Trout stands alone in a class of his own
Comparing other players to Mike Trout has been part of the national pastime dialogue the last two summers. It was again earlier this week when Trout's Angels played Bryce Harper's Nationals.
I think we should give this topic a rest. It is no longer a productive line of debate. It is not working because it is impossible to find a better all-around baseball player than Trout.
I fully realize that we'll be back at this same issue, hammer and tongs, later this season when the lines of argument start forming for the 2014 American League Most Valuable Player Award. Whether it is Miguel Cabrera, again, or somebody else vs. Trout, the underlying facts probably aren't going to change. One side or the other, sometimes both sides begin to sound like a congressional filibuster. We'll get back to that later.
There were a bunch of Trout/Harper comparisons being tossed around this week at Nationals Park. This was natural enough, in one sense. Two young phenoms. Both declared to be the future of the game. Both Rookies of the Year in 2012. Or, as Trout put it, "the same hype."
In the end, none of this was particularly fair to Harper. He is a terrific young talent who may become everything that the Nationals hope he can be. But he is very noticeably not Trout. This is not a personal shortcoming, because no one else is, either.
At the end of the three-game series this week, one of my colleagues asked: "Why do people keep comparing Bryce Harper to Mike Trout?"
That may have been largely a rhetorical question, but I think we do these things reflexively. We may still have some rungs to climb on the evolutionary ladder. Rather than appreciating an individual player for what he is, we almost automatically compare him to somebody else.
In this case, all that tendency produces is a bunch of people finishing second to Trout. And being second to Trout would be like finishing second in a songwriting contest to Bob Dylan. No disgrace. (Sorry for the Boomer reference, kids, but Dylan remains the Trout of American music-makers.)
There are all sorts of metrics and algorithms that explicate, explain and expand upon Trout's greatness. The Angels don't need them.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked a question this week that requested an analysis of Trout's current work. Scioscia didn't require any statistical assistance.
"I think what we've seen of Mike over the last couple of years is you'll see that tough start to a game where he maybe has a couple of at-bats where their guy makes some pitches on him," Scioscia said. "But he keeps his head in the game and then he'll hit a rocket at the right time to help you win a game.
"So I don't know if we're going to put too much on analyzing too many numbers on Mike. He helps us win in so many ways."
Similarly, it was suggested to Scioscia that perhaps Trout could be considered the game's best player, while Cabrera could be considered the best hitter. That wasn't a compromise that attracted the manager, either.
"Cabrera is a special hitter, no doubt," Scioscia said. "But there's no doubt that Mike can do more as far as running and playing a premium defensive position in center field.
"I think all around there's not many guys who can do what Mike Trout can do. In the batter's box, Miguel Cabrera is special, and Mike's right with him."
I don't want to relive the two-year-old MVP debate, except to note that it does have a certain apples/oranges quality to it.
The argument is littered with numbers supporting the notion that the best player in the AL has been Trout. But the majority of the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America have twice supported Cabrera.
Their vote is based on a strict constructionist's approach to the wording of the award, which is, after all, "Most Valuable," not "Best." Cabrera's team finished first twice. Trout's team finished third twice. Without Cabrera, the Tigers wouldn't have finished first. Without Trout, the Angels might well have finished third.
These are not issues of right or wrong. They are differences of opinion regarding gradations of greatness.
The comparisons will not cease, even though the results may be one-sided. Perhaps we can all get behind the notion that you don't have to be an Angels fan to appreciate how truly extraordinary Trout is.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.