Thursday Rockpile: Hall of Fame voters continuing to hold Coors Field against Todd Helton is farcical

Jan 26, 2023 - 1:00 PM
MLB: <a href=Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers" src="" />
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

“We’re not talking about performance-enhancing drugs here. Sign stealing has been going on for the past 100 years. There are teams who have used hidden cameras for years. Team employees flashed signs from outfield seats and scoreboards.”

This is what national baseball writer for USA Today Bob Nightengale wrote while defending his choice to include Carlos Beltrán on his four-man Hall of Fame ballot this year. Beltrán — who was in his first year of candidacy and earned 46.5% of the vote while appearing on 181 ballots — was the player who designed the system the Houston Astros used to cheat on their way to a 2017 World Series win.

“We have steroid users in the Hall of Fame now, dozens of pitchers who illegally doctored baseballs, and plenty of managers and executives who looked the other way when players cheated.”

Nightengale did not include Colorado Rockies legendary first baseman Todd Lynn Helton on his ballot. Four BBWAA writers submitted blank ballots. Seven submitted single-player ballots, none of which were for Helton. Those combined 11 ballots represent more than the number of votes by which Helton fell short in his fifth year of candidacy: nine votes short, just 2.7% of ballots submitted. Helton ended the day on Tuesday just short of enshrinement with 72.2% of the vote and appeared on 281 ballots.

The only ballot candidate to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year will be former Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen. Fred McGriff, selected unanimously by the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee, will be inducted alongside Rolen.

Once again, Helton was held back by the “sin” of playing for the Rockies and playing half of his games at Coors Field. Helton — like Larry Walker before him — is punished for his home/road splits from playing at what is called a hitter’s paradise.

It’s true. There is a big discrepancy between Helton’s home and road numbers. His 1.048 home OPS is in the top ten all-time for MLB players appearing in at least 1,000 games. His home batting average and slugging percentage are significantly higher, and he certainly hit more doubles and home runs at home. Ironically some voters hold an egregious double standard to the so called “Coors Effect” when it comes to Helton’s candidacy: that he wasn’t good enough at Coors Field.

“Helton played his entire career in the launching pad of Coors Field,” Bob Nightengale wrote, “hitting just 369 home runs as a first baseman despite playing 17 years in the mile-high altitude, with just 142 homers on the road. In comparison, McGriff had 493 homers total and 252 on the road. Can you imagine how many homers McGriff would have hit playing at Coors Field?”

This double standard also ignores that Helton was not a prototypical power-hitting first baseman. Rather than thrive on the long ball, Helton was a prodigious doubles hitter, and ranks 20th all-time in career doubles from 1876 to present day with 592. Helton hit the most doubles by a first baseman in MLB history. It also ignores the fact that, even though there is a big difference in his splits, Helton’s road numbers are pretty damn good. Let’s compare him to this year’s inductees.

Let me first preface this with the fact I believe both Scott Rolen and Fred McGriff belong in the Hall of Fame. McGriff should not have had to wait until the Contemporary Committee selected him to be inducted and Rolen was a truly spectacular third baseman who would have been on my ballot were I afforded one. I just think it’s important to draw these comparisons because if Rolen and McGriff are good enough for the Hall of Fame... why isn’t Todd Helton?

Let’s start with Fred McGriff. McGriff is an interesting case because his home/road splits are fairly close, but he was actually a better overall hitter on the road. McGriff also played two more seasons than Helton. However, when you compare their career numbers and splits, Helton has an edge in multiple statistics. Helton’s career hits, runs, doubles, triples, walks, and strikeouts are all better than McGriff’s career numbers in those categories. Helton also leads McGriff in career batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. But we’re not supposed to believe those numbers because of Coors Field. Fine. We’ll only take Helton’s road numbers into account.

Todd Helton’s road batting average is better than McGriff’s career batting average. Todd Helton’s road on-base percentage is better than McGriff’s career on-base percentage. While McGriff’s slugging percentage is higher than Helton’s road slugging percentage, it makes sense because McGriff was much more of a home run hitter. Helton hit 271 doubles on the road whereas McGriff hit 225. McGriff’s career OPS (as well as his home and road OPS) are higher than Helton’s due to difference in slugging, but the difference between Helton’s .855 road OPS and McGriff’s .886 career OPS isn’t particularly severe.

Then there’s Scott Rolen. Number 27 against Number 17. Both had successful 17-year MLB careers and both started and retired within a year of each other. Both players were capable of, but not overly reliant on, power hitting and home runs.

Todd Helton was statistically better than Scott Rolen in all but two standard batting categories in 17 years of play. The two where Rolen beats out Helton are triples — for which he only has six more — and stolen bases.

Once again we’ll look at Helton’s road numbers only when comparing him to Rolen, since Coors Field doesn’t count. Todd Helton’s road batting average and on-base percentage are both higher than Rolen’s career batting average and on-base percentage. The difference between slugging percentages — Helton’s .469 versus Rolen’s .490 — is negligible. Perhaps most importantly, Todd Helton’s road OPS and Scott Rolen’s career OPS are identical at .855.

Oh, and Helton’s road OPS is better than the career OPS of three Hall of Famers in George Brett, Tony Gwynn, and Dave Winfield.

The always wonderful Jayson Stark over at The Athletic wrote about Helton in regards to his own ballot. Specifically, he addresses Coors Field and looking past it.

“So whaddaya know. Turns out we now have so many newfangled tools to work with, we can evaluate the true greatness of Helton’s career exactly how we evaluate the cases of players who didn’t play half their careers at Coors Field. Who knew! Let’s take park-adjusted OPS+, for instance.”

HIGHEST CAREER OPS+, RETIRED 1B (since 1900, min. 2,000 games at 1B)

  • Lou Gehrig: 179
  • Jeff Bagwell: 149
  • Willie McCovey: 147
  • Albert Pujols: 145
  • Fred McGriff: 134
  • Todd Helton, 133

“Get the picture?” Stark boldly states. “Even adjusting for ballpark effect, Helton is on a list with four Hall of Famers and one surefire 2027 Hall of Famer (Pujols). And that’s it.”

Todd Helton will in all likelihood be voted into the Hall of Fame’s 2024 class. He’s seen his voting percentages take huge jumps over the last few cycles (helped in part by Larry Walker’s induction). Helton had just 29.2% of votes needed in 2020. In 2022 he had 52.0%. This year he had 72.2%. It’s only a matter of time until the lifelong Rockies legend is enshrined. However, if he’s good enough to get in next year then why isn’t he good enough to get in this year? Especially with how he compares to two inductees of the 2023 class. Helton is one of the best first basement to ever suit up in this great game of ours, both on the road and at Coors Field. To hold where he played half of his games against him is ludicrous and must stop.

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Baseball Hall of Fame election: 5 takeaways from Scott Rolen’s triumph and a historic vote | The Athletic ($)

The previously mentioned Jayson Stark of the Athletic reviews the aftermath of this year’s Hall of Fame election and his top five takeaways. He firmly believes Helton will be inducted to Cooperstown next year. Helton was on the cusp of something historic: going from 52% of the ballot one year to being elected the next.

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