The biggest Trout in baseball’s river

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Photographed by yours truly at Angel Stadium, Trout begins a swing that hit one over the left center field fence.

Those looking forward to any kind of bidding war for baseball’s best player after the 2020 season, sorry to disappoint you. Really. Bryce Harper looking forward to him joining up with the Phillies, about an hour south of where he was born and raised, can quit looking now.

When the Phillies signed Harper for thirteen years and $330 million, I suggested that plus the Manny Machado deal in San Diego (ten years, $300 million) would do Mike Trout the biggest favour of anyone. And if ESPN’s Jeff Passan is right, and the Angels are putting the finishing touch on a contract extension that’ll pay him $36 million a year for ten years after his current deal expires after the 2020 season, then I was right, too.

The one supposition in baseball today that nobody was going to contradict is that Trout was going to be an extremely wealthy young man. In human terms, he’ll still be a young man when the extension finishes its course, though in baseball terms he might be a senior citizen at age 40.

Including his 2019 and 2020 salaries Trout has $430 million coming until 2030. And he probably agreed to take less than he’s actually worth, which tells you the state of free agency now, but that wasn’t exactly Trout’s obsession. Staying with the only team he’s ever played for was probably far more important. For himself and for the game itself, since single-team careers were actually as comparatively rare before free agency as after. (And, yes, you can look it up.)

And if he keeps playing for at least half the term at the level he’s played since his first full major league season, Trout will graduate from legend to demigod, a status from which he’s not exactly long distance as it is now.

I’ve been tinkering with the concept of a real batting average for awhile. My original formulation didn’t quite satisfy, because I thought I needed to draw a better bead on figuring what a batter actually does by and for himself at the plate. The traditional batting average’s flaw is that it really should be considered a hitting average: it divides hits by official at-bats and treats all hits equally. Stop me if you get the idea at once.

But 1) all hits are not equal; and, 2) batters also draw unintentional walks and, believe it or not, perform sacrifices. If that seems like I’m approaching on-base percentage, yes, OBP is really a better way to measure a batter but it, too, accounts solely for official at-bats. So, out goes my original idea and in comes this measure: total bases (TB) plus walks (BB) plus sacrifices (SAC)  divided by plate appearances. Or, TB + BB + SAC / PA. Yes, I can think of any number of my childhood math teachers who’d need psychiatric attention after seeing me tinkering this way, since I was about as good a math student in school as B.B. King was at playing a vibraphone.

I’ve spent the past couple of days examining by that formula every Hall of Fame position player who played the majority of their careers in the post-World War II/post-integration/night baseball era. Here are the tables:

CATCHERS PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Ivan Rodriguez 10270 4451 513 107 .494
Gary Carter 9019 3497 848 132 .496
Carlton Fisk 9853 3999 849 105 .503
Yogi Berra 8359 3643 704 53 .526
Johnny Bench 8674 3644 891 101 .534
Roy Campanella 4815 2101 533 48 .557
Mike Piazza 7745 3768 759 45 .590
HOF AVG         .529

 

FIRST BASEMEN PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Tony Perez 10861 4532 925 115 .522
Orlando Cepeda 8698 3959 588 78 .532
Eddie Murray 12817 5397 1333 130 .535
Willie McCovey 9692 4219 1345 75 .582
Harmon Killebrew 9833 4143 1559 77 .588
Jeff Bagwell 9431 4213 1401 105 .606
Jim Thome 10313 4667 1747 75 .629
HOF AVG         .571

 

SECOND BASEMEN PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Bill Mazeroski 8379 2848 447 157 .412
Nellie Fox 10351 3347 719 256 .418
Red Schoendienst 9224 3284 606 116 .434
Craig Biggio 12504 4711 1160 182 .484
Rod Carew 10550 3998 1018 192 .494
Ryne Sandberg 9282 3787 761 102 .501
Roberto Alomar 10400 4018 1032 245 .509
Joe Morgan 11329 3962 1865 147 .527
Jackie Robinson 5804 2310 740 113 .545
HOF AVG         .489

 

SHORTSTOPS PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Luis Aparicio 11230 3504 736 177 .393
Ozzie Smith 10778 3084 1072 277 .411
Phil Rizzuto 6719 2065 651 195 .433
Pee Wee Reese 9470 3038 1210 176 .467
Alan Trammell 9376 3442 850 200 .479
Robin Yount 12249 4730 966 227 .484
Cal Ripken 12883 5168 1129 137 .499
Barry Larkin 9057 3527 939 126 .507
Ernie Banks 10395 4706 763 141 .540
HOF AVG         .414

 

THIRD BASEMEN PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Brooks Robinson 11782 4270 860 225 .455
Wade Boggs 10740 4064 1412 125 .522
Ron Santo 9397 3779 1108 107 .531
George Brett 11625 5044 1096 146 .541
Eddie Mathews 10100 4349 1444 94 .583
Chipper Jones 10614 4755 1512 100 .600
Mike Schmidt 10062 4404 1507 124 .600
HOF AVG         .547

 

LEFT FIELDERS PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Lou Brock 11240 4238 761 93     .453
Tim Raines 10359 3771 1330 115 .504
Rickey Henderson 13346 4588 2190 97 .515
Carl Yastrzemski 13992 5539 1845 118 .536
Jim Rice 9058 4129 670 99 .540
Billy Williams 10519 4599 1045 81 .550
Willie Stargell 9027 4190 937 84 .577
Ralph Kiner 6256 2852 1011 16 .620
Ted Williams 9788 4884 2021 25 .708
HOF AVG         .555

 

CENTER FIELDERS PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Richie Ashburn 9736 3196 1198 130 .465
Kirby Puckett 7831 3453 450 81 .509
Andre Dawson 10769 4787 589 142 .512
Larry Doby 6299 2621 871 45 .562
Ken Griffey, Jr. 11304 5271 1312 110 .592
Duke Snider 8237 3865 971 84 .597
Willie Mays 12496 6066 1464 104 .611
Mickey Mantle 9907 4511 1733 61 .636
HOF AVG         .561

 

RIGHT FIELDERS PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Tony Gwynn 10232 4259 790 130 .506
Roberto Clemente 10211 4492 621 102 .510
Dave Winfield 12358 5221 1216 114 .530
Al Kaline 11596 4852 1277 149 .541
Reggie Jackson 11418 4834 1375 81 .551
Vladimir Guerrero 9059 4506 737 64 .586
Frank Robinson 11742 5373 1420 119 .587
Hank Aaron 13941 6856 1402 142 .603
Stan Musial 12718 6134 1599 88 .615
HOF AVG         .559

 

DHs PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Paul Molitor 12167 4854 1094 184 .504
Harold Baines 11092 4604 1062 108 .520
Edgar Martinez 8674 3718 1283 87 .587
Frank Thomas 10075 4550 1667 121 .629
HOF AVG         .560

The average RBA among all those 69 Hall of Famers is .532. Eleven of them have RBAs of .600 or better: in ascending order, Chipper Jones (.600), Mike Schmidt (.600), Hank Aaron (.603), Jeff Bagwell (.606), Willie Mays (.611), Stan Musial (.615), Ralph Kiner (.620), Jim Thome (.629), Frank Thomas (.629), Mickey Mantle (.636), and Ted Williams (.708), with Williams the only one of the group above .700.

Now, I give you the $430 million Angel through the end of last season:

  PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Mike Trout 4673 2219 998 44 .698

Think about that a moment. In terms of a real batting average, accounting for all his plate appearances, the real value of his hits, plus his walks and sacrifices, Mike Trout has a higher real batting average than all but one post-World War II/post-integration/night baseball-era Hall of Famer, and he’s only behind Ted Williams by ten points while being ahead of runner-up Mickey Mantle by 31 points. (And, to put things into further perspective, Trout’s home ballpark isn’t exactly a hitter’s paradise.)

In case you were wondering, here’s where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the big nuggets of this winter/spring’s free agent class (whose home ballparks until now haven’t exactly been hitters’ paradises, either, though Nationals Park is more neutral), happen to sit lifetime so far:

  PA TB Walks Sacs RBA
Bryce Harper 3957 1693 585 43 .587
Manny Machado 4074 1810 296 43 .527

Bet on it: If Trout had hit his first free agency this winter/spring, Harper and Machado would have been footnotes by comparison. All three have played in all or parts of the same number of major league seasons (seven), all three have been considered among the game’s elite, but Trout leaves Harper and Machado far enough behind that they’ll need GPSs to keep an eye on him.

Now we can mention the secondary details, such as Trout is going to earn the highest average annual salary on the extension in baseball history, for now. Not to mention all reporting on the deal saying that Trout’s extension, like Harper’s new deal, has no opt-out clause and full no-trade protection. And, we can think aloud about the reasons beyond his baseball virtuosity that Trout was shown that kind of money: he may be the one player in baseball above all others now who couldn’t care less about it.

Baseball may have a real problem in making its best player the game’s face, but Trout isn’t exactly in a big hurry to cash in on the idea and never really was. If he got endorsements and television spots off the field, he didn’t go out of his way to hunt anything more. They came to him, he’d accept, but he wouldn’t lobby for more endorsements, bigger dollars from them, more branding from them. He’s the lowest maintenance superstar baseball’s seen in a couple of generations.

Maybe the only extravagance Trout was ever known to indulge (his known passion for meteorology is just that, a passion) was his proposal to the young woman who’s been his love since high school and his wife since December 2017—he hired a skywriting team to pour out, “Will you marry me Jess?”

Now, if only the Angels, who aren’t exactly in the poorhouse despite deciding to make Mike Trout worth the economy of a single tropical paradise, can figure out a way to build a team baseball’s best player and the no-questions-asked best ever to wear an Angel uniform can be proud of.

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