By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Columnist
We know its Trout – that is pretty much universally agreed by all but the most biased fans of this or that franchise player. We also know that it isn’t particularly close, although there are always contenders in any given year – even players that have better years than Trout, although never by a huge margin. This year Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich are comparable, although both in the NL. Last year it was Betts; in 2017, Trout finished a career-worst 4th in fWAR, although due to missing almost a third of the year to injury. We can go back to his rookie year and look at the top four ranked players by fWAR:
2019: Bellinger 5.4, TROUT 5.3, Yelich 4.6, Marte 3.7
2018: Betts 10.4, TROUT 9.8, Ramirez 8.0, Bregman/Lindor/Yelich 7.6
2017: Judge 8.2, Altuve 7.6, Stanton 7.3, TROUT 6.9
2016: TROUT 9.7, Betts 8.3, Bryant 7.8, Donaldson 7.6
2015: Harper/TROUT 9.3, Donaldson 8.7, Votto 7.3
2014: TROUT 8.3, Lucroy 8.1, Posey 7.8, McCutchen 7.4
2013: TROUT 10.2, Cabrera 8.6, McCutchen 8.1, Y Molina 7.8
2012: Posey 10.4, TROUT 10.1, Y Molina 7.7, Cano 7.4
Now that record is ridiculously impressive: Trout has ranked #4 or higher in each of his eight full seasons (assuming the pattern holds for the second half of 2019), and #2 or better in all but one season – a season he would have finished 1st if he hadn’t lost 48 games to injury.
Even more impressive is the fact that not a single player has finished in the top 4 more than twice, and only half a dozen have done it twice: Posey, Y Molina, McCutchen, Donaldson, Betts, and Yelich. In other words…
Top 4 fWAR finishes 2012-19
2 Yelich, Betts, Donaldson, Posey, McCutchen, Y Cano
1 Bellinger, Marte, Ramirez, Bregman, Lindor, Judge, Altuve, Stanton, Bryant, Harper, Votto, Lucroy, Cabrera, Cano
So, yeah: Trout has clearly been the best player over the course of his career, and it isn’t particularly close:
Total fWAR 2012-19 (so far)
The reason I list that out to seven is to make another point: Not only has Trout produced 50% more fWAR value over the course of his career than anyone else, but he’s produced twice as much fWAR value as all but five other players.
BUT WHAT ABOUT RIGHT NOW?
Right now is 2019, but we can’t exactly say that half a season determines who the best player is right now. But we don’t want to go back too far, so how about 2018-19, or the last season and a half? Certainly that will even out any outliers or fluke hot (or cold) starts or breakthroughs that may or may not be sustained? Without further ado, here are the ten best current position players in MLB:
2018-19 fWAR (through 6/25)
1. Mike Trout 15.1
2. Mookie Betts 12.8
3. Christian Yelich 12.2
4. Alex Bregman 11.1
5. Matt Chapman 9.7
6. Francisco Lindor 9.6
7. Anthony Rendon 9.5
8. Cody Bellinger 9.0
9. Nolan Arenado 8.9
10t. Xander Bogaerts 8.5
10t. Manny Machado 8.5
Rounding out the top 20 are Javier Baez, Jose Ramirez, Max Muncy, Freddie Freeman, Yasmani Grandal, Trevor Story, JT Realmuto, JD Martinez, and Whit Merrifield.
(If you’re wondering, Andrelton Simmons is #22 and would likely be in the top 20 if he hadn’t been hurt this year)
Most notably absent in the top 20 are Paul Goldschmidt (#30) Jose Altuve (#33), and of course Bryce Harper (#42).
TROUT as a Hitter, using wRC+
1. Trout 175
2. Votto 154
3. Judge 153
4. Cabrera 150
5. Ortiz 150
2019: Bellinger 192, TROUT 187, Yelich 185, Rendon/Alonso 161
2018: TROUT 191, Betts 185, Martinez 170, Yelich 166
2017: TROUT 181, Judge 172, Votto 164, Altuve 160
2016: TROUT 170, Ortiz 163, Votto 158, Donaldson 157
2015: Harper 197, Votto 174, TROUT 171, Cabrera 164
2014: McCutchen/Martinez 168, Abreu/TROUT 167
2013: Cabrera 193, TROUT 176, Davis 168, Werth 159
2012: TROUT 167, Cabrera 166, Posey 164, Braun 159
Interesting to note here that Trout has actually become more dominant as a hitter, leading the majors in each of the last three years, with a good chance of passing Bellinger and leading the majors again this year.
Anyhow, I feel comfortable saying that not only is Trout the best player in baseball, but Betts and Yelich–in some order–are #2 and #3, with Bregman a solid #4. Then you have a group of comparable players in Chapman, Lindor, and Rendon. If the trend holds, Yelich will be #2 by year’s end and Bellinger could climb a bit, even challenge Chapman for #4.
Well, there you have it. Nothing new was really discovered, just a few details clarified: not only how much better Trout has been during his career than everyone else, but that he is still the head-and-shoulders best player right now.