Mike Trout Is Now Fully Qualified for the Hall of Fameon July 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm

Mike Trout Is Now Fully Qualified for the Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend, which was scheduled for July 24-27, did not go off as originally planned due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this past weekend, Cooperstown gained a center fielder nonetheless. With his 2020 season debut, which he made on Friday, Mike Trout has now satisfied Hall of Fame election eligibility rule 3(B), which reads in part, “Player must have played in each of ten (10) Major League championship seasons.” Trout is thus fully qualified to be elected once his career ends and the requisite five-year waiting period has elapsed.

For most players, the possibility of election isn’t one that emerges until late in their careers, when major round-numbered milestones are being reached and tributes paid. Trout is not most players, for he has done so much at such a young age — he’ll turn 29 on August 7 — that his election is becoming a foregone conclusion. While his Angels have never won a postseason game (they were swept in the 2014 American League Division Series), and while he’s only led the league in one triple crown stat (RBI in 2014), he’s already made eight All-Star teams, won three MVP awards (not to mention the Rookie of the Year), and hit 286 home runs, including this one on Sunday off Oakland’s Mike Fiersthe first of his career on a 3-0 count:

Trout scores 136 on the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor, which is based on common statistical benchmarks and accomplishments for old-school stats that have historically tended to appeal to voters; there 100 is “a likely Hall of Famer and 130 “a virtual cinch.” But it’s not those old-school numbers that have made his actual election inevitable, it’s the newer-school ones, the likes of which weren’t added to the backs of baseball cards until after Moneyball was published. Trout, a career .305/.419/.581 hitter, has never won a batting title, and while he’s finished as high as second among the top 10 in the AL six times, that pales in importance to his dominance in other slash stat categories. He’s topped a .400 on-base percentage six times, missing by a point in another year, and leading the league four times. He’s topped a .600 slugging percentage three times, and never finished below .500 save for his cup-of-coffee 2011 season; he’s led that category three times. He’s led in wRC+ six times, including the last five in a row, all at 170 or above; when he hasn’t led, he’s finished second or third, the slacker. Since he entered the league, only Joey Votto has a higher on-base percentage (.438), but Trout has a 14-point edge in slugging percentage on second-ranked David Ortiz (.567) — and that’s in over 1,800 more plate appearances in a more pitcher-friendly environment. Trout’s 172 wC+ is 21 points higher than the second-ranked Votto.

His greatness isn’t just confined to offense, and we have the good fortune that Trouts career is unfolding at a time when we have the tools to appreciate the wholeness of his game. He not only has 200 career stolen bases, he owns an 84.7% success rate to go with it, the third-highest mark among players with at least 200 attempts. By FanGraphs’ reckoning, his 59.3 baserunning runs is second in the majors since his arrival. His totals of 11.1 UZR and 14 DRS over that span are less remarkable, but obviously both above average, and there’s significant value in his ability to play center field at such a level for so long; his overall defensive value — in this case UZR (including his time in left field) plus positional adjustment — puts him in the 89th percentile among all outfielders since 2011.

Add it all up — including his 452 batting runs, 118 more than the number two player over that span, Votto — and you have a player worth 73.4 WAR from 2011-19. That’s a full 50% more than the second-ranked player, Buster Posey, even though Trout’s 2011 season consisted of just 40 games. He has lapped the field.

Trout’s progress towards Cooperstown is most easily seen via JAWS. Just over two years ago, in late May 2018, when he was two-and-a-half months shy of his 27th birthday and still just in his sixth full season, he reached the JAWS standard for center fielders, the average of each Hall of Fame center fielder’s career WAR and his seven-year peak WAR. He blew past that mark like it was a rest stop on the moon for a guy bound for the outer solar system. He’s now 11.2 points above the standard, and fifth in JAWS among all center fielders:

Via Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, Trout has already outproduced all but six center fielders, and he’s still more than a year away from his 30th birthday. His seven-year peak is surpassed only by Mays and Cobb, that despite the fact that three of his seven best seasons are 140 games or fewer — namely his top-ranked 2012 (139 games thanks to his belated call-up, but 10.5 WAR), third-ranked ’18 (140 games, 10.2 WAR), and seventh-ranked ’19 (134 games, 8.2 WAR). Compare what Trout has done though his age-27 season with the rest of the field:

Within that group are significant disparities in playing time; Ruth was 23 when he began dabbling in the outfield, while Mays missed most of his age-21 and all of his age-22 seasons due to military service during the Korean War, and the majority of the players on the list played 154-game seasons. Prorate everybody to WAR per 650 plate appearances, and Trout quite reasonably trails the ahead-of-his-time Ruth, but he still has the draw on everybody else. This is worth remembering, in part because he’s getting the shaft with regards to the impact of the pandemic-shortened season on his counting stats; the WAR-through-age-28 leader is Cobb (78.4), who’s out of Trout’s reach unless he literally matches the best 60-game stretch of his career, a 10-week jag in 2012 during which he hit .368/.431/.644 (197 wRC+) with 15 homers and 28 steals and was worth 5.6 WAR (fWAR, not bWAR, but the point stands). He’s projected for 3.3 WAR this year, which prorates to 8.9 over a full season. If he matches that projection, he’d inch past Hornsby on the list above.

WAR is just a number, though, in this case a quantitative estimate of Trout’s broad, remarkable collection of skills. Stacast’s numbers, by the way, further underscore those skills and the gifts that make them possible. Trout doesn’t hit the ball as hard as Aaron Judge; last year’s 0.8 mph average exit velocity placed him in the 79th percentile, but thanks to his 99th percentile launch angle, his contact produces maximum damage. He’s been in the 99th percentile in xwOBA annually. Oh, and he’s got 95th percentile sprint speed (just don’t ask about his outfield jumps).

We can look at Trout’s numbers all day, but for as fascinating as they are, they underscore that he’s still somewhere within a peak that nobody else is approaching. It’s a fine time to watch him play, particularly given that it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that we’d get to see him this year. Not only was it quite possible that there would be no baseball in general due to the pandemic, but Trout, whose wife Jessica is due to give birth to the couple’s first child in August, has been understandably vocal in his ambivalence about playing in the midst of all this:

It wasn’t until last Wednesday that Trout definitively said, “I’m playing,” while noting how well his teammates had been adhering to the mask and social distancing protocols. He expressed relief over the fact that to that point, the team had experienced no outbreaks, and hopefully, things stay that way. Seeing what happened this weekend, with 12 Marlins players and two coaches testing positive, should drive home the possibility that this could happen to any team. If it were the Angels, it might be enough to send the game’s best player home for the remainder of the year, having decided the risks are too high.

For now, though, Mike Trout is playing baseball, cementing his legacy as a bona fide Hall of Famer, and finding new ways to impress us, like by putting a 3-0 pitch into play for just the seventh time in his career, and collecting his second such hit — his first since 2015 — and his first homer.

Last week, I was invited to participate in an ESPN roundtable pegged to the start of the season, answering questions about breakout players and defensive wizards and teams with the most to prove. One question to which I submitted an answer apparently didn’t get run; it asked, “Which player are you most excited to watch in a short season?” My answer was Trout, the same answer I’d give over a 10-game or 162-game season. He’s the best player on the planet, and it’s bad we’ve being robbed of the better part of what should be one of his prime seasons. Still, we are watching a bona fide Hall of Famer in the making as he lays tracks towards Cooperstown, and it would be foolish not to savor every opportunity we get to see that happen.

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