Hall of Fame: Todd Helton would Like Your Attention, Please

While we’re all fawning over Derek Jeter, shaking the tree for Larry Walker, and lamenting over Andruw Jones, we may just be missing one of the most pressing “borderline” cases on the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot.  Todd Helton is entering his second year on the ballot, having garnered 16.5% of the vote last year.  Sure, he’s got plenty of time to get to the covered three-fourths ratio required for entry to Cooperstown, but in typical Todd Helton fashion, there’s no guarantee that he’ll get the recognition he deserves, even if his accomplishments warrant it.

Before we look at how he should get there, let’s take a look at the more pressing question:  WHY?

  • 17 MLB seasons, all with Colorado Rockies
  • 369 Home Runs, 133 OPS+
  • 1,335 walks to 1,175 strikeouts
  • 61.2 Wins Above Replacement

So when you compare that to current hall of famers, let’s put some of those accomplishments in context.

  • Higher OPS+ than Eddie Murray
  • Better Walk to Strikeout ratio than Harmon Killebrew or Willie McCovey
  • More WAR than Tony Perez or Bill Terry

It’s not a slam dunk, but the case is convincing.  Now, here’s the painful part….

Let’s examine the “Coors Field Effect” (i’ll explain in a second) on Helton’s career numbers, and look at the difference between his performance when playing in Colorado, and when he’s on the road.

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version)UCinternational (Crop) – Originally posted to Flickr as “Todd Helton”Cropped by UCinternational, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27794663
Home or Away
I Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+
Home114148414038874139432128227859710514.345.441.6071.0482452.348119
Away11064612392452711252719142547625661.287.386.469.8551840.31280
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2019.

Yikes. Helton effectively turns into a pumpkin and goes from a Barry Bonds esque batting line to something closer to a slightly above average first baseman.

That “Coors Field Effect” I was talking about earlier? For those who may not know, you have to have one important piece of context: The Rockies play their home games at Coors Field, which sits 5,200 feet above sea level. At such intense elevations, the air begins to thin out, causing the baseball to travel further than it would in any other ballpark. So much further, in fact, that it is said that home runs can increase by as much as 50% in that ballpark. Knowing this, and then witnessing the dramatic fall off in Helton’s performance can understandably lead to one asking “was he really THAT good?”

The truth is, he may not be. He may be a just a good hitter who figured out how to lift the ball in a way that worked better in the Rocky Mountain air. He had elite plate discipline, but otherwise it’s fairly pedestrian. Helton’s induction is bigger than the numbers though, because the very thing that has been his statistical undoing is going to be exactly the same for everyone else that wears the purple pinstripes. Since the Rockies came into existence, this has always been the “ah-ha!” for anyone who needs a case against validating any Rockies player’s statistical resume, and while it’s not wrong, are we really holding it against him like it’s his fault? Is that the precedent we want to set? Helton is the first Rockie with a legit shot at the hall, and spent every year of his career with the club. No one else from the franchise has been inducted, and looking down the list, Helton just may be the best shot they have for the foreseeable future.

It’s not the sexiest case, but it’s necessary to induct Todd Helton to the Hall of Fame, because a player shouldn’t be punished for where he was drafted, or for that teams architectural decisions. It means something because it shows that sticking with a team for your whole career, through good times and bad, should be rewarded, especially in todays constantly moving MLB culture. It should be an admirable trait, not something held against them when it matters most.

Ask any player that has ever put on any uniform at any level any where. A plaque in Cooperstown is the ultimate goal. It’s a sort of glorious afterlife when your cleats are hung up for the last time. I’m not saying on this particular ballot, but we should not let Todd Helton fall to the depths of obscurity because of where he chose to hang his hat, nor should we deny a franchise, however young it may be, a chance to display their heroes, wearing their hat, in the most sacred of places the game has to offer.

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