On August 7, 1991, the uncontested greatest baseball player of his generation was born. Michael Nelson “Mike” Trout was born thirty years ago today, and while the Los Angeles Angels center fielder began his career as a moderately divisive avatar for old school vs. new school statistical proxy wars, even Trout’s most hardened critics were willing to acknowledge that Trout was a generational superstar.

The reserved New Jerseyan is something of an enigma. We know that Mike Trout loves meteorology and the Philadelphia Eagles and very little else, but he was far and away the best player of the 2010s despite not becoming a full-time Major League Baseball player until a month into the 2012 season. For me, the second-most fascinating thing about Mike Trout is his 2012 rookie campaign, when he nearly won American League MVP despite having to compete against Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown season. In that season, Trout stole an MLB-high 49 bases (and was by far the most valuable base runner, by FanGraphs’s measurements), was the third-most defensively valuable outfielder (and probably would have been #2 if not for Peter Bourjos relegating Trout semi-frequently to left field), and was the best hitter by wRC+ among the sport’s qualified hitters. The most fascinating thing is that Trout evolved. He is no longer a high-volume base thief (though he remains quite efficient) and plays a merely passable defensive center field, but Trout developed a Joey Votto-like level of plate discipline about half a decade into his career and turned from a good power hitter to a great one. You know that old story about how Ichiro Suzuki could’ve been a great home run if he wanted? I am utterly convinced Trout could still steal 40 bases a season if he so chose, but why would he? He’s already literally Mike Trout.

Unfortunately, 2021 has been a rough year for Mike Trout. Over the first 36 games of his season, he remained an absurd hitter–BABIP-aided as it might have been, Trout had the highest wRC+ of his career. But unfortunately, injuries have derailed him and Trout is arguably not even the most famous Los Angeles Angel anymore thanks to the emergence of Shohei Ohtani. And speaking as somebody who loves Shohei Ohtani, I feel like I’m cheating on Mike Trout a little bit. Ohtani has a certain 2012 Mike Trout energy to him, though in even more obvious ways. But this isn’t a Shohei Ohtani post, as much as I would be okay with every post I ever do being one. The point is that Mike Trout rocks.

Only five players produced more FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement than Mike Trout before their 30th birthdays, and each is an all-time super-duper-star: Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, and Álex Rodríguez. Four of these players lived and died before the advanced baseball analytics era, with only Rodríguez an exception. While Rodríguez was and is a divisive player among baseball fans (even among fans of the teams on which he played), Trout is unimpeachable. The second Trout becomes eligible, he will cruise into the Hall of Fame.

Most St. Louis Cardinals, even the mega-stars, don’t reach Trout’s level of pre-30 production. Not all (you may have noticed from the previous paragraph’s list), but most. But here is a look at each player who reigns supreme as the pre-30 King at each position for the St. Louis Cardinals and compare his production to that of Mike Trout. Some rate metrics for non-Trout players are estimates due to some calculation limitations for players whose birthdays fall in the middle of the baseball season.

Catcher: Ted Simmons

Simmons: 1499 G, 6215 PA, 1642 H, 170 HR, 125 wRC+, 47.9 fWAR, 6x All-Star

Trout: 1288 G, 5660 PA, 1419 H, 310 HR, 172 wRC+, 78 fWAR, 3x MVP, 9x All-Star

While Yadier Molina has eclipsed Simmons on the all-time FanGraphs WAR leaderboard, this was largely on the strength of his thirties. Simmons, meanwhile, entered the Major Leagues earlier and was barely 31 when his Cardinals career came to an end. By the time August 9, 1979 rolled around, Simba had firmly established himself as a premier If Johnny Bench Weren’t Around We Would Never Stop Talking About This Guy catcher in the National League.

First Base: Albert Pujols

Pujols: 1558 G, 6782 PA, 1900 H, 408 HR, 169 wRC+, 77.3 fWAR, 3x MVP, 8x All-Star

Trout: 1288 G, 5660 PA, 1419 H, 310 HR, 172 wRC+, 78 fWAR, 3x MVP, 9x All-Star

One of the handful of players in baseball history whose twenties can be credibly compared to Mike Trout’s is his former teammate, Albert Pujols, who turned 30 a few months after winning his third NL MVP award. Pujols had a substantial edge by durability–he actually debuted at a slightly older age than Trout, but while Trout went back to the minors for a little while and has had some injuries, Pujols was immediately a basically-healthy superstar. Trout has a slight offensive edge by rate, though his real edge is that he received a substantial WAR bump by the mere act of playing a much tougher defensive position than Pujols, who spent most of his twenties at first base.

Second Base: Rogers Hornsby

Hornsby: 1413 G, 6073 PA, 1939 H, 181 HR, 179 wRC+, 88.5 fWAR, 1x MVP

Trout: 1288 G, 5660 PA, 1419 H, 310 HR, 172 wRC+, 78 fWAR, 3x MVP, 9x All-Star

Don’t let MLB’s lack of All-Star Game or its “you can only win MVP once” rule distract you–Rogers Hornsby was widely regarded as the NL’s best player and correctly so. His offensive numbers remain utterly mind-boggling for any player, but for a strong defensive middle infielder, they are otherwise unprecedented. Hornsby, when he turned 30 in April 1926, was already the St. Louis player-manager en route to captaining the first World Series champion in franchise history, though with the exception of a brief cup of coffee in 1933, his Cardinals career was about to come to an end.

Third Base: Ken Boyer

Boyer: 915 G, 3801 PA, 1011 H, 151 HR, 117 wRC+, 28 fWAR, 5x All-Star

Trout: 1288 G, 5660 PA, 1419 H, 310 HR, 172 wRC+, 78 fWAR, 3x MVP, 9x All-Star

Although Boyer is not in the Rogers Hornsby class (and his five All-Star game appearances came over three seasons, due to the former bi-annual All-Star Games), he had a nice career leading up to May 20, 1961, though in some ways, this was around when his career took off. Boyer’s finest season would come in 1964, when he won National League MVP for the eventual World Series champion Cardinals.

Shortstop: Marty Marion

Marion: 1118 G, 4320 PA, 1027 H, 21 HR, 87 wRC+, 25.9 fWAR, 1x MVP, 2x All-Star

Trout: 1288 G, 5660 PA, 1419 H, 310 HR, 172 wRC+, 78 fWAR, 3x MVP, 9x All-Star

The Cardinals didn’t acquire their all-time iconic shorstop, Ozzie Smith, until he was 27, so they are stuck with Marty Marion here, who to be fair is not a bad contingency plan. Although his 1944 MVP award is one of the most asterisk-y in the history of the award, as he did so as a below-average hitter during the height of World War II departures while not even close to the best player on his own team, it’s still something, and Marion was still a strong defensive shortstop for his era, even if he isn’t on the Trout level.

Left Field: Joe Medwick

Medwick: 1121 G, 4870 PA, 1540 H, 148 HR, 143 wRC+, 38.9 fWAR, 1x MVP, 6x All-Star

Trout: 1288 G, 5660 PA, 1419 H, 310 HR, 172 wRC+, 78 fWAR, 3x MVP, 9x All-Star

Although the emergence of Stan Musial made Joe “Ducky” Medwick a bit more of a historical curiosity for the Cardinals than a revered franchise legend, the 1937 Triple Crown winner was a legitimate franchise legend despite the fact that by the time he turned thirty on November 24, 1941, he was already gone from the Cardinals. But the future Hall of Famer built the bulk of his baseball legacy at Sportsman’s Park.

Center Field: Curt Flood

Flood: 1435 G, 5576 PA, 1494 H, 75 HR, 101 wRC+, 29.6 fWAR, 2x All-Star

Trout: 1288 G, 5660 PA, 1419 H, 310 HR, 172 wRC+, 78 fWAR, 3x MVP, 9x All-Star

Revered more as a person than as a baseball player at this point, Curt Flood was also an exceptional player with the Cardinals. Most of his career played out before he turned 30 in January 1968, and during that time, in addition to his steady and productive offensive profile, Flood was, along with Willie Mays, the greatest defensive center fielder of his era. Flood, who as of last Saturday is the highest-ranked eligible player by Baseball Reference WAR to not have his number retired by the Cardinals, is certainly not as good of a player as Mike Trout historically speaking, but he was absolutely the more important figure.

Right Field: Stan Musial

Musial: 1218 G, 5392 PA, 1624 H, 174 HR, 173 wRC+, 65.5 fWAR, 3x MVP, 7x All-Star

Trout: 1288 G, 5660 PA, 1419 H, 310 HR, 172 wRC+, 78 fWAR, 3x MVP, 9x All-Star

You don’t become Stan Musial without an excellent start, and despite missing a season due to military service in the heart of his twenties, he had one. Because of Trout’s superior defensive value, you kind of have to side with him over Musial, but offensively, Musial was all the way there–he was a superior contact hitter with terrific plate discipline and is rightfully remembered as the franchise’s Man.

Oh, and also the top pitcher before age 30 in franchise history is Dizzy Dean. Bob Gibson, who didn’t really take off until his thirties, ranked second. Both were better pitchers than Mike Trout, who is otherwise incredible.

One thought on “The All-Under 30 St. Louis Cardinals Team

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