Photo: Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
Imagine peak Pete Rose, peak Hank Aaron, and peak Willie Mays morphed into one player. This phenomenon is not as crazy as you might think. If you live on the East Coast like myself, all you have to do to see this sensation is stay up until 10 PM and watch Mike Trout, the man who hits for a higher average than Rose, is on pace this year for more homers than Aaron ever hit in one season, and plays defense like Mays, put on a show.
As the MLB’s consensus #1 player, Trout’s dominance can not be overstated. Perhaps his superiority can best be explained by the stats of what has probably been his worst full season in his young career. In 2015, Trout slashed .299/.402/.590 with 41 HR and a league leading 176 OPS+. Trout finished second in MVP voting that season. Yes, that was probably his worst season.
— MLB (@MLB) August 7, 2017
Over his first 5 full seasons in the MLB, Trout has totaled 47.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which is explained by Baseball Reference as “A single number that presents the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player (think AAA or AAAA) would add. Scale for a single-season: 8+ MVP Quality, “
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 7, 2017
In other words, Trout , averaging 9.6 WAR over his first five seasons, played, on average, well over MVP quality throughout his career. This sort of dominance is unprecedented. For fun, take a look at Trout’s impact on the Angels. If Trout was replaced by a replacement level player as defined above, the Angels would average a disappointing 75 wins over the past 5 seasons. With Trout, the Angels played above average ball the last few seasons, with 85 wins on average. Let that sink in.
Even before you read this article, you probably already knew that Trout is heads and shoulders above all other ballplayers in the world right now. You read this article to find out why he is the best player to ever lace up and step foot onto a ballfield. What are the chances that someone who is currently playing America’s pastime would be the best ever at a game that has been played for hundreds of years?
Well, before I begin making that argument, I will make two disclaimers. First: players who have ever been widely accused by the baseball community of taking steroids will immediately be out of contention. Barry Bonds’ greatness can not be ignored, but I will refuse to say that someone who has cheated is the best player ever.
The second disclaimer that I will make is that by no means am I saying that Trout is the greatest baseball player ever. Trout does not have the career longevity, postseason success, or even milestone numbers that legends such as Babe Ruth have. Heck, Trout might not even be the greatest ballplayer on his own team, as Albert Pujols has 600 homers and World Series Rings to boast.
By the best player ever, I basically mean that if 5 year peak Trout (which we probably haven’t seen all of yet), was put into any 5 year span in baseball history, he would be the best player there.
Reason #1: Baseball is more specialized and competitive than ever
Mike Trout played highly competitive baseball year round for an AAU team called Tri State Arsenal. Trout practiced baseball nearly every day of his high school career, whether it be lifting, running, or taking countless swings off of a tee. As the ancient proverbs stated: Practice makes perfect. This level of intense practice and focus on baseball did not exist until recently.
Trout’s practice paid off, as he was selected 25th overall in the 2009 MLB Draft. The MLB draft did not even exist when the greats such as Ruth, Mantle, and Gehrig played. The competition now to even make it to the MLB is so much greater than it ever was. Trout had to surpass thousands of other players before making it to the show.
All of baseball is more competitive now than ever due to the integration of the game. There are many phenomenal Latino, Japanese, and African American players that compete with current players for a coveted MLB roster spot. This form of competition did not exist until 1946, and many Latin players did not start playing in the MLB until recently.
Reason #2: People are better athletes
This could be proven in many different ways. You could simply look at pictures of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Carlos Correa, and compare them to photos of Ruth and his peers. Ballplayers drank and smoked right before games and often during games. However, now, almost all MLB players are on strict diets with team nutritionists to ensure the athletes reach their full potential.
Mike Trout has an insane workout https://t.co/9M9EF2x0RT
— The Washington Times (@WashTimes) February 17, 2017
This is also scientific fact. Over time, humans get taller, faster, and stronger. When Jesse Owens broke multiple Olympic records in 1936 in Berlin, people were amazed. However, Owens may not even qualify for the Olympics with those times now. Think of homers and OBP as gold medals and then think about who Ruth was “racing” against to earn those “medals”. To put it bluntly, slightly buzzed pitchers with beer bellies.
Reason #3: The game itself is more difficult
This is possibly the biggest reason why I think that since Trout is the best player in today’s baseball, he would be the best player in any era. A pitcher’s average fastball velocity exponentially higher now than ever before. There are specialists in every team’s bullpen locked and loaded for specific situations. Left handed pitchers who only pitch against left handed hitters, and hard throwing righties specifically for hitters for Trout. Opposing managers now have scouting reports and hours of film to study how to attack Trout.
Let me clarify that I mean no disrespect to any former greats when I say all of this. It is not Ruth’s fault that he played in the 1920’s when technology was not as advanced as it is today, nor was the knowledge about the human body as great. If Ruth had the resources that a current MLB player has available to them today, he might be the best player ever. As might’ve Griffey or Mays or Mantle or Boggs or Musial.
Trout’s reign as the best ballplayer ever may not last for a long time. It could end in five years. All I know is that it is time to start accepting the fact that the 7 billion of us on Earth are very lucky to be able to watch the best ballplayer ever.
All stats are courtesy of Baseball Reference