#7-11: 8, 9, and 10 WAR SEASONS
For this installment we'll combine several variations on the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric with regards 8, 9, and 10 WAR seasons, each of which deserves its own entry as Amazing Trout Stats. But first, some context. If you want to skip to the five Amazing Trout Stats, they're summarized at the end.
8+ WAR And What It Means Historically
One of the things I like about WAR, and probably why it has become so ubiquitous in baseball discussion, is that it is a statistic that factors in everything a player does, and represents it with a single number that has representational meaning. As a general rule, a 2-3 WAR player is an average regular. Or more exactly, the median among all qualifying players in a given year is around 2.7 WAR. 3-4 are good players, 4-5 are borderline stars, 5-6 all-star caliber, and somewhere between 6 and 7 WAR transitions into superstars, with 7 WAR and above being bonafide MVP candidates.
If a player has an 8 WAR or above, he’s a candidate for the best player in the majors. But 9 WAR is where we get to truly special seasons, and 10 WAR is historic.
From 1871 through 2019—a span of 149 years of recorded data—there have been 15,444 qualifying player seasons. Of those, only 54 have been 10 WAR or higher; 140 have been 9 WAR or higher and 277 8 WAR or higher. Meaning, historically speaking, there’s been about one 10 WAR season every three years, one 9 WAR season per year, and two 8+ WAR seasons a year.
But what about recently? Over the last decade, 2010-19, there have been four 10 WAR seasons, nine 9+ WAR seasons, and twenty-two 8+ WAR seasons.
Or to sum up: A 9 WAR season happens usually only about once per year, or a bit less. There are two, occasionally three, 8 WAR seasons in a given year.
For the sake of context, here are the numbers for the last decade, including all 4,466 player seasons with at least 100 PA:
WAR Distribution 2010-19 (100+ PA)
10 WAR: 4 (one every 0.4 years)
9 WAR: 9 (one every 0.9 years)
8 WAR: 22 (2.2 every year)
7 WAR: 53 (5.3 per year)
6 WAR: 115 (11.5 per year)
5 WAR: 238 (23.8 per year)
4 WAR: 440 (44 per year)
3 WAR: 764 (76.4 per year)
2 WAR: 1320 (132 per year)
1 WAR: 2160 (216 per year)
0 WAR: 3400 (340 per year)
Negative WAR: 1066 (106.7 per year)
Why 100 PA? Because that cuts out just about every NL pitcher, and it also is a solid, if arbitrary, number to represent any player who spent significant time in the major leagues. Of those 4466 player seasons, only 1429—about a third—are qualifying (502 PA), but 100 PA is as good a number as any to represent “major leaguer,” whether full or part time, injured or healthy.
To put that in context, 8 WAR seasons represent just under half a percent (0.49%) of all player seasons with at least 100 PA—or one out of every 200 major leaguers (100+ PA). Among qualifiers, it is 1.54%. 9 WAR seasons are even more rarified: 0.2% of 100 PA seasons, or 0.63% of qualifiers. 10 WAR? 0.09% of 100 PA, 0.28% of qualifers.
So we’re in rare company, indeed, when we get to 8 WAR.
10 WAR has a certain magic to it, but the vast majority of those were distributed in the first half of major league history, as single season WAR has tightened up, probably due to higher quality of competition (meaning, there are fewer outliers). Remember that Babe Ruth only faced seven different pitching staffs in every year of his career, staffs that relied on starters pitching most or all of the game, without fresh relievers and specialists coming in later in the game. Or let's look at it visually:
Ruth is the only player to surpass 13 WAR, which he did four times, including a ridiculous 15.0 in 1923 (that lone green box way up above everything else). He has two more 12 WAR seasons, with Barry Bonds (twice), Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby filling out the ranks of the ten 12 WAR seasons.
What about 11 WAR? There have been 25 in all, but from 1949 to the present--the last 71 years--there have been only seven such seasons: two by Mickey Mantle in the 1950s, one by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, one by Joe Morgan in 1975, and three by Barry Bonds in the early 2000s. The point being, aside from Bonds’ asterisked later years, there hasn’t been an 11 WAR season since 1975—that’s 45 years ago. This, again, is likely due to the wider distribution of talent.
As I said earlier, there’s been about one 9 WAR per season historically, although in the latter half the rate has gone down to about one every year. In other words, 9 WAR is quite special. If you reached 9 WAR, chances are you were the best player that year. If you reach 8 WAR, you're one of the two or three best. If you reach 7 WAR, you're great--an MVP candidate--but probably not the best player in the game.
What About Trout?
But this series is about Mike Trout, right? All of the above is context to, once again, highlight just how amazing #27 is. Trout has played eight full years, although in one (2017) he missed significant playing time, appearing in only 114 games, but just enough to qualify (507 PA). In seven of those eight seasons, he surpassed 8 WAR. In five seasons, 9 WAR, and in two seasons, 10 WAR (Baseball Reference is slightly different, giving him six, four, and three, respectively).
What that means brings us to this amazing statistic, the first of our Amazing Trout Statistics:
#7a - Share of Great Seasons (1901-2019): Mike Trout accounts for two (or 3.7%) of the 54 10 WAR seasons, five of the 140 9 WAR seasons (3.6%), and eight of 277 8 WAR seasons (2.9%). In other words, Trout alone has contributed one out of every 29 or so truly great seasons in major league history, plus or minus a few, depending upon which benchmark you use.
#7b - Share of Great Seasons (1970-2019): If we narrow to the last half century, when the outliers diminished greatly, Trout's accomplishments are even more impressive: Two of 13 10 WAR seasons (15.4%), five of 48 9 WAR seasons (10.4%), and eight of 110 8 WAR seasons (7.3%).
There are many ways to slice the cake, all of which very favorable for Trout.
How many players in major league history have a similar resume of great seasons? Well, this brings us to three more Amazing Trout Stats:
#8 - Players with seven 8 WAR seasons: Ruth and Willie Mays 11 each, Bonds 10, Honus Wagner, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams 8, Eddie Collins and Mike Trout 7 each.
#9 - Players with five 9 WAR seasons: Ruth 10, Hornsby and Bonds 8 each, Mays 7, Wagner, Williams, and Alex Rodriguez 6 each, Collins, Ty Cobb, and Trout 5 each.
#10 - Players with two 10 WAR seasons: Ruth 9, Hornsby 6, Bonds 5, Mays and Williams 4 each, Cobb and Mantle 3 each, Wagner, Gehrig and Trout 2 each.
Look at that list—every single one of them (in bold-face)--except for Trout--are in the top 14 of career WAR:
- Babe Ruth 168.4
- Barry Bonds 164.4
- Willie Mays 149.9
- Ty Cobb 149.3
- Honus Wagner 138.1
- Hank Aaron 136.2
- Tris Speaker 130.4
- Ted Williams 130.4
- Rogers Hornsby 130.3
- Stan Musial 126.8
- Eddie Collins 120.5
- Lou Gehrig 116.3
- Alex Rodriguez 113.7
- Mickey Mantle 112.3
47. Mike Trout 73.4
And now for the fifth in this installment:
#11 - The Sacred Seven: Trout is one of only seven players in baseball history who reached all three benchmarks -- along with Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Barry Bonds
Meaning, Trout is one of seven players--arguably the seven greatest in baseball history--to reach all three benchmarks. Collins, Cobb, Gehrig, and Rodriguez miss the cut in at least one category.Perhaps even more impressive is who is notably absent from any of the three benchmarks, inner circle Hall of Famers such as Hank Aaron, Tris Speaker, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Mike Schmidt, Rickey Henderson, Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan, Jimmie Foxx, and everyone else.
In other words, in terms of the number of MVP caliber or better seasons, Trout has—through only his age 27 season—established himself among the very best of the best. And at 28 this year, he’s far from finished. Among other feats of prowess, he has a good chance of becoming only the fourth player with double-digit 8 WAR seasons (along with Ruth, Bonds, and Mays).
SUMMARY OF AMAZING TROUT STATS #7-11:
#7a - Share of Great Seasons (MLB History): Among 12,991 qualifying seaons from 1901 to 2019, or 119 years, Mike Trout accounts for two of the 54 10 WAR seasons (3.7%), five of the 140 9 WAR seasons (3.6%), and eight of 277 8 WAR seasons (2.9%). In other words, Trout alone has contributed one out of every 29 or so truly great seasons in major league history, plus or minus a few, depending upon which benchmark you use.
#7b - Share of Great Seasons (Modern Era): Among 6,988 qualifying seasons from 1970-2019, or 50 years, Trout has contributed two of 13 10 WAR seasons (15.4%), five of 48 9 WAR seasons (10.4%), and eight of 110 8 WAR seasons (7.3%).
#8 - 8 WAR Seasons: He's one of only nine players with seven 8 WAR seasons.
#9 -9 WAR Seasons: He's one of only ten players with five 9 WAR seasons.
#10 - 10 WAR Seasons: He's one of only ten players with 10 WAR seasons.
#11 - Combination of 8-9-10 WAR Seasons: He's one of only seven players with least seven 8 WAR seasons, five 9 WAR seasons, and two 10 WAR seasons.