01/09/13 6:00 PM ET
With deals in hand, Angels' Big 3 a rarity in this era
Trout, Pujols, Hamilton give Halos formidable trio for several years to come
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
The Angels already had arguably the best player of the last 10 years (Albert Pujols) and quite possibly the greatest of the next 10 (Mike Trout). Then, on Dec. 15, they signed an MVP who has started each of the last five All-Star Games to a five-year contract (Josh Hamilton), giving them three legitimate superstars in one lineup.
Sure, they won't have the same impact LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have had on the defending-champion Miami Heat. But that's the nature of Major League Baseball; you need plenty more than three stars to attain success in a world of 25-man rosters and 162-game schedules.
And in this age of free agency, having three players of that magnitude in one batting order is quite rare, especially with each in the books for at least the next five years.
"Not so much," jaded MLB historian John Thorn said -- and with good reason.
In the early days, it wasn't all that uncommon to have up to seven eventual Hall of Famers in one lineup. That's how many the New York Giants of 1923-26 had, with Frankie Frisch, Travis Jackson, High Pockets Kelly, Freddie Lindstrom, Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Ross Youngs, Hack Wilson and Dave Bancroft all coming through during that span.
They're far from alone, too.
From 1924-42, the Yankees had no less than three and up to six Hall of Famers in their lineup each year. From 1936-43, the Red Sox also had at least three. Ditto for the Brooklyn Dodgers of 1946-57.
Then there's the trio of Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez from 1972-76, which helped make up the Big Red Machine (and don't forget Pete Rose).
Or the Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice band in Boston from 1974-80. The Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams triplet in the Windy City from 1960-71. The Pirates' threesome of Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Willie Stargell from 1962-72. The Orlando Cepeda, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey trinity that dominated the Giants' batting order from 1959-65. The Cardinals' trifecta of Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter and Red Schoendienst from 1945-53.
And so on and so on ...
So, Trout-Pujols-Hamilton doesn't particularly stand out historically. But their potential staying power makes them quite special if the comparisons are limited to this era.
"You can always pick out a trio from a given year, but if you're going to look for a five-year track record for a trio, which I think is where you have to go, it is hard, because you get a lot of player movement, and younger players who achieve early and in free agency want to cash in," Thorn said.
"So, keeping a trio together for five years, as right now appears to be the prospect for the Angels, certainly affords the prospect of much pleasure and production."
In an effort to compare them in modern times, SB Nation blogger James Gentile compiled a list of the top 10 lineup trios since the start of 2000 based on cumulative Wins Above Replacement, as interpreted by Baseball-Reference.com. Here's his list ...
'04 Cardinals (Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds): 24.2
'01 Giants (Barry Bonds, Rich Aurilia, Jeff Kent): 23.1
'11 Red Sox (Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez): 22.5
'03 Braves (Marcus Giles, Javy Lopez, Gary Sheffield): 20.9
'09 Rays (Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, Jason Bartlett): 20.9
'01 Mariners (Brett Boone, Ichiro Suzuki, John Olerud): 20.8
'12 Angels (Trout, Torii Hunter, Pujols): 20.8
'01 Mariners (Boone, Ichiro, Edgar Martinez): 20.5
'07 Tigers (Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Placido Polanco): 20
'00 Angels (Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon): 19.8
The Trout-Pujols-Hamilton trio would've actually fallen out of that top 10 with its 18.7 combined WAR last year. That's with Trout having one of the best individual seasons in baseball history, but also with Pujols (April and half of May) and Hamilton (the entire second half) slumping uncharacteristically.
Two things set the Angels' trio apart from that group, though:
1. The prestige. Pujols and Hamilton have both won MVP Awards, and Trout would've, too, if not for Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown. Of those aforementioned 10 teams, only the '01 Giants boasted two previous MVPs, in Bonds and Kent.
2. The (potential) staying power. Only the '04 Cardinals, the '01 Giants and the 2000 Angels stayed together for at least five full seasons.
It may take more than three guys in baseball, but the performance of the Angels' trio will have considerable impact on the franchise's success over the next half-decade. Pujols and Hamilton have to hold up in their 30s -- something the Angels will help out by keeping the designated-hitter spot flexible -- and Trout's greatest challenge will be year-to-year production.
If they do that, they can join some rare company.
Since 2000, only six teams have had three guys in the same lineup post a .950-plus OPS, with a minimum of 400 plate appearances, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: The '04 Cardinals (Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen), '03 Red Sox (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Trot Nixon), '01 Indians (Roberto Alomar, Jim Thome, Juan Gonzalez), '01 Cardinals (Pujols, Edmonds, J.D. Drew), '00 Astros (Jeff Bagwell, Moises Alou, Richard Hidalgo) and '00 Giants (Bonds, Kent, Ellis Burks).
Only Trout (.963) topped that mark last year, with Pujols finishing at .859 and Hamilton at .930. But Pujols' career OPS is 1.022 and Hamilton is two years removed from posting a 1.044 mark.
"There's so many variables here," Thorn said when asked for the best method to size them up historically. "First of all, what is the average offensive performance of the league in a particular year? Is it a hitting year, is it a pitching year? If it's 1968 in the American League, you're not going to find any team that has a powerhouse lineup, because the stats were depressed. In the current environment, which is tilting a little back towards pitching after the offensive explosion of the first half of the previous decade, the Angels' trio looks pretty awesome."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.