Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton announced his retirement this week, and now the talk has turned to whether he is worth of the Hall of Fame. Let’s take a look at his stats. 2,506 hits, 1394 runs, 586 doubles, 367 home runs, 1397 RBIs, and a batting average of .317.
What I find interesting is that generally people immediately jump to “well, he hit at Coors field, so that makes him a mediocre hitter.” Let’s look at this for a second. The assumption heard round the baseball realm is that a ball flies ten percent more at Coors Field than elsewhere. However, studies have shown that this is inaccurate, that in fact weather conditions (prevailing northeasterly winds) actually suppress fly balls, and that if anything, Coors Field has shorter-than-expected fly ball distances (from an article by Frederick Chambers, Brian Page, and Clyde Zaidins). Furthermore, any boost in home runs due to altitude is minimized by the outfield dimensions of Coors Field. And for the last ten years, Coors Field has used the humidor, thus mitigating any Coors Field bias.
Okay, I know the numbers and what they say about hitting at Coors Field as compared to other ballparks. One thing I hear is “he’s a career .287 hitter on the road.” So? Most players still hit better at their home ballpark, and even if you adjust Helton’s average at Coors Field, he would still likely be a career .300 hitter. Moreover, we can’t predict this for certain. The numbers are what they are.
And given that, why knock Todd Helton unless you’re going to do this to other players as well? Should one knock the Yankees playing at their new(er) stadium, clearly hitter-friendly? What about those that played on Astroturf? How much did Babe Ruth get help by hitting in a park where he had to hit it out at 290 feet? What about pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium? Did that help Koufax?
My point here is that we should be careful to say that a ballpark in and of itself should determine whether a player gets in the hall. If you really want to do that, then every player should be measured by his home ballpark, taking in to account how big the outfield is, the distance home run balls need to get out of the park, weather, and more, and compare that to all other parks and players. Sounds ridiculous, right? So does trying to say Helton, who is in the top 100 all-time in hits, doubles, home runs, OBPand more, is not worthy of the hall. And we haven’t even begun to talk about his defense. ’Nuff said.