How Larry Walker's Hall of Fame induction could clear the way for Rockies teammate Todd Helton
The Coors Field factor has been overblown, so perhaps now it will fade away
We all knew Derek Jeter was getting into the Hall of Fame when the announcement was made Tuesday evening, but we weren't sure about Larry Walker. He did get in, thankfully, on his 10th and final try. Something Walker's candidacy was fighting for years was the stigma surrounding the fact that he played a good portion of his career in Coors Field.
Coors Field is notoriously the most hitter-friendly park in the majors, and until the Rockies installed a humidor for the baseballs in 2002 offensive numbers were off-the-charts extreme. Dinging offensive players for being on the Rockies became standard practice long ago, but there's been a bit of an overcorrection when it comes to Hall of Fame voting.
Well, at least there was until Tuesday.
Walker got in and Todd Helton's vote percentage jumped significantly from 16.5 percent to 29.2. Walker's induction might have cleared the way for his former Colorado colleague, too. Perhaps the barrier has been knocked down and we'll see multiple plaques with the Rockies logo on them in the coming years.
Looking at Helton's numbers, yes, they are outrageously better at home than on the road. Here are Helton's stats from a 17-year MLB career spent entirely with the Rockies:
There's context needed, as with every Hall of Fame discussion. First of all, playing in Coors Field for home games has been proven to be a negative impact on road games. The players hit a certain way with the spacious dimensions of Coors and it just doesn't carry over into success on the road. Sometimes when a player leaves Denver, he excels. Look at D.J. LeMahieu last year with the Yankees.
Further, Helton's road line is good. Let's compare him to some Hall of Fame first basemen.
Helton on road: .287/.386/.469
Eddie Murray: .287/.359/.476
Orlando Cepeda: .297/.350/.499
Harmon Killebrew: .256/.376/.509
Willie McCovey: .270/.374/.515
Most players hit worse on the road and we were only using Helton's road slash against those players' career numbers. Pretty impressive, no?
OPS-plus adjusts for ballpark and era, so it can be used as a measuring stick with the surrounding circumstances being relatively equal. Helton posted a 133 OPS+ in his career. That figure is comparable to Hall of Famers Bill Terry (136), Frank Chance (135), Cepeda (133), Murray (129), George Sisler (125) and Tony Perez (122).
Sure, Helton is a far cry from Lou Gehrig (179), Jimmie Foxx (163) and Frank Thomas (156), but he still has Hall of Fame numbers when adjusting for ballpark. In JAWS and WAR, Helton sits just below the average Hall of Fame first baseman but comfortably ahead of several high-profile Hall of Famers (and many of the names mentioned above). To date, he's the best player in Rockies history and that should probably count for something as well.
Another area where Helton was outstanding doesn't have to do with his home park. He walked 1,335 times in his career compared to 1,175 strikeouts. In a free-swinging, high-strikeout era, Helton only struck out 100 times once (104 Ks over of 697 plate appearances in 2001). He walked more than he struck out nine of his 17 seasons, including a ridiculous 2000 season in which he struck out just 61 times in 697 plate appearances. He had 103 walks in 2000 while clubbing 216 hits, 59 doubles and 42 homers.
He finished fifth in NL MVP voting that season despite leading the NL in hits, doubles, RBI, average, OBP, slugging, total bases and WAR. Thanks, Coors Field.
With Walker getting in and Helton needing to add 45.8 percent of the vote in the next eight years, it appears we might have seen the last of the Coors Field stigma keeping worthy Rockies players out of the Hall of Fame. Look for a bump next season for the Toddfather and eventual enshrinement, thanks in part to Walker getting in on the 2020 ballot.
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