Comparison of Two Colorado Rockies Greats: Helton Versus Walker

In the history of Colorado Rockies baseball, two players stick out as the best to don the purple pinstripes: Larry Walker and Todd Helton.

Walker is currently on the Hall of Fame ballot and I broke down his strong argument for the Hall of Fame a couple of weeks ago. Even with his credentials, he received only 21.9% of votes, well short of the 75% needed for induction. He has three years left of being on the ballot and if he doesn’t make the cut then Todd Helton will be the next up. This article will compare the argument for both players and eventually make a decision for which Rockie is more deserving of the Hall.

First, an unbiased comparison of the two players’ statistics, made easier by the fact that they both enjoyed a 17-year career.

Walker Helton
Games 1988 2247
Plate Appearances 8030 9453
Hits 2160 2519
Home Runs 383 369
Runs Batted In 1311 1406
Runs 1355 1401
Stolen Bases 230 37
Avg/OBP/Slug .313/.400/.565 .316/.414/.539
OPS+ 141 133
WAR (Baseball Ref) 72.6 61.2
Gold Gloves 6 3
Silver Sluggers 3 4
Awards MVP 1997, 3-time batting champion Batting Champion 2000

There is a clear division here between the two players based on games played and thus plate appearances. This is because Walker was often injured and Helton was quite durable for most of his career. This leads to Helton’s “counting stats” being a little bit higher, especially hits where he was able to eclipse the 2,500 mark. He also owned the superior plate discipline with an OBP higher than Walker’s.

Despite the fewer games played, Walker had more home runs and when accompanied by his higher slugging percentage exemplifies the fact he had a little more power. Walker also has the edge based on advanced statistics with higher OPS+ and career WAR values. Walker was the only one of the two to win a MVP award with Helton’s top finish being fifth (despite leading the league in batting average, hits, OBP, Slug OPS and RBI).

A more in-depth argument for how deserving Walker’s HOF’s case in can be found here. In comparison to Helton, it seems clear that Walker was a superior player on the field, with more power and speed that helped him both on the basepaths and in being a well above average fielder at a position of higher difficulty.

Todd Helton’s Hall of Fame case will be interesting. His value ratings are similar enough to Walker, and other current Hall of Famers that he should be enshrined for just those reasons. He also has some advantages over Walker that could put him over the top in the eye of the baseball writers who will be voting.

Based on voting explanations this year, Walker has been hurt by his inability to stay on the field. Helton was clearly better at this playing in 250 more games than Walker, which led to more impressive career totals in hits, doubles, RBI and runs. The fact he was able to eclipse the 2,500-hit mark is an especially important resume builder.

The other key component of Helton’s argument that is different than Walker’s is he played all 17 years for the Colorado Rockies. Walker spent time with the Expos, the Cardinals and the Rockies. This led to Helton becoming the “face of the Rockies,” which, for right or for wrong, likely factors into decisions like this. He is also the only Rockie to have his number retired, with #17 adorning the walls of Coors Field.

Helton was also a part of better Rockies teams especially in 2007 and 2009 when he was still producing at a very high level. He enjoyed increased recognition nationally with the playoff run in 2007, culminating in his triumphant pose signaling the National League championship.

 Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

In my opinion, both players deserve to be placed in the Hall of Fame. However, if forced to choose I think that Helton is more likely to be placed among baseball’s elite. The most important reason for choosing the Toddfather is because the Hall recognizes baseball greatness but also fame. There truly is a component of being famous coupled with earning admission into the Hall. I think that Helton was more famous in baseball, especially in Colorado, than Walker ever was. He truly was and still is the face of the Rockies franchise. He was the cornerstone of the teams that saw the Rockies in the playoffs and his number 17 still hangs as the only number that has been retired in the history of the franchise. It seems fitting he is also the first to be voted into Cooperstown.

While he appears to not have been a superior player to Larry Walker I think, or at least hope, he is more likely to make the cut for this reason.

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