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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Is Mike Trout on his way to the Hall of Fame?

Mike Trout is only 21 years old and in his second big league season, but it’s not too early to start talking about the phenom’s chances of making it to Cooperstown.

SUBWAY® is celebrating “The Boys in the Hall” and asked us to evaluate Trout’s likelihood of becoming a Hall of Fame player. Based on the way Trout has started his career, the chances of the Los Angeles Angeles outfielder earning a sacred plaque in the Hall are very strong.

Trout, the No. 25 overall pick in 2009, was only 19 when he was first called up to the bigs by the Angels in 2011. He started off slowly but still managed to produce 11 extra-base hits in 123 at-bats, including five home runs. The 40 games he played in 2011 proved to be an excellent experience, because Trout was unstoppable last season.

Trout was called up in late April by the Angels last season after hitting over .400 in 20 games for Triple-A Salt Lake City. His scorching start in the minors carried into the majors, as the New Jersey native hit well over .300 with an OPS over .940 in May, June, and July. His amazing play helped catapult the Angels in the standings and gave them life after a disappointing 6-14 start.

Trout wowed onlookers by excelling in every aspect of the game; he hit for power and average, utilized his speed to become one of the best baserunners in the game, and he was an outstanding defender in center field. In addition to batting an impressive .326 with 27 doubles, eight triples, and 30 home runs, Trout stole 49 bases in 54 attempts and robbed four home runs. Perhaps nothing showcased his all-around talent more than the Sept. 8 game against the Detroit Tigers last year where Trout led off with a home run and ended the game by robbing a potential dinger.

Boys in the Hall

Trout finished with the highest WAR (wins above replacement player) in MLB last season by both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs’ metrics. In fact, Trout’s 10.7 WAR last season was the highest Baseball Reference recorded since Barry Bonds’ 2001 and 2002 seasons. Keep in mind, those were the seasons in which the former San Francisco Giants slugger clubbed a record 73 home runs and led the league by hitting .370, respectively. Allow me to repeat: Trout’s all-around season was so amazing last year, it was the most valuable in baseball since Barry Bonds batted .370 and hit 73 home runs. Somehow Trout did not win MVP or a gold glove, but he did come away with the Rookie of the Year award.

Though many were expecting somewhat of a dropoff in 2013, Trout’s encore has been nearly just as impressive.

After starting off slowly in April by batting .261 with two home runs, Trout has turned it on. He posted a 1.073 OPS in May, and he has hit .337 thus far in June. Though his 12 home runs have him on pace to fall short of his total of 30 last season, Trout already has 22 doubles and six triples.

One change for Trout this season was his move to left field, which he admitted was disappointing. The Angels decided to have Peter Bourjos play center, but Trout moved back to center after Bourjos got hurt and missed all of May and part of June. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Trout’s offense got on track in May when he returned to center.

Trout’s fielding was actually somewhat shaky in left field to start the season. Despite making some highlight-reel worthy diving catches in left, Trout misplayed some balls that he seemed to catch all last season. Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron even noted in a story posted last week that Trout’s defensive metrics have him as just slightly above average this season, whereas last year he was one of the best in the game. The move to left field, which is considered an easier defensive position, has actually been tougher for Trout than anticipated.

Mike Trout Boys in the Hall

Even with a defensive dropoff and slight dropoff in his batting and stolen bases, Trout is still enjoying a tremendous season.

Fangraphs has Trout’s WAR at 4.1 through 76 games this season, which already puts him No. 48 all-time for a player in his 21-year-old season. If Trout doubles that — which seems quite plausible since we’re not even at the halfway point in the season — he’ll end the year with an 8.2 WAR, which would put him third all-time in Fangraphs’ WAR for a 21-year-old. That would place Trout above Rickey Henderson, Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols, Andruw Jones, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Ken Griffey Jr., and other greats, and just behind Rogers Hornsby, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Eddie Matthews (full list here).

Trout already had the greatest season in MLB history by a 20-year-old player. His 10.0 WAR by Fangraphs’ measure last season placed him ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Mel Ott, Al Kaline, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Mickey Mantle, who all had phenomenal seasons at the age of 20 (full list here).

Yes, Trout had the greatest 20-year-old season in MLB history, and he’s on his way to one of the greatest 21-year-old seasons ever. That’s pretty telling. Trout isn’t just keeping great company, he’s beating great company.

With the extraordinarily high level he’s playing at for such a young age, the only things we can think of that would keep Trout out of Cooperstown would be a catastrophic injury, or if he suddenly just stopped being able to hit like an Andruw Jones, which doesn’t seem likely given his .306 career average. Though a loss in elite speed as he gets older should be anticipated, Trout could make up for it by increasing his power at the plate, which would help him maintain Hall of Fame worth.

Even though he is only 21 years old, I’d put Mike Trout’s Hall of Fame chances at 90 percent. He probably has the strongest likelihood of reaching Cooperstown of any young player in the game. We need to appreciate the greatness we are witnessing, because it is not often that we get to see one of the best players in history perform on a daily basis.

Go here to see all the other Boys in the Hall celebrated by SUBWAY®.



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