Today the Baseball Hall of Fame had the proper ceremonies to induct Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar and the rest of the 2011 class and all around baseball the discussion of who is Hall of Fame worthy is a hot topic. Right here in Colorado we have a player who will most definitely be hotly discussed when his five year waiting period is over and his name appears on the Hall of Fame ballot: Todd Helton.
Helton wears number 17 because he was a Mark Grace fan. Grace wore 17 because he was a Keith Hernandez fan. Both Grace and Hernandez were very good, maybe great baseball players but neither are in the Hall of Fame. Will Helton follow their lead?
(All stats are before the games played on July 24, 2011)
Stats favoring Helton’s candidacy
Helton currently ranks 133rd in baseball history in base knocks, two behind former Rockies first baseman Andres Galarraga. Of those 132 ahead of Helton 77 (should be 78 but Pete Rose is not in for obvious reasons) are currently in the Hall of Fame and at least four more will get into the Hall of Fame when their time arrives (there are also interesting names ahead of Helton like Barry Bonds, Omar Vizquel and Rafael Palmeiro). I should also mention that there are a LOT of players behind Helton in career base hits in the Hall of Fame, namely Eddie Matthews, Kirby Puckett and even Joe DiMaggio.
25th on the all-time list in a category like doubles should get you some consideration by Hall of Fame voters. Of those in front of Helton not in already in the Hall of Fame are Rose, two who are active (Ivan Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez), Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent will eventually be in the Hall of Fame and then Bonds, Palmeiro and Luis Gonzalez are also ahead of Helton. Out of the 24 players in baseball history with more doubles than Helton only one has any sort of case that could made against him for the Hall: Gonzalez.
On-Base Percentage: .426
Currently .0001 ahead of the great Shoeless Joe Jackson on the career on-base percentage list, Helton ranks 16th. OBP is gaining credibility as opposed to even recent history so only 11 players of the 15 ahead of Helton are in (Bonds is one of them). But Helton did get on base more frequently than the supposed great Wade Boggs (one tool wonder).
Those are the statistics that Helton supporters can point to and say he deserves to have a plaque in Cooperstown one day.
Another discussion that sparked briefly on Twitter yesterday was that there are a lot of players currently playing or recently retired that put up lofty numbers over a very lengthy career but never had a great peak performance across many seasons. Vizquel and Johnny Damon were the center of the discussion. Did Helton sustain a level of greatness for multiple seasons?
Helton’s peak performance
The best way to do this is to see where Helton ranked in WAR (takes into account hitting, fielding, and base running – the entire game) by season and by position in the National League: comparing him against his contemporaries to see if he truly had great seasons. Below is his WAR total by season (excluding 1997 when he only played in 35 games) and his rank among NL players. The number in parenthesis is his rank among first basemen in that same season.
’98: 3.2 WAR, 38th in the NL (6th among NL 1B)
’99: 3.3, 40th (7th)
’00: 8.6, 1st (1st)
’01: 7.6, 7th (1st)
’02: 5.9, 11th (1st)
’03: 7.2, 4th (2nd) – first season where Pujols takes 1st place among first basemen and his first of, well, we are still counting.
’04: 7.4, 7th (2nd)
’05: 5.0, 14th (3rd)
’06: 1.3, 49th (9th)
’07: 4.6, 19th (3rd)
’08: 0.8 – did not qualify due to lack of games played
’09: 3.3, 31st (7th)
’10: 0.0 – did not qualify due to lack of games played
Helton was the best first baseman in the National League for three seasons and if not for the Amazing Pujols he would have been the best for five consecutive seasons. In ’01 and ’02 his WAR totals were dwarfed by baseball bombing PED users like Sammy Sosa and the aforementioned Bonds. Does a five year period in which a player was the best in baseball at his position justify Hall of Fame induction? I would say that is the minimum required. The Jim Rice supporters would probably say five is a good number.
Here is a nice graph showing how Helton compares to a few of his contemporaries. Pujols and Bagwell should be first ballot Hall of Famers (we know Bagwell isn’t as last year was his first attempt, but he should have been) and Lance Berkman which, according to WAR, has had a pretty similar career to Helton’s.
Those who compare to Helton
Another way we can compare if Helton should be in the Hall of Fame is using Baseball-Reference’s Similar Batters list which shows who Helton compares to in baseball history. (Asterisk denotes current Hall of Famer)
Not exactly a favorable list, although many would say Martinez should be in the Hall of Fame.
Helton’s home and road splits
Now for the one argument that will surely be used against Helton, rightfully or not, when his time comes: his home and road splits. To keep this already lengthy post a little shorter we will only use the seasons in which Helton finished first in WAR among NL first basemen as those are the years he put up monster-out-of-this-world numbers and those are the years the detractors to Helton’s candidacy will need to refute. I will stay away from meaningless counting stats and stick to average/on-base/slugging/sOPS+ (normalizes a split against league average for same split with anything over 100 being good).
’00: Home: .391/.484/.758/208 and Road: .353/.441/.633/178
’01: Home: .384/.478/.774/221 and Road: .286/.383/.593/158
’02: Home: .378/.475/.662/196 and Road: .281/.383/.493/138
Career: Home: .355/.452/.622/119 and Road: .292/.392/.481/80
In 2000 Helton was dominant everywhere he went, the years after, however…not so much. Helton was still a very, very good player on the road with on-base percentages near .400 but the split is dramatic. Of course, Helton isn’t the only player in baseball history to perform much better at home (that Rice fella mentioned earlier had an sOPS+ of 85 on the road vs 115 at home). When the day comes to look at players who played the majority of their career in Philly or Phoenix we better look at their home/road splits, too. His career OPS+ of 80 on the road is worrisome for Rockies fans who hope Helton is the first Rockies player in the Hall.
In looking at all the numbers above I think Helton is still an outsider looking in. He was flat out dominant for a relative short period of time compared to many of those already in the Hall. His home and road splits are a concern because there will be plenty of voters from around the country that view Coors Field as the sole reason Helton put up the numbers he did. They will do this whether they are right or not. Lastly, as a first baseman playing a position usually reserved for guys with a ton of power, his home run totals are not even close to being Hall of Fame worthy.
I have said this for quite a few years and I still firmly believe it: for Helton to get into the Hall of Fame he will need to get well over 2,500 career hits. If he could somehow muster 2,700-2,800 I think he gets in.
Over the past four seasons (we need to include those injury years as that is a concern with Helton going forward) he has averaged 134 hits a year and is on pace for about that many in 2011. He has two years left on his contract with the Rockies and if he gets another 40 hits this year and then about 260 in ’12 and ’13 combined he will have over 2,600 hits.
Will 2,600 hits be enough? Does he already have enough? What do you think? I think he is out, unfortunately.
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