Apr 8, 2020 - Sports

Coronavirus may prevent Mike Trout from becoming baseball's home run king

Data: Historical figures and Trout's 2020 projection from FanGraphs, which the author used to project the rest of Trout's career; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

If there's no baseball season in 2020, Mike Trout could lose his best chance at a career year — and it could ultimately keep him from becoming baseball's new home run king.

The state of play: Trout's power numbers (HR and slugging percentage) have steadily increased through his career, while his strikeouts and stolen bases have gone down. That's indicative of a player who understands how to age gracefully — and because he's also a hitting savant, you can understand why he may be headed for a HR boom.

What they're saying: "[Trout] is at the golden nexus of an athlete's life when accumulated wisdom (from 1,199 career games and 22,652 pitches seen) intersects with physical peak," writes SI's Tom Verducci.

  • A healthy and full 2020 would have been "probably his best chance to make a run at 60 home runs."

The big picture: Trout's numbers are hard to project, because he's not human. But Hank Aaron, who began playing at roughly the same age, provides a great comparison, and his 23-season career offers insight into what Trout's future could hold.

  • Setting a baseline: Aaron hit 253 HR in his first eight seasons; Trout hit 280 (not including the five in his pre-rookie season). In four of those eight seasons, their totals deviated by three or fewer, so they're pretty darn comparable in the power department.
  • Aaron's career: Hank played 15 more seasons after that, mashing 502 additional dingers. The first 12 of those seasons showed no drop-off, as he averaged 38 per year, but in his final three (age 40-42), he averaged just 14.
  • Trout's possible future: Let's assume Trout plays 23 seasons like Hammerin' Hank. If he averages the same 38 HR per year for the next 12 seasons, and the same 14 in his final three, he'd finish with 783 dingers — the most all-time.
  • But if we subtract his projected 2020 HR total (46, per Fangraphs), then he's down to 737. Amazing, incredible, and absurd? Yes. New home run king? No.

The bottom line: Ted Williams lost five prime-adjacent years to World War II and Korea, leaving countless accolades on the cutting room floor, and Ken Griffey, Jr., battled injuries through his 30s, depriving him of a real shot at the HR record.

  • If baseball doesn't return until 2021, what will Mike Trout lose?

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