2020 Hall of Fame Ballot Series: Todd Helton
Five facts about Todd Helton:
The first two tables below present Todd Helton's career as measured by Player won-lost records, in and out of context.
- Todd Helton made five All-Star teams, consecutively from 2000 - 2004.
- Helton won four Silver Sluggers and three Gold Gloves. He won both in 2001 and 2002.
- Helton received MVP votes six times. His highest finish in MVP voting was in 2000 when Helton finished fifth. That season, Helton batted .372/.463/.698 with 216 hits, 405 total bases, 59 doubles, and 147 RBI. All of those figures led the National League. He also hit 42 home runs and scored 138 runs
- Helton led NL first basemen in putouts three times, in assists four times, in double plays six times, and in fielding percentage six times. For his career, he ranks second in career assists by a first baseman, third in career double plays by a first baseman, fifth in career games at first base, eighth in career fielding percentage, and 13th in career putouts by a first baseman.
- Helton attended the University of Tennessee where he played both football and baseball. As a football player, he was the Volunteers' last starting quarterback before Peyton Manning. As a baseball player, Helton won the Dick Howser Trophy as the National Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year in 1995 (his junior season).
This is Todd Helton's second year on the Hall-of-Fame ballot. I wrote articles about the Hall-of-Fame candidates last year, when Todd Helton first appeared on the BBWAA ballot. Much of these earlier articles are somewhat obsolete due to changes to my Player won-lost records over time. But, for the sake of posterity, these old articles are linked at the end of my general article on Player won-lost records and the Hall of Fame.
Todd Helton is a difficult player to evaluate. His raw statistics are overwhelming. He has a career batting line of .316/.414/.539, making him one of only 23 players in MLB history with a career batting line of better than .300/.400/.500 (min. 3,000 plate appearances). Helton's 592 career doubles are the 19th-most in major-league history. But, of course, Helton played his entire career in one of the highest run-scoring eras in baseball history for the team whose home ballpark was probably the most favorable hitting environment in major-league history.
Helton received 70 Hall of Fame votes in his first year on the ballot, good for 16.5%. The wonderful Hall-of-Fame tracker put together by Ryan Thibodeaux includes a column titled "If No 10-Player Limit, Would Have Also Voted For:". Only three players were named more frequently than Helton (who was named nine times). With the ballot being significantly less crowded this year, there is clearly considerable room for Helton's vote total to grow.
I suspect that Helton may also benefit from the additional attention that is likely to fall on the other longtime Colorado Rockie on this year's ballot, Larry Walker, who is in his final year on the BBWAA ballot and is within spitting distance of being elected. Certainly, anyone reluctant to vote for Larry Walker, who had several fine offensive seasons with the Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals before and after his time in Colorado, because of Coors Field is probably not going to vote for Todd Helton. But if careful consideration of Larry Walker leads some voters to become more comfortable with the exact extent to which Coors Field boosted offense and how best to adjust for that, these same voters may grow more comfortable in their evaluations of Todd Helton. That said, a fair evaluation of Todd Helton probably leads one to the conclusion that he is a fairly borderline Hall-of-Fame candidate - not a bad candidate by any means, but not an obvious Hall-of-Famer.
All of that said, I would expect Todd Helton to get a fairly significant boost in his vote totals this year, perhaps as high as, say, a 50% increase in his votes. That would push him from 70 votes to 105 and from 16.5% to something like 24-25%. Probably more likely on the low end of that, my prediction for Todd Helton's vote total this year is 24.0%.
Player Won-Lost Records and Todd Helton
Player won-lost records do not love Todd Helton. Don't get me wrong: he had a very fine career and there are plenty of worse players in the Hall of Fame. And he has a legitimate Hall-of-Fame case. But it's a fairly borderline case and, at least with respect to Player won-lost records, he has to be evaluated with just the right statistics.
I wrote a 53-page (~20,000-word) "article" (53 pages seems long for an "article"; it's kind of a book chapter, minus the book) about comparing players using Player won-lost records, which is here. I discuss Todd Helton a bit there (pp. 10-11) and one of his issues: he played in an era when the positional average for first basemen was fairly high. Helton also looks better in expected wins (eWins) than in context (pWins).
In my general article on the 2020 Hall-of-Fame ballot, I gave people the opportunity to construct their own Hall-of-Fame ballot via Player won-lost records by choosing how to weight various factors. Helton supporters would presumably want to use long-run positional averages and weight eWins much more heavily than pWins. Helton also looks better the higher the baseline against which he's compared - he looks best in what I call eWO*, eWins over "star", which is a level (one standard deviation) higher than average - because his career is relatively short (for a Hall-of-Famer) and his case is primarily a (five-year) peak case.
Using long-run positional averages and focusing on eWins only (as opposed to pWins), here the 10 players most similar to Todd Helton in career value, as measured by Player won-lost records.
||Most Similar Players to Todd Helton in Value
||Wins over Baseline
|Vladimir Guerrero Sr.|
That's not a bad set of players at all. It includes three Hall-of-Famers (although one of them is in the Hall primarily as a manager) and a fourth player who would probably be in the Hall of Fame had he not failed a PED test.
Comparing Helton to Orlando Cepeda, they were very similar but Helton was generally better across the board with a few more eWins and a slightly higher eWOPA, which was the result of being somewhat better across all three factors evaluated here - Helton was a little better hitter, a bit better (or, perhaps more accurately, less bad) baserunner, and a better fielder.
Helton and Vladimir Guerrero, on the other hand, have the same number of batting wins over average - with Helton reaching that in about 200 fewer plate appearances, suggesting he was probably the slightly better hitter of the two. Helton was a better fielder than Guerrero - although they played different positions, so it's hard to make a completely fair comparison here (the baseline here, though, is replacement level, which varies by position, so the numbers should theoretically be comparable). Guerrero has a few more eWins and a bit higher eWOPA because, as a first baseman, Helton is being compared to a slightly higher positional average than Guerrero, who was primarily a right fielder.
But overall, Helton fits in nicely with Cepeda and Guerrero. If you think the latter two are deserving Hall-of-Famers, it seems reasonable to view Helton as one too.
Article last updated: December 2, 2019
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