I thought I would wrap up Todd Helton week here by looking at where he is in his career, where he'll most likely end up, and what his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame after he retires are.
Helton, of course, just signed a contract extension that keeps him in the purple pinstripes until the locker rooms go dark at Coors Field for the last time in 2013. It's certainly possible that he'll continue on after that, but for our purposes here I'm going to assume that he'll retire after that season, giving him 16 full seasons, and taking him until just after his 40th birthday.
So, what can we expect of Helton over the next 4 years, what milestones might he hit and what would those milestones mean to the baseball writers in whose hands his Hall hopes lie? I'll start with a table showing where Helton is statistically now, what some reasonable milestones are for him, where those milestones put him historically, what he'll have to average over the next 4 years to get there, and who some players are around those milestones. After the table, I'll go into each statistic.
|Statistic||Current Total||Target||Rank||Player comps||4-Year Average|
|H||2134||2700||62||Ted Williams||Lou Gehrig||Billy Williams||142|
|2B||509||650||8||Nap Lajoie||Carl Yastrzemski||Honus Wagner||35|
|HR||325||400||46||Al Kaline||Johnny Bench||Andres Galarraga||19|
|RBI||1202||1500||51||Billy Williams||Mickey Mantle||Eddie Mathews||75|
|R||1222||1500||68||Eddie Mathews||Al Simmons||Frank Thomas||70|
|BB||1130||1500||18||Lou Gehrig||Mike Schmidt||Willie Mays||93|
|TB||3686||4600||36||Al Simmons||Rickey Henderson||Frank Thomas||229|
|BA||.328||.320||54||Charlie Gehringer||Chuck Klein||Kirby Puckett||.292|
|OBP||.427||.415||25||Frank Thomas||Stan Musial||Wade Boggs||.373|
|SLG||.567||.550||27||Frank Thomas||Hank Aaron||Hack Wilson||.490|
|OPS||.994||.965||18||Larry Walker||Stan Musial||Mel Ott|
|wOBA||.419||.410||51||Willie Mays||Al Simmons||Jackie Robinson||.378|
|Rally WAR||57.3||70||54||Johnnie Bench||Brooks Robinson||Tony Gwynn||3.175|
Note that the statistics are independent of each other - that is to say if he hits the counting numbers, they won't necessarily translate to the average numbers. In addition, I assumed that Helton would play in 10 fewer games in each successive year. Along those lines, I assumed 4 PAs per game with an extra 50 PAs tacked on to account for 5+-PA games and the occasional game that Helton would pinch hit or come in as a late-inning defensive replacement. That having been said, how likely are each of these pretty, round numbers for Helton to reach? I ranked each stat on a scale from 1-10, with 1 being not likely at all, and 10 being an absolute surety.
2700 Hits: Helton needs only 566 hits to get to 2700, so it's pretty likely that he gets there. 3000, which is an almost automatic induction into the Hall would require an average of 217 hits each year, a number Helton has reached only once in his career, so, unless he plays longer than 4 more years, he'll probably end somewhere between 2700 and 2800 hits. Likelihood: 8
650 Doubles: Helton would need 35 doubles a year to get here, which is rarefied air in baseball history. Doubles aren't a sexy stat when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, but a number like 650 might well get credit from more than a few voters. Helton is still at this level now, but 3 years from now, it's probable that he won't be. He might get enough this year and next to be able to get there, but it depends on how well his back holds up. Likelihood: 6
400 Home Runs: Helton just isn't a home run hitter anymore, and while 400 would be a very nice feather in his cap, he'll be hard pressed to come up with 20 home runs a year considering he hasn't been there since 2005. Likelihood: 2
1500 RBI / 1500 Runs: I lump these together as he's pretty much equally close, they have about as much sway with Hall voters and they're pretty much equally useless. With Helton's continued on-base and hitting skills, combined with the offense that's been assembled around him, he'll probably get to both of these levels. Likelihood: 8
1500 Walks: He's a bit of ways off here, and really Hall voters won't even look at this. Even though they totally matter. This is the kind of statistic that writers pull out to justify a borderline case, but I think they should be more important than that. Unfortunately, I don't get a vote, so, even if he gets here, only the basement types will care. Likelihood: 4
.320 Batting Average: This one matters a lot, and Helton's is superb. Among the traditional voters, this, plus the hits, will be Helton's biggest chip. Considering Helton would have to bat under .300 - something he's done in exactly 1 full season, and he was injured that year - over the next 4 years to drop his average to .320, I think he'll be fine. If his average is that low, it will probably be due to injury, so 1. he won't have as many plate appearances, which means his average won't go down as much and 2. He'll probably retire early if he's not being productive anymore. Likelihood: 9.5
.415 On-Base Percentage: Same as the average. It matters less right now than average, but it's definitely getting more airplay these days, and when Helton is up for the Hall, it will certainly have even more weight attached to it. This is Helton's best attribute, and I hope that the Hall voters treat it as such. Likelihood: 9
.550 Slugging Percentage: Helton isn't really a slugger anymore, so a .550 SLG is less likely than his OBP and BA numbers. However, a .545 SLG would only require a .469 average over the next 4 year, and .540 would require .447, both of which are likely enough to say that Helton probably won't end his career with a slugging percentage under .540. Likelihood: 3
.410 wOBA: This one really doesn't matter to Hall voters, but Helton's elite number here will probably sway the geeks of the baseball world. As long as Helton continues his elite on-base skills, he'll probably stay around this level. Likelihood: 8.5
70 WAR: This is WAR as calculated by Sean Smith's rally database. No, Hall voters don't look at this. Yet. But they might in the next 10 years, and this is one of the best tools to compare players between positions and home ballparks. 70 WAR puts Helton solidly in Hall of Fame territory, and he only needs about 3 WAR a year to get there. Likelihood: 8
So now that your eyes have glazed over reading all of my numbers and words, where does that leave us? There are a lot of Hall of Famers at each of those levels. Quantitatively they put Helton among the top 40-50 hitters all-time. However, he plays in Colorado and he plays first base, both of which (correctly) should make us expect great offensive numbers. Helton's excellent defense over his career should help some - he's won 3 Gold Gloves and probably deserved another couple more, and has been worth about 8 wins with his glove according to TotalZone. Will that be enough? I suspect that if Helton gets to a few of these levels, he'll have a tough time getting in, but will make it in 4-5 years. If he gets to all of them, I'd be willing to wager that he gets in on his first ballot. Another factor will be playoffs: Helton hadn't made it for his first 10 years, but has now been twice. If the Rockies get in another 2-3 times before he retires, and if they win the World Series once, that would also help Helton's case tremendously.
There's one final factor to look at here. According to the instructions that the voters are given, "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." Of the 6 criteria given, only 2 relate to how well a player played. Voters give much higher weight to a player's statistics - and perhaps they should - but the other parts shouldn't be ignored. Todd Helton has certainly exemplified all 4 of the "other" criteria as well as any baseball player in the last 20 years. I'm old fashioned in many of the ways I look at baseball, and I have a soft spot for players that are loyal to their team. Guys like George Brett, Cal Ripken, Edgar Martinez and Tony Gwynn not only matter more to their fans, but are also given a little boost of extra credit for their loyalty. I was going to go into more detail here, but this is getting really long as it is. Hang on, we're almost there.
So should Todd Helton go into the Hall of Fame when he retires? I think so, and I'm sure most of you agree. He's a world-class player and a world-class person from all accounts. He's meant more to this team than almost any player has meant to a franchise. He's the definition of the Rockies, and will probably be thought of as the foundation of the franchise if people are still playing this stick-and-ball game 100 years from now.