Just over two years ago, August Fagerstrom released an article on Fangraphs on how Mike Trout could hypothetically reach Babe Ruth’s position player WAR of 168.4. A career with that level of sustained success would make him the greatest baseball player of all time, likely backed by traditional statistics. Two of those traditional statistics that would defend Trout’s claim to sabermetric fame are home runs and steals.
Barring a disaster to end all disasters (knock on every piece of wood in history) and following a similar trajectory to his most popular comp, Mickey Mantle, he should be a lock for 500 home runs. 600 home runs are well within reach if he plays until he’s over the age of 40.
By cumulative home runs, they are more or less identical. However, the two greats took ever so slightly different routes in steals. In fact, Trout decided to pass Mantle in career steals in just over a third of the number of seasons it took the latter.
Trout’s elite power-elite speed combo is one of the keys that makes him unmatched in today’s game. Sometimes a player will put up a “career season” which a thesaurus will tell you is synonymous with “Troutian season,” but not many players have shown peaks like that of the Angels Center Fielder.
The last time a person with this deadly skillset played, he ended up in the 400 home run-400 steal club. He was the first and only player to have ever done so. He was also the first and only to have ever reached 500-500.
Of course, Barry Bonds would go on to break the home run record and post numbers that would make your star on MLB The Show green with envy. Prior to the steroids, though, he was already on the fast track to the inner circle of the Hall of Fame, very much like Trout. The two outfielders compare a bit closer than you might think.
Interestingly enough, Mike Trout is currently way ahead of Bonds at the same age in home runs (201 to 117), but 4 steals behind him (165 to 169). The argument that he had an injury-shortened season in 2017 “so he should be higher than Bonds” doesn’t really hold up when he already had 57 steals in the majors following his age 20 season and Bonds wasn’t even promoted until May 30th of his age 21 season.
Most surprising of all to someone who is too young to really remember the moment, Barry Bonds had his 400th steal before he had his 400th home run. He stole 28 or more bases twelve times, peaking at 52.
Both Bonds lines, however, take dramatic turns after the introduction of PEDs. The power became ridiculous, but the stolen bases arc all but completely leveled off. So while it may be a little unrealistic to expect Mike Trout to break the all-time home run record, he does seem to be closer than we might realize to achieving that other milestone that only one man has ever achieved.
After Bonds’ age 25 season, in which he posted the previously stated peak steal total of 52, he went on to steal 34.5 bases per season for the next 8 years. In 1999, his speed dropped off precipitously with the introduction of steroids; he did not steal more than 15 times in a season for the next nine years. This averaged out to 20.29 steals from age 26 until his final swiped bag.
If Mike Trout maintains a steady pace and retires after his 500th steal, he would need to average 19.71 steals per season for the same 17 years. I think this is very doable. I would hope for the sake of Trout’s career that the 13.82 steals/season necessary to reach 400 would be a foregone conclusion.
In fact, if Trout started popping off and stealing bags with less of a concern for getting caught, the 25.58 steals per season to make it to 600 wouldn’t seem completely ridiculous. That’s not really realistic when you consider what kind of numbers that would take after the age of 38, but the number looks low enough to make you believe that it’s plausible.
It is important to note here that Trout will no longer be batting immediately before Albert Pujols and that Justin Upton only grounded into 9 double plays all of last season compared to Pujols’ 26. This bodes well for him.
The biggest thing is consistency. Bonds didn’t have that, but not everyone can follow in his career arc’s footsteps without getting suspended from baseball. If Trout can spend the next 9 years at 30 steals/season and the next 8 at 10/season, he will barely join Bonds in the 500-500 Club without anywhere near the cliff in basepath production.
What would that look like? Let’s do a quick Fagerstrom-like breakdown.
Mike Trout continues to improve his OBP, rising to .454. He ends up on first about the same amount he did in 2017 thanks to a crazy number of XBHs, but moving Pujols down to the number 5 slot and Valbuena/Cron/Ohtani to number 4 all but guarantees that Trout is not a victim of the twin killing.
Mike Trout has the Yaz season that Fangraphs predicts and then some. He goes off and hits all the home runs. Even Giancarlo Stanton audibly says, “Dayum,” from Yankee Stadium. The greatest Angel in the history of the game exceeds Fagerstrom’s projections so much that his .753 SLG still doesn’t preclude him from getting on base enough to steal bases. He has a .513 OBP because nobody wants to pitch to him anymore. Trout’s 10 steals in the postseason do not count toward his total. He also does not get credit for his WS MVP in these totals.
Trout begins to receive a poor man’s version of the Barry Bonds treatment, getting pitched around to the tune of J.D. Drew’s 18.3% walk rate from 2004.
That was the prediction. The actual result is closer to a middle class man’s version of the Barry Bonds treatment. He gets the 26.7% walk rate of 2001 Bonds, but hits closer to 2016 Harper. Teams are just too scared to put the ball in the strike zone, and Trout can’t really get into a rhythm. His OBP averages out to normal, but he’s almost always on first. He steals a lot to pass the time since he’s on the road to second all-time in IBBs and they no longer take more than 3 seconds. His numbers skyrocket.
It’s unfortunate that he gets injured again in early August. He was hitting once more after the Bonds treatment stopped, but the positive regression in doubles and home runs hits his steals and the broken wrist ends the season early. He’s also starting to slow down a tiny bit more. He has his 300th steal a few days before the injury.
He was supposed to come back and be dreadful in the first half, but the ETA from the DL falls through. Something doesn’t feel right in his wrist. He doesn’t return until mid-June. He steals a decent-enough amount in the time played, but the hit is substantial. His second half with the bat is sensational, on the bright side, foreshadowing his next season.
Trout’s expected “hyper-aggressiveness” 86’s his OBP, but he “makes up” for the 50+ home runs by also having over 135 singles! With the increase in opportunities to steal, he has an increase in CS% as well, but no one really cares.
His home runs start to fall off. His singles and doubles increase. Mike Trout at age 32 is Jose Altuve at age 24. He doesn’t steal as much as Altuve did, but he’s also 8 years older. If that isn’t good enough for you, then I don’t know what you’re expecting. He’s still twitchy with the bat for the moment.
Ho-hum. An eight-win season at age 33. If Lonnie Smith could do it, why not Mike Trout? He is going to go down as the Greatest of All Time, after all.
Ho and hum are about right. He has a decent Mike Trout year. He has a decent amount of steals. Oh, and he hits 400 steals in May. He has already joined Barry in exclusivity (The 400-400 Club) and has about 9.75 seasons to go.
The speed has declined. It’s pretty clear. He isn’t Kendrys Morales by any means, but he can’t get by on tools alone anymore. Trout steals 19 thanks to his coinciding wisdom, but age is a far bigger handicap to base running than Wins Above Replacement. He also had his 500th homer, apparently, so we still have the 500-500 dream alive!
Trout has an advantage over the previous year. He’s bat-first, but his time at DH (Ohtani left for Free Agency years ago. He really did appreciate the 3 World Series rings though) allows him to stay fresh on the bases. The time off his feet helps him when he needs to use them.
Trout increases the hyper-aggressiveness to the extreme and hits well despite being almost a slap hitter at this point. He’s a below average runner now, but he increases the aggressiveness on the base paths too, getting lucky sometimes.
Trout is pulling the ball as much as he can and rolls over quite a lot. He hits a number of home runs, but is reminiscent of Albert Pujols who is now a distant memory of Cardinals teams long since passed. Trout will never be that slow, but he still isn’t seen as a base stealing threat. He swipes 10 bags off of sneakiness alone. He even steals home for the last time in his career when Brendan McKay is caught napping on the mound because he’s not sure whether he’s supposed to be pitching or pinch hitting. The words are just so similar. You understand, I’m sure.
The decrease in home runs and increase in doubles do nothing to help his steals. He slows down just an eensy teensy bit more with every year that passes. He’s no longer an Angel. He’s transcended the angelic. The deity still takes 7.
He sells out for power completely, batting just .238 with a career-worst 121 wRC+, but he slugs 33 more dingers and passes Mays for fifth all-time.
Now going for the Adam Dunn approach, he no longer concerns himself with second base. He wants to be the home run king. He accidentally takes three bases on double steals. He should have been out on the second one, but Fernando Tatis, Jr. missed the catch. It’s not a big deal to the 4-time All-Star, but it means a lot to us. Thank you, Tatis.
He continues to hit for power and nothing else. The two stolen bases though are for real. They both come in the same game and he knows the catcher has a noodle arm. He’s not trying to embarrass anyone, but a win is important in this game. It’s the 6th birthday of Trout’s youngest daughter (and future pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers). He had promised her that he would get a win. They do win.
It’s the last game of the season. Trout comes up to bat in the top of the 9th as a pinch hitter. The win is safely in hand. He’s ready for the postseason and the end of a magnificent career in Anaheim. He smiles softly as he laces the ball down the 3rd base line. He only slightly beats out the throw to second and remembers the old days when he would have been on third standing after the misplay by the Left Fielder. The video replay confirms that he’s safe, and he takes his lead. Then a thought strikes him.
“I should steal. For old time’s sake.”
Of course, he had taken a free base on indifference early, early, early in the season, but a scoring error had chalked it up as a steal. Maybe it was just a helping hand; an honest mistake; a miracle from God, sent as a divine appreciation for Trout’s representation as Heaven’s soldiers. Whatever it was, Trout has no idea that he’s sitting at 499 steals in that moment.
When he hits 500, he receives a standing ovation from a surprised crowd who were also previously unaware that Trout had 499 steals. It’s the second-to-last standing ovation of his career.
It’s Opening Day in 2034. Mike Trout is leading off.
The first pitch is a fastball down the heart of the plate. It’s been grooved. It’s intentional. Trout fouls it off.
The second pitch is another fastball dead center. It’s drilled down the line, just foul. He’s too far ahead.
Trout closes his stance.
The third pitch comes in in the same location. Trout smashes the ball into right center field.
As he rounds the bases, the sold-out crowd is in tears. Every bro is high-fiving every other bro.
He steps on home plate, flashes his wizened signature smile, and waves his hand to the crowd.
The pitcher, a now 70-year old Barry Bonds, signed for just that one game, hobbles over to shake his friend’s hand.
He’s congratulating him on his 763rd home run.