Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Heltoning it on the Head

A player has now, at the age of 34, amassed 2086 career hits, 321 homers, 504 doubles, 1181 RBI, a lifetime .328 batting average and has a lifetime OPS of .997. Future member of the Hall of Fame? The player is Todd Helton and his problem is his home field. Helton has played his entire career for the Colorado Rockies and unfortunately, his career is hard to take seriously because of it. Is that fair?

Well, one thing is certain: If he had a few more years like last year, it would have been a moot conversation. He had a .777 OPS last year and only hit .264. He became a forgotten man after that. But he is at the center of the Rockies resurgence this year and is batting .329 with an OPS of .919. So it is safe to assume that last year was an anomaly based on injuries or something.

But since he is back, the debate again comes up because, as this year proves, if Helton can put a few more decent seasons together, he's going to have a lot of good career numbers. The debate will rage around where he plays his home games and proof will be sought after by his career home/away splits. So let's look at them.

Home: .362/.469/.647
Away: .304/.394/.492

That's a pretty big difference. The BA is still very good as is the OBP. But the slugging certainly suffers. Is this a knock only on Todd Helton. Is his home playing field a singular event for just him? Are there others in history that are similar? Certainly Hank Aaron is a prime example of a true superstar. His stats at home and away are so similar over his storied career that they are within percentage points. Mickey Mantle suffered some in the home/away splits but still slugged .548 on the road during his career.

Here are a couple of Hall of Fame splits. The Fan will reveal the players after:

Player 1:

Home: .290/.349/.538
Away: .258/.311/.461

Quite a difference there.

Player 2:

Home: .354/.443/.491
Away: .302/.387/.395

Big difference there too.

Player 3:

Home: .320/.383/.506
Away: .290/.356/.469

All three of the above are in the Hall of Fame and all three have fairly significant number differences home and away. There could be more examples, but home and away splits are unavailable (at least on before 1973. The players? Ernie Banks, Wade Boggs and George Brett.

So, there you have it. Three players have all gotten into the Hall of Fame despite significant differences in their home and away splits. But where the Rockies play their home games (whatever they call it now!) seems to have an even more biased history than other former hitters' parks. That is so much the case that Helton's unbelievable numbers in 2000 and 2001 are always blamed on his home field without a hint of steroids. Name any other player where that would be the case?

Steps have been taken in Denver to change some of the advantage the hitters have. The Humidor (whatever that is) is one example. One doesn't hear as much about pitchers not being able to succeed there now as there was in the past. Perhaps that will work in Helton's favor if he stays with the Rockies over his career.

Matt Holliday certainly heard the same whispers and his time in Oakland seemed to cement them as the truth. But now that Holliday is with the Cardinals and again whopping the ball, perhaps that will die down too.

What is a shame, perhaps, is that nobody really knows how good Todd Helton really was or is. As long as his past and present is tied up with the Rockies, his Hall of Fame resume will be debated for a long, long time.


eyebleaf said...

You sound like J.P. Ricciardi off the top, referring to Helton as "the player."

Josh Borenstein said...

I've always thought Helton was a juicer as well. So, his stats could be inflated in more ways than one...