Thursday, January 17, 2019

COMC Haul and HOF voting: Todd Helton

The 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame voting results will be announced next week (finally!) and a bunch of baseball bloggers have made a list of who would receive their vote. I posted my ballot in November (I'm going to look like an idiot for leaving off Roy Halladay) but today I wanted to focus on one player in particular: Todd Helton.

Helton is not the only Cooperstown candidate I saw play in person, but he is the only one who played minor league ball in my backyard. During COMC's most recent sale I spent just over $10 on three Todd Helton cards: the 1997-style Game Jersey above cost $1.30..

..while this 1998 Best insert (with Kerry Wood on the reverse) was $0.75. A copy of this 1997 Best auto sold in a previous COMC sale, so I made sure to grab the last available copy for $8.02 - a bit more than the other one sold for, but still a great price considering he has only a dozen autographed cards available on the site. This one was even more appealing to me because it's a New Haven Ravens card.

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the 'Coors Field effect' enhancing the home totals of sluggers like Helton, Larry Walker, and others. In prior years, BBWAA voters often left Walker off their ballot for this reason. This year, his totals have soared so far. Meanwhile, Helton currently sits at 20% on the BBHOF vote tracker - though that only counts public ballots.

This is preliminary of course, but there is no way that Helton (or Scott Rolen) should have only half as many votes as Fred McGriff or Omar Vizquel. 

A few months ago I had planned on writing a blog post comparing middle-tier Hall of Fame 1st Basemen with non HOFers like Helton, McGriff, Steve Garvey, and others..but the Coors Field effect complicates matters. Instead I'll compare his best season to that of his Rockies teammate and ballot mate Larry Walker, who played significantly fewer games in Denver (and fewer games overall.) 

Here's a side-by-side comparison of their best seasons - a reminder of the video game numbers that could be produced in the thin Rocky Mountain air:

Walker 1997.366/.452/.720491301431781st
Helton 2000.372/.463/.698421471381635th

In almost any other year, Helton's batting line alone would have earned him an MVP award; he led the NL in WAR that season (finishing ahead of PED poppers Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, and actual 2000 MVP Jeff Kent). Supporters of Fred McGriff insist that he has been 'punished' for playing clean in a dirty era. is it possible that a similar bias is hurting the Rockies' slugger?

A back injury robbed Helton of his power (similar to Don Mattingly) but the timing of his decline dovetails with the beginning of PED testing - which led at least one reporter to publicly accuse him of steroid use. That appears to be an outlier, as Helton strongly denied it at the time, and I haven't heard any other accusations against him since. 

Cooperstown Cred wrote an excellent piece on Helton's HOF case. I recommended reading it, but here's the gist:
Using WAR (Wins Above Replacement), Helton’s career total of 61.2 is 18th best for all first basemen in history. The only first sackers with higher are PED linked (Rafael Palmerio, Mark McGwire) or still active (Pujols & Cabrera). Using Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, he’s ranked 16th best, ahead of 10 Cooperstown-enshrined first basemen.
I think they may have counted the Hall of Fame average as a player, because when I look at the list, Helton is 17th in 1st Baseman WAR and 15th in JAWS. Regardless, this basically means he's about the 16th-greatest player ever at his position. All things considered, is this enough to eventually enshrine the Rockies' greatest player? 



  1. Yeah, I'm surprised he hasn't gotten more support.

  2. I always liked Helton... and the fact that he spent his entire career in Colorado makes him even cooler. But if Walker doesn't get in... I don't see him getting in either. That being said... I like that Walker is finally receiving some HOF support these days.

  3. He may not be an all-time great but Helton is deserving of a spot in Cooperstown. If anything, clean players who were at the top of the charts in the PED era should be given even more weight.