Rockies first baseman Todd Helton is hanging up his cleats after this season, according to the Denver Post. Helton, who turned 40 last month, has spent his entire career with Colorado after being drafted eighth overall in the 1995 Draft.
Calling Helton the greatest Rockie of all-time is probably an understatement. Helton has the third-highest batting average in Rockies history (behind Larry Walker and Matt Holliday), is second behind Walker in on-base percentage, and is the club's all-time leader in nearly every counting stat, including games, plate appearances, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBI, and walks.
Helton has lost some steam in recent years, and has tallied 500 plate appearances just once in a season since 2008. Over his career, Helton was a five-time All-Star, was the runner-up to Kerry Wood for the Rookie of the Year award in 1998, had three top ten MVP finishes, won three Gold Gloves, and four Silver Sluggers. Helton never won a World Series, but was a member of the Rockies' pennant winning club in 2007 and hit .333/.412/.467 in their World Series sweep at the hands of the Red Sox.
The end seemed inevitable for Helton, given his season this year. In 112 games, he's been a shadow of his former self, hitting just .244/.315/.408 with 13 home runs. Helton is walking in under 10% of his plate appearances for the first time since his rookie year of 1998, a remarkable run that shows just the type of hitter that he was. He's missed time this season with a strained forearm, and played in just 69 games last season thanks to a sore right hip that eventually required surgery on his labrum. Helton's back had also given him problems in recent years, and he was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease in 2008, also missing time after herniating a disc.
His Hall of Fame case, much like Vladimir Guerrero's, will be an interesting one. Like former teammate Larry Walker, Helton will forever be linked to Coors Field, and his .317/415/.539 will be called an effect of the thin Denver air. While Helton did mash at home, his career line on the road is .287/.386/.470, which isn't exactly chopped liver but pales in comparison to his .345/.442/.607 line at Coors. Helton's JAWS score is comparable to that of Willie McCovey and Eddie Murray, two players who made up for a weaker peak with longevity. During his five peak years from 2000-2004, Helton hit .349/.450/.643 – are you kidding me? In 2000, Helton hit 59 doubles, the highest post-war total in MLB history, drove in a league-high 147 runs, batted a league-leading .372, and hit 42 home runs…and got just one first place MVP vote.
Adieu to you, Mr Helton, one of the more underrated players in baseball history. The Rockies will begin their final homestand of the year on Monday against the Cardinals, and it's fitting that Helton's final home game next Wednesday will be against the Red Sox, who beat the Rockies in the 2007 World Series.