My 2020 Mock Hall of Fame ballot: Former Red Sox players get the call
By Sean Penney
The Coors Effect
There are two players on the ballot who some voters are skeptical of due to playing in the thin air of Colorado’s Coors Field in the pre-humidor era when everyone was putting up video game numbers. It’s fair to consider that as a factor but it wasn’t enough to leave Larry Walker or Todd Helton off my ballot.
Walker should be an obvious choice. He won three batting titles and posted a career .313/.400/.565 line. He received a boost from his home park but Walker wasn’t merely a product of Coors. He hit an otherworldly .348/.431/.637 at home throughout his career but maintained a solid .278/.370/.495 line on the road.
Walker established himself as a star during his first six big league seasons with the Montreal Expos. He was a 20+ homer/20+ steal threat, an All-Star and a Silver Slugger before joining the Rockies. He also won seven Gold Glove Awards, which can’t be attributed to the ballpark he played in.
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The case is harder to make for Helton but he still sneaks onto my ballot. Helton spent his entire career in Colorado and his massive splits should give us pause. He hit .345 with a 1.048 OPS at home but dipped to .287 with a .855 OPS on the road.
At his peak, Helton was an extra-base hitting machine and an elite run producer but his power fell off a cliff after the age of 30. Not even Coors could prevent Helton from regressing into a singles hitter for the second half of his career.
The former batting champ had some prolific seasons during a stretch of five consecutive All-Star appearances though. You don’t post a .349 batting average over a five-year span simply because of the park you play in. That includes a career-year in which Helton hit .372 while also leading the league in doubles, RBI, OBP, SLG, and OPS. Helton won three Gold Gloves in his career, so his value wasn’t entirely built on thin air.
His numbers may have been juiced by his home environment but we can’t ignore that Helton put up staggering numbers for nearly a decade of his prime years. It’s not his fault that he was drafted by an organization that resides in the best hitters park in baseball. We don’t give extra credit to hitters who played in pitcher-friendly parks so why should we hold playing at Coors against Helton? He still put up better numbers than anyone else did in that park.