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: