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NL West: Helton Back in Fine Form
By the time baseball gets its first .400 hitter since Ted Williams in 1941, batting average could be so devalued as a statistic that people might have to be reminded to care. Whether it's due to on-base percentage or a much more advanced stat, batting average loses more than a few campers from its tent every summer.
On the other hand, there was someone out there Saturday batting .397, and you can tell me if you noticed who it was: Todd Helton.
The veritable identity of the Colorado Rockies endured a career-worst season in 2006, although most players would take on a big ol' bear for a shot at the numbers he had: .302 batting average, .404 on-base percentage and .476 slugging percentage (with a park-adjusted OPS+ of 119; 100 is average). As solid as those numbers are, they're not the kind he's been getting megabucks for, and rumors flew during the offseason, that before the 2007 season, Colorado would try to unload his contract (which has nearly $90 million in guaranteed pay remaninig) to the Los Angeles Angels or Boston Red Sox.
Instead, the 33-year-old Helton returned to Denver -- and has put up a monster performance for the first fifth of the season. Although his average slipped to .383 by the end of the weekend, it wasn't an empty .383. His on-base percentage is .497 (trailing only Barry Bonds in the National League) and his slugging percentage is .563. Between April 12 and May 11, Helton batted .451 with an OBP of .557 and slugging percentage of .670.
That's quite a rebound. The only area where Helton hasn't been extraordinary is home runs. After hitting 49 in 2001 and more than 30 each year from 2002-04, Helton slipped to 20 two years ago and 15 last season. This season, he is on pace to hit 19. He is also easily on track to exceed last season's doubles total of 40.
Even in the humidor era, the first thing anyone's going to check with a Colorado hitter is his home/road splits -- and in Helton's case, he is enjoying home cooking like a prisoner who just got home to mama: a .420 batting average and .559 on-base percentage. On the road, his batting average is a meager -- I mean, aren't we talking downright embarrassing -- .359.
Helton's batting average on balls in play this season is an out-of-this-world .395, a level so unusual and hard to maintain that his stats are due to take a tumble.
Meanwhile, Helton's got someone breathing down his neck in the batting race -- his teammate, Matt Holliday, who is batting .364 -- with a .636 slugging percentage, no less.
So, even if batting average doesn't have the cachet it used to, who knows? Maybe Helton and Holliday could give us a fun run at .400 for a little while this season. After all, that number still has some magic left in it.
Despite Helton and Holliday's heroics, Colorado is the only sub-.500 team in the NL West. The Rockies' main problem this year is that their pitching isn't as deep as they might have hoped, at home or on the road. Jeff Francis, who excelled with a 116 ERA+ (100 is average) in 2006, has dropped all the way down to 84. Aaron Cook and Josh Fogg have also backslid. As a team, the Rockies' ERA+ is at 88 in 2007 compared to 103 in '06.
The staff misses Jason Jennings, who posted a 127 ERA+ last season before being traded to Houston. The good news is that Jason Hirsh has been Colorado's top starter (104), the bad news is that still represents a decline from Jennings (who, it's worth noting, hasn't pitched in a game since April 8 because of tendonitis). In addition, the bullpen lacks depth behind closer Brian Fuentes.
The Rockies are hardly dead and buried, but they have got to get their pitching turned around to stay in the competitive division race.
Labels: NL West
posted by SI.com | View comments |
What about Boston's Alex Cora? His current batting average is .417! I would think that it would be harder to maintain that average without playing everyday.
Does Cora the required number of plate appearances to qualify as a BA leader? I believe it is around 3.1 plate appearances per game...
You seriously think that batting .400 while playing everyday is easier than coming to bat once a series and batting .417? Alex Cora has 48 at bats, while Helton has 130. I think if Cora were to bat more than his stats would go way way down. Plus i hate the Sox.
"Meanwhile, Helton's got someone breathing down his neck in the batting race -- his teammate, Matt Holliday, who is batting .364." Uh...Derrek Lee: .390. Anybody awake in there?
Anyone awake in there? Kind of. I completely meant to include Lee when I was talking about Holliday, then completely punted it. Thanks for correcting me.
Joe Mauer is the only one in baseball who could take a run at it. Give me a break about Helton, he's overrated and overpaid.
Derek Lee, back with a vengeance. It was noted that he's hitting .390, but what should really be noted is that he had to cool down to hit .390.
Notice in both cases, the players have the insane averages, but can't hit a home run to save their lives. For first basemen, that's a real weakness... Your average first baseman (in the NL, with no DH) should be cranking around 30 homers a year.
i am so sick of articles like these. its a 1/5 of the way through a season and some guy has great stats so far. lets go on and on about how he is going to finally be the first guy since ted williams to hit .400. its a 1/5 of the way through the season! if we got a month left in the seaon and the guys still hitting .400 then we can start talking about it.
What about Freddie Lewis... the guy hit for a cycle!!! COME ON!!!
what about detroits placido polanco? he's a very good contact hitter (reigning AL conference finals MVP). he sparks the detroit offence and till today is an underappretiated and underrated player (is only .336 at the moment, but with his consistency he does have a chance of becoming a .400 hitter)
Well, in no particular order...no, Cora doesn't qualify. Not even close. Nor does his history suggest he is a legitimate contender. The comment that Mauer is the only one with a shot is just plain ignorant; Mauer is a fine player but he might not even be the best hitter on his team. The most consistent hitter in baseball over the past six months of play has been Derek Jeter, but despite his solid performance, he would have to go on an incredible tear to get his average near .400 this season, much less keep it there. So I say no one's doing it this year, again.
stats this early in the season are always misleading. Did you really think Arod was gonna hit 100+ HR's? The next player to hit .400... no one. Not gonna happen in todays era of specialization with pitchers. I once thought Ichiro would, but I don't think a catcher will. As far as Alex Cora is concerned, don't be surprised when he hits .230 for the rest of the season. Derek Lee will put up good #'s but no where close to .400. The next .400 hitter...probably hitting .600 in babe ruth ball this year.
Your forgetting all about Boston's Kevin Youkilis. He's not the guy who makes the huge plays or slugs the ball into the streets of Boston but he has a .328 avg with 17 RBIs. Lately he has been hitting well and he should definitley reach .400 in about 15 games
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