At an age when most people are graduating college, Mike Trout has already become one of the best at his profession.
Trout, who turned 22 on Wednesday, was the best player in baseball last year — no matter what MVP voters and their devotion to outdated counting stats may have said — and he's again been the game's most valuable player this season.
What he has done so far in his career is unprecedented.
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In the history of baseball, no one has produced a higher wRC+ — a weighted metric of offensive output that reflects the number of runs a player created for his team — through his age-21 season than Trout, as Fangraphs' Dave Cameron pointed out. Everyone else on the top 10 list is a Hall of Famer.
While that stat reflects solely hitting performance, WAR (wins above replacement) gives a more thorough picture of a player's total contributions at the plate, in the field, and on the base paths. By that metric, Trout and his 18 career WAR through his age-21 season rank second all-time, behind only Hall of Famer Mel Ott and his 19.3 WAR. Yet it took Ott nearly twice as many games as Trout to amass that total — and Trout still has two months left in the season to try and catch him.
Trout had the best season ever for a 20-year-old last year, becoming just the first player in history to post a 10+ WAR season at that age. He did so by hitting .326 with a .399 on-base percentage and a .564 slugging average to go along with 30 home runs and 49 stolen bases.
That season wasn't just astounding for a rookie, but rather ranked among the best single-season performances ever. Trout's 10.9 WAR last year represented the 21st most valuable season of all time, putting him in the company of guys like Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, and Willie Mays.
This year, Trout has been even better. His batting average, OBP, and slugging average are all up, and though he's on pace to finish the year with fewer home runs, he's flashed more extra-base power overall, while upping his walk rate and lowering his strikeout rate. In short, he's taken steps forward in pretty much every aspect of his offensive game.
Trout's 177 wRC+ is third-best in baseball this year, just a hair behind Chris Davis (178) and Miguel Cabrera (203). Yet Trout still leads the league with 7.3 WAR thanks to his superb base-running, and he's on pace to have a second-straight 10-WAR season.
Again, Trout is only 22. Studies have consistently shown that ballplayers typically peak in their late twenties before gradually tapering off. That means Trout should, theoretically, get even better over the next five to seven seasons or so.
This comes with a huge caveat. Anything could happen to Trout that arrests his development. Past phenoms have famously flamed out or succumbed to career-ending injuries, and the same could happen to him.
Or Trout could simply plateau and regress faster or more sharply than expected. That's what has happened in the past few years to Albert Pujols, another guy who once seemed destined to go down as one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Barring an unforeseen development like that, though, Trout should continue to improve over the next few years. With so much already accomplished at such a young age, he would then stand a chance to make a run on the record books in a number of categories, and, quite possibly, go down as one of the game's all-time greats.
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