Behind all of the statistical data and historical comparisons that usually come with proving a once-in-a-generation player actually exists in the MLB, Mike Trout's case for a unique status isn’t what most fans would think.
Trout has become a leading figure, a once-in-a-generation athlete that is causing a debate currently in baseball, almost the MLB version of “Coke versus Pepsi."
And yes, he is a once-in-a-generation MLB case; I do believe this to be true. (I’m not blurting out random lines in this column just for the sake of arguing without validity.)
However, I don’t believe the reasoning for saying such a thing has much to do with a swing (the power and average), a timed dash down the first base path or ground covered in the outfield.
That criteria has been around long before 2010 (Trout’s first MLB service), and by the looks of Bryce Harper or the young Yasiel Puig in Dodgers country, five-tool talent will be competitive this generation.
And the beloved comparisons to the greats of yesteryear won’t work, either. From a Ken Griffey Jr. to a Mickey Mantel to a youthful version of ex-Angel Vlad Guerrero, what those gifted athletes did in their generations has no bearing on Mike Trout as a special talent.
Instead, there is a more simplistic understanding of what Mike Trout has accomplished in such a short amount of time and why his contributions thus far have changed the game.
But in order to avoid an epidemic of mass confusion because any lengthy statistical analysis or swing paths were voided from the debate, I think it's important to understand what a “generational-type phenom" in the MLB means.
Sure, there are statistical and athletic hierarchies at play, just not the way you might think—in the days of baseball-reference.com, I don’t blame you.
The consideration for such a high honor—at least in my mind—has to correlate with a shift in the game, a possible change or a different way of looking at baseball, and all brought into the forefront of MLB culture by this special athlete.
They really have to shake the sturdy foundation of America's pastime.
Think of it this way: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Bob Gibson were all dominant pitchers during their respective decades on the hill.
They all threw hard—nothing new.
The feared attitude—with a dynamic glare towards the hitter before delivery—was also nothing new.
Then there was a pitcher like Greg Maddux.
During the mid-to-late-‘90s with the Atlanta Braves—the TBS years—Maddux accomplished a generational change in the MLB with a two-seemed fastball.
With that one simple pitch, thrown to perfection with amazing consistency by Maddux (on both corners of the plate), umpires began to seemingly lose the idea of a true strike zone.
It was replaced with a “Maddux strike zone.”
And by the pinnacle of the PED era, when hitters with performance-enhanced muscle tone were stepping into the batter’s box, Maddux was getting strike calls sometimes two inches off of the plate on the inside corner and two to three (maybe six?) inches off of the outside corner.
Maddux had changed the game. (It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that I actually saw the collective MLB umpires make an effort to keep the strike on the black, from the knees to the numbers).
And though there were others to follow in his efforts—teammate Tom Glavine and the “poor man’s Greg Maddux” Rick Reed—they were only similar to what Maddux had accomplished, not a unique case that deserves a “once-in-a-generation" anything.
So, with that understanding, we go back to the Angels' young talent.
But, you may argue, why Mike Trout?
I agree, it should take more than a season-and-a-half before we start crowning achievements to any athlete that could just as easily be injured tomorrow and working as an analyst the day after.
But the reasoning for his contributions, unlike any other currently in the game, comes from the very stats I refuse to conger up just for the sake of making roundabout arguments.
Yes, in baseball, everything counts. Stats are the most important factor. Period. No Hall of Fame votes are earned because the player was “really nice.”
However, what was once balls and strikes, home runs and RBI mixed in with the almighty win has morphed into pocket-protected calculations like WHIP, WAR, OBP and OPS.
Well, O-M-G—to keep the acronyms flying strong—baseball went out and got technical, all wrapped up in a sabermetric package for your viewing pleasure and confusion.
And who is at the forefront, shifting the way baseball fans, organizations and the masses of silly sportswriters view the game?
That’s right. Mike Trout.
Now, that’s not to say he was completely responsible for the way we focus on the new-aged calculations for judging a player in the MLB—ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian has been explaining WAR for a few years now—but Trout has certainly brought the terminology to the casual fan and beyond. (I doubt the record-breaking WAR average (20.0) in 1883 by Tim Keefe caused any conversation.)
Trout’s stellar 2012 season and subsequent loss in the AL MVP voting to Miguel Cabrera was not just a tiny blip in MLB history; it started a public duel between the old-school scoresheet versus the new-school Macbook.
For the first time, articles like this one from SI.com’s Cliff Corcoran were being composed solely on the topic of WAR. It was all the rage.
Hell, it’s still the rage.
Even Jim Leyland, an old-school MLB gent if there ever was one, was left to pitch his man Miguel Cabrera for MVP honors back in August of 2012 (via ESPN.com), shielding the idea of a player’s worth through statistical figures.
Like most of the guys that were around for elastic waistbands on the uniforms, Leyland’s argument made perfect sense: Cabrera was on his way to possibly wining the Triple Crown!
What else does a player need? Well, now we know.
In fact, now a lot of people know—go ahead and Google "Mike Trout WAR" and enjoy a day's worth of blogs and articles, professional to novice, on the subject.
Trout’s WAR of 10.7 was almost enough to knock off a feat that hadn't been accomplished since 1967 (the Triple Crown). And even though Cabrera did win MVP, it started an argument that changes the way the game of baseball is viewed.
And that goes for a wide range of fans, regardless of if you are Internet-savvy or you still want a 25 cent Coke at the game…or is that a Pepsi?
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