Todd Helton will turn 40 in August, and his contract with the Rockies will expire in November. Though he hasn't made any announcements regarding a possible retirement at season's end, it would shock no one if this was the veteran first baseman's final season. Whenever he does hang up his spikes, he'll do so as the Rockies' all-time leader in games played, plate appearances, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBIs, walks (intentional and otherwise), and Wins Above Replacement. He is, by those measures, the greatest Rockie of all time, which raises the question of if that's enough to make Helton a Hall of Famer.
Before I dig into the merits of Helton's case, I want to point out that I'm fairly certain that Helton will not be elected to the Hall of Fame during his 15 seasons on the writers' ballot. That's not a comment on the quality of Helton's career as much as what I believe to be general perception of that career in the hearts and minds of the writers and non-Rockies fans.
Prior to his drunk-driving arrest earlier this month, Helton received high marks for character and leadership, but his offensive peak is generally regarded as too short and a byproduct of his ballpark and era, a combination that put Helton in arguably the most hitting-friendly environment in major league history during his prime. Heading into what could be his final season, it has been seven years since Helton has hit 20 home runs, eight since he has hit more, and nine since he has driven in 100 runs, all despite the fact that he continues to play his home games at Coors Field. As a first-baseman in that ballpark who made his major league debut in the heart of the juiced era, he just doesn't measure up.
Then there's his JAWS score. My friend Jay Jaffe created the JAffe WAR Score to determine how a player compared to the average Hall of Famer at his position. By averaging a player's career and peak WAR totals (the latter defined as his best seven seasons) and comparing that to the average of the men at his position already in the Hall of Fame, JAWS allows us to determine if a player's induction would raise or lower the Hall's existing standard. The average Hall of Fame first baseman has a JAWS score of 51.5 WAR (using Baseball-Reference's version of Wins Above Replacement). Helton's JAWS score is 51.7, almost exactly the Hall standard (and actually a tick above). Helton's score is higher than that of Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg, Eddie Murray, George Sisler, Bill Terry, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Perez, and Orlando Cepeda, as well as higher than that of Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, and Fred McGriff, three men who seem likely to finish their run on the ballot short of induction but who annually receive enough Hall votes to remain on the list.
Todd Helton's Hall of Fame Case
Purple Row | Feb 26