As we finish another period where Mike Trout can find a lot of MVP votes and will not perform in the postseason, here is a question for you: Whose livelihood would you rather have, Mike Trout’s or Reggie Jackson’s? )
Trout is one of those 10 finest players ever, clearly the finest of his creation, also because he has a down season — not really even slumps — he still has continuous validation. This is his inaugural season, and also in a couple of weeks he will finish in the top five of MVP voting for the ninth time. For he has the biggest contract in baseball and he’ll retire with the affordable certainty he did everything that was possible with his ability. He has not experienced everything the game can supply, but he’s done all that an athlete could perform.
Jackson was not a Trout-degree celebrity. He won an MVP award, finished second after, was always one of the greatest players of his age but — as with the majority of non-Trout celebrities — was not always one of their very best, if you obey the differentiation. Some of the years were simply pretty great. Once, that the A’s attempted to send him to the minors. He completed one of the all time leaders in homers, RBIs and runs scored, but Trout will finally pass him all those, and what else. This month, Trout handed him in livelihood WAR.
But Jackson has exactly what Trout most lacks: Not only a World Series ring but five of these, rather than simply postseason encounter but a postseason legend. Imagine exactly what is necessary to be the sole person in the whole game who gets to get the nickname Mr. October.
Ballplayers would say that they only need to win, to help the team win, and that winning a World Series trumps any person accomplishment. But is that accurate? Would Trout trade his livelihood for, say, Sal Bando’s — no MVP award, no Hall of Fame, however 16 seasons in the majors and three World Series rings? Would he trade it Frank Thomas’ — 2 MVP awards, the Hall of Fame and one World Series ring, he gathered while he was hurt and not able to playwith? How roughly Kurt Suzuki’s career — 14 seasons (and counting), never an MVP vote, probably nothing that’ll be remembered by anybody in 50 years, but one World Series ring? I don’t think he would.
But to me, Jackson — and Derek Jeter — are the tougher cases, combining Hall of Fame careers with legendary postseasons and not one but five World Series rings. Trout might trade his career for one of those two. In fact, if it turns out his 1-for-12 in the 2014 ALDS is his entire postseason resume, I think he would.
But anything less than Jackson and Jeter, he’s not trading, and if he ends up having a nice run of postseason appearances in his early 30s, he’s not trading. It’s true ballplayers will say they value winning the World Series more than the individual achievements. But ballplayers also value a particular ethic that says you control what you can control and just worry about doing your own job. What has happened around Trout has been unpleasant, and now that this season is over — and his Angels are yet again not in the playoffs — we can call the season another disappointment. But all Trout can do is be (arguably) the best baseball player who ever lived, or at least get in that conversation. He continues to do that.
Trout, who is only 29, is squarely in the passing-Hall-of-Famers-in-career-WAR-every-few-days period of his career. If I tell you that 29-year-old Mike Trout has more career WAR than Reggie Jackson, you could hear it as an incredible tribute to Trout, but you could also hear it as a diminishment of Jackson — and if we diminish Jackson, we diminish the power of the tribute. To really appreciate Trout, it helps to appreciate just how incredible were the Hall of Famers he is passing and to understand how it is plausible that Trout is already actually more valuable.
Since we last performed this exercise, Trout has raised his career WAR to 74.3 and passed three more Hall of Famers. We will consider each of the all-time greats Trout surpassed since the end of August.
Frank Thomas, 73.8 career WAR (55th all-time among position players)
How good Thomas was:
1. “Thirty years from now, if you take a poll, they’ll say, ‘Frank Thomas is the best hitter who ever lived,'” White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson said, back in February 1995, 25 years past. Those 30 years have five more to go, but, uh, that likely will not prove to be authentic. But two decades before, Harrelson had awarded yet another, slightly tamer version of that quote:
“In my 30 years in this game I have never seen anyone like him. In another 30 years we may be talking about Frank Thomas in the same way we talk about Ted Williams.”
It’s fair to chat about Frank Thomas how we speak about Ted Williams; we likely do not speak about him how we speak about Ted Williams enough. Here would be the best retired hitters previously 100 years, by OPS+:
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1. Babe Ruth
2. Ted Williams
3. Barry Bonds
4. Rogers Hornsby
5. Lou Gehrig
6. Mickey Mantle
7. Mark McGwire
8. Jimmie Foxx
9. Stan Musial
10. Johnny Mize
11. Hank Greenberg
12. Frank Thomas
Thomas is clearly well behind Ted Williams — he’s ahead of almost everybody who ever played, an eyelash ahead of both Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, but he’s clearly behind Ted Williams:
That’s 63 points of on-base percentage and 79 points of slugging, not all that close. But baseball gave Ted Williams a big advantage and Frank Thomas a big disadvantage. Wouldn’t a fair assessment of each player’s hitting genius consider that fact?
Here’s how each batter did with and without the platoon advantage:
Hitter had platoon advantage:
Pitcher had platoon advantage:
But Williams, as a left-hander, had the platoon advantage 78% of the time. Thomas, as a right-hander, had the platoon advantage only 24% of the time. If baseball were actually fair, and right-handed hitters weren’t at such a disadvantage, and if Frank Thomas and Ted Williams had each faced lefties and righties equally, the gap between them would shrink dramatically: Ted would have about 30 points of on-base percentage on Frank, but Frank would have the slightly higher slugging percentage.
That’s not how the rules of the game work, of course, and Ted Williams — as a left-hander — did have the advantage, did produce more, and was a more valuable hitter because of it. But was he that much better as a hitter? This might be one for the philosophers.
Instead, we can just say this: Frank Thomas is somewhere between the second- and fifth-best right-handed hitter who ever lived.
2. Frank Thomas was the largest man who ever played baseball. He is listed at 6-foot-5 and between 255 and 270 pounds. Nobody who ever played baseball was larger than that. The second-tallest baseball player in history was Randy Johnson, who was 6-4. Everybody else was 6-3 or shorter. Some would argue that I have some facts wrong. But Thomas was definitely the largest person to ever play, and the rest must all follow.
Here’s Thomas, fielding a pick-off throw at Auburn, where he’d gone to play tight end on a football scholarship but quickly become primarily a baseball player:
Look at him! He looks like a dad kneeling down to give his 5-year-old son a nighty-night hug. And look at his thigh! Really, go back in a time machine to 1990, when you were a skinny 10-year-old yourself, with twiggy legs that always got made fun of when you wore shorts, and look at his thigh. Look at it dozens of times, for hours cumulatively, and imagine hopefully that someday you’ll grow into your body, too.
In his final year at Auburn, Thomas walked 73 times and struck out 25. His on-base percentage was .568. Even when he was 10, “Kids would throw the ball behind him, over the backstop, all over the place,” says his father, Frank Sr. “They’d do anything to avoid pitching to him.”
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3. Being large has its downsides, one of which is that long arms can make hitters vulnerable to inside pitches. Thomas had a trick for this: When a pitch was on the inside corner, he would make a show of jumping out of the way, suggesting a pitch further inside. His batting eye was legendary, anyway, and so he got the call. “They wouldn’t call the strike,” Chuck Finley once said. ” You would not even bother attempting to throw away there. “
In 1998, Thomas obtained on the wrong side of this American League’s umpires. From Sports Illustrated:
Early from the’98 year, still enduring the dislocation of a broken marriage, he appeared to shed his unspoken rights in the plate at the same time, in one match in April. “There were some very questionable pitches on the inside that could have been called either way,” recalls [White Sox GM Ron] Schueler of the day. “Frank, naturally, jumped back and took them in his own style. The umpire called strikes on two consecutive pitches. Frank didn’t handle it right.”
Thomas protested the calls openly. Word of the response sailed through the group, along with another umpires circled wagons. They started to call the inside-corner pitch a hit on Thomas, nonetheless much he jumped backagain. White Sox lefthander Mike Sirotka detected a change in opposing pitchers. “They lost the fear of facing Frank,” Sirotka says. “From 1995 to ’97 you could see the fear in their eyes. When they started establishing the inside strike on him, you could see their confidence.”
Thomas had a brand new zone to adjust to. “I confronted ’97, and that I recall throwing him great pitches inside, directly on the corner, also [the umpires] never called a strike,” states the Toronto Blue Jays’ Kelvim Escobar. “Good pitches! Then they started calling it, and he was in trouble. You threw a fastball in the 90s on the inside corner, and he couldn’t hit it.” Thomas still stroked 29 home runs, using 109 RBIs, but his batting average dove to. 265. It was the very first time in his profession he had completed a year under. 300.
That excuse is most likely a bit too clear, and also a more straightforward narrative is that Thomas turned 30 and that he did exactly what good hitters within their 30s have done forever: He diminished. But it is a fact that all eight Thomas’ finest eight seasons, as a hitter, came through 1997, his era -29 year old. After 30, he never led the league in almost any statistical group, although he did manage more top-five MVP finishes. Up during 29, there was nothing similar to Frank Thomas. Through era 29, he is fourth all-time in OPS+, only behind Ted Williams in No. 3. His 1994 year is your 21st-best in history, by OPS+, fourth-best by a right-handed hitter. I believe that is actually the first time we can say this about any participant in this series:
At his summit, Frank Thomas was a better hitter than Mike Trout.
How it is plausible Trout is, indeed, already better: Thomas famously feuded with his supervisor Jerry Manuel since Manuel desired Thomas to perform , and Thomas desired to DH. “I’m a good fielder,” he said, “but I’m a great hitter. I like to concentrate on hitting.” Thomas wasn’t, in reality, an excellent fielder, and focusing on hitting really gave a small bulge to his defensive WAR. Trout, a powerful defensive center fielder with favorable baserunner worth, stands up huge bonus WARs on him for this reason.
That may not be persuasive by itself, contemplating how glistening Thomas’ offensive numbers were, however Trout was less or more Thomas’ equivalent as a hitter. When we recorded the very best retired hitters up there, we intentionally omitted the still-active Trout, who’d have rated sixth, between Gehrig and Mantle. And while Thomas outhit him throughout their 20therefore, it wasn’t by very much. Thomas’ crime in his 20s was all-time, although Trout is sixth.
Thomas’ greatest offensive season was shortened by the 1994 strike. His career-high WAR are Trout’s eighth-best.
Paul Waner, 73.9 profession WAR (54th)
How great Waner has been:
Three tales about Waner, all sort of about precisely the exact same thing. The initial one:
1. Waner was initially a pitcher. He surfaced as a pitcher in college, when college finished he did not need to find a real job, so that he went to professional baseball. In 1923, as a 20-year old, he finished up at the Pacific Coast League pitching to its San Francisco Seals. Here’s the way he informs, in Lawrence Ritter’s oral history publication, “The Glory Of Their Times”:
The first or next day of spring training we had a small match, the Regulars from the Yannigans — that is what they called the rookies — and that I had been pitching to the Yannigans. The umpire was a trainer by the name of Spider Baum. Along concerning the sixth inning my arm began to tighten up, so that I cried in, “Spider, my arm is tying up and getting sore on me.” “Make it or break it,” he states. They do not say those things to youngsters nowadays. No, sir! And perhaps it is just as well they do not, as what happened was , sure enough, I broke it. And that the following day, gee, I could barely lift it. I guessed that was the end of my profession, and also in a couple of months I’d return in Ada.
Since he could not throw, he spent another week hanging round shagging batting clinic from the outfield, attempting to remain useful and expecting to not get shipped back into Oklahoma. As he informs, someone eventually asked if he wished to shoot some cuts, imagining he would get bored and stop shagging (then the hitters would need to pursue their laps practice balls). So he moved in and struck rope . Waner: “When we were finished, we went into the clubhouse and nobody said a word to me. Not a word. And there was only dead silence.” The following evening, the Seals turned him into an outfielder (however he could barely throw). He hit . 369 that year, at the very best little league in the nation. Two years later he struck . 400 from the PCL, two years later that he had been the NL batting champ and MVP.
The point of that story being: He was a natural. He could hit anything, anytime.
2. In 1926, as a rookie Pirate, Waner was having a cigarette in the corner of the dugout when his manager told him he was supposed to be up. So Waner quickly grabbed a bat, any bat, didn’t even look at it. He got a hit. “So I thought, well, maybe that’s not such a bad way to do. The next time up I did the same thing, just grabbed a bat blind, no looking, and off came another hit. So I did that all day. Six bats and six hits.”
The point of that story being: He was a natural. His feel for hitting was supernatural. He could hit .380 with a tiny bat, a giant bat, a croquet mallet, a lug wrench. He could probably have hit .260 blindfolded.
3. Waner is most famous for being constantly drunk. He claimed to have a shot (or two!) of whiskey before each at-bat, to keep a flask in the outfield, etc. The most-told story of his inebriation involved a season when his manager suggested he lay off the hard stuff and stick to beer. In this story, Waner struggled the first time through the league, and his manager finally conceded — and ordered him to get back on the whiskey. Waner also claimed to have bad vision, and speculated that the booze helped him see the ball better.
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There are a lot of versions of that story, none of them add up quite right, and in his Big Book of Baseball Legends, Rob Neyer comes away skeptical of them. “It seems more apocryphal than not, don’t you think?” I do think. Bill James, too, didn’t quite believe the tales: “I’ve always doubted, somehow, that Waner drank as much as people say he did. It doesn’t seem to fit; he was too much a durable, consistent type of player, never had an off year until he was past 35,” James wrote in the first edition of his Historical Abstract.
I wish that the six hits with six bats legend had been the legend that had most attached itself to Waner, not the alcohol abuse. Or the legend of PCL batting practice. Or just his actual career, because he truly was one of the greatest hitters of all time. He was the seventh and the eighth hitter in major league history to capture his 3,000th hit. He was a little man playing in a massive ballpark, also Bill James writes that he discovered a fantastic means of slugging. 500 anyhow: “He became the all-time master at shooting for the foul lines, thereby spreading the outfield and making maximum use of the big green pastures. Besides, as he explained, if you hit a line drive to straightaway left field, it either lands for a single or you’re out; if you hit the same ball down the line, it’s either a double or a foul ball, and you’re still hitting. It was an ingenious and effective adaptation to a difficult situation.”
How it is plausible Trout is, indeed, already better: You understand if they retired Waner’s number in Pittsburgh? In 2007, 60 years later he murdered, and eight additional Pirates’ numbers had already been retired. Waner was set at the Hall of Fame at 1952, also invested 15 seasons — also had nearly two,900 strikes — together with all the Pirates. He’s third in franchise history in WAR. And yet! Sixty years that they waited! I’m really convinced that when Trout never has yet another strike, his number will be retired from the Angels in less than six decades. (Also, if Trout never has yet another strike, it might take over 1,000 hitless at-bats until his livelihood percentage drops under Waner’s.) Waner’s best year, by WAR, could be Trout’s eighth-best.
Reggie Jackson: 74.0 WAR (53rd)
How great Jackson has been:
1. ) In 1970, the petulant A’s owner Charlie Finley got it into his head to attempt and embarrass Jackson, first by threatening to demote him to the minors and by ordering his supervisor to seat Jackson against lefties. “Ever since Finley decreed that Jackson be sat down against left-handed pitchers,” Sports Illustrated wrote at the time, “opposing managers have juggled rotations so that the A’s see nothing but lefthanders. Finley may not want Jackson in the lineup, but managers whose teams have to face him want him in it even less.”
If accurate, it may be one of the best tributes to some participant’s skills I’ve ever discovered — an whole rotation jumbled only to receive one hitter from the lineup? Even however that he had been slumping at the moment? That’s a feared hitter. Is it authentic?
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Finley’s decree came around May 19. That Sports Illustrated article had a publish date of June 8, so it was presumably written a few days earlier. The period in between lines up with a five-day stretch in which the A’s faced five left-handed starting pitchers: The Angels’ Clyde Wright and Rudy May, and Cleveland’s Sam McDowell, Barry Moore and Mike Paul. Of the five, there’s a good case that two of them were shuffled around to keep Jackson on the bench: Rudy May, who skipped a superior pitcher and pitched on short rest to start the final game of a series against Oakland; and Mike Paul, a reliever who was inserted into the rotation to face the A’s, pushing Dean Chance (a right-handed rotation stalwart) back a day.
Starting Rudy May worked pretty well. Jackson stayed on the bench until the bottom of the eighth inning, didn’t end up batting in the game, and the Angels held the A’s to two runs (but still lost). Starting Mike Paul didn’t, because Oakland’s manager, John McNamara, gave in that day and started Jackson anyway. In the sixth inning, Jackson hit a game-tying home run and knocked Paul out of the game. For the most part, Finley’s decree was revoked after that.
2. Jackson had 16 seasons with an OPS+ over 120, which is to say, 20% better than the league average (after adjusting for ballpark). That’s the 10th-most such seasons ever. When he retired, he had the sixth-most homers ever.
3. By the time my life caught up to Reggie Jackson’s, he was gray-haired and designated hitting. I never knew that he was once one of the fastest humans alive. He played defensive back for the Arizona State football team and reportedly ran a 6.3-second 60-yard dash. (Billy Hamilton, who could be the quickest major leaguer ever, ran a 6.2-second 60 until he was drafted.) He played a center field in the majors, also for the first half of his career he had been, based on advanced metrics, a nicely above-average defender. He stole 28 foundations as a 30-year old.
You can really see exactly what era does when you take a look at his baserunning. In the initial five decades of his profession, Jackson took the excess base on strikes — moving first to third on singles, scoring from second singles, or even scoring from first on doubles — 54percent of their time. (Trout, who’s fast, takes the excess base 56percent of their time.) In the subsequent five decades, it had been 44%. ) Then the subsequent five decades, 37%. ) In his closing five, 34%. ) For those initial five decades, however, Jackson can do anything.
How it is plausible Trout is, indeed, already better: In Jackson’s own words:
“First of all, I don’t think the Hall of Fame is what it used to be,” Jackson stated evenly,”or exactly what it ought to be. When I believe of this Hall of all Fame I think of someone such as Joe DiMaggio — an impeccable participant, a winner, a class act. Or Willie Mays or Hank Aaron or Roberto Clemente, gamers who may dominate a league or a age. Those are Hall of all Fame players. Now, they are letting in men who’ve been great gamers, sure, but who’ve only existed to get 20 years amassing a great deal of stats. Some of these have not been on winning teams, plus they have only been great, never dominant, not that far over the others. To mepersonally, that they are not Hall of all Fame players.
“I do not wish to knock myself, however when the Hall of Fame is exactly what I think that it ought to be, I’m a borderline situation. I’m a man who should maybe get chosen the next time around. The strikeouts hurt me. The batting average hurts me. Then again, I’ve played some winners, I’ve set up a few numbers and I’ve played in championship matches. That will not hurt me. But I’m shy of this Mayses along with also the DiMaggios, that quality of player. And I understand it.”
He undersells himself. Jackson was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, using plenty of votes to spare. But he is right he’s just shy of this Mayses along with also the DiMaggios, that quality of player. Trout is not. Jackson’s best year, by WAR, could be Trout’s fifth-best.
Up next: Johnny Bench.