The Mike Trout Conundrum

When it comes to Major League baseball my friend Jay is second to none. He isn’t simply one of the more knowledgeable when it comes to baseball, he’s one of the angriest fans you’ll meet. Especially when a sportscaster brings up a highly questionable comparison. That’s why I wasn’t surprised by the texts I received this weekend.

Jay: Dude, I have your next blog for you.

Wayniac: I told you I’m not blogging about my thoughts on the new Braves stadium, it’s too controversial.

Jay: Whatever, I’m not talking about that. Check this out. You know I love Trout, but Greg Amsinger on MLB Network just said if Mike Trout wins the MVP again it is the greatest start ever to a career. 

Wow. That is a pretty bold statement. So bold that it has gotten The Wayniac riled up a bit. Like Jay, I love Mike Trout. He is one of my keepers on my fantasy team (due to a ridiculous steal of trade concocted by my partner in crime JD) and he is one of the most exciting athletes to watch in sports.

But, what is defining Trout’s start as “the greatest ever”? Back-to-back MVP Awards? Certainly not back-to-back All Star Game MVP Awards, is it?

Jay: Those awards are given by voters. I’d rather go with most home runs through first four seasons or steals, or anything measurable. I don’t care about awards.

He’s right. The MVP Award, whether it is in the regular season, post season, or All Star Game is usually skewed. I mean, come on, Mariano Rivera won the All Star Game MVP three games ago for registering a hold.

Plus, there is always a bias when voters are involved. The Kansas City Royals currently have the best record in the American League. They have a very good shot at repeating as the AL pennant winners, and Lorenzo Cain is a large reason for that. Do you think he stands a chance against Trout at the end of the year? Trout puts up sick numbers, makes those big time wow plays in the outfield, and is just so darn likable.

That being said, the second Jay told me about that statement, I was able to think of five guys in the not so distant past that have had — at the very least — equal starts to their career. Should Trout win that second MVP Award, his trophy cabinet will be the fullest over the shortest amount of time, but greatest start to a career? That’s questionable.

Two things I am excluding from the list below are steroid use and pitchers. I don’t care to hear any of these well they played in the Steroid Era debates. Take a look at the Minor Leagues. There are close to 100 suspensions, many from PEDs. The Steroid Era is still alive and well, and that makes Trout a part of it — although I have no question he is clean. It happened, it’s part of the history, so it has to enter discourse.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Secondly, if hardware is all that matters, Dwight Gooden had one of the sickest starts to any career I have ever seen. Rookie of the Year in 1984, Cy Young in 1985 and a World Series ring in 1986. Let’s not forget that Dr. K’s 1985 season is still one of the sickest pitched seasons I have ever witnessed and he was only 20 years old. A league leading 24 wins to just four losses, a league leading 1.53 ERA, a league leading 16 complete games, eight shutouts, a league leading 268 strikeouts and a 0.96 WHIP. And I reiterate… he was 20 years old. For you SABR junkies, his WAR was nearly 12. It is widely considered one of the single greatest seasons in history. Hardware, history and a World Series ring. Not too shabby.

FIVE STARTS THAT RIVAL MIKE TROUT’S

(USA Today archives)
(USA Today archives)

Ryan Howard

Howard won Rookie of the Year in 2005 while only playing in 88 games. He blasted 22 home runs in just 312 at bats. That’s a home run every 14.2 at bats compared to Trout’s 18.6 rookie year average.

Howard would never stop hitting home runs, as he would take home the NL MVP Award in 2006 with a league leading 58 home runs and 149 RBI. He wouldn’t win an All Star Game MVP Award, but he would win the Home Run Derby that year, which has to count for something. At the end of Howard’s fourth season — in which Trout is amid right now — he would lead the NL in home runs and RBI again and win a World Series ring.

By the time Howard finished his fifth season, he would be back in the World Series and become the quickest player in history to reach 200 home runs. That’s a pretty good start to a career.

Jose Canseco

Did he cheat? Yup. Is he a bit of a nut job? You tell me.

But there was no denying that Canseco was one of the most fun players to watch in the late 80s on one of the most dominant teams of that era. Canseco would win Rookie of the Year in 1986 and two years later would become baseball’s first 40/40 guy en route to the 1988 AL MVP Award. He would get injured (out of juice?) in his fourth season, but returned right in time to slash .357/.500/.571 with a home run in the World Series. Not a bad first four years either, ay?

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 15:  American League All-Star Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees speaks with American League All-Star Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels during batting practice prior to the 85th MLB All-Star Game at Target Field on July 15, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Derek Jeter

Am I a homer? So what? Derek Jeter lived every little kid’s fantasy. He won a World Series in four of his first five seasons. Not only was he on some of the best teams of the 90s, he was the centerpiece of them and the spark that made their engine go.

Jeter won Rookie of the Year in 1996 and would go on to hit .361 in his first postseason with a very memorable home run (thanks Jeffrey Maier). He would “digress” in ’97, but comeback with two of his best seasons in ’98 and ’99. Jeter would make history in his fifth season by being the first player to win All Star Game MVP and World Series MVP honors in the same season.

Is his trophy case filled with shiny MVP Awards or fancy bats commemorating other honors? No, no it isn’t. But his hand is certainly too heavy to point that out to you with all those damn rings on it.

Albert Pujols

Talk about an unreal start to a career? Pujols was amazing. If you were a baseball fan at the turn of the millennium, when you watched Albert Pujols play, you thought you were watching a kid rewriting history.

He won Rookie of the Year (notice the trend?) and would start his career by going 12 — TWELVE — straight seasons before hitting less than 30 home runs. He wouldn’t win an NL MVP Award in his first four years, but he did win the 2003 Major League Player of the Year Award as well as the 2004 NLCS MVP.

Pujols quickly became the heart of the St. Louis lineup, known for his monster power and uncanny ability to hit over .330. People often forget that he led the league in runs scored three years in a row.

Now Trout’s team mate and possibly his stiffest competition for the 2015 MVP Award, Pujols’s first four seasons ended with the following stat line: .333, 500 runs scored, 160 home runs and 504 RBI. That’s not just good, that’s video game good.

(ESPN.com)
(ESPN.com)

Buster Posey

People either love him or hate him, but Buster Posey has been Jeter-esque to start his career.

Guess what? Posey won Rookie of the Year in 2010 and would pretty much instantly become the centerpiece of baseball’s current dynasty. Posey would hit .300 with a home run as a 23-year old rookie in the World Series and start a run of winning three rings in his first five years.

Posey was mangled in a play at the plate in his second season and the Giants would miss the playoffs in their title defense. He would return in 2012, win the NL batting title, NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, the NL MVP and his second World Series title. Posey would belt yet another home run in that World Series victory against the Tigers.

Jay: Buster’s start has been pretty damn good and I hate Buster. If Trout gets another MVP, Buster could trade him one of his World Series rings for it… and still have more rings than Trout.

If hardware is what matters, I’ll take an MVP Award and three World Series rings over consecutive All Star Game MVPs and back-to-back AL MVPs. Trout is an absolute stud. I can’t argue that he isn’t the best player in the game right now, because that he is. But to say with such confidence that his will be the greatest start to a career — especially when Pujols put up better numbers, Jeter won more rings, and Posey became immortal — is a bit unfair.

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