Let’s get this out of the way: Mike Trout couldn’t actually beat another team all by himself. Even if you equip him with a pitching staff, there would be the problem of defense. Trout would presumably have to catch, which means the entire field is open. As for hitting, what happens if he walks or gets a base hit? He has to hit again, but he already would be on base, so unless ghost runners are allowed, that would be a problem as well.
However, let’s ask this: Could Mike Trout out-WAR another team’s entire lineup this season?
Trout is off to a great start. He’s hitting .292/.433/.651 with 11 home runs for the Los Angeles Angels. It’s not quite as good a first month at the plate as last season, when he hit .364/.443/.707 with seven home runs in April, but it will work. The 10 home runs in April tied for the second-most home runs he’s hit in a month -- he had 12 in July 2015 -- and leads the majors in Baseball-Reference WAR (2.5) and trailed only Didi Gregorius and Mookie Betts in FanGraphs WAR (2.2).
Using the Baseball-Reference figure, 2.5 WAR in 30 games -- he’s played every game so far -- prorates to 13.4 WAR over 162 games. That would shatter his previous career best of 10.5 WAR in 2012 and 2016. There are two reasons to buy into the potential for his best season yet: (1) The power spike he showed last season has carried over into the first month (and his average exit velocity has increased); (2) His defensive metrics have been outstanding so far at plus-5 Defensive Runs Saved (he was at minus-6 in 2017). Statcast data shows he has a “catch percentage” of 95 percent, up from 89 percent in 2017, this after saying in spring training that he’s on a mission to win a Gold Glove.
While Trout has been stellar, several teams have been decidedly less so. Four teams began Wednesday with a winning percentage under .300 and another four were under .400. There’s been a lot of bad baseball out there. So, yes, Trout could very easily end up with more WAR than another team’s entire group of position players. Witness some of the team-wide non-pitcher WAR totals:
That’s six teams with fewer WAR than Trout. If you prefer FanGraphs WAR, the Rockies (minus-0.2), Orioles (0.5), Marlins (0.8), Royals (1.2), Padres (1.6) and Rangers (1.7) were all below Trout’s 2.0 figure.
Of course, it’s early. These teams won’t all remain this bad. The Rockies, for example, received 13.2 WAR last season from Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. It seems unlikely Trout will be better than those two plus everyone else in the Rockies lineup (then again, Ian Desmond, Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gonzalez have been so bad that they’re canceling out much of the positive WAR Arenado and Blackmon will provide).
So let’s look back at previous seasons, starting with Trout’s rookie season in 2012.
So it’s not unusual at all to have the best player in a given season produce more value than an entire group. The 2013 season is perhaps instructive of what we may see in 2018, as Trout topped four teams that year. The win-loss record of those four teams that year: Astros, 51-111; Marlins, 62-100; White Sox, 63-99; Phillies, 73-89. The Phillies weren’t as bad, but they actually had a couple of good starting pitchers in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels to boost their record.
As you can see with the 2013 Marlins, it’s even possible for an entire lineup to produce at replacement level (and even more likely for a pitching staff). Giancarlo Stanton led the position players with 2.6 WAR (he played 102 games), but guys like Adeiny Hechavarria (minus-2.1), Rob Brantly (minus-1.7), Chris Valaika (minus-0.7) and Casey Kotchman (minus-0.7, as he went 0-for-20) dragged down the team total. And kudos if you remember Kotchman playing for the Marlins.
We keep trying to find new ways to say how good Mike Trout is. This is another way. He’s more valuable than entire teams.