For the fourth time, first baseman Todd Helton is on the Hall of Fame ballot. While he is not expected to be inducted this year, the long-time Rockie has made progress towards Cooperstown.
Helton is known as being one of the premier bats in the league from when he debuted in the late 1990s to the early 200s. He played for Colorado in all of his 17 seasons, bringing a loyalty trait that few on the present ballot can say they have. Helton was also regarded at the time as a great glove at first, although newer metrics may not support that as much.
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Drafted eighth overall in 1995, Helton finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 1998, the season after he first appeared in the majors. His 25 home runs, .311 batting average, and .911 OPS were just the beginning of his prime. The peak came in 2000 when Helton slugged 42 home runs with 147 RBIs, a .372 average, .463 OBP, .698 SLG, and a magnificent 1.162 OPS. All that won him MV… NO? Fifth place? Helton was robbed by Jeff Kent, who won the award despite losing to Helton in every category mentioned above. Even in WAR did Helton demolish Kent, 8.9 to 7.2.
His prime continued over the next four seasons, including a career-high 49 home runs in 2001. From 2001 to 2004, Helton’s totals were a .343 average, a .447 OBP, and a 1.076 OPS. That came along with three Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers apiece. Next, he finished 2005 with a .979 OPS. As he reached the wrong side of 30, Helton did decline. But he still had a .388 OBP and an OPS of .836 from ages 32 and on. His .928 OPS in 2007 helped the Rockies get to their one World Series appearance in franchise history.
A good general benchmark for a Hall of Fame player is around 60 bWAR, excluding relievers, designated hitters, and players who were forced to retire young. The Knoxville, Tennesee native reaches that requirement, completing his career with a 61.8 bWAR. The overall hitting numbers lead the way. Helton has a .316 average, .414 OBP, and a .953 OPS over his 2,247 games played. Of all the players on the current ballot, Helton is also the only one to spend his entire career with one franchise. While players like David Ortiz, Andy Pettitte, and Jimmy Rollins certainly weren’t disloyal, Helton’s stability could endear himself to some old-fashioned voters.
The Coors Field stigma (more on that later) delayed teammate Larry Walker‘s induction, but he got in there eventually. It has been known that playing in Denver not just helps your home numbers, but also can deplete a player’s road stats. Helton had a career OPS of .855 away from home. That is the same as fellow ballot members Kent and Scott Rolen, over their entire career. And that is just when he was feeling the negative sea-level effect.
Still… the Coors effect can be used against Helton. He had a 1.048 OPS in his career there, which is going to be too high of a change from his road stats for voters. Also, he played first base, which is a position where elite hitting is expected, during an era where hitting was out of control. Thanks to that and Coors Field, Helton had a career OPS+ of 133. That is still very good. But in comparison, Tyler O’Neill had a .912 OPS in 2021, which is a lot lower than Helton’s career mark, but O’Neill’s OPS+ was 150.
As well, the other major WAR calculator is not as bullish on Helton as Baseball-Reference is. FanGraphs gives him a career WAR of just 54.9, well under the 60 WAR benchmark. While he did take home a trio of Gold Gloves in his career, Helton was merely an average player in the field. Over his career, he had a -5.0 dWAR.
While he has a lot of qualifications, it would be a miracle to see Helton inducted into the Hall this year. The goal for his campaign now is to push towards getting in by the end of his time on the ballot, just like Walker did, reaching the 75 percent mark during his tenth and final season. The 2021 Hall-of-Fame season was a huge year for Helton. 52 voters added him onto their ballot, while just three dropped him. While he is yet to see that kind of growth so far in Ryan Thibodaux’s tracker, it would still be a surprise to see Helton finish with less than the 44.9 percent of the vote that he got last year. He is more than halfway there, but getting the final thirty percent is going to be the tough part.
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