It's the last Saturday in March 2013. The Mayans weren't right. Even better, since it's 2013 you're now free of all of those stupid Mayan jokes that by November made 2012 unbearable. In your start over, A.L.-only auction league, the guy who has the first call decides to get it out of the way early and calls out Mike Trout.
What's your bid limit?
I don't put my bid limits together until mid-to-late January so I haven't thought too hard about where I'd have Trout ranked. Instinctively, though, I would think that Trout would be in my Top 5 easily...and there's a good chance he'd be #1.
A few other experts are making the case that putting too much of an investment on Trout next year would be a huge mistake. He is bound to regress, and if he does regress and you pay full sticker price you will be sorry.
History does tell us that there's a good possibility that Trout won't repeat as the top earner in A.L.-only in 2013. However, I'd still put a big bid limit on him for a few reasons that make him seem like a slam-dunk.
Trout wasn't in the bigs all year
This point seems obvious, yet his detractors seem to be forgetting that Trout started 2012 in the minors. He's on pace to earn $47 this year...but this doesn't take into account the portion of the season Trout missed. Take those $47 earnings, project them over the course of a full 2012 to date and Trout is suddenly a $54 - not a $47 - player. If he's going to slip next year - and he probably will - there's still room for some pretty robust numbers in there.
History is on his side
Over at Baseball HQ, Ron Shandler brings up some solid examples of players that had career years and haven't been the same since. Derrek Lee in 2005. Ryan Howard in 2006. Joe Mauer in 2009. Carlos Gonzalez in 2010.
However, while all of these are good examples of players that have failed to produce numbers close to their career years, here are the ages and adjusted OPSs of the quartet in those seasons:
Lee: 29 years old, 174 OPS+
Howard: 26, 167
Mauer 26, 171
Gonzalez 24, 143
Trout falls between Howard and Mauer with a 169 adjusted OPS. He's also not a seasoned veteran but a 20-year-old phenom. If the season had ended last night, Trout would have the highest adjusted OPS at Age 20 ever. Here is the rest of the Top 10:
2) Ty Cobb 167
3) Mel Ott 165
4) Mickey Mantle 162
5) Al Kaline 162
6) Alex Rodriguez 161
7) Ted Williams 160
8) Rogers Hornsby 150
9) Dick Hoblitzell 143
10) Frank Robinson 143
While Trout could go the Hoblitzell route, it's more likely that he's going to follow the path of the other eight players on this list and become one of the all-time greats.
Trout's skill set helps him out in Roto
With the exception of Gonzalez, the hitters that Shandler cites above derived most of their value from the non-SB categories. And I do agree with the idea that paying for a repeat of a monster HR/RBI season is a bad idea and paying for a BA repeat is a terrible idea.
Trout's steals, though, aren't going away. He has stolen 45 bases in 49 attempts this year. Barring an injury, Trout is going to steal a lot of bases. Thirty-two percent of his Roto earnings this year have come via the stolen base. Which outcome do you believe is more likely: that Trout stops stealing bases at Age 21 or that he maintains in steals or becomes even more of a force? I'd bet on the latter.
Even if Trout does slip, he's still going to be a big-time earner
For the sake of argument, let's say that Trout is only 80% as good in 2013 as he was this year. What does this mean for his value?
If Trout had started the year in the Majors and had put up the same stats in the 23 games he missed for the Angels, he would have a 35/97/57/150/.329 line in 652 at bats. This would be good for a $54 season. If Trout earned 80% of this in 2013, that would be good for $43 in earnings.
Forty-three dollars in earnings in 2012 would still put Trout first in the American League by four bucks over Miguel Cabrera.
Can Trout do worse than $43? Of course he can. But I wouldn't bet much less than $43. $38-40 seems like a fair bid to start with, and I'd probably be comfortable going to $42. If Trout slumps all the way down to $35, that still would tie him for second overall with Josh Hamilton in 2012's context. That's a mere two-thirds of his 2012 earnings. Based on what he did this year, it seems less like wishcasting and more like a realistic target.