The holiday season is upon us, with the New Year right around the corner.
With the holidays come several important events in baseball. Whether it’s Hall of Fame voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America, the annual winter meetings or the full-fledged free agency and trade market bonanza that overlaps them.
The Rockies received a plentiful bounty in the last two years. Not only did the team earn a pair of postseason berths but Nolan Arenado once again finished top-five in Most Valuable Player voting and was even joined by Charlie Blackmon in 2017 and Trevor Story in the top-10 in 2018.
In the gift-giving spirit of the holidays, a pair of Colorado Rockies’ Hall of Fame hopefuls has a list for Santa Clause, adorned with a gift that, in hindsight, would’ve improved their current day outlook.
Not every list turned into Santa has gifts that should be given, but you ask anyway right?
Todd Helton: 2000 Most Valuable Player
In the 17-year career of Todd Helton, the Rockies’ franchise cornerstone for almost the entire life of the franchise, one season stands above the rest.
The year that defined Helton’s career and almost changed the outlook of it forever, was 2000.
In 2000, Helton was just entering his prime years, making the first All-Star game of his career in just his fourth year. That season was only the third in which Helton had garnered significant playing time.
The numbers at the end of the year were some of the best marks of his career. Helton slashed .372/.463/.698, all career-highs outside of his on-base percentage, a number he bested in 2004 (.469).
Outside of the percentages, Helton accumulated 216 hits, 59 doubles, 147 RBI,103 extra-base hits and 405 total bases, all highs for the entire league. His 42 home runs were tied for 10th and his 7.2 offensive wins above replacement (WAR) mark finished fifth.
The biggest thing holding Helton back was the offensive frenzy that occurred in his best year.
In the NL, Barry Bonds was in the midst of one of the great careers in league history. On the year, Bonds hit 49 home runs, good for second in the NL and had the highest park-adjusted OPS in the league at 188. Even Bonds didn’t win the award though.
The NL MVP in 2000 was the San Francisco Giants’ Jeff Kent. Therein lies the wish of Helton.
When compared to Kent, Helton bested him in each of the aforementioned stats above in which he led the league. Also, the Rockies’ first baseman tallied an identical offensive WAR and a greater defensive WAR.
There were several players that outplayed Kent and turned the 2000 MVP into a talking point for many. Unfortunately for the Colorado star, Helton chose to have his best year at the worst time.
Though the award would not have guaranteed a spot in the Hall for Helton, it sure would’ve helped.
Larry Walker: Missed Games
Now entering the ninth year of eligibility on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, Larry Walker is unlikely to garner the 75-percent requirement for induction prior to the 10-year limit.
Much of the Walker criticism boils down to two sectors: The “Coors Field effect” and a lack of total games played.
While it’s impossible to change either, let’s look at Walker’s career if he hadn’t spent so much time in the trainer’s room.
In his 17-year career, split between Montreal, Colorado and a short stint in St. Louis, Walker missed a lot of games. On average, taking out his first year in which he garnered minimal playing time, Walker missed 39 regular season games per year. That average includes five separate seasons in which Walker missed more than 50 games.
Despite his absences, Walker amassed an MVP nod, seven Gold Gloves and a trio of batting titles.
Giving Walker an average of 15 missed games, a relatively normal amount of games to be absent from, his numbers become heightened dramatically. In addition, fans would’ve been given more of these days:
Surprise it is!
June 25, 2004: When Larry Walker went 4-for-4 with three home runs and five RBI. pic.twitter.com/nllpBfPRjd
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) November 27, 2018
Utilizing his 162-game career averages to divide the total games he would’ve played with only 15 missed games a year (147 times 16), plus his 20 games his first year (2,732 total), gives us a figure of 14.6 to multiply his averages by. (Hope you’re still with me.)
With the added games, Walker would’ve finished with 2,570 hits, 453 home runs and 1,562 RBI. Keeping his slash line at his career average of .313/.400/.565, Walker’s case for Cooperstown greatly improves.
The trophy case of Walker would likely expand as well. In both 1995 and 1999, Walker played 131 and 127 games respectively. In both years, he finished top-10 in MVP voting, a placement that would’ve improved with an addition of double-digit games in each.
Amongst the field of over 200 current HOF members, Walker would’ve finished 66th all-time in hits, 23rd in home runs and 35th in RBI. Adding onto his case is the elite defense that Walker already possessed, being improved even further with greater health.
In other words, with the gift of health, Walker likely would’ve been elected into the HOF well before his ninth ballot.
In the world of “What could’ve been?” in sports, Walker’s career holds a somber monument.