Simply stated, Todd Helton is the greatest player in Colorado Rockies history. Granted, the franchise is only 29 years old. Yet, if someone were asked to sum up Helton’s legacy in one sentence, that would be the accurate way to state it. That is a pretty good opening line to one day read on Helton’s plaque in the Hall of Fame. Helton debuted on the ballot with 16.5% in 2019. He was at 29.2% in the 2020 voting, and 44.9% in last year’s voting. All told, Helton looks like he is Cooperstown-bound. However, there are many people out there who still doubt his candidacy because of the team he played for. There are several reasons for which playing for the Rockies should not count against Todd Helton as he rightfully belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Todd Helton owns a career slash line of .316/.414/.539, which is utterly fantastic. He is one of only 23 players in history in this .300/.400/.500 club. Without getting into what these numbers actually mean, his excellence in each category reflects how well-rounded of a hitter Helton was. For his career. Helton was a career .345 hitter at home and .287 hitter on the road. Yes, this is a nearly 60 point difference as it is very common for Rockies hitters to post a higher batting average at home. Regardless, Helton was no slouch on the road as his bat-to-ball ability was still very high. When it comes to batting average, Helton was great in all areas. He hit .306 in high-leverage situations, .324 in medium-leverage, and .313 in low-leverage. He hit .307 in the first half and .329 in the second half, for his career.
Now think about posting a .400 on-base percentage for an entire 17-year career. Helton not only made contact at a high level and posted low strikeout totals, but he was also great at drawing walks. He drew 100 or more walks in a single season five times, reaching as high as 127 in 2004. Being able to draw walks at a high rate made Helton a more dangerous hitter as a result. He posted a .400 or better on-base percentage nine times in his career, and every year from 2000-2007. Among all hitters in history with at least 8,000 career plate appearances, Helton’s 14.1% walk rate ranks 28th.
A high home run total is not the only way to put up a .500 slugging percentage. Posting a figure like that involves hitting lots of doubles as well, and maybe the occasional triple or two. Helton’s career slugging percentage ranks 22nd all-time and 592 doubles ranks 20th. As a first baseman, Helton’s 369 home runs are excellent but do not particularly stand out at his position as he ranks 27th all-time at his position. Even on the road, Helton’s slugging percentage was .469 and he hit 142 home runs, which are still very good numbers. All told, Helton’s power numbers are truly a reflection of his talent and not his home ballpark.
Todd Helton’s Peak Performance
Todd Helton accrued a 61.8 WAR throughout his career. Per JAWS, which is a WAR score system developed by Jay Jaffe, Helton’s total of 54.2 is 15th all-time amongst first basemen. 11 of the 14 players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame. The other three are Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Rafael Palmeiro. JAWS is a combination of a seven year-peak WAR and career totals. By WAR7, which is just a player’s WAR total combined from his top seven seasons, Helton’s 46.6 is 10th all-time and above the Hall of Fame average for first basemen. Helton’s peak spans from 1999 to 2007. In this span, he put up a .334/.437/.591 line, good for a 1.028 OPS and 147 OPS+, and he put up 51.7 bWAR which amounts to about 5.7 bWAR per season. As a first baseman, averaging nearly 6 WAR for nine consecutive seasons is a remarkable feat.
Let’s look at Helton’s truly monstrous stretch from 2000-2004. These are also the years in which Barry Bonds, and steroids, dominated the sport. In this five-year span, Helton averaged 37 HR, 123 RBI, 199 H, 50 2B, and 108 BB per year. His batting line in this span was an astonishing .349/.450/.643. This amounts to a 1.093 OPS which ranked second in the sport and 160 OPS+ ranked fifth. Additionally, his 37.5 bWAR ranked third in the sport. He posted an OPS above 1.000 in all five years, with the best being 1.162 (2000). In fact, his 2000 season is among the best to not win MVP. He led either the NL or baseball in hits (216), doubles (59), RBI (147), average (.372), on-base (.463), slugging (.698), OPS, total bases (405), and WAR (8.9). It is his peak performance that should put Todd Helton in the Hall of Fame.
It took writers ten years to vote Larry Walker into the Hall of Fame, primarily because he played a good portion of his career in Colorado. The same cannot happen to Todd Helton. While the Coors Field effect is real, the anti-Coors effect is real as well. While one should not simply look at a Rockies player’s road statistics to judge them, Helton passes this test as he owns a career .855 OPS on the road. In 2000, Helton still hit .353 with a 1.074 OPS on the road. In 2001, he put up a .977 OPS on the road. Todd Helton was an elite hitter regardless of where he played and deserves a plaque in the Hall of Fame.
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