My friend Brian and I like to try to stump each other with baseball trivia questions, so we email back and forth sometimes. Today’s question from Brian was this:
If Todd Helton hits 29 more homers in his career and keep his career batting average over .330 (currently .337), he will become only the seventh player with 300 home runs and a .330 batting average. Name the other six. I will give the answer at the end of this post, but what I want to talk about is what Brian said about Helton as a sidenote:
NOTE: Helton will almost assuredly hit 59 homers before his career is over, putting him over the 330 mark. If he can maintain his batting average over .330 (not such a certainty), he would be the 5th member of the 330 Club (330 homers and .330 career average). If he can accomplish this feat (or even be close to it), I think he deserves to go straight to the Cooperstown, Coors Field or no Coors Field. I don’t care what ballpark you play your home games in, but 330 home runs combined with a .330 average should get you to the Hall of Fame.
This got me thinking about Helton’s Hall of Fame credentials, and I thought I’d put my thoughts here.
Helton has played eight complete seasons, with 35 games in 1997. That means that if Helton retired today, he would definitely not make the Hall of Fame, since a player is not eligible unless he has played in ten different seasons. Once he plays in a game in 2006, he will be Hall-eligible, and the debate begins. If we are assuming that Helton hits 59 more homers in his career, we are assuming that he plays at least two more seasons. Since Brian’s point is that the 330/.330 should put him in the Hall of Fame, we are going to assume he plays JUST long enough to reach that milestone, and I am going to give him his career averages on stats for the next two years. So after 2007, his career stats look like this:
Very impressive statistics, indeed. So where does Coors Field come into play? Todd Helton will be the first player to come up for Hall of Fame consideration after playing his entire career in Colorado, so he will be a pioneer in that respect. Just as Mark McGwire’s candidacy next year will give us an idea how the voters will deal with the steroid era, Helton’s candidacy (for purposes of our discussion, in 2012) will give us an idea about the Colorado era.
But regardless of whether he WILL get elected or not, the question is whether he SHOULD. I think you have to take into account the Colorado Effect on all of his numbers, but the power numbers moreso than the average numbers. Based on the splits of his career, Helton hits about 1.63 home runs at home for every one he hits on the road, and his batting average on the road is only 83% what it is at home. Based on the splits, we can safely say that if Helton did not play in Colorado, his 338 homers and .337 batting average would be closer to 207 and .305, respectively. And his hits, which are already a borderline 1912, would be somewhere around 1730 if he played somewhere else.
In a lot of ways, this debate resembles the debate about closers in the Hall of Fame. In a column a week or two ago, ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer listed a couple general rules about relief pitchers, two of which parallel this discussion:
Rule 2: Nearly every great relief pitcher was a failed starting pitcher.
Rule 3: Most good starting pitchers could be great relief pitchers.
Simply put, a lot of guys who put up great numbers in Colorado were mediocre in other places, and nearly everyone who is mediocre somewhere else could be better in Colorado. (Of course, we are talking about offensive players.) Guys like Preston Wilson, Dante Bichette, Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks, Jeff Cirillo, etc., can all attest to the fact that a hitter’s life is much nicer in Denver than anywhere else. Galarraga is the only one on that list who ever accomplished much of anything outside of Colorado.
But this issue is a little easier to resolve than the relief pitcher issue, because hitters have to play half their games in opposing parks, whereas relief pitchers don’t start games. We have no idea if Mariano Rivera would be a dominant starting pitcher, because there is nothing to base it on. But we know that Todd Helton would be a pretty good player if he played outside Colorado, because the numbers tell us he would be a .305, 20-homer guy every season. But .305 and 207 career homers are not numbers that will get you into the Hall of Fame.
So here’s my decision, if I am a Hall of Fame voter: Todd Helton needs to put up more than two more good seasons. If Helton gets to 400 or 450 homers and keeps his average up around .340, I say he’s in. Otherwise, I think you have to take the Colorado Effect into account and vote him into the Hall of Not-Quite.
EDIT: Oops, I almost forgot to give the answer to Brian’s trivia question. The six current members of the .330/300 club are as follows, with asterisks next to the four in the .330/330 club:
This is the Brian that Jeff referred to above. And since Jeff didn’t keep up on his promise to provide the answer to the trivia question that I posed to him, I guess I’ll have to do it for him.
The six players with more than 300 home runs and career batting averages of .330 or higher are: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Al Simmons, and Rogers Hornsby. The first four are baseball’s only members of the 330/.330 Club.
As for Helton, I agree that if he plays just two more seasons, 330/.330 is not a magic number, mostly because 338 home runs (based on Jeff’s projections) is not anything to get excited about these days. But Todd Helton is only 32 years old. Barring injury, he should be able to put together at least 5 more very productive seasons (which admitedly are more productive thanks to his home ballpark). My point is that if he continues even close to his pace for four or five more years, then he should be in the Hall of Fame and be recognized as just the fifth player in the 330/.330 Club. (BTW, I think this is what Jeff was saying as well.)
I take a little bit of issue with Jeff’s projecting Helton’s road numbers to be his home numbers if Helton didn’t play in Colorado. Granted there should be some adjustment, but not back to what his road numbers are. I would venture to guess that the vast majority of major leauge players produce better at home than away. Somehow this fact needs to be taken into consideration during the discussion. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or resources (and probably neither does Jeff, or anyone else not named Jayson Stark) to put together such a complex mathematical model.
Bottom line: Four or five more decent years from Helton and he’s a Hall of Famer. One or two such seasons, and his HOF chances are thinner than the Rocky Mountain air.
Sorry, Jeff. You repented of your error before my comment was up.
You are probably right, Brian, that Helton’s numbers might be a little higher than we can figure out just based on his road stats, because there’s no way for us to tell how much of his home-field advantage is generic and how much is Denver-specific. But based on the fact that many, many players have had the best years of their careers in Colorado, along with the fact that not a single player that I can think of has ever done worse in Colorado than they did somewhere else, I think it’s safe to say that his numbers would be much closer to the road average than the home average. I will see if I can figure out a good way of estimating that.
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.
I had a few minutes to throw together some data to shed some light on the issue. I’ve always thought it was pretty clear that he was way overrated just looking at his career home/road splits (outside of Coors, his .915 OPS is good, .297 AVG isn’t much better than average for a 1B, and 103 HR in 2234 AB is worse than average for a 1B and not amazing for any position). But I wanted to add some broader data to make sense of his home/road splits. (I just imported yahoo’s team offensive stats from 2002-05 in excel; it doesn’t include offensive walks, so I couldn’t get OBPs for everything.)
MLB league-wide splits over the 4 seasons from 2002-05:
Home | Road | Ratio
AVG: .268 | .260 | 1.031
OBP: .335 | .322 | 1.039
SLG: .429 | .414 | 1.038
AB/HR: 31.41 | 32.83 | 1.045
That gives us a general idea of what kind of multipliers we might want to apply to his road stats to get a fairer idea of what his home stats might have been with an average homefield advantage instead of the Coors advantage. But these numbers include the Rockies’ splits, and it turns out excluding the Rockies has more of an effect than I might have guessed (in home AVG, they were ranked 1/2/2/1 from 02-05; in road AVG, they ranked 30-30-28-30).
MLB league-wide splits over the 4 seasons from 2002-05, Rockies excluded:
Home | Road | Ratio
AVG: .267 | .261 | 1.023
SLG: .427 | .415 | 1.030
AB/HR: 31.57 | 32.70 | 1.036
These probably represent a truer idea of the average home-stats boost that Helton (or anyone else) might enjoy if he were to play for teams other than the Rockies. You can apply these to his career totals, or numbers from his prime seasons, or to projections for future seasons, etc., but for now I’ll just go like this:
Todd Helton’s career stats to date with average Coors-exluded home-stats advantage:
Home | Road | Total
AVG: .304 | .297 | .301
SLG: .533 | .518 | .526
HR: 111 | 103 | 214
Doesn’t look that impressive to me. I realize there’s a lot wrong with just shoving these “average” splits into his road numbers, but it tells us something as it is. (Off the top of my head, one factor that would have a small impact is that, for those who visit Colorado, they add some Coors stats to their road splits, and therefor slightly depress their home advantage. Another way of saying the same thing is that Helton’s road numbers would look slightly better if he ever got to play on the road at Coors. But it’s a minor issue; it wouldn’t account for very many AB in any case, and about half the league doesn’t visit Coors at all in a given year anyway. But it might be interesting to see whether guys playing on other teams in the NL West get a statistically significant bump for playing in Colorado more.) For the record, Helton shows a fairly standard home advantage for a Rockies guy. His home/road AVG ratio is 1.259 while the Rockies’ ratio is 1.272; his SLG ratio is 1.338 while the Rockies’ ratio is 1.312; and his HR/AB ratio is 1.567 while the Rockies’ ratio is 1.364. (HRs is where he benefits more than the average Rockies hitter, but I can’t think of any legitimate reason why he would have a similarly-better-than-average home/road HR split if he played elsewhere.)
Here are the Rockies home-road splits from 02-05. These are pretty staggering, and should shut up that ben guy who thinks guys just hit better in Denver because they all happen to reach their primes there (I guess they vascillate in and out of their primes a few dozen times per season, depending on where their last charter landed):
Home | Road | Ratio
AVG: .303 | .238 | 1.272
SLG: .491 | .375 | 1.312
AB/HR: 27.36 | 37.34 | 1.364
And just to be a dick, here’s what Mark Bellhorn, Colorado Rocky (Rockie?) might look like:
Home | Road | Total
AVG: .303 | .238 | .261
SLG: .526 | .401 | .464
HR: 36 | 27 | 63
AVG: .340 | .267 | .304
SLG: .661 | .504 | .583
HR: 15 | 12 | 27
AVG: .315 | .248 | .282
SLG: .530 | .404 | .467
HR: 6 | 5 | 11 in 300 AB;
HR: 12 | 10 | 22 scaled to 600 AB (which is reasonable, because if he were hitting .280 on paper he’d be given more at-bats, even if he didn’t really suck any less ass).
His career numbers still wouldn’t be anything worthwhile, but he wouldn’t look like one of the worst players in the league, particularly at 2B (though he still would be). And to answer ben’s question, yes, Mark Bellhorn might suddenly become a .300 hitter (at least at home) if he happened to play for the Rockies.
John, thanks for posting that. I got your email last week with this information, and I just haven’t had time to work it into a coherent post yet. I definitely plan on a follow-up post in the next few days utilizing this research. Thanks again.
Well Helton has obviously regressed. He hasn’t hit the 330 home run mark and his career BA is now less than .330. Right now he’s borderline HOF I think.
I like the discussion you have here. One thing you haven’t taken into account is the difference in breaking ball movement in Denver compared to sea level. After an 8 game homestand at Coors Field and then going on the road the Rockies hitters have to face pitching they haven’t seen since the previous road trip. Breaking balls in Coors Field don’t move much compared to every other stadium in baseball. When all the other teams go on the road, generally they see the same amount of breaking ball movement that they see at home. In my opinion, Rockies hitters have lower road averages than they would otherwise because of this. Jeff Cirillo is a prime example. In his first five years in Milwaukee he had .a 306 average on the road. He then spends the next two seasons in Colorado and his road average for those two years drops to .253. His road average for the rest of his career after he left Colorado was .275, years where he didn’t hit very well overall.