Mike Trout is once again on pace to be the greatest player ever for his age. He currently leads the American League in wins above replacement, ranks second in on-base percentage, fifth in slugging percentage, second in OPS+ and he’s even stealing bases at an elite rate. It’s a season so good, on a team so bad, that there are rumors Trout may not last the season in L.A. If the Angels trade him, they’d be getting rid of a young player unlike anyone we’ve ever seen.
To pull ahead of Ty Cobb as the career leader in WAR (among position players) through age 24, Trout needs about 3 more WAR this year. (No matter which version of WAR you use.) And sure enough, FanGraphs’ projection thinks he’ll bag about 3.7 WAR before season’s end. As fluky a game as baseball can be, the one constant seems to be that Trout is the best young player we’ve ever seen.
But even with a potential G.O.A.T. in their lineup, the Los Angeles Angels still haven’t been able to win many ballgames. Despite Trout’s efforts, they’re 40-52 this season — tied for last place in the American League West — and they’ve won only 53 percent of their games since Trout made his debut midway through the 2011 campaign. That’s an 86-win pace per season, which sounds OK until you consider exactly how great Trout is: an otherwise-average team who added Trout (and Trout alone) would have won roughly 88 games a year. Trout is such a gift from the baseball gods that averaging 86 wins with him is disappointing.
So it’s fair to say Trout’s Angel teammates have not pulled their weight for much of his career, particularly when you consider that L.A. had baseball’s eighth-biggest payroll since 2011 — a number that Trout barely contributed to because of the way MLB underpays its young talent.
We can use advanced stats to estimate the degree to which Trout has outplayed his teammates. Trout has generated 43.6 WAR since 2011; his average teammate would have generated only 9.3 WAR in the same number of opportunities. (That’s according to Baseball-Reference’s WAR, which lets us find an individualized record for any player or group of players because it also comes with a “wins above average” component, in addition to wins above replacement.) Add up those records for L.A.’s non-Trout division and calculate a winning percentage, and it comes to .468 — the equivalent of 76 wins in a full season. Scale it to Trout’s playing time, and he’s beaten his teammates by 34.3 wins in an apples-to-apples comparison.
That difference between Trout and teammates is the second-biggest disparity for a player age 24 or younger since 1901:
|PLAYER||TEAM||YEARS||WAR||WIN %||WAR||WINS ABOVE TEAMMATES|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||SEA||1989-94||36.9||.460||10.0||26.9|
Not since the days of Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators has a young star been saddled with teammates as inferior as Trout’s. And while Johnson’s Senators turned things around during his age-24 season, winning 91 games in 1912, Trout’s Angels are on pace for 73 wins, the worst record they’ve had with Trout.
Under ordinary circumstances it would be unthinkable to trade a player who is tracking to be the G.O.A.T. And it probably won’t happen — trade talk is fun but often meaningless. But if Trout did move, the return would have to be immense.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that the Washington Nationals wanted to add Trout at the trade deadline in two weeks. (It doesn’t have to be the Nationals, but they are a typical contender with a large incentive to load up on World Series-winning talent in the short term.) Our Doyle model of deadline-dealing is designed to tell trade partners what to do in such a circumstance. Doyle analyzes a team’s situation on July 31 — including its existing talent and playoff odds — and calculates the amount of future WAR a team should be willing to part with for one win at the trade deadline.
If the Angels were smart, they wouldn’t let Trout go for anything less than two kings’ ransoms. Doyle says Trout’s talent boost1 for the end of 2016 alone would be worth 22.5 WAR of future value to the Nationals. (Roughly the value of Kyle Seager’s career thus far.) Multiply that over the remaining five years of Trout’s current deal,2 and a Trout trade might need to haul in more than double the value of an entire top-ranked farm system to be equitable. (Let’s hope the two teams who empty their farm systems avoid the Solomon method for splitting one Mike Trout.)
That’s why Trout almost certainly won’t be going anywhere this season or anytime soon. And unless the Angels can somehow upgrade the rest of their roster, that means more seasons spent lamenting Trout’s fate as a future inner-circle Hall of Famer stuck with a weak supporting cast.