Todd Helton is getting older, with age and injuries taking its toll on a former superstar. Shocking statement, right? Despite posting a very strong 2009 season (3.7 WAR, .392 wOBA), Dan O'Dowd knew he would need a viable backup for the ToddFather in 2010 when the daily grind caught up to him. Jason Giambi's presence proved critical, as Todd Helton finished 2010 with the worst statistical line in his fourteen year career.
The culprit, as has been for the last half of the decade, was a bad back. While Giambi spelled him to allow for rest in the first half of the year, poor health still landed Helton on the disabled list for a month mid-season. An end-of-season .256/.362/.367 line proved to be the worst of his career and a huge disappointment from Rockies fans, who had hoped the flashes of brilliance he showed in 2009 to return.
It's a really uncomfortable situation, with the face of the franchise taking a walker out to field ground balls, right? Not completely.
|2010 - Todd Helton||118||398||48||102||18||1||8||37||67||90||0||0||.256||.362||.367|
Amidst all of the disappointment in 2010, it is worth noting that an injured 36-year-old first baseman at his worst still managed to produce an on-base percentage and wOBA that was above MLB average in 2010. In the worst year of his career. Indeed, he has been above league average in OBP and wOBA in all fourteen of his MLB seasons. There are not many players who can boast that.
While a contending team would certainly desire more power from a corner infielder, Rockies fans have been spoiled. There is far less production coming from other injured 37-year-old former superstars than an MLB average bat at worst.
While many are impressed most with Helton's 2000 and 2001 seasons in his prime, the fact Helton has remained a better than average hitter despite his age and injuries ought to be admired as well. He's a shadow of his former self, as his strike out rate vaulted to 22.6% (career: 14.5%). Yet that was still better than every Rockie except Mora, Smith, Young, Barmes, Tulowitzki and Herrera. He still takes plenty of walks (14.2% in 2010 vs. 14.5% for his career) and hit line drives at a better rate than Mr. Laser Carlos Gonzalez himself in 2010.
Should Helton avoid injury and fatigue, he is still a weapon in a contending lineup, especially with Troy Tulowitzki balancing out the power of the infield lineup. Add a dash of leadership, a pinch of vetaraniness, a heaping scoop of ticket and merchandise revenue, and a dose of the underrated scoop percentage defensively. The Rockies should be in no hurry to push his skillset aside, even if they limit him only to 450 ABs.
Dan O'Dowd skillfully deflected Todd Helton's owed $19.1million contract in 2011 with the two year extension signed March 11. The $10.6million owed to Helton instead allowed room in the budget to replace Helton's slipping production with a viable right-handed bat. Dreams of Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee, Josh Willingham or Mike Napoli in that role disappeared with the signing of Ty Wigginton, who figures to get the bulk of the playing time behind Helton.
Rockies fans are sure to panic if Helton struggles out of the gate in 2011, but past trends suggest April is a poor predictor for Old Man Helton's season. He hit extremely well in April 2008 and 2010, only to fall apart late in the season. Conversely, he seemed lost at the plate in April 2009, only to surge to a Comeback Player of the Year quality season.
Todd Helton is probably not a Hall of Fame player, but he does have the skill of one. I think he will surprise with a nice little season.