Recently I was perusing Todd Helton’s Baseball Reference page (because it’s always a party at my apartment) and I stumbled across a piece of information that’s mere existence made me want to break my laptop over my knee and punch the nearest member of the BBWAA in the face.
The thing that made me so upset was that Todd Helton finished fifth on the MVP ballot in the year 2000. The man received a singular first place vote that year, and finished behind the likes of Jim Edmonds, Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds, and the MVP award winner, Jeff Kent. Now, you may look at that list of players and wonder what the big deal is. All of those guys were fantastic players in their own right, after all. The big deal is this: Todd Helton was robbed of that award in a stunningly egregious fashion, as we he the best player in the National League by any measure that year.
Let’s start with the standard statistical categories, which the tweeded and elbow-patched voters would have used as barometers of greatness when casting their votes. That season, Todd Helton led the National League in BA (.373), OBP (.463), SLG% (.698), OPS (1.162), Hits (216), Total Bases (405), Doubles (59), and RBI (147). What’s more, in 4 of those categories he absolutely crushed the rest of the league. He outpaced his closest competition by 17 points in BA, 23 points in OBP, 10 points in SLG%, and 22 in Total Bases. His 138 runs scored were good for second in the league, and his 42 home runs left him 8 behind league leader Sammy Sosa.
So, yeah, it’s pretty damn hard to look at those numbers and come up with a good argument for why Helton didn’t win the MVP, especially because Barry Bonds was the only player to have finished ahead of him in the voting who even came close to matching Helton’s production in those categories.
Then again, we are all intelligent baseball fans who know that many of the statistical categories referenced above are no longer the most nuanced indicators of true baseball greatness. Perhaps the advanced stats will reveal that Helton’s season was not as great as it appears, and that the voters were actually ahead of their time. Just kidding, that second part will never be true.
The advanced stats only serve to support just how bonkers Helton’s performance was that season. His 8.8 WAR was good for best in the league, putting him .1 win ahead of Barry Bonds. That number becomes more impressive when Helton’s defensive WAR is taken into account. Helton earned his team 7.2 wins with his bat, and 1.6 wins with his glove. Bonds, on the other hand, garnered all but .5 of his wins at the plate. Helton’s 1.2 defensive WAR was the third best mark in the NL. None of the 4 players who finished ahead of Helton on the MVP ballot even made the top ten in defensive WAR. Helton also finished first in the league in the categories of WPA, Offensive Win %, and Runs Created.
It also shouldn’t be forgotten that Todd Helton spent a large chunk of the 2000 season chasing a .400 batting average. He was hitting exactly .400 on June 10th, and he owned a .399 average as late as August 18th.
So, how in God’s name did Helton finish in fifth place on the MVP ballot? My best guess is that the voters heavily and unfairly penalized Helton for having to play half of his games in Coors Field. Now, I understand that this was in the pre-humidor era, and there is tangible evidence that numbers were inflated in Coors (Helton’s career splits demonstrate this, as do his splits from the 2000 season), but it appears that the voters allowed the aura of Coors as a hitters park to influence their voting to an improper extent. Look, if you want argue that playing in Coors inflated Todd Helton’s offensive numbers, that’s fine–I get that–but let’s not pretend that Coors Field is the only park in the history of baseball to have ever favored hitters over pitchers. For years hitters have written their legacies by launching home runs out of Wrigley Field on hot windy days and banging doubles off of the Green Monster in Fenway. Furthermore, let’s remember that WAR is a park adjusted statistic, so even without Coors’ thin air, Helton still measures out as the NL’s best player.
Even if it was the home/road splits that scared the BBWAA away from Helton’s MVP candidacy, they would have been blatantly contradicting themselves. Jason Giambi, who won the AL MVP that same season, posted splits that were very similar to Helton’s.
(Data Courtesy of www.baseball-reference.com)
Almost any way you slice it, Todd Helton was an astronomically productive player in the year 2000, thin air be damned.
All of this serves to illuminate one of the most frustrating things about the baseball community’s general perception of some of the Rockies’ greatest players. Guys like Helton, Walker, Galarraga, and Castilla will never be properly appreciated because of the park that they played in. This isn’t to say that these players didn’t benefit from the thin air in Colorado, but the extent to which they benefited is often greatly overstated. At some point the narrative of Coors Field as a hitter park became far more influential than it should have, and the legacies of players like Todd Helton have been made to suffer for it.
Todd Helton will most likely never make it into the Hall of Fame, and I’m not even sure if he should, but he absolutely should have an MVP award on his mantle, and it is a shame that he doesn’t.