The Millville meteor. Kiiiiid. Trouty. God of WAR. The King Fish. No matter what you call Mike Trout, you’ve also called him hands down the greatest player in baseball for almost a decade.

In fact, Trout has ranked first in our ESPN Rankings of the 100 Greatest Players for eight consecutive seasons. The last time a player other than Trout was number one was in 2013, when Trout, then 21, was third behind Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.

But after a sub-standard 2020 season combined with the fact that he will turn 30 years later this season, the window for another superstar to take Trout’s throne is starting to open.

With that in mind, we asked five of our MLB experts to recruit a player they believe could compete for the title of best baseball player and make the strongest case for that player taking the crown in 2021. We then enlisted our own judge Jeff Passan to weigh in on the cases with his final decision on which stars could really top Mike Trout as the best in MLB, and when they could.


Christian Yelich

Last 162 games:

Yelich: .288 BA, .974 OPS, 43 HR, 88 RBI, 116 R, 31 SB, 6.8 WAR
Trout: .288 BA, 1.052 OPS, 56 HR, 134 RBI, 9 SB, 9.4 WAR

Arguments in favor of Yelich: You may have forgotten how great Yelich has been in Milwaukee after his poor season in 2020, but he’s the only player who can match Trout’s stats for stats at the plate during the previous two seasons.

While Trout led the American League in OPS + in 2018 and 2019, Yelich was doing the same in the National League. In fact, his 343 total bases in 2018 are more than Trout has had in a single season. Throw in two batting titles and 52 stolen bases over those two years, and Yelich is outscoring everyone in the career, including Trout. They also both have a first and second place in MVP voting during that time frame. And Yelich’s .807 OPS against left-handed pitchers is in the top 10 for left-handed hitters for the past 40 years.

Now, all we have to do to win this debate is rule out 2020. If you can’t, how else can you explain the bad seasons Javier Báez, JD Martínez, José Altuve, Eugenio Suárez and a host of other players in the short season. Last year should not affect this debate. – Jesse Rogers

Judge Jeff Passan says: Trout didn’t suck in the short season. Neither did Juan Soto or Mookie Betts or Fernando Tatis. Being the best is not about years of excellence. It is a constant and sustained greatness.

Since we are in the spirit of throwing things away, maybe we will start with this case. Motion denied.


Ronald Acuña Jr.

Last 162 games:

Acuna: .272 BA, .917 OPS, 47 HR, 107 RBI, 43 SB, 6.8 WAR
Trout: .288 BA, 1.052 OPS, 56 HR, 134 RBI, 9 SB, 9.4 WAR

Arguments in favor of Acuña: With three years of Major League Baseball under his belt, all signs point to Acuña putting it all together, which, for him, would give him an unrivaled variety of standout numbers.

With Cristian Pache taking over at CF, Acuña won’t have to spend as much time rotating between positions. For the past three years, he has had better defensive numbers than Mookie Betts as a right fielder, on a prorated basis. He is one of the few talents who could well lead his league in both home runs and steals this season. In fact, assuming his unlucky BABIP from last season picks up, he should be on the bases often enough for a 40/40 season in an elite team lineup with Golden Glove defensive metrics.

Acuña is the next 10 WAR player in baseball, and at the age of 23, he could sit at that level for at least the next decade, a time during which Trout will arrive well into his 30s. – Bradford Doolittle

Judge Jeff says: The 10-win corner fielder’s story looks like this: Betts in 2018, improved seasons by Bonds and Sammy Sosa, let’s go back more than three decades to Carl Yastrzemski twice, one year for Stan Musial, three for Ted Williams and eight for Babe Ruth. That is all. The 10-win threshold is incredibly difficult for any player, and exponentially more so for one who plays in a corner.

Acuña’s strikeout rate has also gone in the wrong direction, jumped to almost 30% last year, and despite all the damage he does when he hits the ball, he is not hitting it enough right now to make up for that deficiency. from bat-to-ball. Like Soto and Tatis, he has time on his side and may still be the best of baseball’s Triple Crown players. But even in his year close to 40/40, Acuña didn’t even hit six WAR. Ten? There are simply too many things that he needs to improve in order to outperform his teammates, much less Trout. Motion denied.


Fernando Tatis Jr.

Last 143 games (Tatis has only played 143 career games so far this season):

Trout: .289 BA, 1.067 OPS, 52 HR, 123 RBI, 6 SB, 8.5 WAR
Tatis: .301 BA, .956 OPS, 39 HR, 98 RBI, 27 SB, 6.5 WAR

Arguments in favor of Tatis: Let’s see: he’s a spokesperson for Gatorade and Adidas, the cover athlete for one of Major League Baseball’s iconic video games, owner of a $ 340 million contract, and will only be 22 years old all year. Tatis has yet to record a full season in terms of number of matches, and yet it is very clear that he is already on the brink of becoming the ultimate athlete in his sport. The urge is too strong to ignore.

In 143 games, most of them played before he was of legal drinking age, Tatis has a stat line of .301 / .374 / .582 with 71 extra-base hits, 27 stolen bases and 6.5 wins over replacement according to FanGraphs. Those are MVP numbers in any season. In 2020, a year in which the logistics of playing during a pandemic sapped the output of some of the best position players in the game, Tatis became a more patient hitter, throwing pitches within the top 1% of the industry. He also became an elite defender in a privileged position, leading all shortstops in outs above average.

Yes, he’s insanely cool and has the kind of flair for the dramatic that only Trout could rival. But it’s also very, very good at a very young age. And by the time his first full season ends, we could be saying that Tatis is already the best there is. – Alden González

Judge Jeff says: If this court made arguments for the best spokesperson or the face of baseball, yeah sure, this would work. But if the case starts with sports drinks and sneakers, there is a reason. And that reason is that there is not enough statistical basis to support the idea that Tatis is at the level of Trout. His greatness isn’t just about 10-win seasons – only Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Rogers Hornsby have more than their three on record – but their consistency. Trout is great every year. Tatis has been great for a couple of midseason bursts.

Everything is there for him to become the best. He has the bat. Play in the correct position. It is dynamic on the trails. Demonstrates the ability to adapt and improve. Tatis’s ceiling may be the highest of all. But this is about 2021, for each of the last eight full years, Trout’s WAR has been higher than the 6.5 Tatis has achieved in his career. Motion denied.


Mookie Betts

Last 162 games:

Betts: .296 BA, .928 OPS, 38 HR, 96 RBI, 147 R, 23 SB, 7.9 WAR
Trout: .288 BA, 1.052 OPS, 56 HR, 134 RBI, 9 SB, 9.4 WAR

Arguments in favor of Betts: The argument goes back to Mookie’s time in Boston that if we lived in a world where Mike Trout just didn’t exist, the conversation about the greatest player of this generation would start and end with Mookie Betts.

Betts is one of those players who not only passes the stats test, but also the eye test. Since his rookie year in 2014, Betts has posted the second-most fWAR among active players with 40.2 fWAR, ahead of Anthony Rendón (34.3), Josh Donaldson (34.2) and José Altuve (32.7), and only behind Trout, who leads with 54.7 fWAR.

Betts has a huge impact on the field in every game through his Gold Glove defense, a big hit with the bat or a smart play on the bases. And while his stats speak to the world of his greatness on the field, it’s not until you look at the Dodgers outfielder on a daily basis that one can really get a sense of his immense impact on a winning baseball team. – Joon Lee

Judge Jeff says: The problem with the if-Trout-didn’t-exist argument is that it does. By the time Betts made it to the majors, Trout had already finished second in MVP voting twice, and would win the award that season. In just one full season, Betts surpassed Trout’s WAR total, and that was a year in which Trout had 10.2 wins. He plays a more important position than Betts. He’s a better hitter than Betts.

And all of this is fine. Betts is going to be a member of the Hall of Fame. It is the lynchpin of the Dodgers. It’s worth every penny of the $ 365 million extension you signed. Admittedly, he had a better 2020. But when you’ve had seven years to surpass Trout and you haven’t, there simply isn’t enough evidence to support the premise. Motion denied.


Juan Soto

Last 162 games:

Soto: .309 BA, 1.047 OPS, 41 HR, 120 RBI, 131 R, 15 SB
Trout: .288 BA, 1.052 OPS, 56 HR, 134 RBI, 9 SB, 9.4 WAR

Arguments in favor of Soto: The OBP is life. Trout’s most valuable skill is his ability to get on base, with a career OBP of .418 and a best season of .460 in 2018. Soto has a career OBP of .415 (topping .400 each of his three seasons), including a ridiculous one. 490 in 2020. The last qualified hitter with such a high OBP was Barry Bonds. Before Bonds, it was Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle, in 1957. When you hit like Soto, you can be the best player in the game even if you don’t play in between, like Bonds or Williams. – David Schoenfield

Judge Jeff says: As long as we’re talking about three-letter acronyms, lawyer, maybe we should focus on the OAA, DRS, and UZR. They are all defensive metrics, and the OAA in particular does a good job of measuring an outfielder’s value on the field. Soto was two runs below average in 2020, good for 92nd among qualified outfielders. Not that he’s a disaster on defense, his OAA was strong in 2019, and yet to be the best baseball player, standing out in all facets of the game is a must too. And no one will mistake Soto for a trail threat in the short term, either.

If Soto is so much better than everyone else at the plate for a full season, maybe his bat can outperform his glove and legs, and Trout. Remember, before Trout came along, the best baseball players in 2001-2009 were a couple of guys who just used bat: Bonds and Albert Pujols. Even if he doesn’t usurp Trout this year, Soto can live with the title of best hitter in baseball, which is a huge consolation prize for a 22-year-old. Motion granted.