With the recent speculation about if it would even be possible to trade Mike Trout, I started thinking about what Trout's career could end up looking like when in about 25 years we look back as he is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Rather than go with the Lyle Spencer/ Halowood "I have no compelling reason to believe what I believe but here it is and you better not argue with me" post, I will explain what I did and why. Obviously, this is not intended to say this is who Trout will be, but only what his career could look like if he improves towards his peak years like these all time greats did.
So here is what I did: I took a look at the age 20 seasons of some of the all time greats and compared that to their career highs/ best overall seasons in a few key categories. Then comparing these to each other, came up with a set of data points to attempt to shape the bell curve of an all time great player's career ascent and decline in those categories. I looked at OPS+, Average, OBP and HR. I am sure there are better ways to do this, but this isn't about science, its about a little daydreaming on a slow day in winter.
I looked at the careers of Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Lou Gerhig, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Albert Pujols (just for fun). It would have been interesting to look at the careers of lesser known players but there were a couple reasons for not doing this. First, you have to be a pretty damn good player to make it to the major leagues at age 19 and earn a full time job for your age 20 season. I didnt want to look at minor league numbers or older players seasons because the whole point is about measuring what maturing physically does to a players stats. Second, Trout's 2 years in the MLB actually match up quite well with most of these guys. Many of them arrived in the majors for a partial season at either age 19 or 20 and struggled relative to their future successes. They had no trouble in their first full season, however, showing exactly what they were capable of.
A couple interesting points- It is rare for these great players to have their best season in every category simultaneously. Generally they have a number of great seasons with career highs in different categories coming in different seasons. For example, a season of remarkable power followed by a season of great hitting for average or getting on base. Also, the potential for a player to increase his ability to hit for average or get on base seems relatively small. However, players with good hitting skills generally have an easy time hitting for power later in their career.
Onto the Data:
Mike Trout's historic 2012 Season:
Our Average all time great's age 20 season:
Notice that this is still a remarkably impressive season. These players were really good really young. But Mike Trout did something amazing last year that I think we still have yet to fully appreciate. This next set of data was what did it for me...
Average Improvement factors of these all time greats to their peak season (based on WAR)* These are whole seasons. Trying to look at peak performance potential for each category was too difficult because these players put up some outrageous stats that skew the data sets: Williams and Hornsby both hitting over 400 multiple times after being fairly average early on, Ruth and Hornsby going from just a handful of homeruns to record numbers, etc...
|growth to best||0.3497885||0.150713||0.206205||0.566719||0.950914|
*(I left out Ruth and Hornsby's HR numbers in this calculation because of how dramatically they shifted the data set.)
The average peak seasons of these greats came around age 27.
So our All Time Great player's Age 27 season looks like this-
These numbers are impressive but also about what you would expect to see from a player who is as good as young as all of them were.
Here is where the numbers just become unbelievable. If we adjust Trout to these numbers we get Mike Trout's imaginary peak season (in terms of WAR) coming at age 27 season and looking something like this:
If Trout continues his path to greatness, it's likely he will put up a number of seasons from now to about age 35 that are going to be among the best ever played. With his ability to get on base, hit for power and just basically dominate the game, its likely he is going to do some amazing things. Spring can't come fast enough.