|Rk||Player||WAR first four years||WAR per 162 gm||Defensive runs saved||Span||Age [on Jun 30]||G||PA|
I saw Mike Trout play for the first time last Friday. I make it to three or five games a year and aside from going to spend time with family and friends, my goal is generally to see historic players in action. Trout more than qualifies. Four seasons into an already-storied career, the Los Angeles Angels center fielder looks like his generation’s version of Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. In fact, going off Wins Above Replacement, Trout’s better. By WAR, Mike Trout could be the best young center fielder in baseball history.
The chart above represents the 10 best WAR rankings, via Baseball-Reference.com, for center fielders who logged at least 75 percent of their games at the position over their first four seasons. Entering today, Trout was tied with Joe DiMaggio for first with 26.3 WAR. If Trout has a good game tonight, he’ll be in the lead tomorrow [though not for Fangraphs’ version of WAR, where DiMaggio bests Trout over their first four seasons, 28.7 to 27.] More impressive, Trout accumulated his WAR in 82 fewer games than the Yankee Clipper, just beating out Mays and– this surprised me– Kenny Lofton, for best WAR per 162 games, at 9.2. That’s an MVP-caliber rate for Trout’s career.
Another thing that gets me about the list above is that most of the players on it went on to have stellar careers. DiMaggio, Mays, Earl Averill and Al Simmons are all deservedly in the Hall of Fame. Ken Griffey Jr. will be in a couple more years. I could make Cooperstown cases for Lofton, Vada Pinson and Cesar Cedeno and one can only wonder what might have been if Grady Sizemore hadn’t been beset with injuries. Oh well, Grady, we’ll always have this Sports Illustrated cover.
I keep wondering where the fail-safe point is with Trout, when we’ll know for sure that he’s another legend, not a Pinson or a Cedeno who started off so brightly and then declined precipitously. [Cedeno’s early comparisons to Mays looked like a joke by the end of his career.] I’d say we’re close right now on Trout, maybe a year or two off. I certainly got my money’s worth last Friday, watching Trout hit a homer that cleared the left-center fence in a hurry. I’ll be sure to see him play again before too long.