Trout Fishing

Mike Trout just keeps swimming right along. He’s probably a lock as the American League’s Rookie of the Year; at this writing he’s forging a powerful Most Valuable Player case, though Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers might give you an argument about the latter. And while it did get ridiculous to see a number of scribes, who should have known better, writing as though the lad is a Hall of Fame lock or close enough thereto, you’ve got to admit that as rookie seasons go Trout’s could end up among the best of them—if it hasn’t already.

At this writing he’s blown Joe DiMaggio right out of the river. DiMaggio was no weak rookie but Trout’s making the rookie Clipper look like a dinghy. You thought DiMaggio’s 1936 OPS+ (128) was impressive? Trout’s got him beat by +49. (Trout’s leads the American League through this writing, by the way.) DiMaggio’s .928 OPS would be an eye-opener for any rookie in any generation . . . but Trout as of today is sitting on a .991 OPS. And Joltin’ Joe’s rookie on-base percentage of .352? Pretty damn good for a first timer in that Yankee lineup, right? Now, fathom if you will Trout’s .402 through this writing.

On Thursday night, while the Angels were occupied with coming back from a 6-0 deficit in the third inning and going on to win in extra innings, 14-13, against the Red Sox, Trout managed to sneak in (if that’s the right word) a pair of stolen bases. Numbers 40 and 41. He needs a mere thirteen more to equal Ty Cobb for the most thefts by a 20-year-old in a season. The thefts already secured Trout as the youngest man in baseball history to send twenty or more over the fence and steal forty or more. Would you say he has a good chance of becoming a 20-year-old 30-30 man? He’s got 24 bombs through this writing. (Incidentally, Joe D. finished his rookie year with 29.)

Mike Trout (r.) gets a signal from a man whose rookie season he may be obliterating . . .

DiMaggio finished 1936 with 4.6 wins above a replacement-level player. For a rookie that’s remarkable. Trout through this writing has 8.8 WAR. Remarkable? Try somewhere in the fifth dimension. There’s no question but Joe DiMaggio would have been awarded the Rookie of the Year prize if they’d had it in 1936, but Mike Trout’s blown his rookie campaign away with only a little over a month left to his rookie season.

Frank Robinson did win Rookie of the Year honours in 1956, and he broke into the Show pretty impressively, too. He beat out DiMaggio’s rookie OPS by ten points, but Trout’s +39 on him, thus far. Robinson slugged .558 in ’56 . . . but Trout’s slugging .589 thus far. Robinson led the National League in runs scored (122); Trout has 99 thus far and could pass Robinson easily enough by season’s end. Robinson produced 205 runs; Trout’s produced 171 and counting and could meet Robinson at the end if he just stays on his present paces. Robinson finished 1956 with 6.6 WAR; Trout’s left him behind, too.

Wally Berger (1930 Boston Braves) is considered to have had one of the ten greatest rookie seasons of all time. 38 bombs and 119 RBI makes a nice case for him. So do his .375 OBP, his .614 SLG, his 98 runs, and his 172 hits. Trout’s already passed Berger’s OBP and could pass his SLG; he could hold or better his .991 OPS which sits a point ahead of Berger. Keep in mind Trout hits in a slightly tougher home ballpark for hitting than Berger did. Berger as a rookie was worth 4.0 WAR.  That’s less than half Trout.

Trout has a teammate who’s considered to have had the ninth best rookie season of them all. He may have a time of it trying to match this man’s 1.013 rookie OPS; he may have a time matching the guy’s 37 bombs and 130 RBIs; he could (probably will) pass the guy’s 112 runs; he could hold pace and stay well past the guy’s 157 OPS+. And he’s already past the guy’s rookie 6.3 WAR. I think you’ve heard of Albert Pujols.

Mike Piazza is considered number eight on the all-time rookie list, particularly since he put up numbers that may not have been as impressive as Berger or Pujols but he did it as a catcher. Like Robinson and Pujols, Piazza won Rookie of the Year honours. Like both those men, Piazza falls well behind Trout’s OPS+. His .370 rookie OBP is impressive considering his field position, and so is his scoring 81 runs, but Trout’s left him behind on both counts and doesn’t look as though he’ll drop significantly off that pace yet. Piazza was good for 6.8 WAR, exactly two full behind Trout.

Teddy Ballgame loved to fish, but he may lose his rookie stature to a red Trout . . .

You may have heard that Ted Williams had quite a rookie campaign in his own right. His 1.045 OPS is a glittering rookie accomplishment (he beats Pujols by 32 points), and Trout is a mere 54 points behind Williams as of this morning. Trout, however, is 17 points up on the Splinter for OPS+. He’s also ahead of Williams 11 points on the batting average meter and could well hold that pace; he’s not likely to equal Williams’s rookie RBIs (145) but he could equal Williams’s rookie home runs (31). Williams, too, was good for 6.6 WAR—well enough behind Trout.

Thirty-six years after Williams, another Red Sox rook won both Rookie of the Year and the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. Fred Lynn led his league in OPS (.967), SLG (.566), runs (103), and doubles (47). Trout’s pretty well assured of passing him in rookie runs though not necessarily for rookie doubles; the high-flying Angel right now is out-slugging Lynn and could keep pace (Lynn: .566; Trout: .589), and Trout has reached base even-up with Lynn’s rookie finish (Lynn: .401) with a better than even chance of staying the course or getting ahead. Lynn as a rookie was good for 7.1 WAR, which isn’t Trout’s 8.8 but is the second best WAR thus far among those we’ve examined here.

Dick Allen’s partisans often point to his rookie season as one of the greatest of all time, and they’re right. He shook out as 8.5 WAR, the closest any of the rookies surveyed here has gotten to Trout. That’s about as close as he gets, though: Trout has him waxed for OPS+ right now and could hold on; he also has Allen waxed for OPS by +52 and could hold on there, too.

With the statistical staggerings otherwise, perhaps the way to line up the top rookies would be their WAR. (That would bring Ichiro Suzuki into the survey, considering his 7.5 WAR in 2001.) Taking non-pitchers into account only, here’s how every Rookie of the Year since the award was established (Jackie Robinson and Alvin Dark, the first two winners, won the award in the only two seasons in which it was given across the board, rather than each league) stacks up (Hall of Famers indicated with +):

Bet you didn’t remember Fisk as a rookie was that good . . .

+Jackie Robinson: 3.0.
Alvin Dark: 4.0.
Roy Sievers: 1.9.
Sam Jethroe: 2.9.
Walt Dropo: 2.4.
+Willie Mays: 3.6.
Gil McDougald: 4.5.
Junior Gilliam: 3.8.
Harvey Kuenn: 1.5.
Wally Moon: 2.9.
Bill Virdon: 1.1.
+Frank Robinson: 6.6.
+Luis Aparicio: 1.3.
Tony Kubek: 2.3.
+Orlando Cepeda: 2.7.
Albie Pearson: 0.6.
+Willie McCovey: 3.0.
Frank Howard: 1.7.
Ron Hansen: 3.7.
+Billy Williams: 0.8.
Ken Hubbs: -0.3.
Tom Tresh: 4.1.
Pete Rose: 2.1.
Dick Allen: 8.5.
Tony Oliva: 6.6.
Jim Lefebvre: 4.2.
Curt Blefary: 3.1.
Tommy Helms: 1.2.
Tommie Agee: 6.0.
+Rod Carew: 2.0.
+Johnny Bench: 4.9.
Ted Sizemore: 4.0.
Lou Piniella: 1.6.
Thurman Munson: 5.3.
Earl Williams: 3.0.
Chris Chambliss: 0.3.
+Carlton Fisk: 7.0.
Gary Matthews, Sr.: 3.2.
Al Bumbry: 3.8.
Bake McBride: 4.1.
Mike (The Human Rain Delay) Hargrove: 3.0.
Fred Lynn: 7.1.
+Andre Dawson: 3.7.
+Eddie Murray: 2.9.
Bob Horner: 2.0.
Lou Whitaker: 3.5.
John Castino: 1.5.
Alfredo Griffin: 2.3.
Super Joe Charboneau: 2.2.
Steve Sax: 3.2.
+Cal Ripken, Jr.: 4.4.
Darryl Strawberry: 2.4.
Ron Kittle: 1.6.
Alvin Davis: 5.7.
Vince Coleman: 2.3.
Ozzie Guillen: 2.1.
Jose Canseco: 2.8.
Benito Santiago: 3.1.
Mark McGwire: 4.8.
Chris Sabo: 4.8.
Walt Weiss: 2.6.
Jerome Walton: 1.9.
David Justice: 2.7.
Sandy Alomar, Jr.: 2.2.
Jeff Bagwell: 4.5.
Chuck Knoblauch: 2.6.
Eric Karros: 0.2.
Pat Listach: 4.2.
Mike Piazza: 6.8.
Tim Salmon: 4.9.
Raul Mondesi: 1.6.
Bob (The Pied Piper of) Hamelin: 2.4.
Marty Cordova: 3.1.
Todd Hollandsworth: 0.9.
Derek Jeter: 3.0.
Scott Rolen: 4.3.
Nomar Garciaparra: 6.5.
Ben Grieve: 1.9.
Carlos Beltran: 4.5.
Rafael Furcal: 3.8.
Albert Pujols: 6.3.
Ichiro Suzuki: 7.5.
Eric Hinske: 3.1.
Angel Berroa: 2.2.
Jason Bay: 2.0.
Bobby Crosby: 3.0.
Ryan Howard: 2.9.
Hanley Ramirez: 4.6.
Ryan Braun: 1.8.
Dustin Pedroia: 3.6.
Geovany Soto: 3.1.
Evan Longoria: 4.5.
Chris Coghlan: 0.9.
Buster Posey: 3.7.

Ichiro—7.5 and falling?

You can get out your calculator if you choose, but I think you wouldn’t really need it to see that the rough average WAR among non-pitching Rookies of the Year should shake out somewhere around 3.4. (You sure don’t need a calculator to figure out that Albie Pearson, Billy Williams, Ken Hubbs, Chris Chambliss, Eric Karros, and Todd Hollandsworth were—based on their WAR—perhaps the four worst rookies ever to win the Rookie of the Year award; or, that Harvey Kuenn, Bill Virdon, Luis Aparicio, Frank Howard, Tommy Helms, Lou Piniella, John Castino, Ron Kittle, Jerome Walton, Raul Mondesi, Ben Grieve, maybe even Ryan Braun, were at least dubious such picks. And I bet you didn’t realise, or don’t remember, that Tony Oliva, Tommie Agee, Carlton Fisk, Alvin Davis, Tim Salmon, Nomar Garciaparra, and Hanley Ramirez were that good in their rookie seasons.)

But you should be able to conclude that Mike Trout—absent any unforeseen breakdown between now and season’s end—just might be shaping up as the greatest rookie ever to play the game. Might.

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