Helton’s End in Denver?

If there’s a troubling tendency of over rated and under rated discussions it’s the nature for players that appear so often on one side or the other that they switch from being perennially under rated to over rated or vice versa. This is usually partly due to repetitive media coverage hammering a player into a certain light (that he is either under rated or over rated) and usually partly due to opinions formed that were valid at the time, but because so much time has passed, that opinion needs to be updated or has become outdated completely.

One such player that I feel has become somewhat overlooked because of an opinion formed a few years ago is Todd Helton. Starting in 2005, when Helton’s slugging dropped off a cliff, his name has been usually referenced in conjunction with his contract and usually using the terms such as untradeable or overpriced.

Because of that, Helton’s started to fly under the radar as his contract comes closer to the end. Assuming his option is declined, Helton is owed just under $57 million over the next three seasons. Because of this high amount of dollars left and the Rockies poor record this season, the rumors of Todd Helton being moved are on the rise. How viable would Helton be as a trade target in a winter that seems overloaded with aging hitting talent?

Helton’s performance is down a lot this season, but for the most part, it’s due to bad luck as his 23.4% line drive rate coupled with just a .298 BABIP suggest. With most of his core numbers intact, it’s likely that Helton’s overall skill hasn’t diminished all that much from his previous years. That would put his bat at around 30 runs over average in value.

Worth the contract? No, not even close, but if the Rockies are indeed intent on moving Helton and willing to eat some salary, then Helton might make sense to a team in the market for a first basemen with strong on base skills.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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How can you analyze Helton’s chances of being traded without noting his much poorer road numbers? He has always hit a lot worse on the road. Even with his decline in hitting in Coors, he’s still over 100 OPS points worse on the road:

2006 .266/.360/.421/.781, 7 HR in 271AB, 39 AB/HR, -195 OPS differential
2007 .308/.407/.460/.868, 8 HR in 302 AB, 38 AB/HR, -129 OPS
2008 .262/.389/.342/.731, 2 HR in 149 AB, 75 AB/HR, -105 OPS

Unless a hitter’s park team like the Reds, Phillies, or Rangers trade for him, his numbers should drop precipitously into replacement level territory, particularly for a 1B as he has been subpar and below average on the road for two of the past three years, with no HR power. And for that he’s making nearly $19M per season, it’s a huge albatross of a contract (as you noted), paying for superstar production but getting not even average production.

The Rockies would probably have to eat at least $10M per year, if not $12-15M, in order for another team to take on a declining hitter (on-base or no on-base) who will be officially 35 for next season, and has been slowly declining since he turned 31 (or about the time when the crackdown on steroids started; a radio announcer once tied his name to steroids and it was around then that suddenly Pudge Rodriguez, another reputed user, slimmed down).

This kind of reminds me of Willie Mays end of his career, his HR power dried up and he was left working to get a walk and boost his OBP up way high, keeping his value going.

But how bad is that, a “power” hitter who couldn’t even get his SLG over his OBP on the road as Helton did in 2008? It may be bad luck, but with his BABIP down below career norms in two of the past three years, perhaps it’s more father time, than bad luck.