The ink has yet to dry on Mike Trout’s $430 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Angels, and yet people are already saying he is underpaid.
It was surprising to see the Angels spend big money on Trout, especially after their last two big signings were flops. Albert Pujols never lived up to the numbers he was projected to have. Josh Hamilton was just unable to stay sober to let his talents match his contract. Most recently Shohei Ohtani had surgery on his arm midway through his rookie year.
The Angels have had bad luck with free agency and have not made the playoffs since 2014. They have not won a playoff series since 2009.
Trout, 27, is considered the best player in baseball, hands-down. His resume includes two American League MVPs, seven All-Star appearances and six Silver Slugger awards.
Baseball, like most major sports, has fallen victim to the analytics and what they show. That’s how players are valued now. The latest trend in analytics for Major League Baseball is wins above replacement (WAR). Trout’s WAR percentage is 64.9 , which puts him in some very infamous company that includes Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Rogers Hornsby and Jimmie Foxx. Babe Ruth is 13th on the list, with a WAR percentage of 45.4, according to FanGraphs, a website for statistics for Major League Baseball and Minor League baseball, with statistical analysis, graphs, and projections.
Those are some of the all-time great players in Major League Baseball history. The gamehas changed and evolved, so let’s compare Trout to some modern players. In his first season in 2013, Trout played more than 150 games. His war was 54.1. In second was Josh Donaldson with 35.7. Trout averages 9.0 WAR a season, meaning he alone is worth nine victories a season. Two other players have only done this once, Bryce Harper in 2015 and Mookie Betts in 2018. They both were MVP seasons.
WAR is valued at $9 million a game, on average. But that number goes up with division games and playoffs, making WAR value more than $35 million for a division playoff game. These numbers are not universal, because not all teams are valued the same.
So if Trout moved to another team in a big market, his value could easily double or triple. The truth of the matter is that his value cannot be truly measured. Until the Angels make a deep playoff run with this once- in-a-generation talent, that won’t be known.
The money spent on Trout does not leave a lot of room for the franchise to add more big-name players around him. Time will tell if it is worth it to pay all that money for one player, or if teams are better off building from their farm system.
WAR is not a perfect statistic and can be manipulated by changing the criteria. But it’s clear to say that Trout may be underpaid when he’s $70 million shy of being paid half a billion dollars to play a game.