career hits, a 20 percent chance of 2,000 runs and a 40 percent chance of 1,500 RBI. Three players in major league history have met or exceeded 500 home runs, 3,000 hits, 2,000 runs and 1,500 RBI: Aaron, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez.
Until someone else comes along with a reasonable chance to meet some or all of those thresholds, we must acknowledge that Trout has no peer in Major League Baseball.
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