Fresh off his third American League MVP Award in nine seasons, Mike Trout had a chance in 2020 to enhance his status as one of the best players of all time. Until Major League Baseball was shut down by the conoravirus pandemic, it seemed like only injuries could stop the future Hall of Famer.
In 2019, despite missing the final three weeks of the season with a foot injury, the Los Angeles Angels' center fielder posted career highs of 45 home runs and a .645 slugging percentage. At age 28, he’s reaching what is historically the peak performance years for Hall of Fame players.
With a lineup featuring 2019 Silver Slugger Award winner (and World Series champ) Anthony Rendon, a healthy Shohei Ohtani, left fielder Justin Upton and second baseman Tommy La Stella, the Angels finally looked like contenders. For Trout — who has yet to win a postseason game — this appeared to be his best chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
To be clear, Trout is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, the best player of this generation and greatest player in Angels history. Where he ranks among the greatest baseball players of all time, however, is a debate that resides within razor-thin margins. Games lost to injury — and the coronavirus — could ultimately hold back Trout, who some even believe belongs in the G.O.A.T conversation.
Will Trout's final career stats mirror those of teammate Albert Pujols, another future first-ballot Hall of Famer? Pujols ranks 15th all time in hits (3,202), sixth in home runs (656) and fourth in RBI (2,075). Or will he finish more like former Phillies star Mike Schmidt? At age 31, the greatest slugging season of his career was interrupted by the 1981 MLB strike. Schmidt, also a Hall of Famer, ranks 16th all time with 548 career home runs and 39th with 1,595 RBI, but he'll never come up in a G.O.A.T. conversation.
Through his first 1,000 games, Trout had more home runs (224), walks (638) and a higher WAR (61.7) than Barry Bonds over the same time frame. He had nearly as many hits (1,126) as all-time leader Pete Rose (1,231), only 41 fewer runs than all-time leader Rickey Henderson (795) and nearly as many total bases (2,100) as Hank Aaron (2,221). In 1,199 games, Trout has 285 career home runs, 2,522 total bases, 200 stolen bases and 1,324 hits. He turns 29 in August. If the schedule allows, he will become the second player ever with 300 homers and 200 stolen bases before turning 29. The other is Alex Rodriguez.
Through nine seasons, Trout ranks 86th all time (72.8) in career WAR. He is the only player with less than 10 seasons of service time in the top 182 spots and the highest-ranking active player behind Pujols, who has played 19 seasons. In terms of WAR, Trout has surpassed current Hall of Famers Edgar Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Ernie Banks and Tony Gwynn.
Trout has led the league in steals, runs, RBI, walks, total bases, on-base and slugging. But he has never won a home run title. Entering 2020, Trout is at the stage of his career when great players evolve into truly great sluggers. Traditionally, they sacrifice stats like batting average and stolen bases in return for higher slugging. Trout’s highest batting average season (.326) came in 2012, in his first full season, at age 20. But he seems to be peaking now as a home run hitter. The peak years for home runs for Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr. came in their late 20s or early 30s.
What Trout is losing in speed — he attempted just 13 stolen bases last season — he is making up tenfold in run production. In a lineup with Rendon, Ohtani and Upton, his power numbers were about to explode, and 2020 appeared to be Trout’s best chance to launch 60 long balls.
Assuming that Trout plays at least another seven seasons, which may be shortchanging him, his projected numbers place him among the all-time greats. Some 500 home runs, 1,500 RBI, 2,400 hits, 4,000 total bases and 1,400 walks all feel like easily attainable milestones and would place him in the top 50 and, in some cases, the top 20 of each career category. Respectable? Yes. Hall of Fame worthy? Easily. But in the conversation for greatest of all time? Not close.
Since 2016, Trout has missed an average of 33 games per season and not played more than the 140 games he appeared in last year. By no fault of his own, this will be the fourth straight season that the Angels superstar has missed considerable time.
Trout has already proven himself to be the greatest baseball talent of the 21th century. But will we be left wondering what might have been?