There are several ways to define greatness. No single definition will satisfy everyone’s understanding of the word. One definition of greatness in baseball, and in life, is doing the unthinkable while also doing the basic things extremely well. There are several super star players in baseball at the moment, but Mike Trout rises above the others for his greatness and his ability to do the basic things well.
Greatness in a career, not just a singular moment, requires the ability to continually place yourself among other great players. In his first five full seasons in the Majors, Mike Trout has established himself as a consistent and reliable player for the Angels. There have not been any wild swings, up or down, in his statistics. He has scored more than 100 runs, collected at least 172 hits, hit 27 home runs, and hit 27 doubles in every full season. He has played in at least 157 games every season over the last four seasons. His consistency looks like this:
Mike Trout makes the extraordinary seem commonplace. (Mark J. Terrill/ Associated Press)
This consistency, season after season, has led Trout to never finish lower than second in the American League MVP voting. He has received a vote on 148 MVP ballots in his first five seasons, out of a possible 148. Trout won the MVP Award in 2014 and 2016. He finished second to Miguel Cabrera in both 2012 and 2013, and to Josh Donaldson in 2015. In his rookie season, Trout received all 28 first place votes for the 2012 AL Rookie of Year Award, far outdistancing runner up Yoenis Cespedes.
The Rookie of the Year Award, two AL MVP Awards, and five Silver Slugger Awards are quickly filling up Trout’s awards case. In some ways, the awards mask Trout’s dominance. He has drawn at least 83 walks in each of the last four seasons, twice leading the league with 110 in 2013 and 116 in 2016. This while sharing the Angels lineup with Albert Pujols. Trout’s discipline at the plate has meant a .405 career OBP. Yes, Trout does strikeout more than he probably should (136 times or more in every season), there are two things to remember. First, his walk rate is increasing while his strikeout rate is decreasing, so he is still learning. Second, Mike Trout is 25 years old. He is still a young ball player.
Despite all his ability on the field, Trout does not receive the appropriate fanfare he should. He is one of the most visible players in the sport, yet he could be so much more. There are three things that have dampened his rise to supreme super stardom. Above all baseball is a team sport. No individual can truly carry an entire team for a season like a player can in basketball or football. If Mike Trout were to get hurt, the Angels could replace him and still remain competitive. If LeBron James or Tom Brady were injured their team’s season is probably over. This understood, Trout has played on an Angels team that has not consistently competed in the American League West. In his first five full seasons, the Angels have finished as follows: 2012 89-73 (3rd AL West), 2013 78-84 (3rd AL West), 2014 98-64 (1st AL West, swept in ALDS), 2015 85-77 (3rd AL West), and 2016 74-88 (4th AL West). In baseball, great players need to be on competitive teams if they are to achieve the recognition their talents deserve.
The most common comparison for Mike Trout is to Mickey Mantle, and it is easy to see why. (www.nydailynews.com)
The second issue is that Trout plays on the West Coast. East coast bias is a real thing, and here is one of the main reasons why. Night games in California during the week start too late for people living on the East Coast or in the Midwest to stay up and watch. It is tough to watch a three hour game that starts at 10pm, when you have to be at work by 8am the next morning. Unfortunately, Friday and Saturday nights are really the only time for players like Trout to shine at home before the national audience. Trout and the Angels are also fighting for an audience in Los Angeles. After the eastern half of the country has gone to bed, there are still plenty of baseball fans awake to watch Trout, if they so chose. The Dodgers’ return to competing for a World Series title has meant less attention on the Angels as they seek their own return to consistently competing for the post season. Anaheim will always be the second team in Los Angeles, in part because Angels Stadium is 25 miles from downtown and Dodgers Stadium is two miles from downtown. Anyone who has ever tried to travel 25 miles in Los Angeles traffic can tell you that reaching Anaheim in time for an Angels game often requires divine intervention.
Trout’s greatness is one of a remarkable craftsman. His play makes him a superstar, yet his consistency year after year has him steadily climbing closer to the all time greats. Players like Hank Aaron and Derek Jeter are craftsmen. Aaron hit 25 home runs in all but one season from 1955 to 1973, yet never hit more than 47 home runs in a single season. Jeter averaged 191 hits for 18 of his 20 seasons in the Majors, leading the league in hits twice (1999 and 2012). It is not always easy to see the greatness of these compilers early on in their careers, it is the consistency over an entire career that raises these players from great to legendary. Predicting the future of any player is impossible because the game of baseball is unpredictable. Injuries are the hardest thing to predict. What sort of career would Mickey Mantle have had if he could have stayed healthy? Mantle is already a legendary player, but did he reach his potential? We will never know.
Mike Trout’s talent should help him rise to the top in baseball and in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill/ Associated Press)
The greatness of Mike Trout cannot be ignored but it is only occasionally celebrated. He is a superstar, yet few people understand the company Trout is in through his first five full seasons in the Majors. Comparing Trout by age has meant comparisons at age 20 to Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson at age 21, and Mickey Mantle from age 22 through 24. The top ten similar batters through their age 24 season are Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mel Ott, Miguel Cabrera, Orlando Cepeda, Vada Pinson, Al Kaline, and Jimmie Foxx. Every comparison except for Vada Pinson is a Hall of Fame player, without question. Mickey Mantle is the most common comparison, and the longer these comparisons continue the higher Trout rises in baseball’s pantheon.
Mike Trout’s greatness is known throughout baseball, yet he remains undervalued. A talent like Trout may only appear on the diamond once in a generation. Barring injury or some other unforeseen issue we have many more seasons to enjoy Trout and his greatness. Make sure you take time to watch Trout play, even if it means staying up late or fighting through Los Angeles traffic. Greatness should be appreciated, and looking back you will not remember how tired you were the next morning or sitting in traffic forever but that you were able to watch one of the legends of the game in action.
And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Matthew 24:31 KJV
May the Lord have mercy on the pitchers of the American League. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have now assembled the scariest lineup since the New York Yankees had Murderers’ Row in the late 1920s. The signing of Josh Hamilton creates potentially the most dangerous 1 through 5 batting order most people have ever seen, arguably the most lethal since the 1940s. The Murderers’’ Row lineups had four future Hall of Famers (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, and Tony Lazzeri). The Angels now have two future Hall of Famers, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, in their lineup, Hamilton needs a few more years to be a lock but his production in only six seasons makes him a candidate already. The other two members, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, are still young, but look like super stars in the making.
Every baseball fan knows the danger of Pujols and Hamilton, but Trout and Trumbo are equally dangerous. Statistically if these four players have their average season in 2013, the Angels can expect to amass a combined .298 batting average, hit 141 homeruns, 436 RBI, 139 doubles, 727 hits, walk 145 times, 72 stolen bases, .307 OBP, .542 SLG, .849 OPS. This assumes that all four players play in every game, which is unlikely, but numbers anywhere close to these would be devastating for the rest of the American League.
This is how the numbers break down over an average 162 game schedule:
Albert Pujols has a .325 batting average, hits 41 homeruns, 125 RBI, 44 doubles, 196 hits, walk 89 times, 8 stolen bases, .414 OBP, .608 SLG, and 1.022 OPS.
Josh Hamilton has a .304 batting average, hits 35 homeruns, 122 RBI, 38 doubles, 189 hits, walk 58 times, 9 stolen bases, .363 OBP, .549 SLG, and .913 OPS.
Mike Trout has a .306 batting average, hits 32 homeruns, 90 RBI, 30 doubles, 189 hits, walk 69 times, 48 stolen bases, .379 OBP, .532 SLG, and .911 OPS
Mark Trumbo has a .259 batting average, hits 33 homeruns, 99 RBI, 27 doubles, 153 hits, walk 33 times 7 stolen bases, .302 OBP, .478 SLG, and .780 OPS.
Impressive numbers for an average combined season. Trout and Trumbo still need several years of consistency before they can cement their places among the elite players in baseball, but Pujols and Hamilton are without a doubt in that elite club. Trout has drawn comparisons to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle during his young career, both on offense and defense. Trumbo raised his batting average by .014 between 2011 and 2012; he is a slugger who is becoming a hitter. Trumbo is comparable to Cecil Fielder and George Bell at this point in their respective careers, as he hits for average like Cecil Fielder and hits for power like George Bell. As is, Trumbo can hit a baseball into the next county when he makes contact, as evident during the Home Run Derby last season in Kansas City.
The problems will be numerous for opposing pitchers next season. If Trout gets on, then the pitcher has a choice to make. If he pays attention to Trout and his speed, the pitches to Hamilton, Pujols, or Trumbo could land in the parking lot. If the pitchers pay attention to the hitters with Trout on base, then a single or walk could easily lead to Trout standing on second or third after a stolen base or two. The sluggers behind Trout are excellent hitters and can be used for a hit and run, which prevents the Angels from relying on the homerun, as they can manufacture runs. If you want to pitch around Trout, which is a mistake, you would get to face only one batter before you had to face the triple threat of Hamilton, Pujols, and Trumbo.
If Trout is kept in check then you have three more dangerous hitters to deal with. Hamilton and Pujols can both bat third, so if you want to pitch around one of them then you get face the other one. You want to get around both of them, go ahead now you get to face Trumbo with at least two runners on. One bad pitch and it could mean at least three runs. The other option is to pitch around all three of them, and then you have to face Howie Kendrick and his .428 SLG or Erick Aybar and his .706 OPS as a Shortstop. Good luck to every pitcher who has to face the Angels in 2013.
The Angels new foursome of offense should more than make up for any mistakes they make on defense. However, their defense is not a liability as is often the case for great hitters. Pujols won two Gold Gloves during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals (2006 and 2010). Hamilton has proved to be an average or better fielder during his career, playing all three outfield positions. The move to the Angels should move Hamilton to leftfield where he should settle in quite nicely. Trout’s comparison to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle during his young career was not made by casual fans, but by two men who know and understand baseball, Tim Kurkjian and Hall of Famer Al Kaline. Trumbo led the American League in putouts and was third among American League first basemen in assists during 2011. Solid defense by all four of these players makes the Angels that much more dangerous.
Statistically the Angels should be the team to beat in the American League in 2013 and for several years to come. However, the one thing the Angels cannot buy is chemistry. Regardless of the players on their roster in 2013, the Angels and Manager Mike Scioscia have to make all these impressive parts work together. Across town, the Dodgers have shown the Angels that big names and accusations do not necessarily mean wins and a trip to the playoffs. The foundation is there for the Angels, not it is up to them to do what they are capable of on the field.