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Helton presents strong HOF enshrinement case

MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

Rockies fans have spent the better part of this decade hoping that Larry Walker would become the first Hall of Famer to have a Rockies cap on his plaque. Now, those fans have another candidate in their corner.

Former Rockies star Todd Helton was among the 20 newcomers named to the 2019 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday, along with a host of other players who donned a Colorado uniform during their playing days, including Juan Pierre, Roy Oswalt, Darren Oliver, Octavio Dotel and Jon Garland.

Rockies fans have spent the better part of this decade hoping that Larry Walker would become the first Hall of Famer to have a Rockies cap on his plaque. Now, those fans have another candidate in their corner.

Former Rockies star Todd Helton was among the 20 newcomers named to the 2019 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday, along with a host of other players who donned a Colorado uniform during their playing days, including Juan Pierre, Roy Oswalt, Darren Oliver, Octavio Dotel and Jon Garland.

Helton, who spent his entire career playing at the intersection of Blake and 20th Streets in Denver, finished his career with a .316/.414/.539 slash line, 369 homers, 1,406 RBIs and a 133 adjusted OPS+. He placed as high as fifth in National League MVP Award voting in 2000, a monster season in which he led the Majors in batting average (.372), slugging percentage (.698), OPS (1.162), doubles (59), RBIs (147) and total bases (405), while also pacing the NL in hits (216) and on-base percentage (.463).

Taken at face value, Helton's career numbers jump off the page. He is one of only 19 hitters since 1900 to post a .300/.400/.500 slash line in a career spanning at least 5,000 plate appearances, and one of only four to compile 400 total bases in back-to-back seasons, alongside Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx (1932-33), Lou Gehrig (1930-31) and Chuck Klein (1929-30). The six players who own a .316 batting average, .414 OBP and .539 slugging percentage over 1,000 career games besides Helton constitute some inner-circle Hall of Famers: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Foxx and Gehrig. Helton was also a stalwart on defense, claiming three Gold Glove Awards at first base.

Video: LAD@COL: Helton hits a two-run walk-off homer

There's no question that Helton was among the NL's most prolific hitters during his era, but his Hall candidacy will likely run into the same roadblock that Walker has faced in his nine years on the ballot: Coors Field. Fair or not, Rockies players have historically seen their statistics discounted by way of playing half their games in the Majors' most favorable hitters' park. Helton's splits are no exception: He posted a .345/.441/.607 slash line and hit 227 of his 369 career homers in Denver's mile-high altitude. But his road numbers were still plenty competent, including a .287 average and a .386 OBP. Helton's career .855 OPS away from Coors Field is higher than the road marks of many Hall of Fame players, including Dave Winfield (.841), Eddie Murray (.838), Rickey Henderson (.836), Tony Gwynn (.835), Al Kaline (.827) and George Brett (.825).

Helton finished his career with a 53.9 JAWS rating, a system created by writer Jay Jaffe that evaluates a player's worthiness for enshrinement by comparing him to the Hall of Famers at his position, compared to the average of 54.7 for first basemen already in Cooperstown. He retired with a 175 Hall of Fame monitor score, a metric created by sabermetrician Bill James where a score over 100 means a player is more likely to be voted in. But even if Helton's case eventually sways voters, it will likely take time. His chances could be influenced by the progress Walker makes when the ballot results are announced Jan. 22 (live on MLB Network).

Walker, who is entering his penultimate year on the BBWAA ballot, peaked at 34.1 percent last year after languishing below 25 percent in years prior.

Helton brings a strong case to the feet of Hall voters, but his ultimate Cooperstown fate may take years to sort out.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Colorado Rockies