The curious case of Todd Helton

And the most overused article/story title this year, am I right? (stupid Hollywood)

Helton right now is an odd study. His re-emergence as a force in the middle of the lineup has made me smile large and wide, and give a nod and say "Att'l do, Todd". That .335 AVG has me dreaming of the glory days when he flirted with .400 and such. In fact, he's OPSing .907, right where I was expecting him to land. Specifically, I was expecting like a .320/.420/.480 kind of line, good number of doubles, walking a lot, etc. So the AVG is a bit high, it'll balance out a bit an-

Todd Helton 2009: .335/.384/.523

What the hell, he's slugging?

So my next step was to take a little stroll over to Fangraphs and take a look at what's going on with our bearded bag boy. Because something's wrong with this.

One of Helton's greatest strengths is his superhuman ability to take pitches, work a count, and walk an absurd amount, to the tune of a career OBP of .427 and a career IsoD of .099. Right now, Helton is at a .384 OBP, which is nothing to sneeze at, but his IsoD is a mere .049, about half of what it should be.

Were Helton's IsoD in the right place, he'd have a .335/.434/.523 line, good for a .957 OPS, and have him back in the downright elite category. Not that I won't take the .907 OPS, but I just figure it can get better.

I think I have an inkling on what he's doing wrong, too. He's swinging.

Join me after the jump and we'll look at some tables and numbers and all that fun stuff.

Helton has been swinging at pitches outside of the zone at a 5% higher clip than his career numbers. His LD% is a bit down, which means he's making the contact, but he's definitely reaching for more pitches that he used to take.

(Sorry the tables look a little strange. I blame Word '07)

 

Season

O-Swing%

Z-Swing%

Swing%

O-Contact%

Z-Contact%

Contact%

Zone%

F-Strike%

BABIP

LD%

Career

17.5%

69.6%

43.7%

74.9%

90.9%

87.7%

50.3%

54.0%

.341

25.2%

2006

21.4%

71.3%

47.0%

82.7%

92.8%

90.5%

51.2%

57.3%

.321

23.6%

2007

17.2%

64.4%

40.5%

83.9%

94.8%

92.4%

49.3%

54.4%

.345

24.1%

2008

16.5%

66.5%

41.2%

80.2%

90.1%

88.1%

49.4%

54.6%

.298

23.4%

2009

22.2%

74.2%

47.2%

78.1%

91.7%

88.4%

48.0%

51.7%

.368

23.1%

 

The fact is, he's swinging more. It kind of sucks to see, but he is. His contact rates aren't really extraordinarily off, but that 4% jump in swinging and the 5% jump in Out-Of-Zone swinging are probably pitches that he would've taken in the past few years.

His .335 AVG helps his OBP be in the "downright good" range, but his BABIP isn't incredibly sustainable, and if he doesn't re-find his legendary plate discipline, he's gonna end up with a .310/.360/.500 line - which isn't bad, mind you, but we're far more accustomed to a .420 OBP Todd Helton packed chock-full of Base on Balls.

I do think Helton has gotten the raw end of the K-looking deal, but I don't think it's enough to halve his IsoD (that is, getting rung up enough that half of his expected walks became backwards K's).

 

Year

Team

Level

P/PA

kL 

kS  

uBB

iBB 

2006

COL  

MLB 

3.93 

3.9%

6.0%

11.7%

2.3%

2007

COL  

MLB 

4.36 

4.7%

6.2%

14.7%

2.3%

2008

COL  

MLB 

4.23 

5.0%

8.8%

14.6%

2.2%

2009

COL  

MLB 

4.32 

5.8%

8.2%

7.0%

1.2%

 

Those strikeout figures are definitely trending higher, which is explained by the higher Swing% we saw above, but at the same time, that doesn't really explain that BB% dropping so drastically. Or maybe it does.

If you take his career k Looking percentage ( or as close as we can get based on the data available), and adjust his K's looking this year to match more his career numbers, he essentially strikes out looking 3 less times, and walks 3 more times (assuming those are on a full count). Adding those 3 BB into his OBP, it actually does hop up to .406, which is a bit more Helton-esque. You can attribute those other 40 points of OBP to the fact that he's swinging at such an elevated rate. (Note: This entire paragraph was entirely a stretch, and I am NOT hanging my hat on it, moreso just bringing it up for the sake of conjecture).

So to summarize, followers of the Beard, Helton needs to cool down and go back to taking some more pitches. His % of pitches taken is down about 4%, and he really does need to just relax and go with it, man.

I know you want another shot at it, Todd, but don't feel like you have to take the entire team on your shoulders. Your back just can't handle it.

 

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