Last night, Scott Rolen got elected to the baseball Hall Of Fame. I said my piece on this last year. It's very well deserved. Rolen was an excellent player whose career has aged better over time. Analytics love him. He's one of the best defensive third basemen of all-time, and he was a clean player who played during the heart of the steroid era. He was also the only player voted in yesterday.
Former Rockies first baseman Todd Helton came up just shy of the 75% threshold. Pending something crazy, Helton will make it to Cooperstown next year, as he should. This blog isn't necessarily meant to argue why he deserves it. The numbers speak for themselves, and quite frankly, I'm a little bit tired of the "But he played at Coors Field" argument that seems to follow every great former Rockie around.
It nearly ruined Larry Walker's well-deserved Hall Of Fame candidacy. Helton had a career road OPS of .855. He was elite in every park, and I'm really glad now that he plays for the Cardinals, we won't have to listen to the same argument for Nolan Arenado when he becomes eligible for the Hall Of Fame. So while I do believe Helton should and will be selected to Cooperstown next year, I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to uncover the mystery of how he didn't win the National League MVP in 2000.
I'll admit I'm piggybacking off the point that Brandon Walker made today on Picks Central. I was aware that Helton had a monster season in 2000. He had monster seasons throughout the 2000s. He had an OPS over 1.000 in 5 consecutive seasons to begin the decade, but 2000 was the best year of his career. During that season, he led the National League in the following categories:
-Batting average (.372)
-Slugging percentage (.698)
-Total bases (405)
Helton somehow did not win the MVP. He didn't finish second or third, or fourth. Despite putting up video game numbers, Helton finished fifth for the MVP during a season in which he probably should've won it going away. Jeff Kent, who didn't lead baseball in a single statistical category in 2000, ended up taking home the award. Helton only received one first-place vote.
How in the world did this happen? The short answer is that the Coors Field bias has always existed, and it clearly impacted Helton's MVP chances, even though it shouldn't have. Helton dominated everyone in 2000. His OPS on the road that season was 1.074. Only two players in the National League (Bonds and Sheffield) put up better numbers than that throughout the whole year.
Another reason why Helton may have fallen to the wayside in 2000 was because of the team he played for. The Rockies weren't awful in 2000. They finished with an 82-80 record but fell out of playoff contention by late July, finishing 4th in the NL West. Jeff Kent's San Francisco Giants won the division that year with a 97-65 record. It obviously helps your MVP candidacy when you play for a team that's playing meaningful games late into the season. Still, we live in an age in which arguably the two best players in the sport play for a 4th place team, and it hasn't prevented them from taking home hardware.
As a baseball nerd and analytics disciple, I'm aware that the data that people in my generation have access to is different from the data we had in 2000. A stat like Wins Above Replacement didn't become popular until the mid to late 2000's. So I accept that many MVP and Cy Young winners probably would not have won their awards had they played in the modern age (George Bell beating out Alan Trammell for the 1987 AL MVP is a prime example of that). But even without the benefit of analytical hindsight, Helton was still the best player in the National League in 2000.
I was five years old at the time, so I don't remember if there was any pushback, but this shouldn't have even been a race. Everyone is welcome to argue, but Helton's numbers were overwhelmingly better than any hitter in baseball that season, both in terms of the basic statistics and analytical data. He was robbed of a Most Valuable Player, and he's not currently in the Hall Of Fame because of that. I hope he gets his due in 2024.