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December 06, 2001

A question of value
By Dan Patrick

As Todd Helton hovers around the .400 mark in late August, it is time for our annual review of what makes a player valuable. Is it strictly a numbers game or must we consider where his team is in the standings?

 Todd Helton
Todd Helton deserves the MVP.

Helton is not only flirting with .400, he is also leading the league in slugging percentage and on base percentage. And he leads these key categories by wide margins. He also leads the NL in doubles, runs, hits and total bases. What else can he do? It's not his fault his team is floundering in fourth place and not taking advantage of what he is doing.

The last time someone hit this high this late in the season was George Brett in 1980. The Helton-Brett comparison is interesting when it comes to the MVP issue as well. That year, the Royals ran away with their division and Brett was hurt, playing in only 117 games. Yet he won the MVP award because the voters said they were wowed by his .390 final batting average. To me it seems odd Brett won the MVP when his team easily made the playoffs despite the fact he missed 47 games. How valuable was he and his .390 batting average in relation to his team's performance? Helton, by the way, passed 117 games played last week.

Helton is also hurt by some other things when it comes to this award. He won't campaign for it because that is not his style. Coors Field is also mentioned as a big advantage for all Colorado hitters thus lessening the impact of his numbers to some people. Well, I admire that he just wants to play and won't promote himself for personal accolades, but you name me one batting champ who didn't take advantage of his home park. Not to mention Helton is hitting around .360 on the road.

Helton's case reminds me of Mark McGwire in 1998. You may remember he played well that year. But Sammy Sosa won the MVP because his team made the playoffs courtesy of the wild card. Sammy had a great year, but without the newly-created playoff spot, I think McGwire wins the award hands down. Literally the entire world followed McGwire around for most of that year, yet he put up a season for the ages. He was the MVP of all of baseball in '98, let alone the National League.

There are other curious cases. Andre Dawson won the MVP award in 1987 for a last place Cubs team. Ted Williams did not win the MVP in 1941 despite a .406 average and leading the league in home runs, walks, and on base & slugging percentage. And Terry Pendleton won the MVP in 1991 over Barry Bonds for reasons that still escape me.

Now Mike Piazza is having a wonderful year for a team that will be in the thick of the playoff hunt until the end. He is certainly a worthy MVP candidate. But take a look at what Todd Helton is doing. Then look again.

Then you tell me who is having the more valuable year.

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