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It’s that time on the calendar to get upset about how the rest of the baseball-loving world sees Todd Helton’s career and the effects of playing at Coors Field.
The good news: this should be the last time it happens to the Toddfather as he’s a favorite to earn the 75% of votes required to earn enshrinement to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
His support from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America grew from 52.0% up to 72.2%, an increase higher than any candidate experienced last year. Still, he missed the mark by 11 votes.
As Hall of Fame expert Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs points out, only Curt Schilling has not reached Cooperstown of the 22 players who hit the 70th percentile before their final ballot. (Schilling torpedoed his chances with a letter to the Hall of Fame saying, “I will not participate in the final year of voting. I am requesting to be removed from the ballot.” He request was denied and his percentage dropped harshly.) Jim Bunning fell short in this manner twice and needed to wait five years before a veterans committee welcomed him into the Hall. In other words, book your hotel in upstate New York for the weekend of July 23 as soon as possible.
— Rockies Club Information (@RockiesClubInfo) November 20, 2023
Helton’s case for Cooperstown has been well documented. This may be is his sixth year on the ballot, but the conversation and, more importantly, education about his talents began well before his retirement in 2013. It’s not just those who watched his big league career who can confidently say Helton is a Hall of Famer. Those who have taken the time to do some research and go beyond immediate disqualification of anyone who played at Coors Field also feel the same about the first baseman’s candidacy.
In case you’re new to the topic, Helton spent the entirety of his 17-year career with the Colorado Rockies. Along the way he was selected to five All-Star Games, won four Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Glove Awards. He won a batting title (.372) in 2000 and even finished with the highest on-base percentage (.463) and slugging percentage (.698) in all of MLB that season. Despite this being the second occurrence of such slash-stat dominance in the previous 20 seasons, the Tennessee native finished fifth in NL MVP voting. (With the advent and acceptance of wins-above-replacement, we can see that Helton had a higher WAR in both versions of the metric from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.)
"He had the gift to hit from the time he showed up."
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) January 24, 2023
Those trying to discredit Helton point to his extreme home-road splits. However, separating the two really illuminates how the 8th overall pick in the 1995 MLB Draft turned out. At Coors Field, he posted the seventh-highest OPS for any player at home. Outside of Barry Bonds, everyone ahead of him on that list is in Cooperstown; of the next 18 on that list, only Manny Ramirez and Mark McGwire, two more players with ties to performance-enhancing drugs, are not in the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps more important is Helton’s actual performance on the road. Though less flashy that his numbers in Denver, they are still indicative of an all-time great. Away from home, his slash line of .287/.386/.469 is something only 25 players with 2000 games played have ever accomplished. Nearly all are Hall of Famers. Bonds is found again, while Ramirez, Gary Sheffield and Bobby Abreu are still on the ballot awaiting 75%. Joey Votto is still active and deciding if he’ll call it a career before showing up on the 2029 ballot.
Todd Helton. Hidden ball trick.
— DNVR Rockies (@DNVR_Rockies) February 26, 2022
Say what you will about the diminished road numbers, but they are still better than 99% of players who have suited up for a big league game.
2024 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot
A total of 12 first-timers appear on the ballot: Adrián Beltre, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, Matt Holliday, David Wright, Bartolo Colon, Adrián González, José Bautista, José Reyes, Victor Martinez, James Shields and Brandon Phillips.
With 3,166 hits over his 21-year career, Beltre is the only player from this group viewed as a sure thing to reach 75% this year. Coupled with 477 home runs and 1,707 RBI, the third baseman most remembered for his seven seasons with the Texas Rangers is considered the fourth-best at his position according to Jaffe’s JAWS, a metric for evaluating players across multiple generations.
"It has to be that special. When I look at it, I say, 'Is he a Hall of Famer?'… So that list? Adrián Beltré."
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) November 22, 2023
Even if JAWS does not take postseason performance into consideration, it’s a helpful tool for understanding a player’s significance when compared to others at their position. For example, Mauer is viewed as the seventh-best catcher of all-time and Utley the 12th-best second baseman. Both players should receive support from voters in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and could eventually reach 75% in coming years.
Holliday finished his 15-year career in 2018 back where it all started in Colorado. The Stillwater, Okla. native recorded 2,096 hits, 316 home runs and 1,220 RBI with the Rockies, Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees. He came seven hits shy of .300, batting .299 when he hung up his spikes. The 2007 NL Championship Series MVP led Colorado to their only World Series appearance, finishing as NL MVP runner-up that year. The seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger eventually won the 2011 World Series with St. Louis. JAWS rates him as the 36th best left fielder in baseball history, one place ahead of Hall of Famer Lou Brock.
Former 7x All-Star, 2x Silver slugger, St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer and Stillwater resident, Matt Holliday, was listed on the MLB Hall of Fame Ballot earlier today.
I got the chance to ask Holliday how it felt to see his name on such a prestigious list. pic.twitter.com/8UVugORuuz
— Connor Burgan (@BurganConnor) November 20, 2023
Reyes played 47 games with Colorado following his acquisition as part of the Troy Tulowitzki trade with Toronto in 2015. During that offseason, he was arrested for alleged domestic violence and the Rockies cut ties with him in June of 2016 once he was off the restricted list. Reyes went back to the New York Mets for the final three years of his 16-year career, finishing with 517 steals and a .283 batting average.
2024 Era Committee
Last month, eight names were announced for the 2024 Era Committee for those who have contributed to the game since 1980. The list of four managers, two executives and two umpires will be decided upon by a 16-person panel during the Winter Meetings on Dec. 3 in Nashville, Tenn.
All four managers — Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland and Lou Piniella — have won a World Series. Gaston, who won with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993, is the only one with less than 1,000 wins, though the only one with a pair of World Series rings.
Leyland is most remembered for his 11 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates and winning a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997. He won the American League with the Detroit Tigers in 2006 and 2012. Leyland also managed Team USA in 2017 during their only World Baseball Classic gold medal finish. His 1,769 wins are 18th-most all-time and second-most for a manager who never played in the Majors. (Only Joe McCarthy has more and he’s already in the Hall.)
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) November 19, 2023
While Helton has been long considered the next Rockie to follow Larry Walker into the Hall of Fame, Leyland may beat him to it. His tenured with Colorado was brief — one season in 1999. He signed a three-year deal to be Don Baylor’s successor and quickly earned his 1,000th career win in purple pinstripes. After a 72-90 record that year, the veteran skipper opted to step away from the game citing frustration with his home ballpark. “I wasn’t doing a good service for the organization,” he told ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian in 2003.
Hank Peters, an architect for several championship clubs for over four decades beginning in the 1960’s, and Bill White, president of the National League from 1989-94 following a 13-year playing career, represent the executives. Umpires Joe West, owner of the most games umpired in baseball history (5,460), and Ed Montague round out the ballot.