Monday, September 23, 2013

Appreciating Todd Helton and Andy Pettitte (and the Hall of Fame, of course)

Within the past week, both Andy Pettitte and Todd Helton made their retirements official. And as expected, people have turned to the Hall of Fame and where these two fit into the conversation. And of course, because I look for every excuse possible to write about the Hall, I may as well jump in with my take.

I’ve said this several times, but I err on the side of a larger Hall of Fame. So I see Todd Helton’s 55.8 career fWAR and 61.3 bWAR and see someone who’s nowhere near the worst choice for first basemen. For his career (as of right now, at least), he has 368 home runs (75th all-time) and 591 doubles (16th). His career batting line is .316/.414/.539 (average/OBP/slugging), making him one of twenty-three players in history with a .300/.400/.500 career batting line (over 3000 plate appearances*). His career OPS+ (which is park-adjusted, remember) is 133, right there with Hall of Famers like Al Kaline, Paul Waner, Orlando Cepeda, Al Simmons, Billy Williams, Joe Medwick, and Tony Gwynn. Granted, there are also non-Hall of Famers in that range, but it’s a good start at least.

*Fun fact: I first had the limit set to 1000 games when I searched this. The 1000 game cut-off includes reliever Roberto Hernandez, who appeared in 1010 games and went 1 for 2 with a single and a strike out over seventeen seasons, giving him a .500/.500/.500 line.

Helton also had an incredible peak along with that, with four seasons of an OPS+ over 160. Only eight Hall-eligible players have done that and not made the Hall of Fame: Barry Bonds (fourteen times), Mark McGwire, Dick Allen (six times each), Shoeless Joe Jackson (five times), Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, and Jack Fournier (four each). I’m not saying that makes for automatic induction (I’ve never heard of Fournier, and although it looks like he was good, he only played 1530 games; that’s a little on the short side), but it’s a good point in his favor. I think there’s definitely room in the Hall for him. He may not be a slam dunk, but I’ve also voiced my Hall of Fame support for first basemen like Keith Hernandez and John Olerud. I think that Helton fits in well with them.

Pettitte is sort of the exact opposite, building up his case through a long string of very good years. Despite only three of his eighteen seasons having an ERA+ over 140, he still posts an overall 117 mark. Looking at other Integration-era players with 3000+ innings, that 117 mark and inning total doesn’t look out of place against Hall members like Billy Pierce (119), Jim Bunning (115), or Dennis Eckersley (116). I mean, it’s not slam-dunk stuff-there are also other snubbed players like Luis Tiant and Rick Reuschel in that range, but like with Helton, it’s a good start. He is nineteenth in that set, too. His 2443 strikeouts is 31st since Integration, too, and his 2.37 K/BB ratio 27th in that time. WAR is pretty favorable as well, with Fangraphs at 68.1 Wins and Baseball-Reference at 60.5.

Also, there are the wins. He does have 255 of them at a .625 winning percentage, for what that’s worth. You could probably argue he’s one of the top 30-40 pitchers of the past six or seven decades, which is not bad. It’s definitely in the Hall conversation. And that’s before even considering his postseason numbers, which are basically another season and a half of his career numbers. I know you can’t hold players not making the postseason against them, but that also doesn’t mean that you should ignore the postseason numbers for players that do have it (and especially in such bulk). I would say that Pettitte is right on my Hall borderline, with the extra postseason factors pushing him over.

But there is one extra issue at play now: the ballot size. I’ve seen many writers say things like “I can’t vote for players like Helton and Pettite when Jeff Bagwell/Edgar Martinez/Curt Schilling/Kevin Brown/etc. isn’t in.” On one hand, I can see that. It would be rather silly for either of them to beat some of those players to Cooperstown.

But on the other hand: their numbers won’t change once those other players are elected. If they’re worthy now, why delay induction? And in any case, I already support those other players. I can’t give a Super Mega Extra Vote to Bagwell; it’s a yes, or it’s a no. If I’m not inconsistent in my standards, then what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is the vote limit. As you know, the current BBWAA ballot (and Veterans Committee ballot, actually) limit how many players you can vote for. In both cases, these policies look like they’re ready to wreak havoc upon the Hall, and yet, this stupid, archaic competition for artificially scarce votes continues, hurting players like Kenny Lofton last season and possibly Helton and Pettitte down the line. It’s just one more way that the Hall of Fame is slowly moving itself towards a massively needed overhaul, by means of disaster.

But until then, we can appreciate the careers of Todd Helton and Andy Pettitte. Both of them are worthy of enshrinement in my book, for what it’s worth.


  1. How much does the steroid era hurt Jeff Bagwell?

    1. I would say a little. I think the bigger issue with Bagwell is that writers didn't realize just how good he was, though, and are now looking for any reason to cover their original ignorance, whether the reason is "didn't make it to 500 home runs", "played in the steroid era", or "I never saw him play".