Mike Trout is on pace to reach Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle territory with historic season

The Major League Baseball season doesn’t begin on opening day. Team records, player stats, all those hot dogs you’ve eaten at games, all of it is meaningless until the day Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout leads the league in WAR.

That notion has gained steam among a small group of baseball fans over the past few years. Why? Because Trout leading baseball in WAR every season is an inevitability. How can fans take the season seriously if the best player on the planet doesn’t lead the league in WAR?

Perhaps that sounds silly. Given how segmented the internet can be, that view isn’t something most baseball fans even know about.

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But it does matter, because Mike Trout knows it’s out there.

“Yeah, I’ve heard it,” Trout told Yahoo Sports. “I hear it all the time, actually. It pops up everywhere on social media.”

The 2019 MLB season officially started Sunday, when Trout tied Los Angeles Dodgers star Cody Bellinger for the WAR lead. The two have wrestled for that top spot over the past couple days.

Unsurprisingly, the 27-year-old Trout is off to yet another tremendous start to his season. Through 65 games, Trout is hitting .286/.457/.613, with 18 home runs.

While his 4.4 WAR is impressive, the fact that he’s battling for the WAR lead again only tells a portion of the story. If Trout can continue tearing up the league like this, 2019 is going to be the best season of his career, and could put him in the same company as baseball legends like Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle.

Mike Trout has had plenty to smile about this season. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Mike Trout has had plenty to smile about this season. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

This isn’t a new development for Trout. No matter how good he’s been in the past, Trout somehow always finds a way to get better. When Trout struggled against high fastballs in 2014, he came back and hit the snot out of them in 2015.

“You gotta know what other teams are trying to do to get you out at the plate on the offensive side and you have to work to get better at it,” Trout said. “I put in a lot of time into that and the results are there.”

When his defense lagged in 2017, Trout went out and posted one his finest defensive seasons ever in 2018.

This season’s improvement hasn’t fully revealed itself just yet. By the end of the year, it could end up being Trout’s focus on eliminating whiffs. His 85.9 percent contact rate is a career best, as is his 4.8 swinging strike rate.

If Trout were a superhero, his power would be adaptability. While that doesn’t sound as appealing as super strength or the ability to fly, it’s an extremely useful trait, both in real-life and in comics. If you keep adapting and improving tiny facets of your game, eventually you have no weaknesses.

That might explain why a portion of baseball fans go wild when it comes to Trout’s WAR. Though he’s established himself as the best player in baseball — possibly ever — those constant improvements are a sign he’s not a finished product yet.

The origin of the notion the MLB season doesn’t begin until Trout leads the league in WAR is murky. It may have started with a 2015 tweet by ESPN’s Sam Miller.

If that tweet didn’t do it, then the idea was at least popularized by Miller and The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh bantering about it on the Effectively Wild podcast over the years.

Trout is well aware he’s linked to the stat. It’s impossible to ignore when people constantly talk about which Hall of Famers he passes in WAR each month. During the season, Trout tries to avoid that stuff. He’s not taking the field actively looking to improve his WAR.

“I go out there and play and whatever the WAR is at the end of the season, that’s what it is. I can’t say I’m going out there like, ‘Hey, I’m trying to get my WAR up tonight,’" he says.

“If I told you it’s a goal, I couldn’t even tell you how to get it.”

In the offseason, Trout spends his time watching his beloved Philadelphia Eagles and filming humorous commercials for BODYARMOR sports drink — like the one featuring a dance off with Andrew Luck Trout has partnered with the company for a few years now. He says the product keeps him hydrated, which is, “The biggest thing for me to perform at a high level.”

It’s also the only time that Trout can take a look at his WAR total and reflect on what it means to be among some of the best players in the history of the game. Seeing his name among that group is “something special.”

He should get that same feeling again this offseason. Trout’s hot start has him on pace for 10.9 WAR. Getting that close to 11 WAR is a pinnacle reached by only a few of the most elite players in MLB history. Guys like Cobb, Mantle, Stan Musial and Ted Williams reside at that level.

Above that lies Babe Ruth, who posted six seasons with at least 12 WAR. Ruth holds the top-four spots on the single-season WAR list, topping out at a record 15 WAR in 1923.

At the rate Trout keeps improving, he’ll be a threat to challenge that number by 2021.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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