Trout transcends in rookie season unlike any other
Angels center fielder's 2012 campaign stands apart from all-time greats
There was never any doubt about Mike Trout as Rookie of the Year. The only question is whether he's the Rookie of All Time.
"I've been in the game 30-something years, and I've never seen anyone like him," said Oakland general manager Billy Beane, the 2012 Major League Executive of the Year. "He's just a phenomenal talent. I shouldn't go overboard with the superlatives, since he's with another club. But I love watching him play. He's from the '60s: Mickey, Whitey and Mike Trout. He looks like a 'Boys Life' cover."
|Fred Lynn||Red Sox||1975||.331||21||105||103||10|
|Nomar Garciaparra||Red Sox||1997||.306||30||98||122||22|
Trout was selected 2012 American League Rookie of the Year on Monday, a foregone conclusion since he was named AL Player of the Month in July, in the midst of four consecutive Rookie of the Month selections from May through August.
Headed by Trout and Rangers starter Yu Darvish, this might be remembered someday as the greatest rookie class the league has ever produced. Future stars emerged in abundance: Yoenis Cespedes, Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook of the AL West champion Athletics; Will Middlebrooks of the Red Sox; the Orioles' Manny Machado; the Rays' Matt Moore; the Mariners' Jesus Montero; White Sox relievers Addison Reed and Nate Jones, and Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera.
It is indicative of Trout's greatness that he dwarfs such a bountiful collection of talent.
"He's so good," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said, "he could play any position on the field he wanted to play."
Major League Baseball's Rookie of the Year Award was inaugurated, fittingly, in the debut season of the man whose name now graces the trophy. There never has been a greater all-around athlete than Jackie Robinson.
2012 Rookie of the Year finalists
|American League||National League|
|Mike Trout, LAA||Todd Frazier, CIN|
|Strong AL field||Bryce Harper, WAS|
|Wade Miley, ARI|
In 1947, the multi-sport legend smashed through baseball's racial barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers and was rewarded as the sport's first Rookie of the Year. Two years later, the award was expanded to include the best freshman in each league.
In all the years since Robinson's arrival changed society, no Rookie of the Year has authored a season superior, statistically, to the one Trout gave the Angels in 2012.
After leading the league in hitting most of the season, Trout, at .326, finished second to Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, the Triple Crown winner.
He ranked third in the AL in on-base percentage (.399), third in slugging (.564) and second on OPS (.963). He led the Majors in runs scored (129) and steals (49), getting caught just five times for a 90.7 success rate.
A first-round Draft pick (No. 25 overall) by the Angels in 2009 out of Millville (N.J.) High School, Trout was the first player in history to combine a .320-plus average with 30 or more homers and 45 or more steals. He's also the first to score at least 125 runs with 30 or more homers and 45 or more steals.
Trout dominated the metrics evaluations, including the controversial WAR (wins above replacement player), according to Baseball-Reference.com. His 10.7 overall WAR is the best in the Majors in a decade, since Barry Bonds' 11.6 in 2002. Trout also ranked first in offensive WAR (8.6) and offensive win percentage (.786).
He was at his best against the best. Consider these numbers Trout put together against the Mariners' great Felix Hernandez: 9-for-17 (.529) with a double, triple, home run and eight RBIs for a 1.409 OPS.
Denied a Rawlings Gold Glove -- AL voters favoring Baltimore's Adam Jones in center field -- Trout was the choice for the inaugural Wilson Defensive Player of the Year in the AL based on statistical metrics. He stole four potential home runs and was credited with 23 runs saved by Fangraphs.
Trout did all of this as the youngest player in the league.
There have been two comparable seasons by 20-year-old position players in the modern era: Detroit's Al Kaline in 1955 and Seattle's Alex Rodriguez in 1996. Neither player, however, was in his rookie year.
Kaline won the AL batting title with a .340 average in his second season, producing 27 homers and 102 RBIs. He'd played a full season at 19 in 1954.
Rodriguez also was a batting champion in his 20-year-old season, hitting .358 with 36 homers and 123 RBIs. He had 142 at-bats - 12 more than the current threshold for rookie eligibility - in 1995.
Kaline's 8.0 WAR in '55 was fourth in the Majors, behind Mickey Mantle (9.2), Willie Mays (8.8) and Duke Snider (8.4). Rodriguez's 9.2 WAR in '96 trailed teammate Ken Griffey Jr. (9.5) and Barry Bonds (9.4). A-Rod turned 21 that season on July 27; Trout turned 21 this season on Aug. 7.
Among Rookies of the Year playing center field in the modern era, Fred Lynn with the 1975 Red Sox came closest to Trout in total performance.
The AL MVP, Lynn hit .331 with 21 homers and 105 RBIs, scoring 103 runs and stealing 10 bases. Leading the AL in slugging (.566) and OPS (.967), he claimed a Gold Glove.
The 2001 season produced a pair of dominant Rookies of the Year in the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki, a veteran of nine seasons in the Japanese Pacific League.
Pujols' offensive numbers -- .329/.403/.610 -- hold up against Trout's. But Pujols, moving from third to first to the outfield, was not yet the accomplished defender he would become at first base. He stole one base.
Ichiro led the Majors with 56 steals and was the AL batting champion at .350. He had a .381 OBP, but his .457 slugging mark was not in Trout's league. Defensively, Ichiro, playing right field, was on Trout's level.
Evaluating their rookie seasons as total players, Trout holds the edge over both Pujols and Ichiro. The Angels' wunderkind is a better defender and baserunner than the 2001 Pujols with significantly more power production than Ichiro. For those valuing WAR, Pujols graded at 6.3 in 2001, Ichiro at 7.5 -- both well below Trout's 10.7, the best ever by a position player 23 years old or younger.
The most recent center fielder with a higher WAR than Trout was the incomparable Willie Mays' 10.9 at his peak in 1965. Mickey Mantle had a career-best WAR of 11.1 in 1957 at 25.
Widely considered the greatest player of the modern all-inclusive era starting in 1947, Mays was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1951 as the New York Giants' center fielder. His slash line was .274/.356/.472.
Mays, 20 that year, played 121 games. He had 20 homers and 68 RBIs, stealing seven bases in 11 attempts.
Mantle had a better season at 20 than Mays but not Trout. The Mick in 1952 hit .311 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs.
With A-Rod at shortstop, Trout would be the center fielder on the all-time team of 20-year-old talents, between Ted Williams and Mel Ott. Williams, in 1939, hit .327 with 31 homers and 145 RBIs. Ott, 20 in 1929 for the Giants, hit .328 with 42 homers and 152 RBIs.
Williams would have been the Rookie of the Year in 1939, but Ott was in his third season in 1929.
A number of notable pitchers have claimed Rookie of the Year honors with far-reaching impact: Don Newcombe with the 1949 Dodgers, Tom Seaver (1967 Mets), Mark "Bird" Fidrych (1975 Tigers), Fernando Valenzuela (1981 Dodgers), Dwight Gooden (1984 Mets) and Hideo Nomo (1995 Dodgers).
If Trout finishes as AL MVP runner-up to Cabrera, as expected, it will do nothing to diminish what was arguably the greatest season by a rookie since Robinson won the first award now bearing his name, changing the game -- and society -- in the process.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.