The biggest sports debate of all time is probably the NBA’s GOAT debate. The opinion on greatest of all time is split almost evenly between Lebron James and Michael Jordan. Hockey’s best all-time player is unanimously agreed upon as Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky holds almost every single hocky record, so it would be ridiculous to not consider him the best. In other sports, it is difficult to find the greatest of all time because of the vast differences in positions. Football players do not play both sides of the ball, and so it is extremely difficult to assess the best overall talent because of the contrasting skills that each position requires. Tom Brady, Deion Sanders, and Devin Hester each have very different demands, and are very hard to compare.
Baseball has a similar comparison problem. Pitchers and batters are very difficult to compare to each other, especially when the players are in different eras. Baseball’s level of difficulty has changed drastically since the 1900s and even the 1950s. Ty Cobb, Micky Mantle, and Mike Trout have all faced varying levels of velocity and pitching skill throughout their eras. In Ty Cobb’s era, pitchers were not often throwing as hard as they do now. Although pitchers like Walter Johnson have been measured at 99.7 MPH by Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds, who measured bullet speed, they were not consistently throwing that hard because they were expected to throw 150+ pitches a game. Mike Trout also must deal with elite breaking balls to go along with consistent 95 mile-per-hour fastballs. For that reason, it can be assumed that Trout’s competition is much more difficult than that of earlier hitters.
This brings up the age-old question, will Mike Trout ever be considered the greatest to play the game?
Mike Trout was the 25th pick by the Angels in the 2009 draft. He exploded through the minor leagues and made his debut in 2011. In his first full MLB season, Trout dominated the league and won Rookie of the Year. With a 10.5 WAR, Trout also finished second in MVP voting behind the Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. Because of Trout’s defensive greatness, his 10.5 WAR (Wins above Replacement) was far and away better than Cabrera’s 6.9. In fact, Trout’s ROOKIE SEASON was the 27th best single season of all time based on WAR. Despite not winning the Triple Crown, it can be argued that Trout was snubbed of an MVP.
We can go on all day talking about each specific season that Trout has dominated in, but it is his overall consistency that could give him a chance of being the center piece in the MLB GOAT discussion.
Already a unanimous Hall of Famer?
The Angels all-time home-run leader has played 8 full seasons so far in his career. This season, although not 162 games, would technically be his ninth. In those 8 full seasons, Trout has 3 MVPs, 8 All-Stars, 7 Silver Sluggers, a Rookie of the Year, and 2 All-Star MVPs. Mike Trout has never finished below fourth in MVP voting in a full season and has finished as in the top two seven of those 8 seasons. Yet again, his career so far has been mind-boggling, but does it stack up to other MLB legends? He is undoubtedly the best player of his generation, but where does he compare all time?
The GOAT Debate
OPS+ is probably the best stat that has been developed to compare statistics across different eras. Baseball Reference describes it as a player’s OPS divided by the league average OPS multiplied by 100 and adjusted for ballparks. This ensures that the league average OPS+ is 100. So far throughout his career, Trout’s career OPS+ is 176, which would be good for fifth all time. The four guys in front of him? Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, and Lou Gehrig, who are often considered the best hitters of all time. Trout’s biggest competitors in the debate will be Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Rogers Hornsby. Those 5 guys are the only people with three or more 10+ WAR seasons other than Barry Bonds, who will be left off the GOAT debate because of underlying concerns. Despite only playing 8 full seasons, Trout has 3 10-WAR seasons.
Trout is on pace to become a top-three player of all time. If he can stay healthy, it will be difficult to see his hitting numbers not surpass those of Mays, Cobb, Williams, and Hornsby. Ruth’s numbers are so astronomical that Trout will not be able to surpass him unless he takes the Astros’ strategy. Trout’s defensive numbers are slightly better, but not enough to have any negative implications for Ruth. Although as we discussed, Trout’s competition is better, Babe Ruth is still the GOAT. Trout has time to improve on his career WAR and he is on pace to become an all-time great, but Ruth has dominated his competition like no other in baseball history. Trout is dominant, but Ruth completely reinvented the game of baseball to fit his strengths. Ruth also won 7 World Series titles, which is the main reason Trout can never be the greatest.
Not a Winner
With the Angels’ recent elimination from the 2020 playoffs, it will be Trout’s sixth straight year with no postseason. Baseball is the ultimate team game but being eliminated from a sixteen-team playoff is not good for Trout’s legacy. Ruth missed the postseason 11 times in his entire career, and in his day, only the best team from each league made it. Ruth may have played on the most impressive team of all time, but his seven world series titles are impressive, nonetheless. Winning is something that everyone considers when discussing the best players in history, and it is Trout’s biggest career absence. As we can see from the numbers, the 2012 stolen base leader has done all he can. The Angels have not supported the superstar with the pitching he has needed, as he has only experienced a winning record 3 times. In his limited chances, Trout does not perform.
The Angels have locked in Trout until his age 38 season. Without a new team, or a little more help, the future hall of famer will keep his tarnished postseason legacy. In his one and only postseason series, the Millville Meteor went 1-15 with three walks. Trout had an average of .083, and of course, his only hit was a homerun. Although 23 different teams passed on the generational talent, he hasn’t been able to perform on the big stage. And even if he doesn’t reach up to Ruth’s monumental hitting statistics, it’ll be the lack of winning that keeps the 29-year-old generational talent from ever reaching the top of the GOAT debate. He may be the best overall talent we’ve ever seen, but just like Lebron, there’s someone on top. But that’s a discussion for a different day.
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