As baseball spring training gets underway, the heated rivalry between 22 year old phenom Mike Trout and reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera will skate front and center once again. Each fan’s preference for one or the other generally comes down to new school versus old school arguments, such as advanced metrics (which rate Trout as a much better all-around player than Cabrera) versus the traditional Triple Crown statistical categories (which rate Cabrera as the superior offensive force). Much ink has been spilled on the subject, and this season will likely keep the trend going. This post is no attempt to re-hash that debate, but rather to appreciate Trout in a much more important historical context. Everyone knows that he has made his historical mark in just two seasons, but where does he rank on the all-time MLB fish rankings?
Thousands of wahoos have swum through the big leagues over the years. Among them, there is a surprisingly long list of fish names. There was Art Herring, a relief pitcher on the Tigers and Brooklyn Dodgers in the 30’s and 40’s. Sid Bream, an unremarkable hitter but a good defensive first baseman, played for 12 years with the L.A. Dodgers, Pirates, and Braves. There were minnows like Jess Pike, who pitched for the New York Giants in the 40’s, and Marlin Stuart, for the Tigers and St. Louis Browns in the 50’s. Mike Carp has been playing for the Mariners and Red Sox for the past few seasons. Here are the luminaries whose rays outshine the rest:
5) Kevin Bass: Bass spent most of his 14 year career with the Astros and San Francisco Giants as a right fielder. He made the National League all-star team in 1986, when he hit .311, knocked 20 home runs, cracked 184 hits, and finished 7th in MVP voting. That was pretty much his peak, although he led all outfielders in fielding percentage in 1985.
4) Tim Salmon: Salmon spent his entire 14 year career as a right fielder with the Angels. He won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1993, and would receive MVP votes three different seasons. He hit 299 home runs and drove in 1,016 runs in his career.
3) Harvey Haddix: Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch… Haddix, a left handed pitcher, spent most of the notable years of his 14 year career with the Cardinals in the 50’s and the Pirates in the 60’s. He made 3 all-star teams and won 3 Gold Gloves, but he is most famous for the game in 1959 when he had a perfect game through 12 innings against the Milwaukee Braves, who at the time featured Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. Haddix lost the perfect game in the 13th inning due to a fielding error, then lost the actual game on an extra-base hit by Joe Adcock.
2) Mike Trout: Trout is only two seasons into his career and he is already a legend. Indeed, fans using the ELO rater on Baseball-Reference.com already rate him as one of the 200 best position players ever. He had played in a few games for the Angels in 2011, but in his first real season, he hit .326, scored 129 runs, stole 49 bases, and amassed an OPS+ of 168.1 He was named Rookie of the Year, so for those keeping track, that means the Angels had Rookies of the Year named Salmon and Trout within a 20 year period. His WAR2 that year was 10.9, making it one of the best seasons for anyone of any age, let alone a 20 year old rookie. In 2013, he put on a worthy sequel, hitting .323 while adding many more walks to his repertoire (110 in total), scoring 109 runs, stealing 33 bases, and raising his OPS+ to 179. His war was 9.2, again essentially unheard of for a 21 year old. He was an all-star both years, made numerous jaw-dropping defensive plays, and came in second in MVP voting to Miguel Cabrera twice, as Cabrera won the Triple Crown in 2012 and then improved to .348 and 1.078 OPS in 2013. His accolades have been packed in like sardines. A few more years of this and Trout will easily swim past the only current Hall of Famer on the list.
1) Catfish Hunter: At the top of the perch is James Augustus Hunter, who spent 15 years with the A’s and Yankees in the 60’s and 70’s, and was given his nickname by the A’s owner for uncertain reasons. He would pitch 3,449 innings over his career, maintaining a WHIP of 1.134.3 He was an 8 time all-star, and won the Cy Young Award in 1974. During his dominant peak, from 1972-75, he was a real shark. He had four straight years of finishing no lower than 4th in Cy Young voting, along with an aggregate WAR of 22.4 and a win/loss record of 90-38. Catfish was inducted into the Hall of Fame on his third ballot in 1987. More importantly, he would be a first ballot inductee in the Mustache Hall of Fame if it existed. For now, he is the best fish player to come down the pike.
- OPS is an acronym for the Ottawa Police Service. Also, it refers to on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. OPS+ is a similar idea, but is adjusted for the effects of the specific stadiums in which the player’s games were played. An OPS+ of 150 is an excellent number, and indicates that a player produces significantly more runs than a player of OPS+ 100 in a given set of plate appearances.
- WAR is a prolonged conflict between two countries or factions. Also, it refers to Wins Above Replacement, a statistical metric meant to reflect the number of games a team wins relative to the number of wins it would be expected to amass if player X was replaced by a low-cost replacement player.
- WHIP is a stick or flexible implement used to inflict pain in order to exert control. Also, it refers to walks allowed by a pitcher plus hits allowed (H) per innings pitched (IP).