This is the third part of a series celebrating players we have enjoyed watching for many years who we might be seeing for the last time in 2012. Today we celebrate Todd Helton. Helton actually has a contract that runs through 2013, but the Colorado icon is 38 and the contract was front loaded and he wouldn't be leaving a large sum of money on the table to walk away after this coming season. In light of his physical struggles the past few seasons, it's not out of the range of possibilities that 2012 could be Helton's swan song.
Placing Todd Helton's career in historical context is difficult for the same reason it has been to do so for Larry Walker. Helton has played his entire career for the Rockies and Coors Field is about as bad a stigma to baseball writers as PEDs seem to be. To this writer, judging Helton's numbers due to his home ballpark would be a large mistake. After all, Helton has a career on-base percentage of .421. Thin air does not aid taking a walk. Even if you took away his massive amount of intentional walks (183), Helton would still have an on-base percentage over .400 for his career.
What is often forgotten concerning Rockies' players is that despite playing half of their games at Coors, a large part of their road travels take them to tough hitters parks in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Todd Helton has played 1,039 games at Coors but has also played 333 games at those three sights. While that totally doesn't alter perceptions for his career splits from a home/road perspective, it certainly makes it somewhat understandable. And Helton's .869 career road OPS is nothing to sneeze at. That's a very good number. Yes, the home stats are incredible, but we can't say he was nothing on the road.
Helton's back problems have sapped his power in recent seasons. He hasn't slugged .500 since 2005. But he continues to hit and four of the six seasons since 2005 have been over .300. Plus, only one of those six seasons saw his OBP drop below .385. We all want first basemen who hit a lot of homers. Helton isn't that player anymore. His loss of power is similar to that of Don Mattingly who also struggled with back problems. But unlike Mattingly, Helton had a peak longer than Mattingly's but has managed to be quietly effective for a longer period beyond the peak.
And what a peak it was. Between 1999 and 2005, his OPS figures were in order: .981, 1.162, 1.116, 1.006, 1.088, 1.088 and .979. Between 2000 and 2005, his OBP was never lower than .429 and his batting average was never lower than .329. Between 1999 and 2005, Helton averaged 34 homers a season and 48 doubles! During those six seasons, Helton scored 741 runs and knocked in 807! Those were amazing seasons. Helton's teams were never very good through those years. But despite that, between 2000 and 2005, Helton had three top ten finishes in MVP voting and top twenty finishes in the other two seasons. He also won three Gold Gloves Awards and four Silver Slugger Awards.
Throughout his career, Todd Helton has also been a very good fielding first baseman. Baseball-reference.com gives Helton 9.8 dWAR for his career and Fangraphs gives him 56.7 runs above average for his career in the field. Add his defense on top of a great offensive career and you have had a treat of a career. It's hard not to like that Helton has struck out more than two hundred times less in his career than he's walked and Coors or no Coors, a lifetime slash line of .323/.421/.550 cannot be dismissed lightly. OPS+ takes into account park effects and Helton still comes out with a 136 OPS+ for his career.
Helton has been a class act and a graceful performer. Celebrate his career in 2012. It might be your last chance to do so.