Sports | December 31, 2019 11:19 am

Why a First-Ballot Hall-of-Famer Was One of the Decade’s Least Consequential Athletes

Trout has failed to become a household name and most sports fans couldn't pick him out of a lineup

Was Mike Trout One of the Decade's Least Consequential Athletes?
Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels in the dugout. (Andy King/Getty)
Getty Images

When The Associated Press announced its list of the top five male athletes of the decade, LeBron James was first, followed by Tom Brady. Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi and Michael Phelps.

Absent from the list was the best player in Major League Baseball, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout.

First called up to the majors in 2011 as a 19-year-old, Trout has been an All-Star for the past eight seasons, winning a trio of MVP awards along the way.

Despite that, Trout has failed to become a household name, and most sports fans, especially casual ones, couldn’t even pick him out of a lineup.

To test that theory out, SB Nation’s Jon Bois asked his 160,000 Twitter followers if they simply knew who Trout is. Out of the 7,000 respondents, a full third said they were vaguely aware of him or, even worse, had no idea of who he is.

Perhaps one of the reasons not many people are familiar with Trout is that the stat he’s most known for, Wins Above Replacement, is not a traditional one like home runs or RBI despite being a cumulative statistic.

WAR, which measures how many more wins a team won with a given player than they would have with a replacement-level player in his place, is a favorite among new-school baseball execs and Trout the poster child for it.

With a WAR of 72.5 at just 28, Trout is ahead of 68 percent of all players in the Hall of Fame and is likely to surpass all-time greats like Frank Thomas, Reggie Jackson, Joe DiMaggio, and Pete Rose this season. 

In spite of that, Trout gets almost zero recognition despite playing in one of the biggest markets in the United States.

“He’s accomplished the impossible,” Bois writes of Trout. “He’s the greatest player of his generation, he’s played in Los Angeles for nearly a decade, and he’s less famous than every member of the Kars 4 Kids band. Trout’s career is also a case study in how little individual greatness can matter in baseball. In terms of ability, he stands above his peers like Lamar Jackson and LeBron James do. Jackson has transformed his team into the best in the NFL. The NBA orbits around James. Nine years into the Trout era, the Angels have never won a playoff game, and have finished with a losing record in each of the last four seasons.”

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