Do Vladimir Guerrero and Todd Helton Deserve Baseball HOF Induction?

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterSeptember 19, 2013

Vladimir Guerrero flashes a Hall of Fame-caliber grin during his heyday with the Montreal Expos.
Vladimir Guerrero flashes a Hall of Fame-caliber grin during his heyday with the Montreal Expos.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

It's fitting, in some way, that Vladimir Guerrero and Todd Helton announced their retirements from Major League Baseball on the same day.

While the veteran outfielder, who hasn't played in the majors since 2011, did so in a radio interview in his native Dominican Republic, the longtime Colorado Rockies first baseman made his announcement following Saturday's game.

This pair may have had vastly different approaches at the plate—the overly aggressive Vlad would swing at anything and everything and connect, while the deliberately patient Todd is known for working the count—but each player made it work in his own way. And they certainly had their fair share in common, too.

Not only did these two make their major league debuts within a year of each other—Guerrero's came back in September 1996, Helton's in August 1997—they both played more than 15 seasons (17 for Helton, 16 for Guerrero) and also enjoyed similar peak years in the early 2000s that had them looking like no-doubt Hall of Famers at the time.

In fact, for those of you who like this sort of thing, check out this chart that overlays Guerrero's and Helton's weighted on-base averages (wOBA)—courtesy of FanGraphs' fun (and interactive!) customizable player comparison graphs—and shows just how closely their (non-park-adjusted) offensive production intertwined over their careers:

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But now that they're all but gone from the game, are Vlad and Todd still no-doubters, or have the years since been a little too unkind to them since their respective heydays?

While we ponder, let's bring in some numbers in the way of the more traditional statistics, along with where each ranks over the past 25 years among players with at least 5,000 plate appearances—about 10 seasons' worth—from 1989 to 2013.

And now, here's the same type of chart but with a focus on a few of the more popular advanced metrics.

Beyond all those statistics, there are some awards and such to consider, as well.

What's interesting about all of this is that these two players who have a lot in common when it comes to career numbers and career lifespan actually have fairly different Hall of Fame arguments.

Helton's case has to be built around his brief yet elite peak seasons, because he was among the very best in baseball for about a five-year stretch from 2000 through 2004 before his production began to drop off pretty dramatically, in part due to chronic back problems. For what it's worth, the Rockies first baseman also has been one of the better fielders at his position over the past 25 years.

Easily the biggest knock on Helton, of course, is the Coors Field effect. The fact that he played all 17 seasons as a Rockie means Helton got to enjoy—nay, thrive—in the high altitude of Denver for longer than any other player since that park opened in 1995.

On the other hand, Guerrero can make the same peak-performance case that Helton can—he was straight scary from 1998 through his MVP campaign in 2004—but the former Expos-Angels-Rangers-Orioles outfielder (and later, designated hitter) also can stake a pretty good claim that he maintained his output at near-elite levels for longer. Guerrero, though, while blessed with an all-time armwasn't quite up to the same par on defense among outfielders as Helton was at first base, particularly in his later seasons. 

So who gets in? Just Guerrero? Just Helton? Both? Neither?

On paper, while both would appear to have the rate stats to get in, they also come up a little shy if going by some of the more traditional milestone measures (i.e., 500 home runs or 3,000 hits), which certainly won't help their chances.

As for the "smell test"—that immediate gut reaction to the "Is he a Hall of Famer?" question—Guerrero seems to stand out a little more, possibly due to his MVP résumé with six top-10 finishes, including the trophy in 2004 with the Angels, compared to Helton, who made the top 10 only thrice and never finished better than fifth.

Says here that Guerrero eventually should get into the Hall of Fame because he was as dominant a player as Helton was—or just about anyone else in the past 25 years, for that matter—during his peak seasons, and he did it for a longer period of time.

Helton likely misses out because his quick power decline as a first baseman really hurts—after hitting 32 homers as a 30-year-old all the way back in 2004, he never again managed to hit more than 20 homers in a season—as do his non-Coors numbers, which are good but not exactly HOF-caliber for the offense-inflated era in which he played his prime.

In the end, it's hard to see either guy getting in on their first few times on the ballot, especially given that voters are restricted to naming a maximum of 10 players per year, and there's currently a serious backlog of former superstars awaiting enshrinement.

There's the group linked to performance-enhancing drugs, which includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, all of whom are likely to remain on the outside of Cooperstown and looking in due to their PED ties (at least for now). They're all also likely to continue getting the requisite five percent to remain on the ballot and clog up voting space.

There are also a handful of Hall of Fame-caliber players who recently came into the voting picture, like Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez. And that's to say nothing of the soon-to-be-added candidates who are surefire, no-questions-asked first-balloters like Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine. Hey, even Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina are getting thrown into the pot next time around.

That doesn't mean, though, that Guerrero and Helton, two candidates who deserve heavy consideration, won't eventually make it in. It just means that, in reality, they're going to have to wait—for quite a while.


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