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How Mike Trout's Historic Start Compares to Ken Griffey Jr.'s Start

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How Mike Trout's Historic Start Compares to Ken Griffey Jr.'s Start
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Los Angeles Angels rookie outfielder Mike Trout has been better than advertised, and that's saying something.

Before the start of the season, Trout featured prominently in various expert rankings of the top prospects in baseball. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the third overall prospect behind Bryce Harper and Matt Moore. ESPN's Keith Law ranked him No. 1 overall, ahead of Harper and Moore.

The general consensus was that Trout had the goods to be a star, but calling him a star now doesn't quite do him justice. He's a superstar, and it's already clear that he has a great career ahead of him.

Trout has been compared to several past superstars. Torii Hunter, for example, recently said (via CBSSports.com) that Trout reminds him of Rickey Henderson, which is high praise.

But I'll do him one better: How about a young Ken Griffey Jr.?

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Griffey was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1987 draft.

Hey, why not? When Griffey first broke into the league, he had a perfect combination of power, speed, fielding savvy and that little extra something that very few players have. For lack of a better word, I'd call it an aura. You can just sense that Trout was born to be a superstar baseball player, just like you could with Griffey.

Griffey was only 19 when he played his first full season for the Seattle Mariners in 1989. Trout is 20 now in his first full season, but that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun with a side-by-side comparison of the two of them.

Using stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, here's a look at how the start of Trout's career stacks up against the start of Griffey's.

 

Trout's First 61 Games in 2012 vs. Griffey's first 61 Games in 1989

  PA H BB SO HR RBI R AVG OBP SLUG OPS SB CS
Trout 278 86 24 55 10 38 54 .348 .408 .555 .958 26 3
Griffey 234 60 18 43 10 24 33 .279 .335 .465 .800 9 2


There's not much of a comparison to be made here. The home-run totals between Trout's and Griffey's first 61 games are even, but Trout has the edge everywhere else. Even if we took away the extra 39 plate appearances that he has on his line, he'd still be blowing Griffey out of the water in most of the key statistical categories.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Albert Pujols had a pretty good debut season of his own back in 2001.

There's also the matter of the performance of Trout's Angels versus the performance of Griffey's Mariners. In Trout's first 61 games in 2012, the Angels have gone 38-23. In Griffey's first 61 games in 1989, the Mariners went 27-34.

Once again, no comparison. Trout has turned the Angels into one of the best teams in baseball, while the Mariners struggled to establish themselves as contenders in Griffey's first 61 games.

But I know what you're thinking. The first 61 games of Griffey's season in 1989 were the first 61 games of his career. The first 61 games of Trout's 2012 season are not the only games he's played in for the Angels. He logged some time in the big leagues in 2011, too.

This is true. To be fair to Griffey, we have to do a comparison between the 40 games Trout played in during the 2011 season and the first 40 games of Griffey's 1989 season.

 

Trout's First 40 Career Games vs. Griffey's First 40 Career Games

  PA H BB SO HR RBI R AVG OBP SLUG OPS SB CS
Trout 135 27 9 30 5 16 20 .220 .281 .390 .672 4 0
Griffey 156 41 13 27 6 16 23 .289 .348 .465 .813 5 2

The tables have turned. The only place Griffey doesn't have an advantage in this comparison is in RBI, which are even at 16 apiece.

The Mariners went 19-21 in Griffey's first 40 games in 1989. The Angels went 23-17 in Trout's first 40 games in 2011. He still has the edge there, but the Angels weren't quite as successful with him in 2011 as they currently are with him in 2012.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Griffey wasted no time at all getting people hooked on his sweet swing.

Since Trout was 19 when he debuted in 2011, this is obviously a much fairer comparison to make between these two players. The numbers show that Griffey was ready for the big leagues, while Trout's numbers show that he needed a little more development time.

Hence the reason he started the 2012 season at Triple-A.

There's one more comparison to be made here. Trout has played in exactly 101 games so far in his career. Griffey had played in that many games by the time September rolled around in 1989.

Here's a look at how their first 101 career games match up.

 

Trout's First 101 Games vs. Griffey's First 101 Games

  PA H BB SO HR RBI R AVG OBP SLUG OPS SB CS
Trout 413 113 33 85 15 54 74 .305 .363 .500 .863 30 3
Griffey 403 102 34 69 15 52 51 .281 .343 .449 .792 15 4

It's a lot closer than either of the first two comparisons, but Trout has the edge here. He has Griffey beat in most of the key categories, with the big ones being batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS.

As far as defense goes, it's hard to compare the two because we don't know how Griffey's UZR and DRS checked out back in 1989. The best we can do is compare his RF/G (range factor per game, a measure of how many putouts/assists a player was good for in a given game) to Trout's RF/G.

In 1989, Griffey's RF/G was 2.48. So far in his career, Trout's RF/G is 2.29. 

The key variable here is that Griffey played strictly in center field in 1989, whereas Trout has played all over the outfield in his career to this point. Even still, the two figures go to show that we're talking about two above-average defensive outfielders.

For what it's worth, Griffey ended up finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1989 behind Gregg Olson and Tom Gordon. He made the All-Star team for the first time and won his first Gold Glove a year later.

If you had to pick one...

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At the rate he's going, Trout is a lock to win the AL Rookie of the Year this season, and he's already made the All-Star team. At the end of it all, he's going to be a very strong candidate for a Gold Glove.

And right now, he's the American League's first-half MVP. ESPN's Jayson Stark thinks so, and Trout checked in at No. 1 in my latest AL MVP rankings. He didn't arrive until late April, but he's been the best player in the Junior Circuit this season by a significant margin.

None of this is to suggest that Trout is destined to be a better player than Griffey, mind you. Griffey in his prime was the best player in the world, and he would feature prominently in the discussion of the greatest player ever if he hadn't broken down once he reached his 30s. 

I'll say this about Trout, though: He's good enough to invite projections of all-time greatness. When you watch him play, it feels like you're watching a young Griffey Jr.

Another Griffey was bound to come along at some point. It's not crazy to think that he has arrived in the form of Mike Trout.


If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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