History, Peaks and Mike Trout

Looking back on it, I think I took LeBron James for granted during his time in Cleveland.

When a player reaches a certain level of greatness, this can be a natural human response. You can only hear or read about one excelling at such a high level for so long before it starts to seem like old news. I wish I had gone to more Cavaliers games before James did a thing on TV that made me stop acknowledging his existence in the NBA, or really the existence of the NBA in general. He is, obviously, an incredibly special athlete who played right in my backyard, and I took him for granted.

You might be tired of hearing or reading about Mike Trout, but you really shouldn’t be. Don’t take this one for granted. Mike Trout is, obviously, an incredibly special athlete and, really, enough can’t be said about him.

A few things happened on Tuesday night: 1.) I attended the Indians vs. Angels game in celebration of my 23rd birthday. This was a day I circled on the calendar as soon as the MLB schedule came out, because I felt the baseball gods had given me a personal gift by allowing me the opportunity to see the world’s best baseball player on my birthday. 2.) I spent the day fretting about by Wednesday FanGraphs post as I am still in a state of laptop purgatory while I wait for my new, not broken MacBook to arrive in the mail. 3.) Mike Trout hit two more home runs and reminded me of a table I made long before I became a FanGraphs writer, simply because I was curious about Mike Trout’s place in history just two-plus seasons into his unprecedented career.

Mike Trout had arguably the greatest rookie season in MLB history two years ago and then followed it up with an even better one. After Tuesday night’s game, Trout is again tied for the major league lead in WAR and is projected for another 10-win season. His wRC+ is the highest of his career. Mike Trout, somehow, could still be getting better. We don’t know how the rest of this season will pan out, but we do have projections and, as Dave Cameron recently pointed out, you should trust the projections.

After two 10-win seasons, Mike Trout is projected to be right there again. It goes without saying, that is absolutely remarkable. And that’s before you even start to factor in that he’s still only 22 years old, which somewhat pains me to write on the evening I turn 23.

It started out with me wondering where Trout’s first three seasons may rank among baseball’s greatest peaks. It turned into me being fascinated by the peaks of MLB players throughout generations of baseball history. What follows is a (hopefully) complete, entirely sortable table of the 50 greatest three-year peaks in MLB history, by WAR, since the start of the live-ball era in 1920. I did this all by hand, so I may have missed a guy or two (and if I did, please let me know), but this should be a pretty comprehensive list. I used Trout’s first two seasons plus his updated ZiPS WAR projection. What one finds, among other things, is that Mike Trout is well on his way to one of the greatest three-year stretches the MLB has ever seen, trailing only Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays and Ted Williams. Not bad company.

Please, play around with this table. That’s why it’s here. There is a lot of fun to be had with it. I find it interesting to sort by year to see which players defined each generation. Sort by age to find the insane disparity between when players peaked. Athletes are crazy. Eddie Mathews peaked when he was 21. Willie Mays didn’t peak until he was 32. Sort by position to create your own “Mount Rushmore” of each position. Sort by wRC+, Def or BsR to see how some of the game’s greatest players created their value. Check out the honorable mentions list to see where Trout’s first two seasons compare to the three-year peaks of some of the game’s greats. Or how some of the game’s current players, such as Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria and Miguel Cabrera fare. Just go crazy.

Anyway, enough talking. I’ll let you have your fun with it as you may. Enjoy:

Player Team(s) WAR Years Age Pos wRC+ Def BsR HR SB
Babe Ruth NYY 35.7 1926-28 31-33 RF 209 -0.7 -5.6 161 22
Barry Bonds SFG 35.0 2001-03 36-38 LF 231 -8.3 -3.5 164 29
Mickey Mantle NYY 32.7 1955-57 23-25 CF 199 +13.5 +6.6 123 34
Rogers Hornsby STL 31.5 1920-22 24-26 2B 192 +16.7 -2.1 72 42
Willie Mays SFG 31.0 1963-65 32-34 CF 178 +43.8 +3.1 137 36
Ted Williams BOS 30.7 1946-48 27-29 LF 202 -15.0 -0.7 95 4
Mike Trout* LAA 30.4 2012-14 20-22 CF 172 +22.9 +25.3 92 112
Jimmie Foxx PHI-A 30.0 1932-34 24-26 1B 186 -5.1 -2.2 150 16
Lou Gehrig NYY 29.5 1927-29 24-26 1B 187 -8.0 -7.7 109 18
Joe Morgan CIN 29.1 1974-76 30-32 2B 174 +26.7 +25.3 66 185
Alex Rodriguez SEA/TEX 27.1 2000-02 24-26 SS 158 +40.3 +5.6 150 42
Stan Musial STL 26.8 1948-50 27-29 LF 182 -10.8 +2.3 103 15
Carl Yastrzemski BOS 26.1 1967-69 27-29 LF 166 +36.8 +0.8 107 38
Joe DiMaggio NYY 25.7 1939-41 24-26 CF 176 +19.9 -1.0 91 8
Mike Schmidt PHI 25.7 1974-76 24-26 3B 150 +55.9 +1.1 112 66
Ron Santo CHC 25.6 1965-67 25-27 3B 152 +43.9 -1.6 94 8
Ernie Banks CHC 25.5 1958-60 27-29 SS 144 +70.2 -2.2 133 7
Albert Pujols STL 25.5 2003-05 23-25 1B 174 -23.4 +15.4 130 26
Jackie Robinson BKN 25.4 1949-51 30-32 2B 152 +51.8 +11.7 49 74
Wade Boggs BOS 25.4 1985-87 27-29 3B 160 +26.6 -3.5 40 3
Ken Griffey Jr. SEA 25.3 1996-98 26-28 CF 148 +49.3 +5.7 161 51
Duke Snider BKN 24.8 1953-55 26-28 CF 167 +10.3 -0.2 124 31
Arky Vaughan PIT 24.2 1934-36 22-24 SS 167 +18.3 +2.9 40 20
Eddie Mathews MIL 24.1 1953-55 21-23 3B 167 +14.7 +0.4 128 14
Rickey Henderson NYY/OAK 24.0 1988-90 29-31 LF 150 +24.1 +31.3 46 235
George Sisler STL-B 24.0 1920-22 27-29 1B 163 -2.7 +12.1 39 128
Cal Ripken Jr. BAL 23.6 1983-85 22-24 SS 139 +60.7 -2.8 80 4
Jason Giambi OAK/NYY 23.5 2000-02 29-31 1B 184 -39.6 -5.0 122 6
Charlie Gehringer DET 23.5 1934-36 31-33 2B 141 +45.1 -1.6 45 26
Chase Utley PHI 23.4 2007-09 28-30 2B 141 +49.6 +15.7 86 46
Mel Ott NYG 23.4 1936-38 27-29 RF 172 +5.3 +1.9 100 15
Hank Aaron MIL 23.3 1961-63 27-29 RF 166 +8.2 +5.5 123 67
Jeff Bagwell HOU 22.5 1997-99 29-31 1B 164 -12.5 +3.7 119 80
Gary Carter MON 22.3 1982-84 28-30 C 137 +73.8 -2.3 73 5
Lou Boudreau CLE 22.2 1946-48 28-30 SS 138 +68.1 -2.3 28 10
George Brett KCR 22.2 1978-80 25-27 3B 154 +39.7 +2.1 56 55
Mike Piazza LAD/FLA/NYM 22.2 1996-98 27-29 C 166 +12.8 -0.7 108 6
Johnny Bench CIN 22.1 1972-74 24-26 C 138 +52.9 -0.5 98 15
Rod Carew MIN 22.0 1975-77 29-31 2B/1B 159 +5.6 +5.1 37 107
Dick Allen PHI 22.0 1964-66 22-24 3B 160 -9.3 +1.6 89 28
Hank Greenberg DET 22.0 1937-39 26-28 1B 159 -14.2 -1.2 131 23
Scott Rolen PHI/STL 21.9 2002-04 27-29 3B 140 +58.3 +2.0 93 25
Harry Heilmann DET 21.9 1923-25 28-30 RF 163 -14.1 +3.4 41 28
Ralph Kiner PIT 21.8 1947-49 24-26 LF 164 -11.8 +1.0 145 8
Tris Speaker^ CLE 21.7 1921-23 33-35 CF 167 -0.6 +2.1 31 18
Willie McCovey SFG 21.7 1968-70 30-32 1B 179 -35.7 +0.6 120 4
Frank Robinson CIN 21.6 1960-62 24-26 RF 165 -9.1 +3.8 107 53
Roberto Clemente PIT 21.5 1966-68 31-33 RF 153 +21.7 +1.1 70 18
Robin Yount MIL 21.5 1982-84 26-28 SS 144 +27.4 +3.1 62 40
Joe Gordon NYY 21.5 1941-43 26-28 2B 134 +64.1 -4.3 59 26

*Includes 2014 updated ZiPS Projection

^Actual peak occurred 1912-14 (28.5 WAR)

Honorable mentions: Andruw Jones (21.5), Johnny Mize (21.5), Bobby Grich (21.4), Evan Longoria (21.3), Joe Cronin (21.3), Mark McGwire (21.2), Mike Trout+ (21.1), Miguel Cabrera (21.1), Joe Medwick (21.1), Sammy Sosa (21.0), Todd Helton (20.9), Craig Biggio (20.8), Darrell Evans (20.8), Willie Stargell (20.7), Snuffy Stirnweiss (20.7), Frank Thomas (20.6), George Foster (20.6), Andrew McCutchen (20.4), Al Rosen (20.4), Chipper Jones (20.4), Jim Edmonds (20.2), Luis Gonzalez (20.2), Ryne Sandberg (20.1), Andre Dawson (20.0), Larry Doby (20.0), David Wright (20.0), Tim Raines (19.9), Carlos Beltran (19.9), Frankie Frisch (19.9), Billy Herman (19.8), Bobby Abreu (19.7), Goose Goslin (19.6), Hanley Ramirez (19.6), Tony Perez (19.5), Luke Appling (19.5), Graig Nettles (19.5), Kenny Lofton (19.4), Don Mattingly (19.4), Ivan Rodriguez (19.4), Ken Boyer (19.4), Eddie Murray (19.3), Brooks Robinson (19.2), Pete Rose (19.1), Jeff Kent (19.1), Rico Petrocelli (19.1), Edgar Martinez (19.0), Robinson Cano (19.0).

+Two seasons.



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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.


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