Regardless of your views on this year’s MVP race, the triple crown, or WAR, there’s no denying that Mike Trout’s season was absolutely one for the ages. But for a change of pace, let’s shift our focus from comparing him to his contemporaries this year, and let’s look at how Trout stacks up against every other 20-year-old in baseball history. Below is a list of the five best 20-year-old seasons in history:
5. Ted Williams (1939): As a 20-year-old, the Splendid Splinter led the league in RBI (145) and Total Bases (344) in his rookie season, as well as tallying 107 walks against 64 strikeouts. It’s also hard to believe that his line of .327/.436/.609 was substantially below his career average of .344/.482/.634 (of note, his career on-base percentage of .482 is the highest in baseball history). He finished 4th in the 1939 MVP voting behind Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, and a 20-year-old Bob Feller, who would have been #6 had this list continued (24 wins and 24 complete games; both league-leading marks).
4. Mel Ott (1929): Ott was practially a veteran by the time his Age-20 season rolled around; it was his fourth year in the league, and started with 35 games as a 17-year-old in 1926. Ott was a rare breed for the time: a power hitter with a great eye at the plate. As a 20-year-old, Ott hit 42 home runs (second in the NL), only struck out 38 times, and lead the league in walks with 113 (it wasn’t even close: he had a full 20 more than second place George Grantham). He placed 11th in NL MVP voting that year.
3. Alex Rodriguez (1996): I frequently forget all the talent that the Mariners had in 1996 alone: they had a 26-year-old Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod in his breakout season, Edgar Martinez as a DH, and Randy Johnson firing 100 mph fastballs (though he was hurt for most of 1996). They even traded away a young David Ortiz to the Twins in September of that year! Rodriguez led the AL that year in total bases (379), batting average (.358), doubles (54), and runs (141). He finished second to Juan Gonzalez in a close MVP vote that I think every BBWAA voter would like to have back for a re-do…
2. Mike Trout (2012): There’s not much of his season that needs to be rehashed in this place, so I won’t waste your time. A brief summary: led the league in runs (129), stolen bases (49, and only caught 5 times), and OPS+ (171). He missed the batting title by .004, hit 30 home runs, and played highlight reel defense in center field. Trout was the unanimous selection for Rookie of the Year, and of course finished second to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera for MVP.
1. Dwight Gooden (1985): If anyone can challenge Trout’s top spot on this list, it’s the absurd season Gooden put up in his second year in the big leagues. As a twenty-year-old, Gooden put up one of the greatest seasons of all time, capped by a 24-4 record, 1.53 ERA, 16 complete games, 268 strikeouts, and an ERA+ of 229, all of where were league-leading numbers. And for all the talk of WAR as a stat in regards to Trout vs. Cabrera, Gooden managed to turn in the second highest single-season bWAR of the liveball era with 13.0, only 0.7 behind Babe Ruth in 1923. The righty won the Cy Young unanimously that season, and took 4th in the final MVP voting behind Willie McGee, Dave Parker, and Pedro Guerrero.