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Mike Trout is officially the best player in Angels history, and he’s only 26

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He would be the best hitter in the history of several other teams, too.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

For as long as they’ve been a feature on Baseball-Reference, I’ve been obsessed with the collection of headshots on every franchise page. Here, look at the A’s page:

I love these because they tell a story. The heavy influence of black-and-white photos suggests the franchise has been around forever. Rickey Henderson being anywhere but number one reminds you that he spent a lot of his peak with the Yankees. Lefty Grove is apparently Cloud Atlas Clayton Kershaw, and that doesn’t get enough attention. They’re simple headshots, ranked by a the Wins Above Replacement each player accrued for the franchise, but they say so much.

Because of this obsession, I’ve been taking notes for a future article about these headshots for a couple years now. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go through with it — it’s certainly not something everyone would care about! — but I’m still chipping away.

And while I’ve been doing it. I’ve noticed Mike Trout slowly sliding to the left, sliding to the left, every time I checked. At some point this year, he finally did it.

Trout is officially the most valuable player in Angels history. He’s 26 years old. The Angels have been around since 1961. I’m not sure which one is more impressive, so mash them together and make one super-sized fun fact. Mike Trout is 26, and he’s already the best player in the history of a franchise that’s been around for 56 years.

Every team's career WAR leader

Team Player WAR
Team Player WAR
Marlins Giancarlo Stanton 34
Rangers Ivan Rodriguez 50
Rays Evan Longoria 50
Diamondbacks Randy Johnson 53
Angels Mike Trout 55
Nationals Gary Carter 56
Blue Jays Dave Stieb 57
Rockies Todd Helton 61
Dodgers Pee Wee Reese 66
Padres Tony Gwynn 69
Mariners Ken Griffey, Jr. 70
Cubs Ron Santo 72
A's Eddie Plank 74
White Sox Luke Appling 74
Mets Tom Seaver 76
Brewers Robin Yount 77
Reds Pete Rose 78
Astros Jeff Bagwell 80
Indians Nap Lajoie 80
Royals George Brett 88
Orioles Cal Ripken 96
Phillies Mike Schmidt 107
Pirates Honus Wagner 114
Red Sox Ted Williams 123
Cardinals Stan Musial 128
Braves Hank Aaron 142
Yankees Babe Ruth 143
Tigers Ty Cobb 145
Twins Walter Johnson 153
Giants Willie Mays 156

Trout would be the most valuable player on four other teams, too. He might pass Gary Carter and Dave Stieb by the end of this year. It’s here that I would like to point out that Trout just turned 26 in August. Aaron Judge will turn 26 in April, and he’s still a rookie, not the best player in the history of his franchise.

If you want to compare Trout just to his peers, the position players, he fares even better.

Career WAR leader for each franchise (position players only)

Team Player WAR
Team Player WAR
Marlins Giancarlo Stanton 34
Diamondbacks Paul Goldschmidt 35
Blue Jays Tony Fernandez 38
Mets David Wright 50
Rangers Ivan Rodriguez 50
Rays Evan Longoria 50
Angels Mike Trout 55
Nationals Gary Carter 56
Rockies Todd Helton 61
Twins Rod Carew 64
Dodgers Pee Wee Reese 66
Padres Tony Gwynn 69
Mariners Ken Griffey, Jr. 70
Cubs Ron Santo 72
A's Rickey Henderson 73
White Sox Luke Appling 74
Brewers Robin Yount 77
Reds Pete Rose 78
Astros Jeff Bagwell 80
Indians Nap Lajoie 80
Royals George Brett 88
Orioles Cal Ripken 96
Phillies Mike Schmidt 107
Pirates Honus Wagner 114
Red Sox Ted Williams 123
Cardinals Stan Musial 128
Braves Hank Aaron 142
Yankees Babe Ruth 143
Tigers Ty Cobb 145
Giants Willie Mays 156

Trout would be the most valuable hitter in the history of eight franchises, which is remarkable considering there’s a twist: He’s only 26. Most of those teams are young franchises, so it might not impress you that much just yet. Even though Trout is young*, he was still alive before the Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Rays existed, so you shouldn’t be too hard on them for not having fostered a Stan Musial-type career just yet. But there are a couple of older teams here, too. The Rangers and Mets have 111 seasons between them, but Trout would have been the best hitter either franchise has ever seen, which is remarkable.

* 26

The chase that’s fascinating me the most right now, though, is the completely invented and meaningless one between Trout and Pee Wee Reese. It’s not out of the question that by this time next year, Trout will have accrued more value in his career than anyone the Dodgers have employed in their 133 years of existence. A lot of that has to do with circumstances (Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier at 28 instead of 21, Sandy Koufax’s career-ending injury), but it’s still a great way to place what Trout has already done into perspective. He’s climbing the charts so quickly that he might be halfway up the list before he’s 30, someone who would have been the most valuable for several franchises that have been around for well over a century.

It’s here that we should talk about “value” and how it relates to this specific stat. And I’ll admit to using Baseball-Reference’s WAR for a few different reasons:

  1. It’s one simple number
  2. It adjusts for era
  3. It adjusts for the player’s home ballpark
  4. It allows for comparisons between pitchers and hitters
  5. It includes baserunning and defense
  6. It’s easy to use in searches on Baseball-Reference’s Play Index

But it’s not a perfect stat. It’s hard to explain just how little I trust the dWAR for Robin Yount, much less the dWAR for Honus Wagner. I’m forever concerned that in 2043, someone will realize that we’ve been forgetting to carry the two this whole time, and that everything we thought we knew about an individual player’s value was wrong.

It also feels wrong to compare Trout to someone like Tony Gwynn, who was one of the nicest players in baseball history (69.0 career WAR) and the absolute best thing to happen in the history of San Diego baseball. For 20 years, the Padres had Gwynn and the other teams didn’t, and that was a great feeling for Padres fans. It feels more than a little dirty to reduce his value to a single number. If we’re going to bring feelings and the reason why we watch baseball in the first place into the equation, Gwynn had 69 WAR every season he was active, really.

At the same time, this is what we have to compare players across eras, and it still works pretty well. And what it’s telling us is that Mike Trout, at the age of 26, is already the best baseball player the Angels have seen in 56 years. I can believe that without the number, but it’s nice to have the confirmation.

There’s a lot that can happen between now and the next 100 WAR, of course. You don’t need me to remind you of that. You don’t need a list of maladies and real-life concerns to understand that the future is a scary thing. Still, while Willie Mays and Babe Ruth are safe for now, you can see where this trajectory is heading. Trout is the best player his team has ever seen. He would be the best player that several teams have ever seen. In a few years, more than half of the teams in baseball might look at Trout with an acute sense of historical envy.

Perhaps the most impressive part? He just turned 26 years old.

I don’t think a lot of people know about that last part.