Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Todd Helton's Hall of Fame chances could hinge on perception of Coors Field

Is Coors Field going to keep Todd Helton out of the hall?
The debate rages on. Is Todd Helton a Hall of Famer?

All of Helton's numbers suggest that he has had an incredible career. No one denies that his career has been worthy of being called great. However, the baseball hall of fame, unlike other professional sports, is reserved for the elite of the elite.

Helton has a ton of hits, but not quite the 3,000 that usually guarantees enshrinement. He has a bunch of home runs, but not quite the 400 homers that would be required with his hit total to make his campaign a sure-thing. He is approaching both 1,400 RBIs and 1,400 runs scored. However, no one is generally concerned with the RBI total when it comes to the hall.

An argument against Helton is that he doesn't have any one stat that jumps off of the page and suggests he is Cooperstown worthy. Nothing is quite high enough to be say that he is a guaranteed hall-of-famer. The problem with that argument is that there also isn't one stat that can be pointed to that would suggest that he isn't a hall of famer. Guys like Mark Grace, a great hitter in his time, hit 511 doubles in his great career and finished with a .303 career batting average with 2,445 hits. However, his home run total was a less-than-impressive 173.

Fred McGriff, another phenomenal player who won't be making a speech, had great numbers. He hit 493 home runs, had 2,490 career hits, 441 career doubles and 1,550 RBIs. However, his batting average was just .284.

Most players who are fringe hall of famers have something in common. It isn't that their numbers are all just short of definite enshrinement status. In every case, it is the fact that there is one critical category where the person not in the hall of fame fell far short. Helton doesn't have that issue. He is a complete player.

The one number that jumps off of Helton's stat page is his career doubles. With 587 in the books, that number alone puts him in the category of several hall of famers.

The issue that will come into play with Helton is that his numbers will all be discounted by the Coors Field factor. Voters will look at his numbers, be impressed, then remind themselves that he played a mile above sea level for half of the games in his career.

Has Coors Field helped Helton? That cannot be denied. The Rockies home park is a hitters park and no one would dare argue differently. However, one fact never seems to be addressed when it comes to Rockies players and their home/road splits.

Rockies generally have a higher split not only because of Coors Field being a great hitters park, but with unbalanced schedules having the Rockies play at least 27 games per season, or one-third of all of their road games, coming in San Francisco, a severe pitchers park, Dodger Stadium, traditionally a pitchers park, and Petco Field, where batting averages go to die.

People tend to forget that as much of an advantage as Coors Field might be while a player is at home, a study should be conducted on how much it might be a disadvantage for a player when they go on the road. Breaking balls that weren't sharp for nine days at elevation suddenly have a snap to them, fastballs with no movement are suddenly riding in or out. Is the advantage of Coors Field balanced out by it's own disadvantage? It is worth looking into.

The reason why it is hard to understand if there is legitimacy to the theory is because there are so few examples of a hitter leaving Coors Field in the prime of his career. In fact, the only one that comes to mind is Matt Holliday.

Holliday, in nearly the exact same amount of time calling Coors Field home as he has been calling Busch Stadium home, has still been an elite player. His home and road splits, while favoring his home field severely, have not changed significantly either way. In his career, Holliday is a .309 hitter. He hits .333 at home and .288 on the road. He has 150 home runs at home and 99 on the road in his career. If there was a significant Coors Field impact, wouldn't it make sense that a guy like Holliday's numbers would shift more towards the median instead of staying nearly the same when leaving the Mile High City?

With Helton's numbers all being borderline hall of fame numbers, yet no one category sticking out in a negative fashion, the decision for many voters may be difficult. If there is any doubt, it is fairly certain that many writers will point to Helton's production coming at Coors Field and discount them significantly.

The reality is, no one is going to say that Coors Field hasn't helped Helton's career numbers. He absolutely wore out the left-center field gap throughout his career. However, it is possible that much of the impact that playing at 20th and Blake has on the home batting average, it may also reap a negative effect when that player goes on the road.

If a voter can look at Todd Helton's numbers and, by numbers alone, say that he is not a hall of famer, that is completely acceptable. However, if the deciding factor for Helton not getting into Cooperstown is based specifically on where he played half of his games, it would be a big mistake.

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1 comment:

  1. Very valid points made and a great article.