Mike Trout has been the consensus best player in baseball for the past several years. But should he be the consensus top pick in fantasy baseball for 2020?
Maybe. Maybe not. What is clear, however, is that the Angels superstar and reigning AL MVP is in the conversation, along with fellow stud outfielders Christian Yelich of the Brewers and Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Braves.
If you’re picking first overall in your fantasy draft -- and your league uses traditional 5x5 rotisserie scoring categories -- you're certainly going to consider Trout. So here are the cases for and against taking him No. 1.
Why you should take Trout with the first pick
Wait, you mean aside from that whole best-player-in-the-game point? Because Trout essentially has held that title since his first full MLB campaign in 2012. Hmmm. OK, we'll dig a little deeper, if you insist.
Since fantasy performance ultimately comes down to a player's numbers, let's look at Trout's. Here are his average season stats in the primary fantasy categories over the past four years -- or since he won his second MVP in 2016:
Batting Average: .307
Runs Scored: 106.5
Home Runs: 36.5
Runs Batted In: 88.8
Stolen Bases: 21.8
Again, and this time with emphasis: Those are Trout's average stats across 2016-19. Those are ridiculous, no doubt, but how about a little context to show just how ridiculous?
Put another way: Not a single player reached Trout's overall totals (.307 AVG, 426 R, 146 HR, 355 RBI, 87 SB) in all five of those categories. Nary a player matched those marks in even four of those stats. And only two players did so in as many as three categories.
That's right: Two. That would be new Dodgers all-around star Mookie Betts, who matched or surpassed Trout in runs (487), RBIs (375) and steals (98) but fell just shy in average (.305) and notably more so in homers (116); and Boston's J.D. Martinez, who made it to Troutian levels in average (.312), homers (146) and RBIs (407), but didn't come close to cutting it in runs (363) or steals (13).
Other than Betts and Martinez, no player from 2016-19 could claim to match Trout's production in more than two of those fantasy categories. Think about that.
If you still need convincing, consider that Trout very much remains smack in the prime of his career at age 28 and is coming off his third MVP as well as career highs in home runs (45) and slugging percentage (.645). In other words, there are no signs of slowing down.
Better yet, Trout once again will inhabit a prime spot in the Angels' lineup, which should be significantly improved thanks to the addition of fellow superstar Anthony Rendon at third base and the returns to health of Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton. That's to say nothing of quality depth courtesy of David Fletcher, Brian Goodwin and Tommy La Stella -- all of whom took steps forward last year -- and oh by the way, the potential arrival of top prospect Jo Adell sooner rather than later.
Yep, there's a heck of a lot to like about Trout's 2020 outlook ...
Why you should avoid Trout with the first pick
… but also perhaps a couple of opposing points to consider, too.
For one, you may not be able to count on 150-plus games of Trout, who has averaged 137 contests across the past two years and only 129 going back to 2017 due to various ailments.
Thing is, the injuries have been more fluky than chronic like, say, a troublesome hamstring or a sore shoulder might be. In 2017, Trout tore his left thumb ligament on a headfirst slide on a stolen-base attempt; in 2018, he dealt with right wrist inflammation, also from a slide; and last year, he underwent right foot surgery in September to remove a neuroma.
Although Trout was the pillar of health early in his career -- he played at least 157 games every year from 2013 to '16 and didn't go on the injured list until '17 -- the past three seasons cannot be ignored.
Relatedly, Trout's recent health history would seem to indicate that there very well could be a lack of stolen bases going forward, especially after last year's right foot surgery. After all, the Angels and new skipper Joe Maddon will want to do everything possible to limit the chances of any future injuries for their best player.
For what it's worth, the most steals by any Cubs player during Maddon's tenure in Chicago was 21 by Javier Báez in 2018. For the previous total north of that on a club with Maddon at the helm, one must go back to the 31 by both Desmond Jennings and Melvin Upton Jr. with the Rays … in 2012.
All of those stolen-base factors could be problematic for fantasy purposes for Trout, who swiped only 11 bags last season, matching 2015 for his fewest in a full season. Because steals continue to decline across the sport, there's a premium on that category in fantasy. If Trout isn't providing, then it automatically brings down his value -- and puts that much more pressure on him to crush the other categories while maintaining his health to the point where he can reach 145 to 150 games played.
The bottom line
Trout's production with the bat is unmatched, both in real life and fantasy. That alone makes him a secure selection with the No. 1 spot. He's just not necessarily a safe selection given his injury issues and potential dropoff in stolen bases. That said, if Trout makes it to 145 games played or more, then he should find his way to enough steals to satisfy, and it's hard to imagine he wouldn't be worth the top take.
Put simply, while almost every other top-notch fantasy player comes with some risk in the traditional 5x5 roto categories, it's not "AVG" or "R" or "HR" or "RBIs" or even really "SB" so much that you have to worry about with Trout. It's "G" -- those precious games played -- instead.