MLB Star Power Index: Mike Trout on track to make WAR history; Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts deserves more love
Trout could become the youngest position player to have a fourth 10-WAR season in modern baseball history
Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index -- a weekly temperature reading that tells us which players are owning the baseball conversation right now. While one's presence on this list is often a positive, it's not necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you're capturing the baseball world's attention for one reason or another. The players listed are in no particular order. Thanks to Brad Botkin and our CBS Sports NBA compadres for letting us borrow the concept.
Let us wallow -- nude and unabashed -- in the fathomless mud of the pigpen of subjectivity. Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts is perhaps the most underrated player in baseball. Notions of underrated or overrated are of course in the eye of beholder -- and in the case of this scribe, that eye is the deep green of redeemable currency.
We're talking about a shortstop who was the consensus No. 2 overall prospect heading into the 2014 season, so the advance billing was there. He got jerked around in terms of playing time early in his big-league career, but since becoming a regular in 2015 he's been one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball. Since the start of the 2018 season, Bogaerts owns an OPS+ of 136 while averaging 29 home runs and 55 doubles (!) per 162 games played. Those are All-Star first baseman outputs at the plate, but Bogaerts is doing it while pinning down the premium position of shortstop. This season, he's on pace to make a run at 30 homers, 50 doubles and 300 total bases. He's also still just 26 years of age.
Again, a premium prospect who becomes the linchpin shortstop for one of MLB's flagship franchises and along the way becomes a world champion should be getting more hosannas than he is, it says here. The Sox of course thought enough of Bogaerts to invest nine figures in him, but that the contract extension of note will very likely turn out to be a notable bargain for the club says it all about Bogaerts.
So, URL-clicker, go forth and apologize to Xander Bogaerts for not saying enough nice things about him. Then commence saying nice things about him. "Imagine something good," you say when asked by the assistant district attorney to account for your whereabouts on the night in question. "That is Xander Bogaerts when it comes to performing baseball-related tasks and duties."
Stop it, DJ LeMahieu. Stop being so adept at your chosen profession.
The Yankees signed LeMahieu in part because of his quality of contact, which looked pretty strong even when his more traditional batting stats didn't. Thus far, their calculated bet has paid off and then some. The Yankees of course endured a Goya exhibit's load of physical trauma early in the season, and LeMahieu's steady production more than anything else pulled them through it. At this writing, he boasts an of 138 with plus defensive numbers at second base.
Relevant to the prevailing objective of Yankee triumphs is that LeMahieu this season has been a board-certified Clutch Sum Buck. At the moment these muscled fingers stroke these most fortunate keys, LeMahieu has an overall OPS of .906. With runners in scoring position, that figure rises to 1.201. It's 1.099 with runners on. It's 1.245 with runners in scoring position and two outs. It's .929 when the game is tied. When it comes to Win Probability Added -- i.e., the cumulative effect of a player on his team's chances to win games -- LeMahieu this season ranks behind just Cody Bellinger, Mike Trout and Christian Yelich. When it comes to the "clutch" metric at FanGraphs, which measures how much a player ramps up his numbers in high-leverage situations, LeMahieu ranks fifth in all of MLB.
When we say "there are clutch performances but not clutch players," we do so with good cause. There's almost no such thing as a player who consistently and over a large sample puts up better numbers in clutch spots than he does in other situations. That's certainly the case for LeMahieu over the whole of his career. However, clutch performances do matter when it comes to determining a player's value in a given season, and LeMahieu's knack for coming up big when it matters most is a necessary part of his story in 2019.
Mike Trout! America's living, breathing 51st state is in vintage form once again in 2019. At roughly the midpoint of the season, he's sitting on 5.2. That puts him on pace to surpass 10.0 WAR for year. Should that come to pass, then Trout will notch his fourth 10-WAR season.
That, as it turns out, is quite rare. Since 1900, just four baseball-ists -- Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Rogers Hornsby and Walter Johnson -- have registered at least four 10-WAR seasons. That's it. Those, of course, are all baseball gods, or least baseball graven images.
The hero of this story, Mr. Trout, is in line to register that fourth 10-WAR season in his age-27 campaign. How does that compare to those aforementioned luminaries? Forthwith:
- Ruth notched his fourth 10-WAR season at age 28.
- Mays had his fourth 10-WAR season at age 32.
- Hornsby was 29 when he reached 10 WAR for the fourth time.
- Johnson, the lone primary pitcher of the group, was in his age-26 season when he got to 10 WAR for the fourth time.
So if Trout keeps this up, he'll become the youngest position player to have a fourth 10-WAR season in modern baseball history. Given that Trout is an elite hitter, adds value on the bases, and also is a plus defender at an up-the-middle position, this isn't particularly surprising. Then again, no one -- not even Ruth -- has done what he's trending toward.
For those curious, Ruth leads all comers with 10 seasons of at least 10 or more WAR (his 1916 season tops 10 WAR thanks to his combined value as a pitcher and hitter). Trout, brilliant as he is, isn't likely to threaten that record, but Trout topples the assumptions of history as often as the rest of us eat an entire cold hot dog pie by ourselves.
Let us now praise Padres rookie shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Tatis in 45 games this season owns a slash line of .327/.398/.583 with nine home runs and 11 stolen bases. He's looked good defensively, and he's taken the extra base a highly impressive 65 percent of the time. Thanks to the hamstring injury that cost him more than a month he's not presently on the NL MVP radar, but on a rate basis he's been one of the best players in baseball this season. Tatis is doing all of this at age 20 and along the way living up to his pre-2019 billing as one of the best prospects in the game.
Tatis' youth, excellence and status as a core member of one of the most engaging teams in baseball make him appointment viewing. Speaking of which, let us hold up to the light a couple of color-television moments gifted to us by Tatis over the last week. First, here's Mr. Tatis dialing it up to 90.3 mph with a rather casual-seeming throw across the infield:
It's not likely we'll soon see Tatis take the mound in a lost cause, but if he can clock 90 while showing signs of almost minimal effort one wonders what he's capable of dialing it up to. We'll say Tatis has a gently used 96-mph fastball in his back pocket, just in case the grid goes down.
Now, peep his chops on the bases:
Tagging up on an infield pop-up? That requires a certain abundance of baseball gallantry. Know who has a certain abundance of baseball gallantry? Fernando Tatis Jr.
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