I was listening to Grant Paulsen on MLB’s Home Plate satellite radio station on the way to the office this morning – and while Grant was rattling off the highlights of the previous night’s games, he threw out there an interesting question. Is Todd Helton a Hall 0f Fame candidate?
In discussing his merits, perhaps the largest part of the discussion will be how much discounting will we have to do to his statistical accomplishments based on the fact that he spent his career playing in the offensive haven that is Coors Field. Then I remembered that I had created this spreadsheet to deal with just those sorts of things in a seasonal context and thought I would check it out.
First – here’s what Todd Helton has hit in his prime ten consecutive seasons (1998 to 2007):
Pretty impressive stuff.
Except, of course, that players playing in Coors field have been hitting at an extreme advantage – even in the last three years where a humidor has reduced the home field offensive advantage. The table below shows the number of games played at home and on the road, the number of homers hit at home vs. the road, and the number of runs scored at home and on the road.
Using three things – a Pete Palmer valuation, Bill James’ basic Runs Created formulas, and a quadratic equation, we can take a look at what Helton would have hit without the Coors Field advantage. First – Pete Palmer once calculated that over the course of history, a home run is actually worth about 1.4 runs. So, what I do is reduce (or increase) the number of runs scored at home by the number of homers hit at home compared to the road. The reason for this is because sometimes the increased run production is tied to the ease with which homers are hit at the park, and sometimes it’s something else – hitting backgrounds, foul territory, or proximity to jet streams or wind shear off the ocean. Then, based on the modified home/road advantage in runs scored, I reduce (or increase) the basic Runs Created by the batter.
Once, I have the change in runs created, I can apply that number to a quadratic equation, which ultimately says, “Given the structure of hits and total bases, what changes would be required to one’s seasonal stats so that instead of creating X number of runs, he now creates Y number of runs?” I came up with this while trying to create a system to level player stats for a board game.
When those calculations are applied, here’s what Todd Helton’s stats would look like had he played in a league average park:
Ultimately, Todd Helton goes from creating about 140 runs per season to about 111.5 runs per season. Instead of a .330 hitter with 30 homers each season, Helton suddenly looks like Lyle Overbay in 2006. Okay – to be fair, he’s really Mark Grace with a little more power. The batting average is about .300 with some power (22 homers). Helton is still a valuable player – but would you put Mark Grace in the Hall of Fame if he finished with 325 homers in his career?
My take on it is that people are going to have a hard time quantifying that benefit, and will be too busy looking at the gawdy stats on the back of his baseball card. This means he still has a shot over time at joining the immortals, but ultimately I think he’s falling just a little short.