The 2020 MLB season may have an enormous impact on Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout’s legacy.
The divisions have been decided, the schedules have been set, and it’s now only a matter of time until MLB makes its long-awaited return. Neither a pandemic nor a nasty, public labor dispute could keep the national pastime at bay for more than a few months.
Naturally, there’s a price for baseball’s return, and it comes in the form of a break from the status quo. Teams will play just 60 games apiece this year, more than 100 games less than the usual 162.
And it’s this shortened season that presents itself as a double-edged sword for baseball’s biggest star: Mike Trout.
How will a 60-game MLB season impact Mike Trout’s legacy?
The Los Angeles Angels outfielder has a complicated reputation among baseball fans. Some view him as the second coming of Mickey Mantle, as a man who’s destined to go down as one of the greatest to ever play. Others consider him a stat-padder who plays in a low-pressure market on a low-energy team that has made the playoffs just once in his eight-year career, and it’s the latter label that his been tough for him to shake.
However, the 2020 season presents a unique opportunity Trout to silence his doubters. The shortened schedule has led to a sizeable increase in the Angels’ chances of playing October baseball. Per FanGraphs, the Angels would have had just an 18.3% chance of reaching the playoffs in a 162-game season. For the upcoming 60-game sprint, though, their odds spike to 27.7%. It might not seem like much, but it’s their best preseason mark since 2017.
Playoff berths have been a rarity for the Angels during Trout’s career. In fact, he only has one postseason appearance to his name, a forgettable series against the Kansas City Royals in 2014 in which the then-22-year-old managed just one hit in three games against the eventual pennant winners.
Things are different now, though. Since the start of 2015, Trout has exploded for two AL MVP awards, three additional top-four finishes, and an unimaginable 45.1 wins above replacement. He’s led the league in OPS+ four years running, and he now has a superstar teammate to lighten the offensive load in Anthony Rendon.
There’s nothing not to like about the situation that he’s in. He’s got a strong team around him, he’s about to turn 29, and he’s at his absolute peak. If there was ever a year for him to make the playoffs and do some serious damage, it’s 2020.
But as the shortened season giveth, so too does it taketh away. The 102 games that were cut out of the schedule could cost Trout a shot at a number of statistical records and milestones.
WAR accumulation stands out as one of the most obvious areas where he’ll be hit the hardest. Since his first full season in 2012, Trout has accumulated 72.3 rWAR in 1,159 games, or about 6.3 rWAR per 102 games. While it’s unreasonable to assume that Trout, who plays an average of 145 games per season, would have played all 102 games, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to say that he could have played roughly 90 games.
At his current career pace, missing those 90 games means he likely missed out on about 5.5 rWAR, which doesn’t seem like much until it’s put into context with the legendary players that he’s chasing.
If Trout were to accumulate his current career rWAR total of 72.8 from the start of this season to the end of his age-40 campaign (13 seasons), he’d finish his career with 145.6, putting him just 4.4 wins shy of joining Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, and Ty Cobb as the only position players to ever accumulate 150 or more rWAR. For him to come that close only to miss out because of factors out of his control would be agonizing.
It doesn’t stop there, though. His march towards 600 home runs, a mark only nine players have reached, has also be thrown into doubt. As it stands, Trout needs 15 home runs to reach 300, something he could certainly accomplish this year. But it’s in the latter years of his career that he may run into problems.
Starting next year, he’d need 30 home runs every season for a decade just to reach the 600-club. He’s had no problem blowing past that mark in each of the past three seasons, but one need only take a look at teammate Albert Pujols to recognize that power can be hard to come by in a player’s 30s. Pujols slugged 408 home runs from ages 21 to 30, but just 248 from ages 31 to 40. It’s true that Trout has shown no signs of slowing down, but it’s equally true that Pujols didn’t either.
Perhaps most disappointing, though, is that his pursuit of the 400-home run, 400-steals club may have been dealt a death blow. This and the next couple of seasons to come might have been his last chance to pad his stolen bases numbers before he starts to lose some of his speed to age. With 200 in the bag, 200 left to go, and his 30th birthday lurking just around the corner, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to join Barry Bonds as the second player to ever accomplish the feat.
It’s worth noting that this problem of lost time is nothing new to the baseball world. For decades, fans have reflected on the careers of Hall of Famers such as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, wondering how much greater their already-sterling resumes could have been had they not nobly sacrificed three years each to serve in World War II.
The time they spent away from the game is never forgotten. Instead, it is remembered with a melancholic longing for what could have been.
These are not just 102 games that Trout randomly missed throughout his career due to injury or fatigue. This is the time in which he should be putting up eye-popping numbers, giving himself wiggle room for the pursuit of records in the twilight of his career. This is a long stretch in what is likely his absolute prime, and it’s something that he’s never going to get back.
And years from now, when the sun has set on the career of this generation’s greatest player, it may be hard not to wonder what Mike Trout could have accomplished had he only been able to play those extra 102 games.