Trout vs. Teams
by Mac Squibb
April 2, 2019
There have been some bad teams in the MLB since the turn of the century. In 2003, the Tigers won just 43 games, the Astros won 56, 55, and 51 games from 2011 to 2013, and the Orioles won a league worst 47 games this past season. We’ve also had one of the greatest players to ever dawn a uniform appear. Mike Trout, in his 8 year career, has already accumulated 64.7 WAR and has yet to turn 28-years old. He currently sits 89th all-time in WAR for position players just behind Tony Gwynn and Dwight Evans despite having played at least 600 less games than everyone ahead of him. He’s a once in a lifetime talent and why it’s even reasonable for an article like this to exist.
Before the 2018 season, I was looking through the Marlins projected depth chart and it became painfully obvious that the team was going to be bad. In the offseason they had parted ways with their star-studded outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich along with infielder Dee Gordon and others. The sole bright spot was J.T. Realmuto and even he wasn’t a lock to stay with the team. This prompted me to kiddingly make the bold prediction that “the Marlins will have a lower combined WAR than Mike Trout”. I did some research and my claim became less and less bold the more I looked, so much so that I made a bet that spurred the idea for this article. Is it possible for Mike Trout to outperform an entire team in terms of WAR? The answer in 2018 was yes. While I did lose the bet as it was specific to the Marlins who ended up with 13.3 WAR, Trout did finish the season with more WAR than the Baltimore Orioles.
In the last 18 years, there have been nine teams with less than 12.5 WAR and six of them have had 10 WAR or less. Before we move on, we need to appreciate just how bad the 2003 Tigers and 2013 Astros were. Had those teams been players in 2018 they would have finished 54th and 240th in total WAR. While those two teams are anomalies it should be clear that the idea of Mike Trout outperforming an entire team is entirely reasonable. In modern day baseball, it is arguably easier for this to happen as teams will enter prolonged rebuilding periods in which the team sacrifices current performance for future potential. This is what first enticed me to make the bet against the Marlins and why I believe that it could happen again this year and in the future.
This concept is obviously predicated on Trout remaining healthy and being able to play for the entire season. Trout has only hit the DL twice in his MLB career, once with a torn ligament in his thumb and a 14 day stint with wrist inflammation this past season. When healthy, Mike Trout is the best player on the planet. He has averaged 9.8 WAR per 162 games for his career and averaged 11.3 WAR per 162 games this past season. While Trout is unlikely to play every game, he has played at least 157 for four straight seasons before missing time each of the last two. Depth Charts at Fangraphs projects Trout to have 9.3 WAR this season in 153 games. It’s worth noting that projection systems such as Depth Charts are typically conservative in their estimates and thus it’s reasonable for Trout to outperform his projections.
Orioles: Offense (9.0 WAR), Pitching (6.3 WAR)
The Orioles will sport one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball in 2019, ahead of only the Royals according to fangraphs. The staff will be lead by Dylan Bundy who had a 5.45 ERA last season and is projected for a 4.77 ERA this year. Their offense will likely not fare much better. Chris Davis had a historically bad season in 2018, accumulating -3.1 WAR which was tied for the 6th lowest in baseball since 1901 . He has played in three of the Orioles first four games this year and will likely get plenty of playing time given his massive contract. Baltimore is also starting Rule 5 pick Richie Martin at shortstop and former Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard in right field. Only three of the Orioles position players are projected to have a WAR above one this season and none are projected above 2 WAR.
Marlins: Offense (10.9 WAR), Pitching (7.9 WAR)
JT Realmuto was finally traded away to the Phillies, which is great news for him, but not so much for the 2019 Marlins. The team is projected to have the second worst offense ahead of only the Orioles. The sole bright spot for the team is sophomore third baseman Brian Anderson who had 3.4 WAR in 2018 and is projected for 2.9 WAR in 2019. The remainder of the team has just three players projected for 1 WAR or more and is currently netting a negative WAR in right field. The pitching staff has a lot of question marks on it after relegating Wei-Yin Chin to the bullpen in favor of several younger arms. Last year, only Jose Urena and Trevor Richards threw more than 150 innings in the MLB with the other three pitchers, Pablo Lopez, Caleb Smith, and top prospect Sandy Alcantara combining for 170.
Both teams are currently projected to surpass Trout in terms of WAR for the upcoming season, which is to be expected. While Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and potentially the best ever, the odds of beating an entire team are stacked against him. However, the fact that it’s even reasonable to compare the two shows just how great Mike Trout is and how bad several teams are.
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