Is ex-rock­ies star Hel­ton wor­thy of the Hall of Fame?

By Pa­trick Saun­ders, The Den­ver Post

The Denver Post - - SPORTS -

Todd Hel­ton and the Hall of Fame have been on my mind. Last week­end, I watched 50 base­ball le­gends line up for a group photo on the ho­tel lawn in front of glim­mer­ing Lake Ot­sego in Coop­er­stown, N.Y.

Sandy Ko­ufax, Bob Gib­son, Johnny Bench, Ken Grif­fey Jr., Hank Aaron, Greg Mad­dox … the list of base­ball roy­alty went on and on. It is in­deed a se­lect, pres­ti­gious group who have their plaques mounted in the Base­ball Hall of Fame.

Satur­day in Can­ton, Ohio, for­mer Bron­cos run­ning back Terrell Davis was in­ducted into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame. It was a long over­due honor for a class act.

Which brings us back to Hel­ton, who be­comes el­i­gi­ble for in­duc­tion in 2019. Will he ever be en­shrined in Coop­er­stown? I hope so, but it’s going to be a very tough road. With saber­met­rics play­ing an ever-in­creas­ing role in the se­lec­tion process, those who view Hel­ton without sen­ti­ment are skep­ti­cal.

Jay Jaffe, the saber­me­tri­cian who de­vel­oped JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score sys­tem), wrote this about Hel­ton in 2016: “Hel­ton will have his ad­her­ents, but his mid­ca­reer falloff and the vot­ers’ re­sis­tance to Coors Field-in­flated stats means that his tra­jec­tory won’t take him to­ward Coop­er­stown.”

Jaffe cre­ated JAWS “as a means to mea­sure a player’s Hall of Fame wor­thi­ness by com­par­ing him to the play­ers at his po­si­tion who are al­ready en­shrined, us­ing ad­vanced met­rics to ac­count for the wide vari­a­tions in of­fen­sive lev­els that have oc­curred through­out the game’s his­tory.” Got that?

Scour the in­ter­net and you will find many ar­ti­cles an­a­lyz­ing Hel­ton’s Hall of Fame wor­thi­ness. Two that I found fair and com­pelling are An­drew Ball’s from Be­yond the Box Score, and an anal­y­sis by Eric Gar­cia Mckin­ley of Pur­ple Row in which he com­pares the chances of Hel­ton and an­other for­mer Rock­ies star, Larry Walker.

Some­thing fre­quently noted is that al­most ev­ery el­i­gi­ble can­di­date who had a ca­reer .300 bat­ting av­er­age, 2,500 hits and 300 home runs has been en­shrined. Hel­ton fin­ished his 17-year ca­reer with a .316 av­er­age, 2,519 hits and 369 homers.

But time and time again, Hel­ton is pe­nal­ized for play­ing his home games at 5,280 feet. When Hel­ton re­tired in 2013, ESPN’S David Schoen­field wrote:

“He’s hit .345/.442/.607 at home (225 home runs) ver­sus .287/.386/.470 on the road (142 home runs). … For me, Hel­ton falls just un­der the line. Take away Coors Field, and I won­der if he’s John Olerud. That’s not meant as a crit­i­cism, just that no­body thinks of Olerud as a Hall of Famer.”

Of course, I can counter with some sta­tis­ti­cal ar­gu­ments of my own.

Hel­ton is among only eight play­ers in ma­jor-league his­tory to own at least a .316 ca­reer bat­ting av­er­age, .414 on-base per­cent­age and .539 slug­ging per­cent­age (min­i­mum 1,000 games played). The oth­ers: Jim­mie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Mu­sial, Al­bert Pu­jols, Babe Ruth and Ted Wil­liams. All of them, ex­cept for the still-ac­tive Pu­jols, are in the Hall of Fame.

Hel­ton is one of only two play­ers in base­ball his­tory to have at least 2,500 hits, 550 dou­bles, 350 home runs and a ca­reer bat­ting av­er­age of .315 or higher. Mu­sial is the only other player to meet that cri­te­ria.

I un­der­stand the need to set a very high bar for a place in Coop­er­stown. The group photo re­minded me of that. But I also know that it’s called the Hall of Fame and I think that a player’s role in a team’s his­tory should count for some­thing. To me, it mat­ters that Hel­ton played all 17 years for the Rock­ies. He was the face of fran­chise. He played the game with great skill, dig­nity and class. That should count for some­thing. That should count for a lot.

Pa­trick Saun­ders is the pres­i­dent of the Base­ball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica: psaun­ders@ den­ver­post.com

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