Friday August 7th, 2015

Friday marks Mike Trout's 24th birthday, and while it’s a tall order to expect the Angels' slugger to stop by for a slice of cake, it’s nonetheless a good time to stop and appreciate his outstanding season and provide some perspective on his remarkable career to date. Simply put, he continues to maintain a pace that puts him in the pantheon of all-time greats.

Even with a 1-for-20 start to August, the Millville Meteor is amid another great season, thanks in part to the fact that he's coming off the hottest calendar month of his career. He hit a sizzling .367/.462/.861 in July, setting career highs in OPS (1.343) and homers (12). Thanks to that surge (and in spite of the subsequent swoon), he's hitting .303/.394/.631 this year, with his slugging percentage, 183 OPS+, 32 homers and 6.7 Wins Above Replacement all league bests. As Cliff Corcoran wrote in this week's Awards Watch, Trout's torrid July has restored his position as the front-runner for a second straight AL MVP award. If not for the voters' attachment to Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown stats in 2012 and '13, Trout might be on his way to a fourth straight award.

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As it is, if Trout brings home this year’s MVP award, he’ll supplant Hal Newhouser as the youngest two-time winner. Newhouser, the ace of the Tigers circa World War II, was 24 years, four months and 10 days old on the final day of the 1945 regular season, his second of back-to-back MVP-winning years. Trout will be 24 years, one month and 27 days old at the end of this season.

Via ESPN, Trout is tied for fourth in home runs before his 24th birthday:

player hr before 24 career
Eddie Mathews 153 512
Mel Ott 153 511
Ken Griffey Jr. 132 630
Frank Robinson 130 586
Mike Trout 130 130
Alex Rodriguez 128 678

Thanks to his early start, Trout has quite a jump on most of the players in the upper reaches of the all-time home run list, trailing only Griffey and tied with Robinson through age 23:

player hr before 24 career
Barry Bonds 59 762
Hank Aaron 110 755
Babe Ruth 20 714
Alex Rodriguez 128 678
Willie Mays 68 660
Ken Griffey Jr. 132 630
Jim Thome 30 612
Sammy Sosa 37 609
Frank Robinson 130 586
Mark McGwire 52 583

Thanks to his propensity for drawing walks, Trout's total of 689 hits before his 24th birthday isn't quite as impressive in overall standing—he's 270 behind the leader at that stage, Ty Cobb—but he's ahead of the pace of eight of the top 10 hit collectors of all time, including the Hit King, Pete Rose:

player hits before 24 career
Pete Rose 311 4,256
Ty Cobb 959 4,189
Hank Aaron 718 3,771
Stan Musial 584 3,630
Tris Speaker 547 3,514
Derek Jeter 466 3,465
Cap Anson 423 3,435
Honus Wagner 81 3,420
Carl Yastrzemski 493 3,419
Paul Molitor 423 3,319

As noted before, Trout currently leads the AL in WAR, something he's already done three straight times. If he were to hold onto that lead, he would join some elite company. Via Baseball-Reference:

player consecutive years
Honus Wagner 8 1902–09 (NL)
Rogers Hornsby 6 1917–22 (NL)
Babe Ruth 6 1926–31 (AL)
Albert Pujols 6 2005–10 (NL)
Mickey Mantle 5 1955–59 (AL)
Willie Mays 5 1962–66 (NL)
Barry Bonds 4 1990–93 (NL)
Barry Bonds 4 2001–04 (NL)
Hughie Jennings 4 1895–98 (NL)

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In parts of five seasons, Trout has compiled 35.2 WAR for his career. That's already higher than the seven-year peak scores of four Hall of Fame centerfielders: Hugh Duffy (30.8), Edd Roush (31.5), Max Carey (32.9) and Earle Combs (34.3). With one-third of a season left to play, he's a cinch to pass Hack Wilson (35.8) soon, and could even catch Earl Averill (37.3) and Kirby Puckett (37.5) before the season is out as well. Once he catches Averill, it will mean that his JAWS (the average of his career and seven-year peak WAR, for Hall of Fame comparative purposes) will already be superior to that of the two lowest-ranked enshrined centerfielders, Duffy (43.0/30.8/36.9) and Wilson (38.8/35.8/37.3). That in itself isn't a good argument to enshrine Trout, but by the time he reaches the 10-year minimum—which he'll do with his 2020 season debut, since one game is enough to count as a season by Hall requirements—they may have already started engraving his plaque in Cooperstown.

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In terms of age-based comparisons, since the B-Ref Play Index doesn't allow us to calculate WAR through a given date, we're left with the conventional "through age X season" using the player's age through June 30 of that year. Trout, who is playing 2015 as his age-23 season, is very close to taking over the lead:

player years war through 23
Ty Cobb 1905–10 36.0
Mike Trout 2011–15 34.8
Ted Williams 1939–42 34.2
Mel Ott 1926–32 31.4
Ken Griffey Jr. 1989–93 30.1
Mickey Mantle 1951–55 29.7
Alex Rodriguez 1994–99 27.7
Al Kaline 1953–58 27.5
Arky Vaughan 1932–35 26.7
Rogers Hornsby 1915–19 26.5

By now, Trout already owns or shares a few of these marks, but even assuming he claims another one, he's going to have to work hard to keep up with the Georgia Peach over the next decade:

age player war trout needs
19 Bryce Harper 5.1  
20 Mike Trout/Mel Ott 11.4  
21 Mike Trout 20.3  
22 Mike Trout 28.2  
23 Ty Cobb 36.0 0.8
24 Ty Cobb 46.7 11.5
25 Ty Cobb 55.8 20.6
26 Ty Cobb 63.2 28.0
27 Ty Cobb 68.8 33.6
28 Ty Cobb 78.3 43.1
29 Ty Cobb 86.3 51.1
30 Ty Cobb 97.6 62.4
31 Ty Cobb 104.2 69.0
32 Ty Cobb 109.7 74.5
33 Rogers Hornsby 119.6 84.4

At his current pace, Trout will add another 3.4 WAR to finish the season at 10.1. That’s not enough for a career high (his 10.8 from 2012 is), but that would still be good enough to be the 19th double-digit season of the post-1960 Expansion Era, and place him in the company of Bonds, Mays, Yastrzemski and Cal Ripken as the only players with multiple seasons of at least 10 WAR in that span. Bonds had three such seasons and Mays six overall (four after '60); Mantle had three, but just one after '60.

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Back to the table above: Getting to 10.1 WAR for the year would run Trout’s career total to 38.6. With that, he'd still need an 8.1 WAR season in 2016 to stay even with Cobb through age 24, 17.2 in '16 and '17 combined, and so on. To catch up with Hornsby, he would need to maintain this year's pace and then average 8.1 WAR per year over the next decade. No sweat, right?

I’m not going to bet against it.

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