MLB

Mike Trout has had two straight compromised seasons; how has lost time cost him in quest to be all-time great?

Through 2019, Mike Trout’s age-27 season, he already had racked up three MVPs and four MVP runners-up. His triple slash was .305/.419/.581. We all know his WAR was off the charts. He had already racked up 1,324 hits, 251 doubles, 285 homers, 752 RBI and 903 runs, too. Oh, and 200 steals! 

Everything was in line for Trout to become an inner-circle all-time great from nearly any individual angle. Rate stats, counting stats, personal hardware, etc. To wit, the most statistically similar profiles through age 27 in MLB history were Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Hank Aaron. 

He hasn’t slowed down when he’s gotten the chance to play in the ensuing two seasons. He’s hit .301/.419/.611, good for a 174 OPS+. 

But he’s also so far only played in 89 games since the end of the 2019 regular season. The 2020 season was shortened to 60 games and a calf injury has held Trout to just 36 games this season. Trout has not played since May 17, exactly three months. And with his return timetable still uncertain and the calendar nearing September, it’s possible he doesn’t take the field again for the Angles in 2021. Given that these are prime years, the age-28 and age-29 seasons, Trout has lost out of the chance to rack up some valuable counting stats. 

Now, to be clear before people misinterpret things and start kicking and screaming, I still firmly believe Trout is an easy Hall of Famer and probably goes down as one of the best players of all-time. We might actually end up talking about him being more Willie Mays than Mickey Mantle, or somewhere in between. There is a difference, too. Mays has roughly 46 more WAR, 400 more RBI, 124 more homers and 185 more steals. 

To reiterate, that’s the lane I’m driving in right now, not that Trout is in danger of falling down in even questionable Hall of Fame status, but instead how this might ultimately affect his standing among inner-circle greats in the eyes of diehard baseball fans. 

The Angels are hopeful that Trout is going to play again this year, but what if he doesn’t? How much production have the shortened 2020 season and calf injury potentially cost him? 

Take a look at the differences in the most beloved counting stats. I’ll even leave out the 162-game averages and just use his average per season from 2012-19. For what it’s worth, that should factor in days off and mild injuries, as he averaged 145 games played per year in that sample. 

2012-19 averages

162

31

35

92

110

24

2020

56

9

17

46

41

1

2021

39

8

8

18

23

2

Let’s say we could wave a magic wand and make 2020 a normal season — please, can we? Pretty please? — and then Trout doesn’t hurt his calf this season. It’s reasonable to believe at ages 28 and 29 he could have at least maintained his established paces, for the most part. Sure, adjustments would need to be made because his stolen bases were already trending down, but also home runs were trending up (he hit a career-high 45 in just 134 games in 2019). 

Again, though, just for the sake of argument, let’s say all of those columns now have the exact totals for each stat. In that case, Trout has missed out on:

  • 229 hits
  • 45 doubles
  • 45 homers 
  • 120 RBI
  • 156 runs

We’ll not worry about the steals) with the major losses in volume play these two seasons. When we’re thinking about benchmarks like 3,000 hits, 500 (or 600) home runs, that’s a large chunk of volume left on the table there. 

When the dust settles on his career, is this how we’ll look back at 2020-21 with him? Will it make him more Mickey than Willie in terms of the final stat sheet? 

This is, of course, all with our eyes on the incredibly unnecessary, annoying and yet wildly popular sports argument “are they the G.O.A.T.?” in whatever sport we’re discussing. Hey, I’m guilty, too, even though I know it’s a bit annoying. I’m kind of doing it here. I’ve discussed it before. The reason I’m revisiting now is that since that point in time, Trout’s taken on damage. The question is, can he recover? He’s got plenty of time, but more lost prime seasons are gonna leave a mark. 



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