Mike Trout can't be duplicated. But can his value be approximated?
That's not a job for any one existing player. Instead, we must head into the laboratory to piece together a "super-player" who combines the best traits of multiple stars. And even using this experimental procedure to splice together a "monstrous" ballplayer, matching Trout's expected 2018 production is a tough task.
Before we get to that process, consider the degree to which the Angels' center fielder has separated himself from the pack. The Steamer projections peg Trout for an MLB-high 8.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), per FanGraphs. That puts him ahead of his closest challengers by a margin of roughly 40 percent, with Kris Bryant (6.1), Francisco Lindor (5.9), Josh Donaldson (5.9) and Bryce Harper (5.8) next on the list.
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Video: Trout projected to be almost 'super' next season
It's not difficult to see why. Only Ty Cobb has generated more WAR than Trout through his age-25 season. Trout's 53.7 WAR since 2012 (his first full year) is 16.6 ahead of any other player during that time. In each of those seasons, he finished either first or second in the Majors, with the exception of his injury-shortened 2017.
2012: 10.3 WAR (2.6 ahead of Buster Posey)
2013: 10.5 WAR (2.1 ahead of Andrew McCutchen)
2014: 7.9 WAR (1.1 ahead of McCutchen)
2015: 8.9 WAR (0.6 behind Harper)
2016: 9.2 WAR (0.9 ahead of Bryant)
2017: 6.9 WAR* (1.3 behind Aaron Judge)
*On pace for 9.6 WAR over 158 games
Video: Despite injury, Trout put up MVP-caliber stats in '17
Looking ahead to 2018, here is how Trout projects in terms of hitting, baserunning and fielding, according to Steamer (with all projections rounded to the nearest whole number):
• 60 batting runs
• 3 baserunning runs
• 0 defensive runs (including positional adjustment)
That's a total of 63 runs above average, which is the basis for Trout's projected 8.4 WAR. (Long story short: 8.4 WAR essentially equates to 84 runs above replacement, and league and replacement-level adjustment are used to go from 63 runs above average to 84 runs above replacement. For this exercise, we are only concerned with the 63 runs above average. Onward.)
And now, to our laboratory to build Trout a challenger, with an assist from Steamer:
Step 1: Start with Giancarlo Stanton's bat
Trout owns an enormous edge in the batting runs projections, which makes sense. Just four qualified players since 2012 -- including Judge in '17 -- have posted a higher single-season Weighted Runs Created-Plus (wRC+) than Trout's overall mark of 172 during that span.
Steamer has Stanton second behind Trout in batting runs in 2018, posting 44.8 in his Yankees debut to edge Harper (42.0). Stanton is projected to easily lead the Majors in home runs (52) and slugging (.641), but with an on-base percentage (.376) nearly 60 points lower than Trout's.
Video: How will Judge, Stanton play together in 2018?
Still, the slugger's big bat will provide a solid base for our super player -- and make him a must-watch Statcast™ star.
Subtotal: 45 runs from Stanton
Step 2: Add Billy Hamilton's wheels
Trout isn't an elite speedster, but he isn't far off. Though he hasn't matched his 2012 output (49 steals, 14.1 baserunning runs) since then, his 31 baserunning runs during the past five seasons ranks fourth in MLB. That reflects not only his stolen-base efficiency, but also his ability to take extra bases and avoid hitting into double plays.
However, nobody can come close to matching Hamilton's 46.1 baserunning runs since 2013, despite the Reds center fielder averaging 107 games during that time. That's why Hamilton sits atop Steamer's baserunning projections at 5.5 runs, even though Byron Buxton took the crown in '17.
The projection calls for Hamilton to finish third in the Majors with 44 steals, trailing only Trea Turner (49) and Dee Gordon (45), and excel in the other aspects of baserunning. That's to be expected for a player who finished a close second in Sprint Speed as measured by Statcast™ last year.
Stanton: 45 runs
Hamilton: 6 runs
Subtotal: 51 runs from Stanton and Hamilton
Step 3: Finish with Kevin Kiermaier or Andrelton Simmons' glove
There are two potential paths here, one to make a super player who mans the same position as Trout, and another who is stationed elsewhere.
Advanced metrics have seen Trout as close to average in center field during his career, with +4 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and -2.2 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Throw in the positive positional adjustment, because center field is a challenging job, and that gives him nearly 10 runs of total defensive value -- but with a slight negative value since 2015. Though one could quibble with these advanced metrics, Trout also has posted -6 Outs Above Average (OAA) during the past two seasons, according to Statcast™.
So this is where our super player has a chance to make up significant ground.
For the apples-to-apples comparison, Steamer puts Kiermaier first in defensive runs saved among outfielders, at 11.8. The two-time Gold Glove Award winner hasn't repeated his spectacular 2015 numbers (42 DRS, 30 UZR) but still flashed some impressive leather last year (22 DRS, 2.8 UZR), when he also ranked sixth among outfielders with 12 OAA despite playing only 97 games in the field.
Video: TB@NYY: Kiermaier makes a terrific diving grab
Total: 63 runs from Stanton, Hamilton and Kiermaier
Kiermaier's glove gets us to Trout's projection. But we can do a bit better if our super player moves further up the defensive spectrum to shortstop.
That's where Trout's teammate comes in. Simmons is a three-time Gold Glove winner whose career total of 134.1 defensive runs saved is nearly 50 percent higher than any other player's since 2012. Simmons' projected 18.4 defensive runs saved for 2018 would be his lowest mark in a full season but still beats out Francisco Lindor (17.9) for the highest in MLB.
Total: 69 runs from Stanton, Hamilton and Simmons
Finally, we have created a player arguably better than Trout -- although a difference of roughly six projected runs (0.6 WAR) could hardly be described as definitive.
That just goes to show the special place Trout occupies. After all, we took one of baseball's most overpowering sluggers, gave him elite speed and made him a potentially all-time great defensive shortstop.
Still, going by the projections, our lab-perfected super player came out, at best, slightly ahead of Trout.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.