Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies first baseman, is one of the most underrated baseball players to have ever played the game. More than that, he is one of the best baseball players to have ever played the game.
I know that there will be some that disagree with me, and that's fine. I'm obviously biased, having been a virtual life-long Rockies fan. People will use Coors Field against him, and people will use the fact that he had two monstrous years at the beginning of this decade against him as supposed evidence of steroid use, which is an understandable, although in my mind flawed, position. I will make my case for Helton in the Hall of Fame, though.
In the early 1990's, Todd Helton played quarterback at the University of Tennessee. He also played baseball, and he clearly had loads of talent in both sports. In the 1994 season, an injury to Jerry Colquitt made Helton the starting quarterback for the Volunteers. However, Helton would suffer an injury himself, and he would never see the field again, as some guy named Peyton Manning took over for him. Helton remained on the football team, but focused on baseball. In 1995, the Colorado Rockies selected the first baseman from Tennessee with the 8th selection in the first round of that year's June amateur draft. Within two years, Helton would make his MLB debut, and, in 1998 the Rockies let Andres Gallarraga walk. Todd Helton would be the new Rockies starting first baseman.
As a rookie in 1998, Todd Lynn Helton hit .315 with 25 homeruns and 97 RBI. He also hit 37 doubles, a sign of things to come for his career. Helton's biggest statistical year was 2000, when he batted .372 with 42 homers, 147 RBI, and 59 doubles. He hit 49 homeruns the following year, but also collected another 54 doubles. There have been three constants in the career of Todd Helton - outstanding defense, high batting average, and an awful lot of doubles.
This afternoon, in the 3rd inning at Coors Field, Todd Helton laced a 1-0 slider from Arizona's Jon Garland off of the manual scoreboard in right field, becoming the 50th MLB player to collect 500 doubles in his career. He is the fastest player to accomplish that feat, doing so in his 12th full Major League season. To give you a little perspective on Helton's amazing consistency, and why he has Hall of Fame credentials that he will continue to add to over the next 3-5 seasons, depending upon how long he plays, consider these comparisons. Helton is on pace for his 6th season of 45 doubles or more. Only three other players since 1900 have accomplished that feat as many as 5 times. Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Joe Medwick each did it five times. Hall of Famer and career doubles leader Tris Speaker accomplished that feat 7 times. Added to that, Helton is #16 on the career list of doubles by a left-handed hitter. Also, it's not Coors Field that has helped those number. In his career, 262 of those doubles have come at home, while 238 have come on the road.
Helton has never been a homerun hitter, which would explain his lower homerun totals since 2002. Coors Field helped him in the early days, but since the advent of the humidor in 2003 (which I will have a blog about one day to help everyone understand its impact), he has been consistently in the range of 20 HR and 35 doubles. In fact, prior to his back problems that forced him out last season, he had collected 30+ doubles in 10 consecutive seasons, and he is one away from that number again this season. By the time he retires, Helton will have over 600 doubles, and likely be in the top 10 in that category.
Doubles alone don't make a Hall of Fame player, and I realize that. However, Helton ranks 3rd among active players in career batting average at .328 (behind Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki). Not only that, he is in the top 10 all-time in career batting average. He only has 3 Gold Gloves, but don't let that fool you. Helton's defense is just something that you have to see to believe. There is not a better defensive first baseman in baseball. Anywhere. Helton should have at least two more Gold Gloves than he does. If you don't believe me, consider this - the 2007 Rockies set a Major League record for fielding percentage. Not a single Rockie won a Gold Glove that year, even though Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton led their respective positions in fielding percentage, total chances, fewest errors, and range factor. Helton has been overlooked largely due to the fact that he plays in Colorado.
This isn't me complaining. It's just me stating fact. If Helton played in New York or Boston, he would receive the recognition that he deserves. In fact, prior to the 2007 campaign, the Rockies were nearly set to deal Helton to the Red Sox, and it made huge headlines on the large media conglomerates. Playing in Colorado doesn't make him less of a player.
By the time he's done, Helton will have over 600 doubles, nearly 400 homeruns (or more, depending upon how long he plays), and, again, depending upon how long he plays, he will have close to 3,000 hits. Even if he winds up with 370 homers and 2,700 hits, I can only hope that Helton will receive his due recognition. As a player in the "steroid era" who has never been tainted with speculation of steroid use, Helton has always stood tall above the rest. Amazingly, he has thus far done it all for one team, and it would be a shock to see him move on to another team, though it wouldn't taint his legacy at all.
Let the numbers speak for themselves. Todd Helton belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.