2021 Hall of Fame Case: Todd Helton

2021 Hall of Fame Case: Todd Helton

by December 17, 2020 0 comments

Since the inception of the Colorado Rockies in 1993, the franchise hadn’t seen one of their own get inducted into the Hall of Fame until Larry Walker in 2020. Fast-forward to 2021, and first baseman Todd Helton could join his former teammate and get the nod into Cooperstown. 

Make sure to check out all of our other MLB Hall of Fame Cases.

Helton spent the entirety of his 17-year career in the Mile High City. The native of Knoxville, Tennessee batted over .300 in his first ten full seasons of play. The lefty defined consistency in Colorado over the course of his career that ran from 1997-2013. He holds the franchise record in home runs, RBI’s, hits, doubles, walks, and runs scored. And yes, the elephant in the room will be addressed一 “The Coors Field Effect” (more on that later). 

Career Summary 

With the eighth overall pick in the 1995 MLB Draft, the Rockies selected Helton, making him the franchise’s fourth-ever first-round selection. As a 23-year-old in 1997, Helton made his major league debut but didn’t qualify as a rookie until the 1998 campaign. In a season where all eyes were on the memorable, yet infamous home run race, Helton batted .315, while launching 25 home runs and driving in 97 RBIs. 

Aside from two postseason appearances later on (2007, 2009), Helton and the Rockies were nowhere to be seen in the playoff mix for the first ten years of his career. The wildcard run in ‘07 did result in a World Series loss to the Red Sox. By then, the faithful in Colorado had turned their attention to the young budding star, Troy Tulowitzki

Helton represented the National League at five consecutive All-Star games (2000-2004) while winning four silver sluggers and four gold gloves in that time span. 2021 will be the third year that the lifetime-Rockie will be on the Hall of Fame ballot. He came up short of the magical 75 percent voting mark in his first two tries (16.5 percent and 29.2 percent in succession).

Pros

Helton’s career slash line speaks for itself (.316 BA/.414 OBP/.539 SLG). It was from 2000-2004 when his offensive peak was seen, particularly in the hits category, where he was the league-leader for the five-season stretch (ahead of the likes of Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Ichiro Suzuki).  

However, it’s not just exclusive clubs that Helton can say he’s a part of. He’s also in a class of his own in regards to this statistical feat. He is the only player in league history to knock 100 extra-base hits in consecutive campaigns (2000-2001). In fact, Chuck Klein and Lou Gehrig are the only other players to do it twice at all.

According to Baseball-Reference, Helton’s WAR from 2000-2004 ranks third in the league for that time period behind Bonds and Rodriguez. In regards to those two aforementioned players, relations to Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s) may cause a few baseball observers to eliminate them from the conversation. 

Helton’s defense at first base was elite一 arguably the best in the league. He led the majors in fielding percentage six times in his career, and his 1,726 assists are the second most of all-time amongst first baseman. 

Despite never winning an MVP award, Helton’s offensive output in 2000 was staggering (42 HR, 147 RBI, .372 BA/.463 OBP/.698 SLG). The Knoxville, Tennessee native finished fifth in voting behind Bonds, Jeff Kent, Mike Piazza, and Jim Edmonds despite having the highest WAR (8.9) that season.

Cons

Any exceptional, great, or even good player who has ever played for the Rockies has been questioned on the effect of the hitter-friendly ballpark in Denver. In the case of Helton, there is no exception to the rule. When eliminating all home games played throughout his career, Helton’s slash line is still impressive, but surely not as stellar (.287 BA/.386 OBP/.469 SLG). Besides, his 369 career home runs don’t scream “Hall of Fame” for a left-handed batting first baseman who played 17 years at Coors Field. 

From 1998-2007, Helton’s offensive numbers were elite and worthy of being in any Hall of Fame discussion. However, during the final six seasons of his career, his numbers significantly declined (not including a 2009 resurgence). He batted .245 from 2010-2013.

Verdict

It would be a shock if Helton was inducted into the Hall of Fame for the Class of 2021. However, his gradual improvement in voting from 2019-2020 is encouraging that the slugger will in fact make his way to Cooperstown down the road. Based on previous cases of players slowly gaining ground in voting and eventually getting in, (Exhibit A: Walker- 2020) it would be safe to say that Helton will find his way as an inductee sometime this decade with seven years remaining after 2021. 

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