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Does Todd Helton belong in the Hall of Fame?

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Digging deep into the data to answer this question

Yes.

Okay, now that that question has been answered, I will address all the questions from the doubters as to why Todd Helton doesn’t belong in Cooperstown.

Helton had a long career, but was his peak high enough?

There are 11 players to ever have five consecutive seasons of 1.000 or higher OPS; seven hall of famers, three with direct links to steroids (Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez), and Todd Helton. He is also one of only four players in MLB history to have reached 400 total bases in consecutive seasons and one of only five players ever to have at least 200 hits, 40 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs, 100 extra-base hits, and 100 walks in one season. The others to achieve these lines are Hall of Famers Chuck Klein, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and Hank Greenberg. And then there’s this:

Okay, so his peak was pretty high, but he wasn’t that good for very long, right?

The five-time all-star is one of only three first basemen in MLB history to have a batting average of at least .315 for eight consecutive seasons (1998-2005) and is the only player ever to hit 35 or more doubles in at least 10 consecutive seasons (1998-2007). For the 2000-2009 decade (I like to call it the Oughties, as first coined by Bill Simmons) Todd Helton was fourth in bWAR, third in batting average, and second in on-base percentage amongst all position players in Major League Baseball. And he did it clean in the second half of the height of the steroid era.

The below tweet from the great account of @TH17HOF compares Helton’s first eight years to the beginning of the careers of six of the greatest players to ever play the game.

But was his fielding good enough?

Todd Helton won three gold gloves at first base and played in a league with Albert Pujols and Adrián González to be robbed of more. Helton could do it all at first, from charging hard on bunts to cut down the lead runner, digging out throws in the dirt from his infielders, to starting double plays. He is second all time, behind only Eddie Murray, with 1,726 assists as a first basemen and trails only Keith Hernandez in most defensive runs saved (by TZR) at first base with 106.

He never won an MVP award, shouldn’t that be a requirement for enshrinement?

I will admit to having the opinion in the past that a player should have an MVP award to be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. However, over time I have changed my mind on this after realizing that MVP voting can be off and how often it is contingent upon playing on a “good” team, something that no individual player can control in a sport like baseball.

Let’s look at the 2000 season in which Todd Helton deserved to win the National League Most Valuable Player award. He slashed .372/.463/.698 for an OPS of 1.162 and had 42 home runs, 59 doubles (most in a single season since the league was integrated), and 147 RBI. He finished the year with an NL best 8.9 bWAR, 1.7 higher than that year’s MVP Jeff Kent.

This was still in the early years of Coors Field when voters didn’t necessarily know how to account for the unique environment that Rockies hitters got to play in and didn’t really accommodate for the Coors hangover when considering home/road splits. To be fair, Helton did only slash .353/.441/.633 on the road that year. Here are the road totals of the top five vote getters in the NL MVP race in 2000:

2000 Road Splits

Player BA OBP SLG OPS
Player BA OBP SLG OPS
Kent 0.333 0.429 0.624 1.053
Bonds 0.291 0.431 0.633 1.064
Piazza 0.377 0.459 0.701 1.160
Edmonds 0.295 0.400 0.556 0.956
Helton 0.353 0.441 0.633 1.074

And the overall totals:

2000 MVP Race

Player BA OBP SLG OPS bWAR
Player BA OBP SLG OPS bWAR
Kent 0.334 0.424 0.596 1.020 7.2
Bonds 0.306 0.440 0.688 1.128 7.7
Piazza 0.324 0.398 0.614 1.012 5.1
Edmonds 0.295 0.411 0.583 0.994 6.3
Helton 0.372 0.463 0.698 1.161 8.9

Didn’t he tail off at the end of his career?

Todd Helton’s career batting average (which includes the end of his career) of .316 puts him at 63rd on the all-time list and 10th among players that have color pictures on their Baseball Reference page, behind only Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, Stan Musial, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Joe DiMaggio, Kirby Puckett, Vladimir Guerrero, and Roberto Clemente. Helton’s career OPS of .953 puts him at 18th on the all-time list, trailing only Hall of Famers, known steroid users, and Mike Trout.

Since 1988, Todd Helton has the second highest slugging percentage with two strikes in MLB, at .426, trailing only Barry Bonds. While back injuries zapped most of Helton’s power late in his career, he was still a great hitter and displayed as much with his two-strike approach. A prototypical Helton at-bat consisted of five two-strike foul balls before lining a double down the left field line, and this was true until the day he retired in 2013.

Still not convinced? Here are some counting stats with all-time rankings: 2,519 Hits (97th), 369 HR (81st), 1,406 RBI (77th), 592 2B (19th). 1,335 BB (35th).

But what about playing all of his home games at Coors Field?

Hitters benefit from playing their home games at Coors, however, they are also punished by the Coors hangover when hitting on the road. A phenomenon that has become more accepted as conventional wisdom in recent years that is caused by Rockies hitters having to adjust to breaking balls that break more when they hit on the road than they are used to seeing at home.

To illustrate how well Helton overcame this, let’s look at a comparison to first ballot Hall of Famer George Brett. Brett received 98.19% of the votes in 1999 to be inducted into the Hall of Fame after finishing his career slashing .290/.356/.469 on the road while Todd Helton slashed a similar (but ultimately better) .287/.386/.469 on the road while dealing with the Coors hangover.

While clearly benefitting from playing his home games at a mile high, Todd Helton was a pure hitter who had a clearly defined strike zone, knew how to work counts and draw walks, and put the ball in play. He took advantage of the environment that he played in and hit well enough on the road to show that he wasn’t just a “Coors creation” over the course of his 17-year career. Helton’s .855 road OPS would put him at 156th on the all-time OPS list and higher than the overall career OPS of Scott Rolen, Jeff Kent, Jim Rice, and Tony Gwynn.

All of that is well and good, but didn’t Helton bounce around from team to team?

Nope,

17 years as the face of the Colorado Rockies. One team for his whole career, never asking out to find a better situation, never complaining about his lack of help, just being a mentor to multiple generations of young players and working toward his goal of bringing a championship to the team that drafted him.

Todd Helton is a no doubt Hall of Famer in my book and hopefully in the minds of 75% of baseball writers in the winter of 2021.