Hall Query: Todd Helton

I know, I know: Hall of Fame discussions can be a bit tiresome these days. Still, something struck me a bit odd during a conversation with my father recently that merited further discussion amongst all the loyal readers and commenters here. Our conversation dealt with Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies and whether or not his career accomplishments and accolades are “worthy” of inclusion into baseball’s hallowed hall. Essentially, I had contended that it would be very difficult for a Rockie to be inducted. For pitchers, the reasons should be a bit more obvious, but for hitters, they would have to have numbers great enough to transcend the initial, and likely true, belief that they benefited from playing in Coors Field.

Based on win probability statistics, Helton has been one of the, if not the, best first basemen in the National League since his Rookie of the Year-winning 1998 campaign. From 2000-2004 he contributed 26.88 WPA wins, 30.51 context-neutral wins, and averaged 69.78 BRAA per season. Other than his 2002 WPA, which ranked 5th, he finished #1 or #2 amongst NL first basemen in each of these categories, each year.

Since his career began in 1998, and amongst those with at least 1,000 games in that span, Helton’s .332 BA ranks second to only Ichiro Suzuki; his .432 OBP ranks second to none other than Barry Bonds; and his 1.017 OPS ranks fourth to Bonds, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez.

The Hall of Fame tests created by Bill James may be a bit outdated in not accounting for park factors and such but still do a good job of stacking up current numbers against Cooperstown equivalencies and/or averages. Based on these it would seem Helton is a borderline case:

Black Ink: Helton=16, Average=27
Gray Ink: Helton=141, Average=144
HOF Standards: Helton=50, Average=50
HOF Monitor: Helton=154, Average > 100

He vastly exceeds the monitor, which serves to award points based on milestones and numbers accrued, but currently falls short in the ink tests; Black Ink measures how often a player leads the league while Gray looks at those who finish amongst the top performers. What hurts Helton from a statistical standpoint is that he looks to be borderline based on the aforementioned tests yet his career home/road splits confirm the theories of Coors dissenters:

Home: 3617 PA, .363/.461/.653, 1.114 OPS, 190 HR, 341 K
Road: 3488 PA, .294/.394/.494, .888 OPS, 120 HR, 467 K

Now, his road numbers are still quite good, and are well above average, but they definitely pale in comparison to the Ruthian efforts at home. Ultimately, though, I’ll pose the following questions:

a) When all is said and done will Helton be inducted? (Keep in mind “will” does not necessarily mean “deserve”)
b) What would it take for a Rockies hitter to be inducted? Equally impressive home/road splits?

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

6 Responses to “Hall Query: Todd Helton”

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  1. Steve says:

    I may be completely making up my following comment, but here goes.

    Don’t players typically perform worse on road anyways? Is there a way yo look at Helton’s road numbers and inflate them to what they would be in a neutral park? Could one use factors that should not change depending on the park (K% & BB%). Though I suppose the thin air effects the movement on pitches therefore there could be an effect on K% and BB%.

    I’m really just thinking out loud and Helton’s numbers seem quite different, more than just thin air.

    I did just suffer a minor concussion so I might not be making a lot of sense.

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  2. Eric Seidman says:

    Steve, yeah, players typically perform worse on the road than at home but what happens with Helton’s numbers, and Holliday’s last year, as well as several other Rockies players, is that their home numbers are otherworldly. So, even though their road numbers are well above average, they get dwarfed by the home numbers.

    If I recall correctly, there was something recently that showed an average BA was .267-.269 at home and .261-.263 on the road. So a guy like Helton in his career is about 100 points better than average at home and 30 points better on the road.

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  3. Chris Miller says:

    I’m thinking w/ Helton, if you properly normalize for Coors, and factor in his 1B defense over the years, he falls short, but isn’t as far off as people would think.

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  4. Mark Runsvold says:

    I think Chris is exactly right. Helton’s Hall case isn’t easy to dismiss, but it ultimately falls short. Helton may rival Bonds, Pujols, and Ramirez in raw rate stats, but his EqA falls well short (.307 vs. .355!, .344 and .326, respectively). Looking at BP’s translated batting statistics, Helton’s career is more reminiscent of someone like John Olerud–a very good player no doubt, but short of Hall of Fame-caliber.

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  5. Sal Paradise says:

    Comparing Helton to Pujols, Ramirez and Bonds is a bit off, since they are (or should be) first ballot no-doubt hall of famers (PED nonsense notwithstanding). One of the other things to keep in mind is that the Coors hangover effect has also been documented. Had Helton been on another team, he may have had worse home stats, but his road splits would likely be higher than what was shown above.

    If he plays good baseball for another 5 years (he’s probably no longer great), then we may be revisiting this issue with fewer doubts. For now I think it’s hard to say “Definitely no” as much as it is to say “Definitely yes”.

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  6. Eric Seidman says:

    Sal, definitely not comparing him to anyone. There’s a huge difference in saying Helton has comparable numbers to such and such and saying he has the ‘x’ highest behind just ‘insert players.’

    I definitely agree Bonds is first ballot, or should be. RJ Anderson at Beyond the Box Score put something up recently showing that, in using WARP, Bonds makes the average hall of famer look like a replacement player.

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