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The Hall of Fame tests created by Bill James may be a bit outdated in not accounting for park factors and such but still do a good job of stacking up current numbers against Cooperstown equivalencies and/or averages.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?