Related reading – Jeremy Frank wrote a similar article a couple years back, but his approach was very different than what follows.

At the age of 27, following seven seasons and the cup of coffee that was 40 games in 2011, Mike Trout has already amassed a career WAR of 64.3. This already puts him above Dave Winfield (64.2), Bob Feller (63.9), Shoeless Joe Jackson (62.2), and a couple hundred Hall of Famers and has fueled no shortage of speculation that he may someday be the GOAT (182.5).

In this post I will take the approach I applied to Shoeless Joe Jackson’s batting average and hits and apply it to Mike Trout’s WAR.

Player Sample

In selecting the players here, I’ll depart a bit from my Jackson methodology and take advantage of the Similarity Scores that Baseball Reference provides. Along those lines, here are the 10 players most similar to Trout following their age 26 seasons–

  1. Frank Robinson (955.4)
  2. Ken Griffey Jr. (940.0)
  3. Mickey Mantle (935.5)
  4. Hank Aaron (909.7)
  5. Miguel Cabrera (896.6)
  6. Orlando Cepeda (877.8)
  7. Mel Ott (877.3)
  8. Eddie Mathews (866.2)
  9. Andruw Jones (863.5)
  10. Albert Pujols (858.8)

I imagine some of you already worrying that Trout is MUCH better than many of these players, particularly as far as WAR is concerned. However, rest assured there will be appropriate adjustments made to re-Trout any results we come up with.

Composite Player

Like Trout, four of the ten players in the sample were already in the Majors by age 19. Only one got a younger start, Master Melvin at age 17. On the flip side, I was surprised to see that only one, Hammerin’ Hank, played past 40, though two of the players (Pujols, Cabrera) are still active and two others (Robinson, Griffey) made it to age 40. Based on this, the data do not support Trout’s career extending past age 40, but there is at least some support for playing to age 40. Therefore, we will focus on ages 19-40 for our composite player.

This first graph shows the season-by-season WAR of our composite player across his career. The trajectory is similar to what we see with many other baseball statistics: up, flat, and then down. It is also fairly common to see the “down” as the longest part of a player’s career.

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If there’s any immediate takeaway from the graph, it’s that these players in their 30s become a very far cry from who they were in their 20s. Of course, our main interest is in career WAR, so let’s look at that next.

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This graph is remarkably close to a composite of two straight lines: a steeper one from age 19 to 30 and a flatter one from age 31 to 40. It ends at 98.8, which is a bit above Jimmie Foxx (97.0) but below 32 other players and of course nowhere near the GOAT.

Mike Trout Projections

But don’t give up hope just yet, Trout fans! There are still some adjustments to make. After all, at least as far as WAR is concerned, we should expect Trout to be better–possibly MUCH better–than our composite player.

To get a sense of just how Trout compares, we can look at our same two graphs but with Trout’s data added. (Wow, this first one is pretty bonkers!)

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And this one is also pretty bonkers!

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At this point, I could get fancy, but I’m gonna put down the calculator and simply bring this graph into my MS Paint workshop. First, I’ll extend Trout’s current largely linear trajectory to age 30. Then I’ll add a new flatter line for his age 31 to 40 years. In both cases, Trout’s lines are considerably better than our composite player but nonetheless age in a similar manner.

 

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As Trout’s projected lifetime WAR is literally off the charts here, you may be wondering where it ended up. My best read is about 140. As for where that would put him among the all-time leaders, here is an adjusted Top Ten, courtesy of Baseball Reference.

  1. Babe Ruth (182.5)
  2. Cy Young (168.0)
  3. Walter Johnson (165.2)
  4. Barry Bonds* (162.8)
  5. Willie Mays (156.4)
  6. Ty Cobb (151.1)
  7. Hank Aaron (143.0)
  8. Mike Trout (140)
  9. Roger Clemens* (139.6)
  10. Tris Speaker (134.1)

Conclusion

Barring bad injuries or bad luck, Mike Trout is no doubt headed for some pretty elite company on the WAR leaderboard. However, I don’t believe he has any chance to be the GOAT. To outperform my projection significantly, at least one of three things would need to happen–

  • He would need to get even better than he is now.
  • He would need to maintain his current level of performance well past age 30.
  • He would need to play a ridiculously long time.

I don’t see any of these scenarios as realistic, although two of the players on the Top Ten list did mysteriously 😉 manage to accomplish the second of these and then some.

Where do you think Trout will end up? If you think he will finish much higher or much lower than my projection of 140, feel free to leave a comment.

 

 

 

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