Maybe the one thing absolutely guaranteed about 2012 was that Mike Trout would nail the American League’s Rookie of the Year honours, which was made official with Monday night’s announcement. It wasn’t even close.
Trout landed every last first place vote possible as the unanimous pick. Nobody else in the running—not Yoenis Cespedes, not Yu Darvish, not Wei-Yin Chen, not Jarrod Parker—got any higher than 45 percent of a share of the voting. Bryce Harper landed the National League’s Rookie of the Year honours in a slightly tighter competition, with five more votes than runner-up Wade Miley and 70 percent of a share to Miley’s 66. The remaining National League contenders—Todd Frazier, Wilin Rosario, Norichika Aoki, Yonder Alonso (now, that’d be a name, if he had more than a little long ball power), Matt Carpenter, Jordan Pacheco—fell well behind Harper and Miley.
I mean no disrespect to Harper, whose rookie season was nothing short of exciting and productive in its own right, but Trout’s wasn’t just exciting and productive, it was trans-dimensional. They didn’t talk about Harper as a National League Most Valuable Player possibility but they talked little else but in Trout’s case. Harper’s as five-tool as a player gets in this time and space and he has his ROY as evidence. Trout’s the same. And far more so. If he has his ROY as evidence, he just might end up with an MVP as further evidence.
Part of the controversy about Trout in the MVP conversation ties to the wins above replacement level factor, for better or worse. Bring that into the discussion and the steam blasts out of the traditionalists’ noses and ears. But on 19 July Trout sat with 5.2 WAR and he finished the season with 10.7. In other words, in the most heated competitive period of any baseball season, mid-July to season’s end, Trout was worth 5.5 WAR.
His Angels, of course, struggled otherwise to stay in the postseason picture, but it wasn’t even close to Trout’s fault that they didn’t make it. It’s not even close, either, to argue whether they’d have been there at all without him. They were done in, basically, by being able to play no better than .500 ball as a team throughout July and August.
Miguel Cabrera may well end up the league’s MVP—it isn’t easy to ignore that Triple Crown—but would it be a small injustice if he does? Remove WAR from the equation and you can look at every other statistical measure, and you might still conclude that Mike Trout did more both ways to help his team win. He was simply the best all-around player in the league this season; he was far better in center field than Cabrera was at third base; and, he did more damage when he reached base than Cabrera did while doing far less damage in the field than Cabrera. Did I mention Trout reached base a little more frequently in a slightly shorter season? (Trout’s OBP: .399; Cabrera’s: .393.)
Oh, but he struck out a lot more! Well, what would you rather have? A guy who strikes out a fair amount, or a guy who hits into a lot more double plays? Trout hit into a mere seven; Cabrera hit into 28—leading the league.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot more comfortable with a guy who’s costing me only one out on a swing than a guy costing me two outs in one swing. Neither Trout not Cabrera laid down a sacrifice bunt all year long (I suspect their managers would have fined them heavily if either man had even thought about it), but Trout hit one more sacrifice fly than Cabrera and, based on watching both men play at every opportunity, I think Trout may have made several more productive outs than Cabrera did.
I looked up their runs created, too. Miguel Cabrera led the league with 139 runs created . . . but Mike Trout pulled up second—with one less run created than Cabrera. Allow that Trout came up late in April; he actually used up 56 less outs to create them than Cabrera used. Trout led the American League in offensive winning percentage with .786; Cabrera finished at .745. If you’re one of those people who picks an MVP purely by what a man does at the plate, I’d have to say Trout has a significant enough advantage right there.
If Trout had played right out of the chute out of spring training, I’m not entirely convinced he would have used up the same or more outs as Cabrera did to create runs. Defensively, Trout saved far more runs than Cabrera did—it isn’t even close, and Cabrera actually went into the negative column for runs saved in 2012. I’m going to need quite a bit more evidence than a Triple Crown to convince me Miguel Cabrera was more valuable to his team than Mike Trout was to his.
Now, back to the WARs, and the rookies of the year. I looked at that in July, and it turns out that since the award was established in 1947—when it went to one player across the board and Jackie Robinson won it (after Alvin Dark won the 1948 award, the prize was offered to one rookie in each league)—the average WAR among non-pitching Rookies of the Year before Mike Trout was 3.2. And, of all those players, thirteen went on to become Hall of Famers. Cal Ripken, Jr., the American League winner in 1982, is the last Rookie of the Year at this writing to go on to forge a Hall of Fame career, pending the ultimate outcomes for Mark McGwire (should be, won’t be for awhile, alas), Jeff Bagwell (should be), Mike Piazza (should be but may not be for awhile), Derek Jeter (no-brainer), Scott Rolen (could be), Carlos Beltran (likely), Albert Pujols (need you ask?), and Ichiro Suzuki (likely).
Think about that. The average WAR among all non-pitching Rookies of the Year was 3.2 before Trout and Harper, who had 5.0 WAR—and that’s pretty damn impressive, not to mention above average for rookies, in its own right. The average WAR among those Rookies of the Year who did go on to become Hall of Famers? 3.7. Trout’s rookie season wasn’t just above average, it was off the chart and beyond.
Trout and Harper matter as ROY hand-holders for another reason: these two kids play the game full-force without being bull-headed about it. They run out grounders as though there’s a process server following them from the plate; they don’t give at-bats away like charity; and, they play the field as though any ball they don’t meet is going to mean disaster if they don’t meet it. Without trying to kill themselves on every pitch or play. They play the game as though they’re still on . . . well, do we still have any sandlots around?
By the way, among pre-award rookie supermen, Lou Gehrig’s rookie WAR was 2.9. Ted Williams was 6.6. Joe DiMaggio was 4.6. Mel Ott was -0.7. Bill Terry was 2.4. Jimmie Foxx was 0.1. Mickey Mantle was 1.3. Rogers Hornsby was 4.6. If you want to throw in Babe Ruth’s maiden season as a full-time position player, be my guest, but you’re going to be in for a surprise: the 1919 Bambino was 9.7—one full WAR below Trout.
You almost don’t want to know what Trout would have finished with if he’d gotten his call-up earlier than he did. (Lots of people argue the Angels might have stayed the course and reached the postseason if that had happened, but that’s not exactly something you can prove once and for all.) But you don’t have to speculate about what he might have done. What he did done was jaw-dropping enough.
DOUBLE DIGIT DYNAMITE
Marry Mike Trout to Bryce Harper one more time and the duo has pulled off another out-of-their-minds accomplishment: they have the most WAR between them of any Rookie of the Year tandem, ever.
Trout and Harper together accounted for 15.7 WAR in 2012. There have been enough major leaguers who don’t account for 15.7 WAR individually in their entire careers. Until Trout and Harper arrived this year, the only previous ROY tandem to get as high as 15 WAR between them on their year was Dick Allen and Tony Oliva, who accounted for 15.1 WAR between them in 1964.
Allen and Oliva were also the first ROY tandem to hit double figure WAR together. Between those two and Trout/Harper, only eight other ROY teamings have done it:
Stan Bahnsen and Johnny Bench (1968)—10.8.
Carlton Fisk and Jon Matlack (1972)—12.8.
Fred Lynn and John (The Count) Montefusco (1975)—13.7.
Mark (The Bird) Fidrych, Pat Zachry, Butch Metzger (1976; the NL ROY ended in a tie)—13.9.
Alvin Davis and Dwight Gooden (1984)—10.9.
Tim Salmon and Mike Piazza (1993)—11.7.
Nomar Garciaparra and Scott Rolen (1997)—10.8.
Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols (2001)—13.8.
While we’re on the subject of ROY winners, in only three seasons did future Hall of Famers win each league’s ROY together: 1956 (Luis Aparicio, Frank Robinson), 1967 (Rod Carew, Tom Seaver), and 1977 (Eddie Murray, Andre Dawson). That should become four such seasons, when the ROY class of 2001 (Ichiro, Pujols) accepts their all-but-inevitable Cooperstown plaques.
Meanwhile, if you measure players by their WAR, you might care to note that the weakest Rookie of the Year class, all-time, is 1980. Joe Charboneau and Steve Howe won the ROYs, and between them they were good for a mere 2.6 WAR, with Charboneau doing the heaviest of the lifting at 2.2. To find the next-weakest, it’s a dead heat at 3.3 between 1958 (Albie Pearson, Orlando Cepeda; Cepeda’s the strong side by far at 5.7, to Pearson’s 0.6) and 1971. (Chris Chambliss, Earl Williams; they’re the precise opposite—Chambliss at 0.3, Williams at 3.0.)