A few days ago I took a look at how Troy Tulowitzki stacks up against his position on offense, then defense, and then a combination of the two, comparing him against the best of the best and looking at the drop off or lack thereof in each category.
Today we will begin to give Mike Trout the same treatment and see where he ranks in his position offensively before examining defense in Part 4. I compared Tulo to every active shortstop with a wRC+ over 100 except (for some reason) Yunel Escobar, who is essentially half way between Ian Desmond and J.J. Hardy. Doing this with Trout would have been crazy, which is much to the overall point I am making here: 79 outfielders have a wRC+ of 100 or better. More on this later.
So I selected the best candidates based on my own look at a combination of their stats. I still ranked them by wRC+ in my search but also eventually gave preference to those who might also stack up defensively.
Like with Tulo, I went back a few years before Trout's debut in order to give a wider range of what outfielders have been producing lately in MLB and also to keep things consistent. I started with numbers since 2010.
So, just like I did with Tulowitzki, most players on this list will have more plate appearances than Trout and that should always be kept in mind. For now, even though I've included a few players for defensive reasons, let's look at just the work these guys are doing in the batter's box.
While looking through these numbers, keep in mind this quote from Fangraphs' Tony Blengino:
As a shortstop, these numbers mark you as a true star. After all, in 2334 full-time shortstop seasons since 1901, the average OPS+ is 86.6. Among shortstops with a 10 or more full-time seasons at the position, only Honus Wagner (151) and Arky Vaughan (136) have higher career OPS+ figures than Tulowitzki's 125. Ernie Banks and Alex Rodriguez would also rank higher, but both only had eight full-time shortstop seasons. Now Tulo's got a few years before he has his decade in, but no one is moving him off of his position before then, so his slot is secure. He ranks ahead of the likes of Cal Ripken (118), Derek Jeter (116), Barry Larkin (116),Alan Trammell (110).
Tulo has posted OPS+ figures of 130 or better four times, all in a narrow band between 131 and 140.
Mike Trout - Since 2010: 1,713 PAs
.309/.399/.543, .403, 162 wRC+, oWAR 144.6, dWAR 27.0, WAR 24.3
Ryan Braun - Since 2010: 2,389 PAs
.315/.380/.555, .400 wOBA, 152 wRC+, oWAR 161.2, dWAR -33.6, WAR 21.3
With a bat in his hands, the only thing that Ryan Braun hasn't accomplished at the major league level that Mike Trout has, is being 21 years old. His rookie season was as good as any (in terms of wOBA) Trout has had, and he has proven the ability to get back to that point (his age 27 season) where Trout has not yet had the chance to.
Since 2011 (because we are looking at a raw number now and since 2011 Braun has 1,704 PAs and Trout has 1,713) Ryan Braun has 90 home runs to Mike Trout's 72. His better power is also reflected in the .555 slugging percentage he has to Mike Trout's .543. Not a huge difference but over seasons of which it would be pretty insane if Trout repeated.
This is the part where I talk about Ryan Braun being a cheating cheater who cheated. I hate it, and I really hate the way he handled it, but for now we are just looking at numbers and to this date no team has had to give back a single win for employing a PED user. When it comes to player value Braun has been incredible at the plate.
So, as is, Ryan Braun has shown the ability to be at least as productive as Mike Trout with the bat in the eyes of the box score. What Trout has on Braun is defensive ability and general durability and consistency, which he has been tested over a much smaller sample size.
In their primes thus far, would you rather pitch to Braun or Trout? The numbers suggest it's a tossup.
Jose Bautista - Since 2010: 2,389 PAs
.270/.393/.566, .408 wOBA, 158 wRC+, oWAR 174.8, -31.5, WAR 23.8
Let's start with Jose Bautista's strong suit, and keep with the 2011 cutoff date for just a second for the home run numbers, which find Joey Bats at 110 dingers in only about 100 more PAs than Trout, who had the 72.
Bautista also comes pretty darn close in OBP where Trout also paces the bunch. Bautista's .393 OBP doesn't lag too far behind Trout's .399 especially when you consider the power that comes with it. Because of this, Jose Bautista actually has a higher OPS than Mike Trout since 2010 at .958 to .942. He also has a slightly higher wOBA at .408 over .403.
Bautista leads all outfielders during this time in ISO (Isolated Power) by quite a bit with a .296 mark, Trout comes in tenth with .233.
Like with Braun, it could be argued that -- depending on what you value most -- Jose Bautista is just as valuable as Mike Trout (and maybe even more because there is no defense for that power) solely as a hitter.
Andrew McCutchen - Since 2010: 2,901 PAs
.299/.387/.490, .380 wOBA, 143 wRC+, 159.7 oWAR, dWAR -3.0, 26.1
In case you were about to say, "Hey, what about some actual center fielders?" here we go.
Trout has played 124 games left field and 17 in right field for 141 non-center field games to 281 games in center. So I think it is fair to compare his numbers thus far against all outfielder but (sigh, again) we will get to this more later, let's keep rolling with our player comparisons on offense.
Andrew McCutchen could be described as Mike Trout Lite. He does pretty much all the same things but none of them quite as well. He isn't a huge drop off in any one area but only gets close to matching him in power. You wouldn't take McCutchen over Trout but at the plate if you ended up with Andrew instead you would still have an excellent, above-average hitter on your hands.
This will be the first time I say I don't trust that dWAR rating but it will not be the last time I put defense off until it's own section in the fourth part.
Matt Holliday - Since 2010: 2,705 PAs
.299/.385/.499, .383 wOBA, 145 wRC+, oWAR 142.3, dWAR -30.9, WAR 20.5
Our old buddy Matty H! Holliday isn't the all-around offensive player that Trout is, but we all know he can still get it going and in terms of raw numbers he is right there with Trout. His ballpark adjustments don't help certain numbers, but either way Mike Trout is clearly a better offensive player right now than Matt Holliday.
Holliday's prime and consistency, as seen on the graph above, are still not yet matched by Trout who is only in his third season. Trout may very well have a longer and even higher spiking prime than Matt Holliday but he hasn't maintained those heights as of yet. At least not in terms of wOBA.
As a hitter, there is no guarantee that over the course of his career, Trout will be more valuable that Matt Holliday was. (He probably will be.) But according to the available numbers, if you could choose between either hitter for two seasons of their hitting prime, you could easily choose Holliday.
Mike Trout is a much better defender than Matt Holliday and I don't need to look at any numbers to know that, but, hey they are up there so help yourselves!
Josh Hamilton - Since 2010: 2,414 PAs
.298/.356/.545, .381 wOBA, 138 wRC+, oWAR 122.5, dWAR -17.5, WAR 19.4
This is interesting because Josh Hamilton debuted so late, and because so much of Mike Trout's worth comes from him being so young. It's fascinating to see those jagged ups and downs in his career and worth noting that his age 29 season was ridiculous and better than anything Trout has accomplished.
If that year and this are any indication, he responds really well to having one average season (also due largely to injury) but if you put health and age on the side, in any given at-bat Josh Hamilton may be just as dangerous as Mike Trout in his prime.
Don't get me wrong, Trout still gets a ton of credit for his consistency especially, but this is the best player in which to highlight the point that we are, as of now, always comparing Trout to guys who have had more time to go through slumps, get hurt, have pitchers figure them out, or run into a string of bad luck.
Jay Jaffe recently looked into a possible such occurrence that may explain while Trout's numbers are down in a small sample size this season. Here is one money quote near the end:
On Tuesday, ESPN Stats and Info's Justin Havens published a similar batting average heat map and noted, "Perhaps the most telling stat of his ‘up-and-in' struggles is this: No hitter is producing hard contact less often against pitches in the upper half this season than Trout." The entire piece is worth a read, though the numbers there (presumably based on a different data set than Brooks) are every bit as small-sample based as the ones I've cited above.
Either way, the data suggests that pitchers have recognized that Trout has been troubled by pitches up and in and that they've thrown there with increasing frequency. Also, within the context of a limited number of outcomes, he's failed to produce hard contact against them the way he so often does. Whaddaya know, he may be human after all.
But I also agree with the next part in that article that suggests we likely have not seen the end of what Trout can do. Since this was posted he has hit .324/.419/.618 for a 185 wRC+. The league may have momentarily adjusted to Mike Trout and he may have adjusted right back.
In all likelihood, Trout will go through some ups and downs in his career and Hamilton shows an extreme example of that possibility while also still having at least one season on his resume better than any Trout has had so far.
.307/.366/.548, .389 wOBA, 132 wRC+, oWAR 106.7, dWAR -25.3, WAR 16.4
If you think ballpark factors are as overrated as I do (another novel for another time) then Carlos Gonzalez is the outfielder for you. He is right on Trout's heels in the slash line numbers and we know he has the raw power -- his .241 ISO is good for sixth since 2010 (four spots ahead of Trout) -- and the speed ratings are pretty close.
Trout is definitely the more patient hitter, walking at a 12.4 percent clip to Cargo's 8.3 percent. But other than that, Cargo is just as fierce at the plate and we all know he can get hot for months at a time and be as good as any hitter in baseball and he can go ahead and do that anytime now please.
We will get into the comparison between these two in much more detail when we get to defense.
Giancarlo Stanton - Since 2010: 2,227 PAs
.270/.359/.544/ .384 wOBA, 142 wRC+, oWAR 93.3, dWAR -3.9, WAR 16.7
Stanton is just an absolute monster to pitch to despite the first half of last season being so abysmal it dramatically reduces the scariness of his overall stats.
Still with youth on his side and absurd power potential, I would not be at all surprised if Stanton ends up having a better offensive career than Mike Trout. Stanton will always be limited by being a corner outfield only guy but his defensive value might be more than is immediately apparent.
Shin-Soo Choo - Since 2010: 2,602 PAs
.286/.394/.453, .374 wOBA, 138 wRC+, oWAR 115.6, dWAR -45.7, WAR 16.2
"He gets on base a lot, do I care if it is a walk or a hit?"
"You do not."
"I do not."
If this is your jam as much as it is mine, then maybe Shin-Soo Choo is a guy you would build your outfield around if you chose to wait a few round on outfielders in this Rawlsienesque "veil of ignorance" draft.
His .394 on base number is barely behind Trout's .399. The rest of his numbers lag behind obviously but not disgustingly so.
Choo doesn't have the hitting capabilities that Mike Trout does but he has still been consistently well above average for the vast majority of his career. Considering he is the eighth guy on this list and he is still a guy who would be a positive to any lineup which you absolutely cannot say at the shortstop position once you start getting into the eighth best players.
The eighth best shortstop since 2010 in wRC+ is Stephen Drew at 102. Choo's 138 comes in higher than any shortstop not named Troy Tulowitzki (143 since 2010).
And Choo doesn't even have as high a wRC+ as the next guy on our list.
Matt Kemp - Since 2010: 2,258 PAs
.286/.352/.501, .364 wOBA, 133 wRC+, oWAR 92.8, dWAR -55.9, WAR 11.3
Matt Kemp is another player who has had more time for slumps and streaks and has shown the ability to be well above average for most of his career. While he doesn't match Trout in any one category, he doesn't lag too far behind in any either and at his best is right there with him (again putting aside age).
Somewhat implicit in mentioning Mike Trout's age as a factor in his value is an implied suggestion that he will either maintain his levels of production or improve on them. But he hasn't yet and, as I discussed with Zach Margurger at the recent Rockies blogger panel (another coming up June 7th!) assuming Trout can or will do this is quite the assumption.
Putting projections aside, if you had the choice between Matt Kemp's prime years and Mike Trout's best available years at the plate, you are looking at two very similar players. Kemp has comparable speed and power and shows how someone with immense talent and all the tools who looked like he was going to be a world-beater can go through even season long slumps.
If Trout gets to his age 29 season and never has a down year, then yes, he will be among the greatest players who ever lived. But in a vacuum, age 26 Matt Kemp and the (all-time greatest at that age) 21-year-old Mike Trout are really not that far apart, especially in the eyes of the pitcher.
Bryce Harper - Since 2010: 1,185 PAs
.273/.353/.476, .359 wOBA, 127 wRC+, oWAR 38.2, dWAR 1.2, WAR 8.0
If youth and projections for the future and "dreaming on blank canvas" is your thing, then Bryce Harper is the denier-of-clown-questions you've been looking for. The one guy on this list with fewer PAs since 2010 than Mike Trout, Harper has had issue staying on the field but when he is there has shown signs of being just as good as Mr. Trout.
Let me be clear, Bryce Harper has not yet been as good as Mike Trout. A quick glance at the numbers makes that obvious. However, if you are going to sell me on the notion that Trout is better/more valuable than most of these other guys because he has been so productive at such a young age and could even percievably get better, then you have to acknowledge the same possibility for Harper.
Even struggling through injuries, Harper has been extremely effective at the plate with a 127 wRC+ since 2010, which would still be good for second among shortstops behind only -- you guessed it -- Troy Tulowitzki.
Defensively is where this comparison gets really interesting because I believe Harper to be the better defender and some numbers (though clearly not dWAR) back that up. So like Cargo, we will do more with Harper in part four.
Jacoby Ellsbury - Since 2010: 1,982 PAs
.293/.348/.450, .349 wOBA, 116 wRC+, oWAR 58.4, dWAR 32.1, WAR 16.5
Jacoby Ellsbury has had quite the up and down career. The two below average seasons would scare me off as a potential drafter perhaps, but when averaged out Ellsbury has still managed to put up pretty impressive numbers even with those bad years dragging them down.
If Andrew McCutchen is Mike Trout Lite, Jacoby Ellsbury migh well be considered Andrew McCutchen Lite at the plate. He has all the tools (power, speed, etc) and plays an amazing center field defense but is still a pretty clear drop off from Trout offensively.
His 116 wRC+ would still be behind only Tulo and Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and he is the first player on this list to rate ahead of Trout in dWAR.
If you wound up with Tulo and Ellsbury (nowhere near the second best outfielder available) instead of Mike Trout and Hanley Ramierez (absolutely the second best shortstop available), your defense would be significantly better up the middle and you would be at a net loss of 28 wRC+, which could be easily accommodated for with an offensive player at a corner spot.
We will get into more of this kind of analysis in the future. This is at the very heart of why I believe Troy Tulowitzki to be the more valuable player. Trout can be recreated in the aggregate because you need three outfielders no matter what. Tulo cannot because only one guy plays shortstop.
And the next guy on our list is an intriguing candidate for doing just that.
Carlos Gomez - Since 2010: 1,826 PAs
.267/.320/.463, .340 wOBA, 112 wRC+, oWAR 37.9, dWAR 50.4, WAR 15.4
If you wanted to build a team solely based on these numbers (oWAR, dWAR, wRC+ and the like) you might find Carlos Gomez to be the one of the best bangs for your buck in baseball. His graph certainly suggests a one way trend and while his slash line isn't the scariest in the world, he still amounts to a 112 wRC+ player since 2010, which would tie Jed Lowrie at fourth among shortstops. He is three wRC+ points behind Jose Reyes...and Carlos Gomez only made this list because of his defense.
According to dWAR, Gomez is the best defensive center fielder in baseball so we will get back to him in part four, but for now, cross-apply everything I said about Jacoby Ellsbury and recreating Mike Trout in the aggregate.
Shane Victorino - Since 2010: 2,531 PAs
.269/.335/.433, .336 wOBA, 109 wRC+, oWAR 48.1, dWAR 33.1, WAR 17.1
Shane Victorino is just a less exciting version of the case I was making for Ellsbury and Gomez. Above average offensively, and well above average defensively, Victorino doesn't cost you anything dramatic in any specific aspect of the game.
Brett Gardner - Since 2010: 2,004 PAs
.272/.358/.389, .335 wOBA, 107 wRC+, oWAR 40.2, dWAR 45.3, WAR 16.0
Another guy in the Gomez/Ellsbury/Victorino mold.
Here are some outfielders who didn't quite qualify for this list but could be paired to one of these defensive players and come close to recreating Trout or even better:
Brandon Moss (144 wRC+), Carlos Quentin (132 wRC+), Jayson Werth (131 wRC+), Carlos Beltran (130 wRC+), Allen Craig (130 wRC+), Justin Upton (127 wRC+), Corey Hart (126 wRC+), Nelson Cruz (125 wRC+), Josh Willingham (125 wRC+), Andre Ethier (124 wRC+), Hunter Pence (123 wRC+), Nick Swisher (122 wRC+), Curtis Granderson (120 wRC+), Yoenis Cespedes (119 wRC+), Jay Bruce (118 wRC+), Alex Gordon (117 wRC+), Adam Jones (114 wRC+)
In wRC+, Brandon Moss + Troy Tulowitzki = Mike Trout + Hanley Ramirez.
Ben Zobrist - Since 2010: 2,875 PAs
.263/.357/.421, .343 wOBA, 120 wRC+, oWAR 77.6, dWAR 40.4, WAR 22.5
Ben Zobrist is weird. And while we are on the subject of "value" this guy has it in spades. The fact that he can play so many positions while still being worth 120 wRC+ and 40.4 dWAR is pretty crazy. Since most of this debate has revolved around positional battles, it is hard to see how he fits in, but I wanted to include him here and show the number comparisons as he seems a legitimate candidate to be able to recreate -- well just about anybody in the aggregate.
Jason Heyward - Since 2010: 2,385 PAs
.258/.350/.432, .345 wOBA, 117 wRC+, oWAR 60.1, dWAR 38.9, WAR 18.2
Finally, our last player comp and it's going to be short because what Jason Heyward has on most of these guys is brilliance on defense. Still, he was worth putting here because he is no slouch with a bat in his hands and also has that youth thing going for him.
But let's save the best Jason Heyward stuff for part four where it belongs.
Yasiel Puig - Since 2010: 645 PAs
.346/.445/.615, .455 wOBA, 198 wRC+, oWAR 22.8, -1.0, WAR 3.0
Small sample size but Yasiel Puig may end up being right there, too. He doesn't have enough PAs to qualify which is why I almost excluded (forgot about) him. But if he is still doing this, or even some approximation of this, through his next 645 PAs, it will be even better than anything Trout has accomplished at the plate.
There are 79 outfielders in MLB with a wRC+ of 100 or higher since 2010. If you prefer to limit it to center fielders, there are 26. Only ten shortstops, including Marco Scutaro, Stephen Drew, and the retiring Derek Jeter matched that mark.
If you make the cutoff 105 wRC+, six shortstops qualify and four of them mustered over 110. Only Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki have at or above a 120 wRC+ at shortstop.
In the outfield, 67 players have a wRC+ north of 105 (23 CFs) and 46 (12 CFs) at 110 an up and 29 (7 CFs) at 120.
Yes, there are six shortstops with a 105 wRC+ or better and 23 center-fielders.
And remember that Tony Blengino quote about the average OPS+ for shortstops since 1901 being 86.6?
The number for outfielders during that same time? I don't know because that information is hard to find! But looking at more recent info in this Beyond the Box Score article shows what we would expect to be a pretty consistent trend in terms of wRC+.
Since 2007 average wRC+:
Our own RhosIslandRoxFan ran these numbers:
Catcher: 88 wRC+
First Base: 111
Second Base: 89
Third Base: 97
Right Field: 108
Center Field: 104
Left Field: 108
What is interesting about these numbers though is what's happened recently with catcher. The average wRC+ at catcher the last four years looks like this...
2011: 92, 2012: 95, 2013: 92, 2014: 97
Compare that to let's say shortstop which has an average wRC+ right now of...
2010: 83, 2011: 88, 2012: 86, 2013: 85, 2014: 87
You can make a pretty interesting argument that today's WAR is currently overrating catchers a bit because a catcher who can hit is less valuable now than it's been at other points in history. Tulo's offense however is just as valuable as it's ever been. WAR's positional adjustment is interesting because it's the same every year. Looking at the swings in wRC+ numbers, I'm not sure it should.
I think it is safe to say that shortstop is a significantly more difficult position to get offensive production from than outfield, even if just limiting it to the hardest outfield position to play; center field.
Troy Tulowitzki is the rarer, more valuable commodity even just when looking at the offensive side of things.
It is also clear to me that although Mike Trout is the most valuable player on this list, he is not head and shoulders above his competition in every aspect of the game the way Troy Tulowitzki is. But in order to really drive that point home we will need to talk about defense and you've done enough work for one article.