Fantasy Baseball: Should Mike Trout Still Be the Consensus Top Overall Pick?
There really is still no debate in baseball. Mike Trout remains the GOAT.
Trout has been baseball's best player since his 10-win rookie season in 2012. That he's won only two American League MVP awards during that time is a crime against baseball, and because of the way he fills up the stat sheet, the young outfielder been the perennial top pick in season-long fantasy baseball drafts since that rookie year.
But is it time for that to change? After all, the reigning American League MVP, Jose Altuve, just came off one of the best seasons ever by a second baseman, 18th overall in terms of Baseball Reference's offensive WAR (oWAR), which was 8.1.
In current fantasy drafts, these two players are consistently among the top two picks according to the most recent ADP data, and it makes sense. Despite huge seasons from Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the continued excellence of Paul Goldschmidt, and the surprising breakout campaign from Charlie Blackmon, Trout's overall dominance in the outfield and Altuve's production at a premium position makes this a two-horse race.
But who should you draft first overall? Is it still Trout, or has Altuve finally elbowed the best player in baseball from atop his fantasy perch?
Argument for Trout
There is simply no other player that racks up stats like Trout does, and he's done it every season for the last six years. You can set your watch to Mike Trout, which is inherently valuable when you're talking about the first overall pick. That's a pick you simply have to get right.
Over the last six seasons, his 162-game average slash line is .309/.414/.572 with an OPS+ of 175. That's included -- on average -- 36 homers and 102 RBI with 123 runs scored, 36 doubles, 8 triples, and 30 stolen bases.
Yes, that's right, he's averaged a 30-30 season. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is terrific, averaging 155 punchouts to 103 walks a season, so he's not going to hurt you in the whiff department. In fact, he's not going to hurt you anywhere at all.
Last year was the first time in five seasons he played in fewer than 159 games (he played in 114 games after injuring a ligament in his thumb sliding head-first into second base), so it's likely you can count on him for a full season. He is impervious to splits, with a career OPS of .933 against left-handers and .990 against righties. He's as good on the road (.974 OPS) as he is at home (.977), and he's just as consistent in the first half of the season (1.005 OPS) as he is in the second half (.943).
Simply put, the man has no weaknesses.
Argument for Altuve
Altuve won the MVP last year for a reason. Even if Trout had managed to stay healthy all year, it's possible the diminutive second baseman would have taken home the hardware anyway.
If you're looking for consistency, his last four seasons are as good as anyone else at any position. Since 2014, his 162-game average triple slash is .334/.384/.496 with an OPS+ of 144 during that time, which includes an average of 19 homers, 79 RBI, 44 doubles, and 10 stolen bases.
But if you take his last two years into consideration, you see an increased power game that changes the entire dynamic. From 2016-17, his 162-game slash line improved to .341/.403/.539 with an OPS+ of 159, 25 dingers, 92 RBI, 114 runs scored, 42 doubles, and 5 triples.
Those numbers are comparable to Trout's, and when you factor in the scarcity of that kind of offensive production at second base, the argument for Altuve really comes into focus.
There were 17 qualified outfielders who put up a weighted runs created (wRC+) of at least 120 last year. At second base, there were five. Among outfielders, Trout's wRC+ of 181 was the best in baseball, with Judge right behind at 173 and Stanton not far behind that at 156.
At second base, Altuve led the way with a wRC+ of 160. The next closest was Jose Ramirez 148 and Daniel Murphy at 136. The second sacker was far and away the best at his position, with fewer top shelf offensive options to go around.
The temptation to take Altuve number-one overall is strong. After all, there are a bunch of enticing outfield options after Trout, all of whom can be selected in the first or second round. You're not going to find a better second baseman than Altuve, and you still get one of the very best offensive players in baseball. You're likely going to blow away the competition at that position.
Although Altuve maintained his power increase in 2017 (he jumped from 7 homers in 2014 to 24 dingers each of the past two seasons), Trout has had a six-year run of consistency that is unmatched in fantasy. Trout also provides more in terms of stolen bases than Altuve, a rare commodity in today's stolen base-starved fantasy world.
Provided Trout doesn't have another fluky injury that causes him to miss two months, he is still the most reliable and impactful player in season-long fantasy baseball and should remain your top pick.