The Ballot: Todd Helton
Batting: 425 points
Fielding: 5 points
Baserunning: -10 points
League leaders: 35 points (led league in on-base percentage twice; hits, doubles, RBIs, average and slugging once)
Played QB at Tennessee, was replaced by Peyton Manning: 5 points
Was a dominant pitcher in college, still has NCAA record for most consecutive scoreless innings: 5 points
Wore No. 17 for Mark Grace: 0 points
Numbers boosted tremendously by Coors Field: minus-???
Race to 400 points: 475, minus Coors adjustment
* * *
So, just so you know up front: I’m not going to tell you if I voted for Todd Helton. I went back and forth on this and decided that it would be better if I waited until the end of all this to reveal my whole ballot.
I sometimes wonder if the PED question and the Coors Field question are more closely linked than people might think at first glance. They're obviously different. We usually hear the steroid question framed in MORAL terms. That is to say, people usually say that Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire don’t belong in the Hall of Fame because they cheated the game.
They made a mockery of the numbers we hold dear.
They used illegal chemical enhancements to become supernaturally good at baseball.
They don’t DESERVE to be in the Hall of Fame.
It’s different with Coors Field, of course. Nobody BLAMES Todd Helton or Larry Walker for playing in Coors Field. Nobody thinks it’s their fault that they were Rockies, or that the Rockies are somehow not a real part of baseball. Nobody condemns them for putting up cartoonishly awesome numbers in the altitude. I mean, that’s what you're SUPPOSED to do. Nobody would ever say that they don’t DESERVE to be in the Hall of Fame because they played so many games in that nutty ballpark (it was even nuttier back then) and because they turned it loose in Coors.
And yet, I defy you to find the difference in their Hall of Fame treatment.
This usually starts with Larry Walker. There's simply no eligible player like Larry Walker who is NOT in the Hall of Fame. Not one. He hit .313 for his career, which in years past would ALONE be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. The only eligible 20th Century player with a higher career batting average who is not in the Hall of Fame is (drumroll) Todd Helton (that's minimum 1,600 games or 10 years worth). Walker slugged .565, 12th all-time, ahead of Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols. He was a three-time batting champion, an MVP, a six-time Gold Glove winner, a brilliant baserunner. There is NOBODY like Larry Walker who's not in the Hall.
Last year, for the first time, he got one-third of the vote.
Before that, his numbers tracked with Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. All of whom, well, you know.
And the reason is: Many people don’t believe that his career was authentic. They just don’t buy it. Sure there are other knocks on Walker — he played 150 games in a season only once, he fell short of some landmark numbers such as 500 doubles and 400 homers and so on — but realistically, if Larry Walker had put up those same numbers playing anywhere EXCEPT Coors Field, he would be in Cooperstown right now, by acclamation.
Todd Helton would be right behind him.
[caption id="attachment_23933" align="aligncenter" width="431"] Hall of Famer or Coors Field creation? You decide.[/caption]
According to Ryan Thibodaux’s polling, Todd Helton (at this moment) is drawing roughly 20 percent of the vote. He’s behind Manny Ramirez, and a few points ahead of Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa. It seems likely to me that his numbers will come down somewhat when the full BBWAA numbers are released.
Todd Helton hit .316 for his career, which, as mentioned, is the highest batting average for any eligible player not in the Hall of Fame (min. 1,600 games — or 10 full seasons). He had a ridiculous 2000 season, when he hit .372/.463/.698 with 59 doubles, 42 homers, 147 RBIs and 138 runs scored.
Players who hit .370 with 50 doubles and 40 homers:
Lou Gehrig in 1927
Chuck Klein in 1930
Todd Helton in 2000
Gehrig was obviously Gehrig, but the Chuck Klein story compares nicely, because Klein’s 1930 season was driven by the ridiculous dimensions of his home park, the Baker Bowl.
Klein in 1930
Home: .437/.482/.792, 26 homers, 109 RBIs, 91 runs
Road: .332/.391/.578, 14 homers, 61 RBIs, 67 runs
Helton in 2000
Home: .391/.484/.758, 27 homers, 88 RBIs, 92 runs
Road: .353/.441/.633, 15 homers, 59 RBIs, 46 runs
Anyway, the next year, Helton hit .336/.432/.685 with 54 doubles and 49 homers. He hit .320 or better seven years in a row and slugged .621 over those seven years. Helton declined significantly after age 33, as most players do, but he went on long enough to rank among the all-time greats in doubles (19th), walks (36th), runs created (32nd), extra-base hits (40th) and on-base percentage (27th).
Coors Field was there throughout hanging over every accomplishment. And there's no doubt that Coors Field played a huge role in his career. He hit .345 and slugged .607 at Coors Field (.287 and .469 away from home). He hit 62% of his home runs and compiled 57% of his total bases at home.
So, when thinking about the Hall of Fame, how do you take all that into account? How much do you, in essence, deduct from Todd Helton’s production because of Coors? The truth is, even the people who spend all of their time thinking about such questions disagree.
Baseball Reference credits Helton for being 424 runs above average as a hitter, which is pretty great, top 60 or so.
FanGraphs credits Helton for being 613 runs above average as a hitter, making him the 25th greatest in baseball history.
And all of that difference is ballpark adjustment. This is tricky stuff and there are many opinions.
Here’s how I see it: Most players hit quantifiably better at home. Here’s the OPS difference between home and road for the last 10 Hall of Fame hitters voted in, as compared to Helton:
Todd Helton: Home +193 points
Chipper Jones: Home +81 points
Vladimir Guerrero: Home + 38 points
Jim Thome: Home + 58 points
Jeff Bagwell: Home +59 points
Tim Raines: Home +29 points
Ivan Rodriguez: Home +58 points
Ken Griffey Jr.: Home +98 points
Mike Piazza: Road +80 points
Craig Biggio: Home +40 points
Frank Thomas: Home +99 points
Helton obviously had a HUGE difference between home a road, a crazy difference. Bit most players (Mike Piazza excluded) get a pretty big boost from their home ballpark, even players you wouldn’t expect it from, like Griffey.
Griffey’s road OPS of .860 is about the same as Helton’s .855
So what do you do with all that? Certainly, you cannot consider Todd Helton’s Hall of Fame case without taking into account Coors Field. But I can't help but think that the Coors Field penalty has been too great. Think about it: Helton's whole career has been overshadowed by Coors Field. He didn’t win the MVP in his insane 2000 season (or even come close) because of Coors Field. He developed a lasting reputation as a terrific but not legendary player because of Coors Field. He created about as many runs as Al Kaline and Paul Molitor and George Brett, but will not get even a quarter of the Hall of Fame votes. Because of Coors Field.
Is that right? Is that fair? This is why I talk about the PED question. One thing that everybody knows is that PED users made a choice. Todd Helton did not. He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the first round in 1995. He made it to the big leagues in 1997, and finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 1998 (he barely lost out to Kerry Wood … probably because of Coors Field).
He became a Rockies icon with his superb bat control (he struck out 100 times in a season only once), his power to all fields, and his smooth defense at first. And let's be fair about this: He wasn’t just great at Coors. From 2000 through 2005, he hit. 310/.418/.540 on the road.
In the end, for me, the final decision on this ballot came down to Manny Ramirez and Todd Helton. And how do you do that one? You have two incredible hitters from the same time period. Both should have won an MVP, probably, but neither did. Both won a batting title, both led the league in homers and RBIs.
Ramirez was the significantly better hitter — really, a better hitter than all but maybe 15 or 20 players ever — and he made a much larger impact on baseball, but he was also a defensive nightmare and was widely regarded as having a hugely negative emotional impact on his teams. Helton was a fantastic hitter too, the more stable player, a very good defender (though at first base), and was widely overlooked throughout his baseball life.
Manny Ramirez tested positive for PEDs multiple times.
Todd Helton played his home games at Coors Field.
Well, if you could pick only one, who would YOU vote for?*
*I do realize that “none” was an option … but not for me.