Times have been tough in Rockies land this season. The team still sits at the bottom of the National League standings, has an unsightly 2-14 record on the road to start the season and hasn’t won a series in over two weeks. This stretch has been a good representation of the long season that lies ahead, so it is important that we take the time to appreciate the little things this season. Mario DeGenz penned his hitchhiker’s guide to the season on this subject and I’d like to add my own bullet point to his list: appreciating the chance to watch star players from around the league.
The Cincinnati Reds are in town, and that means we’ll have the chance to see one of the biggest stars in their history: Joey Votto. Well, we would have had the chance to watch him, but Dallas Keuchel didn’t play nice last week and broke Votto’s thumb with a fastball. But, as the number of times we’ll get to see him play in Colorado starts winding down, I think it’s time we take a moment to appreciate what we’ve seen and how it reminds us of someone we’ve watched before at Coors...for 17 years. Todd Helton.
The similarities between the two are evident on the surface. Both are left-handed-hitting first basemen who have been cornerstones for the only professional franchises they have ever known. Both finished second in voting for the Rookie of the Year award and are multiple-time All-Stars (Votto, 6; Helton, 5).
Helton does have three Gold Glove awards to Votto’s one, and took home four Silver Slugger awards while Votto has none. However, Votto does have an MVP award (2010) on his mantle while Helton does not. In addition to his award-winning season, Votto has also finished in the top 10 of NL MVP voting five times, twice finishing in the top 3. Helton, meanwhile, only has three top 10 finishes to his name and only finished as high as 5th in voting. But, given the fact that Helton easily finished with the highest WAR among all position players in the 2000 MVP voting and was stuck behind artificially inflated seasons by Bonds and Sosa in the 2001 count, it’s safe to say Helton deserved better recognition than he received.
Both have healthy Hall of Fame resumes and have consistently been part of the upper-class of National League first basemen throughout their respective careers, all the while calling only one town home. It is easy to envision that Votto’s number 19 will be hanging up in Cincinnati after he calls it a career the same way Helton’s 17 does in Colorado today.
But the more you dig, the more eerily similar their careers become.
Votto is obviously still active, having just launched his 300th career home run this season. His career totals are still compiling, however; at 37 years young, it is safe to say he is in the latter years of his career. To get the best comparison, let’s look at their careers up to the current point in Votto’s. When stacking them up side-by-side (and considering 2020 was an abbreviated 60 games), we’ll use Votto’s entire 15 year body of work while cutting Helton’s stats off at the 2009 season.
Todd Helton (1997-2009) vs Joey Votto (2007-present)
|Stat||Todd Helton||Joey Votto|
|Stat||Todd Helton||Joey Votto|
Through a comparable number of plate appearances, the numbers are remarkably similar. Helton has held an advantage with the bat, hitting for more contact and more power through this point in his career. However, Votto’s approach is legendary for a reason, and his edge in walks drawn shows that well. Even though both have their advantages, it still equates to an elite career WAR to this point of around 60.
But just as impressive is how this shared profile compares to the rest of the league.
Through the careers of each individual, both have reached base at a significantly higher clip than league average at their peaks and have continued to maintain an above-average profile into their latter playing days.
The same can be said of their wOBA, which will give a greater indication of a player’s overall offensive impact. Votto’s pace fell in his injury-shortened age-30 campaign, however he has rebounded nicely for a solid second half of his career. Ignoring the aberration of Votto’s lost season, his gradual decline in production has matched that of Helton’s favorably. If you want a middle-of-the-order hitter for your team for the next twenty years, a high peak with a slow descent back to league average towards the end is how you do it. That’s what Helton was for the Rockies, and that’s what Votto has been for the Reds.
But this is where the known ends and the unknown begins. For Helton, the 2010s wasn’t as kind as the 2000s. He played four more seasons, never eclipsing more than 124 games played in a single season and the power fell off as he only hit 44 home runs over those four seasons. His on-base skills remained high, but the middle-of-the-order punch in his bat never returned as he only had one season above league average in wRC+ left in him (117 in 2011).
It remains to be seen what Votto has left. His production isn’t what it once was, but at this point in his career, neither was Helton’s. If Votto is able to play for a few more seasons and remain in the lineup for half to two-thirds of his team’s games or more as Helton did, the statistical mirroring of the two could carry all the way to the finish line.
Appreciating careers of star players is something we can all do as fans of baseball, regardless of where our loyalties lay. It’s something that we as fans can use as common ground when discussing our teams with each other, reminiscing about the wonderful memories these players provided us on the field. But when Rockies fans talk about Joey Votto, it should carry a little bit more sentiment because of how much he reminds us of our own franchise icon.
★ ★ ★
As fans of a franchise that prides itself on featuring as many homegrown players at the Major League level as possible, the more we know about our farmhands before the big leagues, the better. Kyle Newman of the Denver Post breaks down the prospects we should keep an eye on with the Fresno Grizzles and Spokane Indians this season. Newman provides profiles and stats for Fresno LHP Sam Weatherly, catchers Drew Romo and Colin Simpson, first baseman Grant Lavigne, and outfielder Brenton Doyle. On the Spokane side, Newman goes in depth on RHP Karl Kauffmann, LHP Helcris Olivarez, RHP Riley Pint, third baseman Aaron Schunk and first baseman Michael Toglia.
After recording his first Major League RBI on Thursday in a 13-8 win against the Reds, Daniel Guerrero takes a deep dive in to the path that led Connor Joe to this moment. After being a first-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014, Joe had moved around between four different franchises before making his big league debut with the San Francisco Giants in 2019. Joe received limited big league time in San Francisco, and in 2020 signed on with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But then Joe’s playing life went on hold as he battled testicular cancer.
Beating cancer and going through the motions of the business side of baseball has given Joe a new perspective and appreciation for the game in his time with the Rockies.
“I feel like I’ve matured a lot, obviously. Going through what I went through in 2020 has really helped me put everything into perspective and given me a new, fresh lens of gratitude. So I’m really happy to be out there and having fun with it, man. A lot of fun.”
It’s easy to root for Connor Joe with the early success he’s had since being called up, and his production has been a welcomed addition to the lineup. But the more you understand his journey, the more you root for his success personally. If you’re not a Connor Joe fan yet, you should seriously consider becoming one.
On the farm
The Albuquerque Isotopes fell to the El Paso Chihuahuas 6-3. Ryan Castellani struggled again in his second start of the season, giving up four earned runs in 4 innings pitched while surrendering five hits and three walks while only striking out one Chihuahua. The big news was Brendan Rodgers, who made his season debut for the Isotopes. Rodgers went 2-3 in his first action of the season, driving in a run on a single in the third inning. He was removed in the fifth inning as part of a double-switch.
In Hartford, the Yard Goats walked-off the Portland Sea Dogs to earn their third victory of the season. After an Elehuris Montero knocked his third home run of the season in the fist inning and Matt Hearn added a sacrifice fly in the fifth, the Yard Goats entered the bottom of the 9th inning down 4-2. Sean Bouchard singled to lead off the frame and moved up to third two batters later on a Matt McLaughlin double. Down to their final out, Max George beat out a slow roller to third base to bring home Bouchard and cut the lead in half. Todd Czinege worked a walk to load the bases and set the stage for Coco Montes. Montes delivered a double to left field, bringing home McLaughlin and George and sending the Yards Goats faithful home happy.
Spokane dropped their third straight against the Vancouver Canadians, losing 8-2. Michael Toglia did pop his fifth home run of the season in the loss.
The Fresno Grizzlies and Visalia Rawhide played free baseball, with Fresno getting a walk-off win of their own in a wild 6-5 final. The Grizzlies collected six extra-base hits, including a home run by Mateo Gil and doubles by Gil, Zac Veen, Colin Simpson and Isaac Collins. Ezequiel Tovar put the finishing touch on the offensive parade, doubling in the winning run in the eleventh inning. Will Ethridge provided a stellar start on the mound, striking out six in 5 innings while only allowing three hits and a run without walking a batter. Dugan Darnell also continued his early season relief dominance, striking out three in two clean innings with the only blemish being a hit allowed.
★ ★ ★
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