Colorado Follow-up

By | January 25, 2006

In the comments to my post on Todd Helton’s Hall of Fame chances, a fellow by the name of Ben Boutillier (or possibly ben boutillier, if you believe everything you read) had this to say:

Bottom line, i think your theory sucks. Helton is just a great ballplayer. It isnt because he just playes better in colorado, its because hes one of the best hitters today and you cant just take away that much skill away from a single player just because his numbers are better in one stadium then in another. Its very obivous he is a Hall of famer and possibly one of the best hitters of all time. And its not just because the ballpark is just [so easy], its because the players that you listed above were in there prime and were playing in Colorado. So if Mark Bellhorn happened to play for the Rockies would that mean that he would suddenly become a 300. hitter and a 30 homerun guy? I dont think so.

This is in response to Ben:

First of all, Ben, I hope I didn’t give the impression that I think Helton’s numbers are entirely the result of playing in zero-gravity. As I mentioned in the post, and then in the comments afterwards, Helton’s numbers would probably be slightly better than .305/20 HR every season if he played somewhere else, and those are very good numbers.

That said, your assertion that he is “possibly one of the best hitters of all time” is impossible for you to support. I guess it boils down to how many people are on your list of “the best hitters of all time.” Do you mean top 5? Top 10? Top 50? Even with the Colorado-influenced numbers, Helton does not come close to the top 10 best hitters of all time, and for you to imply that he is anywhere near the top of that list weakens your entire argument. (Your assault on the English language doesn’t do you any favors, either.)

You said that every guy I listed was in his prime when he went to Colorado, and that is why the numbers were so much better. That statement is either hopelessly clueless or ridiculously partisan. I honestly can’t believe someone would make a statement that is SO easily proven incorrect. How easily? Well, watch this:

First of all, only two of the players I listed had anything that could be interpreted as sustained success outside of Colorado: Ellis Burks and Andres Galarraga. Let’s look first at Burks. Let’s figure out Burks’ stats on a basis of 613 at-bats per season, just because that’s how many he had in 1996, his only complete season with the Rockies. (As I have mentioned before, the number of at-bats we use on this sort of scale does not matter at all, becuase the ratios will always be the same.)

Year Runs Hits HR RBI Avg.
Average (per 613 AB) 106 179 30 102 .291
Average w/ Rockies (per 613 AB) 127 190 41 118 .311
1996 (age 31-32) 142 211 40 128 .344

Over the course of Burks’ career, Burks certainly had respectable numbers, and if he had ever been able to string together a series of healthy seasons so he could actually put up these numbers, he would be remembered as a pretty darn good offensive player. But look at his four seasons in Colorado, or 1996, his best (and only full) season in Colorado, and the numbers are astounding. You, Ben, would have us believe that Burks just hit his prime when he got to Colorado. Unfortunately, Burks was almost 30 when he got there and 33 when he left — and he turned 32 in that amazing season of 1996. According to Bill James, who is smarter than either of us and spends his life analyzing statistics, a comprehensive study of the stats of everyone who has ever played Major League Baseball reveals this:

Both pitchers and non-pitchers attain their greatest aggregate value at the age of 27, with a nearly equal figure at age 26. Thus both pitchers and non-pitchers, as groups, attain their greatest value before the 28-32 period even begins, are declining throughout that range and have lost nearly half of their peak value by the time it ends. If you must assign a 5-year peak period to all players regardless of description, the best shot would be 25-29.

That means that Burks was past his prime when he got to Colorado, and well past it by the time 1996 rolled around.

Now let’s look at Galarraga, whose case is even more obvious. We will put his career numbers on a basis of 626 at-bats, again because that is how many he had in his best season. Here’s a table with Galarraga’s average season, his average season in Colorado, and his best season in Colorado:

Year Runs Hits HR RBI Avg.
Average (per 626 AB) 93 181 31 110 .288
Average w/ Rockies (per 626 AB) 111 196 40 135 .316
1996 (age 34-35) 119 190 47 150 .304

The differences are pretty similar, so why do I say that Galarraga’s case is even more obvious than Burks’? Simply because Galarraga turned 32 in his first season with the Rockies, and he was 36 by the time he left. That means that Galarraga was five years past the historical “prime” when he started putting up outrageous numbers in Denver.

Finally, we will look at the most obvious case ever: Vinny Castilla, a guy who played for the Rockies, left, and came back a few years later. Castilla had 645 at-bats in his best season (1998), so we will use that number for these calculation. This is really fun:

Year Runs Hits HR RBI Avg.
Average (per 645 AB) 86 179 31 106 .278
Average w/ Rockies (per 645 AB) 97 191 38 118 .295
Average w/o Rockies (per 645 AB) 70 163 20 89 .251
1998 (age 30-31) 108 206 46 144 .319
2000-2003 (w/o Rockies) 71 163 22 90 .250
2004 (w/ Rockies, age 36-37, per 645 AB) 102 174 39 144 .271

Not only does Castilla average 27 more runs, 28 more hits, 18 more home runs, 29 more RBI, and .044 more on his batting average in Colorado than he does out of Colorado, he also had two primes, one three years after the normal prime and another six years after that!

As you can see, Ben, your point (Todd Helton is great) got lost in all your faulty logic and Rockies-homerism. I challenge you to find me one single player who played consistently better outside of Colorado than he did inside Colorado. I also challenge you to read this site.

Oh yeah, your question about Mark Bellhorn. You picked a good player to use, since he happens to be, in my opinion, one of the worst players in Major League Baseball today. You ask if I believe that Bellhorn would become a .300, 30 HR guy if he played for the Rockies. The answer, of course, is no, and I think you are reaching pretty far to put those words in my mouth. I think what you could fairly infer from what I wrote is that I believe Mark Bellhorn would have better statistics if he played for the Rockies than he has put up in the rest of his career. His .236 career batting average certainly wouldn’t go up to .300, but I have no doubt that he could sneak it up over .250. And he showed in 2002 that he has a little pop, hitting 27 homers for the Cubs, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get over 30 in a given season and average 20 or so over several years in Colorado. And he would still strike out way too often, and he would still have a terrible on-base percentage, but four or five years in Colorado would create the misconception that he is not a terrible offensive second baseman, and he would then cash in on a two-year, $10 million contract with some team with a stupid GM, and everyone loses!

One thought on “Colorado Follow-up

  1. Thomas Wilson

    Burks put up a similar.344 year hitting in San Fran and hit .262 as Rockie one year and for that matter does Galaraga’s gaining 3 HR (41-44) in atlanta not relevant?

    if you are being honest with yourself look at Wade Boggs vs Todd Heltons career stats Boggs had home/road splits similar to Todd Helton and since Todd has more road doubles than Boggs in 200 less games and 124 road hrs how o you figure him for 200hrs outside of Colorado? did you ever think about the fact that 3 of the 5 best pitchers parks are in the Rockies division? Do you think that might have anythin to do with split difference?

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