Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AL WestAmerican LeagueAnalysisLos Angeles AngelsMLB

Mike Trout Career WAR Projection Exercise

Mike Trout is the best baseball player in the world. I hope you didn’t need me to tell you that.

No position player has amassed more wins above replacement than Mike Trout has since 2003 (73.4 fWAR). Trout didn’t even debut until 2011!

His 172 wRC+ ranks as the 8th highest recorded by a player through his age-27 season (min. 1600 PA + 1913-2019). The list of hitters ahead of him in that regard is an impressive one to say the least (Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Frank Thomas, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Johnny Mize, and Mickey Mantle). All seven of those players are in the Hall of Fame.

No position player has been worth as many wins above replacements (FanGraphs) to his team as Mike Trout has through his age-27 season.

  1. Mike Trout (73.4)
  2. Ty Cobb (68.8)
  3. Mickey Mantle (67.9)
  4. Rogers Hornsby (64.6)
  5. Jimmie Foxx (64.6)
  6. Alex Rodriguez (62.0)
  7. Mel Ott (61.5)
  8. Ken Griffey Jr. (57.0)
  9. Tris Speaker (54.4)
  10. Eddie Collins (53.7)
  11. Eddie Mathews (53.5)
  12. Albert Pujols (53.5)
  13. Arky Vaughan (52.9)
  14. Joe DiMaggio (52.5)
  15. Hank Aaron (52.4)

If you were to pretend that Mike Trout’s two best seasons in terms of WAR (2012 [10.1] and 2013 [10.2]) didn’t happen and that he was replacement level in those years, Trout would still crack the top fifteen in the list depicted above.

Trout has won three MVP Awards and has been an All-Star every year since 2012 (his first full season in the majors).

What I’m interested in finding out is what is a reasonable estimate for how many wins above replacement Mike Trout will finish his career with.

In order to make such a projection, I will utilize a similar score system that I developed during quarantine.

In this case, we will be looking at the most similar players (1913-2019) through their age-27 season to Mike Trout through his age-27 season.

The factors considered for the similarity scores are plate appearances (volume), K%+ (plate discipline), BB%+ (plate discipline), wRC+ (offense), BsR/PA (base-running), Fld/G (fielding), and Pos/G (positional value).

While it would be cool to include batted ball data (ground ball rate, line drive rate, etc.), that data is not available prior to 2002, and I want to have a big enough pool of players; otherwise, the scores would hold less meaning.

When I built the similarity system, I decided against including WAR because I felt that including some of the individual components would produce more interesting/accurate results.

Here are the six most similar players to Trout through age-27…

  1. Mickey Mantle
  2. Mel Ott
  3. Eddie Mathews
  4. Rogers Hornsby
  5. Albert Pujols
  6. Jimmie Foxx

Because Pujols is still playing in the majors, I am going to refrain from using him in this exploration.

The way I am going to determine a rest of career WAR projection for Trout is by seeing how Mantle, Ott, Mathews, Hornsby, and Foxx played out the rest of their careers.

The five comparables we identified played an average of 10.4 more years past their age-27 season, which could match up pretty well in Trout’s case considering his contract with the Angels is due to expire after his age-38 season (11 years post- age-27 season).

Those five players produced an average of about 47.8 wins above replacement after their age-27 seasons.

Adding 47.8 to Trout’s current WAR gives you 121.2 career WAR.

What if we tried looking it as the ratio of WAR from age-28 season onwards compared to the WAR produced before age-28 season.

NamefWAR prior to age-28 seasonfWAR after age-27 season (there may be slight differences due to rounding)After/Prior
Rogers Hornsby64.665.71.017
Mickey Mantle67.944.40.654
Jimmie Foxx64.637.20.576
Mel Ott61.549.00.797
Eddie Mathews53.542.60.796

The average quotient for the After/Before is 0.768. If we multiply Trout’s WAR through age-27 (73.4) by 0.768, we get a product of 56.4. Adding that to 73.4 produces a sum of 129.8 career wins above replacement. Using the median After/Before (0.796) results in a career WAR of 131.8.

The final method we will experiment with is building a polynomial to project Trout’s career WAR.

The lines you see drawn are the polynomials of best fit for each player. To figure out the equation for Trout’s (the equation for a quadratic is y= ax^2 + bx + c), I averaged the “b” term (affects positioning of graph) and “a” term (affects shape/appearance/skinniness) of the graphs for the five players.

To determine an appropriate “c” term for Trout (the “c” term was the only one that had a strong correlation to a player’s WAR through age-27), I graphed the five players’ WAR through age-27 against the “c” term of their polynomial of best fit.

Here is what Mike Trout’s career trajectory looks like compared to five of the six players we identified as being most similar to Trout through age-27…

The polynomial projects Trout to produce 121.7 wins above replacement in his career, which is in the ballpark of the other estimates we arrived at (this does not account for a shortened 2020 season).

Here are his projections for the rest of his career based on the polynomial model…

  • 2020: 8.3 WAR
  • 2021: 7.9 WAR
  • 2022: 7.1 WAR
  • 2023: 6.2 WAR
  • 2024: 5.3 WAR
  • 2025: 4.5 WAR
  • 2026: 3.5 WAR
  • 2027: 2.7 WAR
  • 2028: 1.8 WAR
  • 2029: 1.0 WAR
  • 2030: 0.0 WAR

If we average out all of the projections (average WAR produced by the players post- age-27, After/Before [average], and polynomial), we get about 124.2 wins above replacement.

The only players with a higher career fWAR than that are Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams, Tris Speaker, Hank Aaron, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, and Babe Ruth.

*note: I noticed the graph of the “c” term versus WAR through age-27 season was missing a player (including that player would have a super minimal impact on the projections, so he will be excluded)