Rockies legend Todd Helton continues to make gains in Hall of Fame voting, to the point that it looks like he'll be headed to Cooperstown one day. He started at just 16.5 percent but rose to 52 percent last year in his fourth try. He's already gained double digits in votes on publicly-known ballots this time around, so he's trending up again.
With Helton's case, there comes a bit of a stigma after having spent his entire career playing home games in hitter's haven Coors Field. And we're gonna get to that in a second. First, though, his actual numbers.
Helton hit .316/.414/.539 in his career, good for a park-adjusted 133 OPS+. That means he was still 33 percent better at getting on base and hitting for power than the average hitter when adjusting for a hitter-friendly home. He racked up 2,519 hits, 592 doubles, 369 home runs, 1,406 RBI and 1,401 runs. He also walked 1,335 times compared to 1,175 strikeouts. An excellent fielder, he won three Gold Gloves and there's an argument to be made he should have won several more.
In JAWS, Helton ranks 15th among first basemen all-time. He's ahead of the average Hall of Fame first baseman and individually tops Eddie Murray, Hank Greenberg, George Sisler, Bill Terry, Harmon Killebrew, David Ortiz, Tony Perez, Fred McGriff and a few others.
Helton isn't an inner-circle great like Lou Gehrig or Jimmie Foxx, but there's room for more and with the JAWS system, Helton leads a good number of obvious Hall of Famers.
Many want to dock Helton due to his home park. Just check out his career splits:
Those are drastic, absolutely. It's pretty jarring. As I pointed out in January 2020, Helton doesn't fare terribly in road splits against the full career numbers of some Hall of Fame first basemen, though. Look:
Helton on the road: .287/.386/.469
Eddie Murray: .287/.359/.476
Orlando Cepeda: .297/.350/.499
Harmon Killebrew: .256/.376/.509
Willie McCovey: .270/.374/.515
Helton may fare worse away from home but those numbers certainly aren't bad enough to disqualify him. No, instead the argument would be that his home stats boosted him into Hall of Fame territory.
On that front, I think we're smart enough to see the difference between artificial Coors Creations and superstars, no? And it's not like there's a flood of Rockies Hall of Famers in the recent past or even the future that should concern anyone. Larry Walker is the only one so far. After Helton, who would come next? Nolan Arenado? He'll have played around half of his career with the Cardinals by then. Anyone else? Not that I can find. Maybe Kris Bryant gets there after a decade of compiling huge numbers, but he'd have the Cubs years on his resume and it would be an awful lot of work moving forward to get into the conversation.
So what are we actually worried about here?
I actually think the voting body has been collectively too hard on Rockies players. Remember, playing in Coors actually makes road games much tougher for hitters.
Here's where the Rockies rank in OPS on the road per season out of the 30 MLB teams, going from this past season all the way back to Helton's rookie year. We'll skip 2020 because, well, obviously.
The outliers aren't even league average. At some point, it isn't a coincidence. Coors Field pumps up offensive numbers, but the players who have to play there 81 times a season deal with severe consequences when they hit the road. In recent years, we've even seen players like D.J. LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado excel elsewhere (yes, Arenado was a superstar in Colorado, but in 2022 he posted career highs in WAR and OPS+ at age 31).
The point here is that it's OK to believe Helton doesn't deserve to be a Hall of Famer -- even though WAR and JAWS disagree -- but none of the rationale used against him should be his home/road splits. He was actually a great road hitter in the face of extremely difficult circumstances. And, sure, his home numbers were artificially inflated, but since we've established that comes with deflated road stats, perhaps he simply ended up in a similar area to where he would have had he spent his entire career in a neutral ballpark.
Remember, OPS+ adjusts for ballpark conditions. Helton's 133 is tied with Orlando Cepeda and is ahead of Murray, Sisler and Perez. To give an idea what kind of hitter sits a full third above league average in ballpark-adjusted OPS, here are the two players with a 133 OPS+ in 2022: Alex Bregman and José Abreu. Helton posted a 133 OPS+ throughout his entire career.
Helton is trending toward induction into the Hall of Fame, even if not this voting cycle. When he gets in, expect at least a small wave of "Coors Creation" nonsense from the uninformed (and the ever-so-annoying-and-misguided, "the Hall of Fame is getting so watered down!" complaints on social media).
We know better, though, and that's always comforting.