This week, TOC will be looking at five players who recently announced their retirements from the game and their potential Hall of Fame cases. Today, things get a lot more difficult, as we look at Todd Helton.
Todd Helton's Hall of Fame case isn't easy, because of two words: Coors Field. Helton has has a great career, but the effect of Coors Field on his offensive numbers is generally trotted out as the main reason to oppose his Hall of Fame candidacy. It's very similar to Larry Walker's lack of momentum in the Hall of Fame voting, and while Helton is a great candidate, he's more than likely going to be overshadowed by Coors Field. TO THE KELTNER LIST!
Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
In 2000, Helton had a ridiculous year, leading the National League in all three slash stats, along with doubles, RBI, and total bases. His 8.3 fWAR led the National League. You could make the argument that Helton was the best player in baseball that year, and only Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez were better during his five peak seasons between 2000 and 2004.
Was he the best player on his team?
Oh yeah. Walker was aging during Helton's peak years with the Rockies, and Helton took over as the team's offensive leader in those years. Once Walker left town, he was replaced by Matt Holliday, who gradually took over as the best Rockies player until he was traded to the A's. By that time, Helton's prime was over, and the duo of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez became the standard in Colorado.
Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Helton unfortunately played at the same time as Albert Pujols, but Pujols didn't take over at first base full-time until 2004 with the Cardinals. Helton's prime also overlapped with the end of Jeff Bagwell's peak and the beginning of his decline, so he gets the edge there. However, I can't realistically call him the best first baseman in baseball over that time period because of the crazy stuff that Jason Giambi was doing in Oakland (and later New York) around the same time.
Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Helton played in exactly four Postseason series in his career, three of which came during the Rockies' World Series run in 2007. Helton hit a ton over the final month of that 2007 season leading into the playoffs, slashing .385/.485/.633 in 29 games. Colorado really wasn't much of a factor in the Postseason during Helton's prime, but that 2007 run was awesome.
Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Helton's last great year was that aforementioned 2007, when he turned 34 in August. In the six seasons since, he's logged 500 plate appearances just once, but finished 13th in the MVP voting in 2009 (his one full season in the last six). Aside from 2009 and 2011, he's been roughly a replacement level player.
Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
We covered this yesterday. Of course not.
Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Helton's JAWS score is 53.9. The average Hall of Fame first baseman has a JAWS of 55.7. His 133 OPS+ is identical to Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, but lower than several players who didn't even merit consideration, like Will Clark and John Kruk. Helton's got longevity on his side, as his 2514 career hits are 12th all-time among first basemen. The only first basemen with more that aren't in are Rafael Palmeiro (due to his steroid connections), Bill Buckner (due to a very weak peak), and Steve Garvey (an inferior overall offensive player). Fred McGriff might actually be a good comparison for Helton, another player who is a solid Hall of Very Good contender that lacks any of the major round numbers to make the jump into the Hall.
Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Again, it's hit or miss. He doesn't have 500 (or even 400) homers. He doesn't have 3000 hits. His WAR7 and JAWS numbers indicate he's a borderline candidate, but he'll consistently get compared to the other first basemen on the ballot in recent years, including Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Bagwell, Palmeiro, and McGriff.
Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Helton's going to get dinged for Coors Field. In the thin air of Denver, Helton had an OPS nearly 200 points higher than on the road. His .287/.386/.470 road line isn't Hall of Fame worthy, but let's be honest here: in Helton's amazing 2000 season, he hit .353/.441/.633 on the road. Even with Coors Field inflating his home numbers to insane levels, that's just wild.
Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
Helton's going to be in that group of first basemen that I mentioned above, and of those six players, I don't think anyone would be able to rank him higher than fourth, ahead of maybe just Palmeiro and McGriff.
How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Helton had the unfortunate pleasure of having his prime take place at the same time as Barry Bonds. Bonds won the MVP in every year from 2001 and 2004 (and was the runner-up in 2000), and his absurd stats over that peak simply obliterated those of everyone else in the National League. Helton's peak was awesome, but the bad Rockies teams he played on resulted in him collecting MVP votes in just six seasons, including only one top five finish and two more top ten finishes.
How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?
Helton was only a five-time All-Star, something that seems impossible to fathom. After the 2004 All-Star Game, Pujols took up residence at first base for the National League, and younger players like Lance Berkman, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, and Ryan Howard started overwhelming Helton and taking control of the other spots designated for first baseman. Believe it or not though, Helton's five All-Star Games were as many as Thomas, Thome, Giambi, and Fielder, and were one fewer than the six played in by Paul Konerko and Berkman. Five doesn't seem like a lot, but only Konerko, Berkman, Pujols, and DH David Ortiz have played in more among players whose careers started in the last 20 years.
If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
Well, they did in 2007, but Helton wasn't head and shoulders the best player on the club that year. If the Rockies had a capable pitching staff during any of Helton's prime years, they could have made a lot of noise in the NL West. But of course, that never happened aside from 2007…and 2007 was more Holliday's team than Helton's.
What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
In 2002, the Rockies started storing balls at Coors Field in a humidor in an attempt to take the obscene offensive atmosphere down a notch. Helton wasn't directly responsible for this (obviously), but he at least contributed.
Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Aside from his embarrassing DUI arrest earlier this year, Helton did nothing out of bounds in either direction. There have been no steroid links to Helton, no disgusting off the field shenanigans aside from the DUI, and nothing to really take your opinion of Helton down a notch or three.
Helton is a difficult player to gage, and it all comes back to Coors Field. Helton was an awesome hitter in his prime, but how much of that was because of Coors Field? His five year peak was great, but it was overshadowed by Barry Bonds' peak at the same time, and his greatness as a first baseman was bludgeoned in later years by Albert Pujols' level of sheer awesomeness. Helton is a worthy Hall of Fame candidate, but I think when all is said and done, he's going to be hanging out with McGriff outside the front door.
Monday: Mariano Rivera