The MLB All-Star Game is a collection of the greatest talent in the sport, and all will be on display at Progressive Field in Cleveland. But there is one main function for the midsummer classic — to provide a national showcase for Mike Trout, the best player of his generation.
Trout is revered in baseball circles, widely considered the greatest talent in baseball. He’s adored on baseball Twitter and by many fans of the sport, but that is only a small niche of the national audience. He’s not a national star like LeBron, not plastered all over our televisions in commercials like Aaron Rodgers.
Part Trout’s relative anonymity is his own doing. He hasn’t typically sought out too many national ads, though he did disco with Andrew Luck for one spot. MLB finally got the clue on how to better market their greatest star this year, first featuring him at the center of their “Let the kids play” campaign, an homage to the great young talent in the sport, prevalent with the young rosters in Cleveland, including a National League lineup that has the youngest average age in All-Star history.
Another MLB ad dropped this week captures Trout for who he is, a down-to-earth baseball junkie who loves the Philadelphia Eagles, the Weather Channel, and tweeting out his baseball travel itinerary.
“Some say I’m the best to play the game,” Trout says in the ad. “Me? I just want to play.”
Those who say Trout is the best are correct. The All-Star Game is most of America’s main chance to watch the star outfielder. The Angels have made the postseason just once in Trout’s career, and they were swept out in the first round in 2014. Trout’s time on national TV with a captive audience has been limited to 11 games: 8 All-Star Game (including Tuesday), 3 playoff games. it’s not enough.
The world needs more Trout in their living rooms, and we get that Tuesday night. For those unfamiliar with Trout, here are some facts to get to know baseball’s best.
My god, the black ink
Sometimes it’s fun just to peruse Mike Trout’s Baseball-Reference page, or his FanGraphs page (what, you don’t have these bookmarked?), just to marvel at his statistical exploits. If you lead a league in a category in any given season, that stat will be in bold on a Baseball-Reference player page, coined “black ink” by Bill James years ago. Let’s boldly take a gander at Trout’s career to date:
Trout is leading the American League in 2019 in home runs (his 28 are an Angels record before the All-Star break), RBI, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, total bases, and if we venture over to FanGraphs he’s also leading in wOBA (.443) and wRC+ (186) too.
This is what Trout does.
Trout has been voted by the Baseball Writers Association of America in the top two in AL MVP balloting six times, including wins in 2014 and 2016. Trout’s worst finish in MVP voting was fourth place in 2017, a season during which he was injured and limited to only 114 games. He missed a month and a half and still was fourth in MVP voting. Legend.
He has been duly recognized as a great, great player, yet still there is an argument that even with those lofty finishes Trout is still somehow underrated.
Master of WAR
We don’t necessarily need Wins Above Replacement to see that Trout is baseball’s best player. On an empirical level Trout does just about everything well — he hits, and hits for power, he has a good eye, he plays above average defensively in center field, he runs the bases well. But a glance at WAR tells us how dominant Trout has been. In his first seven years, Trout led the AL in WAR four times and finished second twice more. His worst finish was fourth place in 2017, a 6.6 WAR year that would be the best season of most players’ careers and was only relatively limited for Trout because he was injured and only played 114 games. He’s leading the AL in WAR again in 2019, too.
Trout already has 70.1 WAR in his career, a remarkable achievement for someone who is still just 27 years old. He has the most WAR through that age-27 season, which for Trout still has 2½ months remaining — the only others close are Ty Cobb (69.0) and Mickey Mantle (68.1). Trout is essentially already an inner-circle Hall of Famer, and he’s only in his eighth full season.
To put Trout’s career WAR in perspective, it’s more than three of the four players inducted to the Hall of Fame later in July, more than Edgar Martinez (68.4), Roy Halladay (64.3) and Mariano Rivera (56.2). Only Mike Mussina is ahead of Trout at 82.8 WAR, though at the pace Trout is at he might pass Mussina by the end of 2020.
This is the eight All-Star Game nod for Trout, and the seventh straight year he was elected to start. He’ll bat third and play center field for the American League.
This is Trout’s seventh actual All-Star Game, since he missed the 2017 game due to injury. He has at least one hit in each of his first six All-Star Games, and at least one extra-base hit in four of his last five midsummer classics. He won All-Star Game MVP in both 2014 and 2015, one of only five players to win the award twice and the only one to do it back-to-back.
In all, Trout is 7-for-15 with three walks in All-Star Game play, with two home runs, two doubles, and a triple.
Trout is one of only 10 players with a career All-Star cycle — at least one home run, one triple, one double, and one single. If he adds one more triple, he’ll join Willie Mays and Steve Garvey as the only players with at least two of each in the All-Star Game.
The Angels suffered an unspeakable tragedy when pitcher Tyler Skaggs died in his hotel room on July 1 in Texas. After the team took the field one night later, it was Trout who stood front and center, starting the press conference by describing how he felt about Skaggs, with tears in his eyes.
That’s who Trout is.
There should be more fans who wear shirts with Trout’s name on them, or better yet, his face!
When you have a chance to be immortalized by 1984 Topps on a shirt even though you weren’t born yet in 1984, you have to take it.
Trout should be celebrated more often. With the Angels treading water at 45-46, they probably aren’t making the playoffs in 2019. So for this year, the All-Star Game is all we have to give Trout his national stage. Watch and enjoy.