Six players will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. All had incredible careers, but five of them have fewer Wins Above Replacement (WAR) — the measure of a player’s overall value — than baseball’s current best player: Mike Trout.
Trout doesn’t turn 28 until August, yet his 71.4 WAR is already among the upper echelon of baseball’s all-time greats. Mike Mussina (81.2) is the only inductee this year with a higher WAR than Trout, who passed Roy Halladay (65.4) and Edgar Martinez (65.5) this April. He passed Mariano Rivera (39.0), Harold Baines (38.4), and Lee Smith (26.6) long ago.
There have been 232 Hall of Fame players in major league history, and Trout already has a higher career WAR than 165 of them. He’s been more valuable in his eight-year career than 71.1 percent of Hall of Fame inductees.
In an average year, Trout is worth about 9.4 wins. To put that into perspective, only 45 Hall of Famers have even had one such season. Eighty percent of players in Cooperstown haven’t even had one year as good as Trout’s average season.
WAR might not give elite relief pitchers enough credit. For example, it takes Lee Smith (26.6 WAR), Trevor Hoffman (25.9), and Bruce Sutter (19.2) combined to roughly match Trout’s career WAR. Or maybe that seems fair for some, but Rivera — the best of the best among closers — has 39.0 WAR, barely over half of Trout’s abbreviated career to date.
Postseason performance is not included in WAR, which seems important. Trout has played all of three playoff games so far, while other players were legendary in October. Rivera’s 0.70 ERA in 141 playoff innings are as much a part of his lore as anything. Is it enough to make up the huge difference in WAR between Rivera and Trout? Maybe not, but postseason performance counts for something.
This is also patently unfair to Negro League players who got their chance in MLB, but much later than they should have. Satchel Paige might be the best pitcher who ever lived, but he didn’t get to pitch in the majors until age 42. His 7.3 career WAR in no way captures his true worth, but it does highlight how productive Trout was out of the gate. Trout passed Paige in career WAR in July 2012, when he had just 121 games under his belt.
Most importantly, this isn’t a post to denigrate Hall of Famers. All of them had wonderful careers that deserve to be celebrated. That’s what this weekend is all about. What we are doing here is marveling at Trout and his amazing career, destined to one day join those legends in Cooperstown.
Paige was the first Hall of Famer who Trout passed in career WAR, and the only one he passed in his first full season in 2012. Trout passed two more in his second season — Monte Irvin, another former Negro Leaguer who didn’t debut in the majors until age 30, and reliever Bruce Sutter — and has picked up the pace since.
Trout’s best year was 2018, when he passed 42 different Hall of Famers. His best month also came last season, zipping by 11 players in June 2018.
In 2019 alone, Trout has passed 30 Hall of Famers in WAR, and he’s far from done. With 6.5 WAR so far this season he’s on pace for 10.7 WAR on the year. That would vault him past 12 more Hall of Famers, from Eddie Murray (72.0) to Frankie Frisch and Johnny Bench (74.8 each).
That Trout is still just 27 makes this wild. Babe Ruth is the all-time leader with 168.4 WAR, but through his age-27 season (1922) he was at 52.1. Again, Trout is already at 71.4, and his age-27 year isn’t over yet. Ty Cobb is the closest to Trout through age 27 at 68.8 WAR through 1914, and Cobb finished with 149.3 WAR, fourth all-time.
Pace is a dangerous word, but if Trout keeps this up, the greatest player of this generation just might end up the greatest player of any generation.