Helton a solid player, but not a Hall of Famer

Posted

The most storied and popular player in Colorado Rockies history will make his final home appearance tonight at Coors Field.

Todd Helton, the 40-year-old first baseman and face of the franchise, is retiring at the end of this season. That means that if you want to see Todd play his final game - ever - you will have to head to Los Angeles this weekend.

Helton had a fine career. At one point he was among the best hitters in the game. But that was more than a decade ago.

His lifetime statistics (through Sept. 18) are impressive: 2,507 hits, 587 doubles, 367 home runs and a .316 batting average in 17 seasons in a Rockies uniform.

My dealings with Helton have always been pleasant. He's up front most of the time and is generally accessible before and after games.

No doubt, you've heard numerous broadcasters and reporters state their cases why Helton should someday be enshrined in Cooperstown. Using statistics, facts and other data, I will present an open and shut case why I believe he is not Hall-of-Fame worthy.

The biggest obstacle Helton has to overcome when it comes to his Hall of Fame worthiness is the fact that he played at Coors Field - the most hitter friendly park in the history of mankind. Helton's numbers at Coors Field, especially during the first few years of his career, are off the chart. But his stats on the road are average at best.

Helton is a lifetime .345 hitter at Coors Field in 1,135 games. But on the road he is hitting just 287 in 1,103 games. He's belted 225 home runs at home, compared to 142 on the road. Furthermore, he has 300 more RBIs at home than on the road.

Since Helton is a much more dangerous in Denver, it makes sense that he has walked 85 more times (709 to 624) at home than on the road. But what jumps out at me is that he has struck out 149 more times on the road (657 to 508). And that comes in 99 fewer at bats than at Coors.

Helton has also scored 341 fewer runs on the road (527 to 868).

Helton's speed, or lack thereof, will never get him confused with Rickey Henderson, so I don't knock him for having only 37 lifetime triples and 37 lifetime stolen bases. Heck, Joe DiMaggio only had 30 stolen bases, but Mr. Coffee did have 131 triples and - if you can believe it - struck out only 369 times. Likewise, Ted Williams had only 24 stolen bases, but he made up for it with 521 home runs and 71 triples. He struck out just 709 times in his career.

What hurts Helton's Hall of Fame case the most, however, is that he has not been among the best players in the game in a decade. From 1998 through 2004 his home run totals were 25, 35, 42, 49, 30, 33 and 32. He had at least 96 RBIs in every season, with highs of 147 and 146, respectively, in 2000 and 2001. He also had batting averages that rivaled Teddy Ballgame, hitting as high as .372 in 2000. He was an all-star from 2000 to 2004.

But in 2005 Helton's numbers took a drastic downturn. Suddenly, he was a normal ball player; 20 home runs, 79 RBIs, .320 batting average in 144 games (509 at bats).

So why have Helton's numbers plummeted the last 10 years? A rash of injuries has led to numerous stints on the disabled list. Age has probably played a role. Perhaps pitchers figured him out.

In any case, in the last nine years he's had as many as 90 RBIs just once. Five times he's has less than 70 RBIs. His best home run total in the last eight seasons is 17 in 2007.

Helton's best seasons came when he was 27 and 28 years old. Baseball players usually hit their prime from 28 to 32. Many continue to produce at a high rate into their mid 30s. That was never the case with Helton.

Years ago, the Rockies' public relations staff began making their case why they believe Helton is a Hall of Famer. They often compare him to Stan Musial as being the only players in major league history with at least 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, 350 home runs and a .310 or higher career batting average.

At one time, Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds (Barry's dad) were the only players in history with 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases. While Bobby Bonds was a solid player, he was not a Hall of Famer.

Likewise, Johnny Damon and Paul Molitor are the only players in major league history with 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 home runs, 400 stolen bases and 2,500 hits. While Molitor was a shoe-in for the Hall, it is doubtful Damon will ever have a plaque hanging in upstate New York.

Back to Musial. He had 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 hits on the road. Helton has 259 fewer hits on the road in about the same amount of games played at home.

Maybe you disagree with my analysis, but you can't argue with the numbers. They are what they are. And I believe that Helton is not a Hall of Famer.