The Basic Case
Let’s start with just the basics. Helton is a five-time All-Star with three Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards. He never won an MVP, though one could make the case that he deserved to in 2000 when he led the league in WAR (as well as hits, RBI, and all three triple slash categories). That year he finished fifth for some reason that does not in any way involve a bias against Coors Field. Despite that non-existent bias, Helton still has three top 10 MVP finishes and six top-twenty finishes.
In terms of raw numbers, Helton has 2,519 hits (98th all-time), 592 doubles (19th), and 369 home runs (81st) – good for 40th in total extra bases. He scored and knocked in a surprisingly similar number of runs, 1401 (97th) and 1406 (77th), respectively. These ranks are all very good when you consider that there are 333 players currently in the Hall (and nearly 20,000 that aren’t), but only the doubles really stand out as historically exceptional.
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Helton owns a stellar-looking career slash line of .316/.414/.539, good for a .953 OPS (18th all-time) and 133 OPS+ (147th all-time). While the slash line is certainly bolstered by Coors Field, as well as the generally offensive-happy era that he played in, OPS+ accounts for park factors and relative eras. Other Hall of Famers with a career OPS+ of 133 include Earl Averill, Orlando Cepeda, Fred Clarke, Chick Hafey, Al Simmons and Sweet Swingin’ Billy Williams.
Just below Helton with career OPS+ of 132 are Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, Joe Morgan, and Jackie Robinson (as well as former teammate Matt Holliday), followed by Wade Boggs, Rod Carew and Roberto Clemente. Again, with both Coors Field and the era taken into account, Helton still performed relative to the league at the same level or above as those luminary names above him.
In terms of WAR, which also factors in the Coors effect, Helton’s 61.2 is about average for a Hall of Famer. The average WAR of the 21 first basemen that are in the hall is 66.9 and the median is Willie McCovey’s 64.5. Everyone above Helton is either in the Hall, still active (Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera), or connected to steroids (Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire).
All of this alone is enough to make Helton a borderline case, however we haven’t even gotten to Helton’s two true superpowers yet: his defense and his patience at the plate.