A rock in Colorado

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Todd Helton, smiling, as he prepares to unleash on the oncoming pitch. (Icon/SMI)

What Todd Helton means to the Rockies is the definition of a franchise player. He was drafted by the Rockies back in 1995, came up through their farm system, and ever since 1998 has played consistently excellent baseball for the major league club. With 2008 as an exception, Helton has put up a wOBA of at least .375 in his 11 other seasons with the Rockies.

+------+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | Year | AB | R | HR | RBI | SB | AVG | +------+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | 2006 | 546 | 94 | 15 | 81 | 3 | 0.302 | | 2007 | 557 | 86 | 17 | 91 | 0 | 0.320 | | 2008 | 299 | 39 | 7 | 29 | 0 | 0.264 | | 2009 | 544 | 79 | 15 | 86 | 0 | 0.325 | +------+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+

In recent years Helton has scaled back from the 30-plus home run seasons he routinely achieved in the earlier half of the decade and has transitioned nicely into a high average hitter with mild power. None of these seasons are worth bragging about to your girlfriend, though none of them (with 2008 as the exception again) is an embarrassment either.

Following 10 straight seasons of good health, Helton burned fantasy owners in 2008 when he missed close to 80 games because of a lower back injury that required surgery. Helton was picked on average that year at No. 120 in drafts, not a particularly large investment. However, because of his previous consistency, his general ineffectiveness when playing and eventual lost season were particularly upsetting for 2008 owners.

Most fantasy players have a memory that spans the offseason and come 2009, they remembered the disappointment Helton brought the year before. He was picked almost 100 picks later on average in drafts at pick 215 and to the people who selected him then, Helton did not disappoint in 2009. With his good health intact, Helton was able to put up season numbers of a .325 average and 15 home runs with decent run and RBI totals.

The people who owned him in 2008 must be feeling the sentiment I described at the beginning of my last article.

Looking ahead

With the 2010 season a ways away, yet still approaching, the questions that remain are what will Helton’s 2010 season numbers look like and where will he be taken in drafts?

After the 2008 season, many people felt Helton had begun what would become his eventual decline. Knowing that makes his 2009 season all the more impressive—a renaissance of sorts. Instead of foreboding the beginning of his end, 2008 looks like more a blip on the radar than anything else.

Power

Supporting that claim are his home run stats, shown below:

+------+-----+-----+----+-------+--------+ | YEAR | AGE | AB | HR | HR/FB | OF/FB% | +------+-----+-----+----+-------+--------+ | 2007 | 33 | 557 | 17 | 10 | 34 | | 2008 | 34 | 299 | 7 | 8 | 36 | | 2009 | 35 | 544 | 15 | 9 | 36 | +------+-----+-----+----+-------+--------+

Although his home run total dropped in 2008, the rate at which he hit home runs remained virtually the same, at about nine percent. Since Helton is not hitting home runs at tremendous rate in the first place, there is a good chance he continues to post home run totals in the mid-to-low double-digits, even as he continues to age in his 36-year-old season.

Plate discipline

Helton continues to have one of the best sets of eyes in baseball, routinely accomplishing one of my favorite feats for batters—walking more times in a season than striking out. (As an aside, by my count 15 batters accomplished this feat in 2009.) Impressively, Helton has done this each of the last seven years, exemplifying his great discipline at the plate:

To learn these stats or for a refresher on them click here.

+------+-----+----+----------+------+-------------+-----------+ | Year | BB% | K% | Judgment | A/P | Bat Control | Bad Ball | +------+-----+----+----------+------+-------------+-----------+ | 2007 | 17 | 13 | 134 | 0.04 | 95 | 84 | | 2008 | 17 | 17 | 134 | 0.05 | 90 | 80 | | 2009 | 14 | 13 | 129 | 0.07 | 93 | 80 | +------+-----+----+----------+------+-------------+-----------+

Helton continues to have a Judgment rating through the roof, though 2009 did show the beginnings of perhaps some deterioration. Even if that deterioration continues into next year, Helton will still possess the ability to post an average above .310 and certainly one above .300.

Final thoughts

Even as he has aged, Helton has retained the ability to hit for a high average with low double-digits power. Therefore, another season of a .310-.320 batting average with 12-15 home runs seems the most likely path for Helton in 2010. The greatest risk to his season is injury, magnified by his 2008 back injury that was termed “degenerative.” I am unsure how much of a threat that back injury continues to be, so if there are any injury experts around, feel free to share your thoughts.

What I do know is that while a .315-14-90-90 first basemen is not spectacular, it certainly is solid and if Helton falls past the James Loneys and Billy Butlers of the world, I might find myself taking a chance on him.

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