Can Mike Trout get even better?

If players usually get better as they progress into their mid-20s, let's look at what Mike Trout could do ...

The thing I like about prospects is that we get older, and they stay the same age. Yes, they do. But the ex-prospects and current major leaguers get older. That's usually a bad thing, as age is the jerk that turns The Kid into creaky-kneed Ken Griffey, Jr.

There's a brief window, though, where the age is a good thing. It makes you more optimistic. Players can be successful enough at such a young age that they're a blank check of production. Fill it in yourself. Dream big. If a 23-year-old hits 30 homers, what might he do when he reaches his mid-20s peak? Will he go for 40 homers? Fifty? Sky's the limit with someone that young. Almost any guess will do.

This brings us to Mike Trout, who is 22 and enjoying a typically fantabulous spring. It's never a bad time for Mike Trout fun facts.

  • Trout ranked 15th in major-league history for Wins Above Replacement before age 21.

  • Then 2013 happened. Now he's first, with a three-win gap between him and Mel Ott in second.

  • Sometime in April or May, Trout will crack the Angels' career top-10 list in WAR. He's played fewer than 350 games.

  • Trout has a higher career WAR than former All-Stars Joe Carter, Aaron Rowand, and Ryan Howard.

  • Trout's career-high WAR in 2012 is higher than anything Alex Rodriguez ever posted.

  • And Rodriguez had help, too. You know. Help.

These are the fun facts of an amateur, though. I'm sure the pros could dig around a little longer and find even more ridiculous tidbits. Trout is good, as the kids say. He's really good. Really, really good.

Let's remember that bit about age being a good thing if a player is young enough. A 20-year-old who hits X might be expected to hit Y if he progresses in an orderly, linear fashion. What would that look like?

Year Age Tm G PA HR RBI SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2012 20 LAA 139 639 30 83 49 5 .326 .399 .564 .963 168
2013 21 LAA 157 716 27 97 33 7 .323 .432 .557 .988 179
2014 22 LAA 155 712 36 102 47 4 .331 .441 .589 1.030 187
2015 23 LAA 156 701 44 131 69 8 .355 .464 .622 1.086 201
2016 24 LAA 160 722 51 156 77 3 .378 .499 .654 1.153 224
2017 25 LAA 156 699 55 161 81 2 .382 .505 .711 1.216 227
2018 26 LAD 162 740 74 192 131 1 .441 .610 .864 1.474 269

Nice and linear. Then comes the age-27 peak! Also, he wins a deserved Gold Glove in every season.

What I wanted to see, then, is if there's any precedence at all for something like that -- a preternaturally talented player demolishing the baseball world in his teens/early 20s, and then getting better and better. We can't duplicate what Trout has done before the age of 22 because no one's done it. We can get close, though.

Al Kaline

What he did: Eight wins as a 20-year-old, seven the next year

Did he get better?: His production declined a touch, but did set his career-high WAR in 1961, at 26. He is a Hall of Famer

Eddie Mathews

What he did: Eight wins and 47 homers as a 21-year-old in his second full season

Did he get better?: That 47 was a career high, as was the WAR, though he consistently put up seven-win seasons throughout his career. He is a Hall of Famer.

Ty Cobb

What he did: 13 combined wins between his age-20 and age-21 season

Did he get better? Yes, a lot better. His WAR reached Mike Trout heights for most of his 20s. He is a Hall of Famer

Rogers Hornsby

What he did: 15 combined wins between his age-20 and age-21 season

Did he get better? In his mid-20s, yes. He peaked with a 12-win season for the '24 Cardinals, in which he hit .424/.507/.696, while playing stellar defense at second, by most accounts. He is a Hall of Famer.

Rickey Henderson

What he did: Nine wins as a 21-year-old, with 100 stolen bases

Did he get better? He did, adding power to his game and upping the stolen bases (at least for a couple seasons). His WAR reached Mike Trout heights for most of his 20s. He is a Hall of Famer.

Alex Rodriguez

What he did: 15 combined wins between his age-20 and age-21 season

Did he get better?: Kind of? He started hitting more dingers, but he couldn't replicate the .358 average. Not that he should have been expected to, but there was a chance he was going to be some freaky Gwynn/Ripken hybrid when he was 21. He was a Hall of Famer at Westminster Christian until they took down his plaque to make room for a Doug Mientkiewicz plaque.

Some got better, some stayed the same, and some dipped just a touch. The freakiest thing, though, is that if they improved, they improved to Mike Trout's current production, give or take. You already knew it was an anomaly for a player as young as Trout to do well in the Wins Above Replacement category, but when you read some of those names up there, it puts it into perspective.

If you're not into WAR, you might not be as impressed. But I don't think it's crazy, even if you throw those stats out the window, to suggest Trout's start to his career has been historic. And when baseball's greatest youngsters turn into baseball's greatest 20-somethings ... they usually don't get that much better than what Trout has already done. It's like the maximum velocity of a fastball. He's Aroldis Chapman's 105. Chapman's not going to hit the Shake Weights in the offseason and come out hitting 106 and 107.

There's a good chance Trout is as good as he's going to get, which happens to be better than most inner-circle Hall of Famers. Even if he declines a bit, in the Kaline mold, he'll still be otherworldly. There are quasi-cautionary tales like Cesar Cedeno and Vada Pinson, who had merely great careers after declining too soon, but it's more fun to focus on the All-Time greats.

The moral of the story is that Mike Trout is good. I just thought you should know.

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