2014 Rockies Player Season Review – Charlie Blackmon

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While Tulo is the face of the team (at least until we are told otherwise) I am betting if there was a vote among fans for their favorite player it would be none other than Charlie Blackmon, the man of a thousand nicknames, the guy with the famous beard, and I might add, and All-Star, and a league-minimum player who provided 2.0 WAR and production like a $10 million dollar player. That is a breakout season and then some.


Actually CB started to breakout the past 2 months of 2013, as he hit .316 BA/.850 OPS in August and .343/.866 in September, and knocked one clean out of Camden Yards, not something done everyay. He played so well that the Rox made the move (smart one) to trade Dex Fowler for young starting pitching and a reserve outfielder (still want to know what people think the Rox would have gotten for Dex if they waited) and thus opened up CF to CB.


And at least at the start of the season he showed how smart a move that was, and showed that contrary to the belief he was just going to be a 4th outfielder, that he deserved to start everyday and bat leadoff.


Mar/Apri .374 BA 1.034 OPS 5 HR 7 SB/2 CS 


That hot start including the 5-5 day, and lots and lots of heroics. But we all knew that CB wasn’t going to win an MVP or play at that level all season long. Remember that this is a guy who couldn’t stay healthy the past few season, especially thanks to foot injuries. Baseball is a long season, and players have slumps and players get tired. But honestly, he wasn’t a bad player any month, and was league average every month but August (when the whole team seemed to swoon)


May .257 BA .711 OPS 5 HR 3 SB/1 CS
June .261 BA .683 OPS 2 HR 5 SB/1 CS
July .315 BA .806 OPS 2 HR 5 SB/1 CS
August .245 BA .654 OPS 3 HR 2 SB/3 CS
Sept .286 BA .776 OPS 2 HR 6 SB/2 CS


He only 2 months where is OBP dropped below .314, which granted isn’t too hot for a leadoff hitter (Dexter Fowler, who the Rox got tired of waiting to tap into his potential was always an on-base machine thanks to a high walk rate, had a .369 OBP in 2013 and a .375 OBP in 2014). Dexter’s last two years of OPS are .776 and .774. Blackmon for those same two years is .803 and .775, so what they lost in OBP they made up for in power, as Blackmon had 27 doubles and 3 triples this year along with his 19 homers, while Dexter playing in about as offensive a ballpark (especially for extra-base hits) had just 21 doubles, 4 triples, and 8 home runs, though in only 116 games vs. CB’s 154, but being the only player alongside DJ of the starting lineup to stay off the DL made CB extremely valuable in 2014.


The real question is for the Rockies looking at 2014 is whether or not it was start to have Charlie leading off. 19 home runs is Rickey Henderson level of power from the leadoff spot, but without Rickie’s OBP ability. Charlie played 137 games as the lead-off hitter this year, making comparisons with others mute. But was it smart to have a player getting on at less than a 1-3 rate batting lead-off? And is the whole batting order issue, at least regarding lead-off that big a deal?


Well, yes, and there Blackmon was much better in general. When batting with 0 outs (which he did a lot starting off not only the game but innings where your pitcher makes the last out), he was a much better .294 BA/.344 OBP/.807 OPS and strictly as the first man of the game he was a fantastic .333/.378/.910! That folks is all you can ask for from your lead-off man. And his numbers leading off an inning were still solid at .296/.346/.830. Sadly, those numbers were crushed by Dexter in 2014, who had and OPS of 1.298 in the first AB of the game and an OPS of 1.157 leading off any inning. Wow! No wonder people value Dex so much, and looking just at those numbers, you might be able to explain why the Rockies struggled so much more in 2014 on the road than any year prior. Dexter knew how to get on and to score runs, but their runs per game this year were essentially the same. So, no net loss you can argue.


But Charlie was much more than just a lead-off hitter. As a defensive player he was a little worse than average, but surprisingly not as bad at Dexter was in 2014, but worse than Dexter was in 2013. I have long argued that defensive metrics are hard to really measure, since you have to take into a lot of variables that a statistican cannot know. For example, was the outfielder lined up based on a particular approach to the hitter, and if the pitcher failed to execute that plan than the fielder will fail to get to a ball, making him look worse rather than better as a defensive player. That being said, I don’t think Charlie is a great defensive outfielder. He is better in right field than in center, but the team needed a center fielder this year, and so Charlie played about as many Abs in center as in right field (the team’s CF of the future is David Dahl, who is probably at least 2 years away, unless he has a Mike Trout kind of breakout in 2015). Of the Rockies choices in CF Blackmon is about as competent as anyone else, but it is an issue for the club and does effect Charlie’s overall 2014 grade.


Charlie was about the same regardless of the number of outs (only a .015 reduction on BA from 0 to 2 outs, though a reduction of .076 in OPS). He was a good hitter with men in scoring posiiton, hitting .320/.387/.824 in those scenarios. But when there were 2 outs and RISP, he dropped to .239/.333/.671, high lighting this team’s issues with scoring key runs, especially on the run, and a particular issue when often the pitcher has bunted the runner to 2B or 3B and it comes down to the work of the lead-off hitter. Again, this probably demontrates that leadoff is not the best position in the order going forward. Similarly in what baseball reference calls late and close games, he hit a disappointing .242/.282/.629.


But the biggest issue with Charlie’s season is the same as so many players on the team – home/road splits (and his platoon splits as well). Here is how 2014 broke down:


Overall .288 BA .335 OBP .440 Slug .775 OPS 104 OPS+ 261 TB 19 HR 28 SB/10 CS
Home .331 BA .391 OBP .524 Slug .915 OPS 163 TB 13 HR 19 SB/ 6 CS
Road .241 BA .269 OPS .348 Slug .617 OPS 98 TB 6 HR 9 SB/   4 CS
Vs R .296 BA .347 OBP .454 Slug .801 OPS 201 TB 15 HR 23 SB/ 8 CS
Vs L .268 BA .297 OBP .400 Slug .697 OPS 60 TB    4 HR 5 SB/   2 CS


So what do we make of this? Again, his numbers are not bad…if he were not the lead-off hitter. His left-right splits show that Charlie deserves to be in there against most lefties (he was better against starters than relievers by about 20 points), which is good since you don’t want to play Brandon Barnes too many games, and at this point Drew Stubbs is needed to platoon with Corey Dickerson. But his home/road splits, for a lead-off hitter, are again a significant issue for the team’s ability to score runs and win on the road. He scored less than half as many runs on the road than at home (59 runs at home, just 23 on the road), and the number 1 job of your leadoff hitter (really any hitter, but especially leadoff) is to score runs. If he was at par on his runs scored home/road, how many more games might the Rockies have won in 2014 on the road? Granted he has to be knocked in as well, but you can’t score if you aren’t on base, and he is getting on base on the road less than 30% of the time. Finding a player to hit lead-off, at least on the road, who has at least a .350 OBP is a big issue for 2015, and again is a negative mark for Charlie in his overall grade.


Charlie is still young, heading into his age 28-29 season, and because of the injuries and therefore limited games in his career, can still improve as a player. I don’t think he will ever be a league-average CF defenseively, but probably is or can be in either left or right. He has pretty good pop. He has above average speed, though his CS rate is a bit too high for as many times as he runs. His OBP may yet rise as well, as drawing walks is one of the features that comes late to a lot of hitters arsenal.


The good news is he doesn’t become arbitration eligible until 2016 and his free agency year is 2019. These factors, especially in a down-offense major leagues with spending out of control makes him a very inviting trade chip, maybe more so than CarGo. Would the Rockies move Charlie? Will his value be higher after 2015? And who replaces him in CF and/or lead-off if he is dealt. All big issues for GM Jeff Bridlich.


So, onto 2014 grades:


Home Grade: A-, Charlie gave them all they could hope for as a replacement for Dexter in CF and at lead-off, and if his defense were a bit better, he would be an A. His numbers, including OBP, were higher than that of Dexter in 2013, while playing arguably better defense. The trade, at home, was a good thing just for saving money and giving time to Charlie to play

Road Grade: D+, I know this seems harsh and a lot of Charlie’s fans (I am one) will object but I think I am being generous here. He failed in every major category for this team on the road, providing poor OBP and poor power both on the road. Charlie’s defensive issues showed up in a few road games as well. As much as the injuries of Tulo and CarGo point to the reason for the road woes, I think, as much as it pains me, the #1 reason for the poor offense on the road was Blackmon hitting out of the #1 spot.


Overall Grade: B. I thought about giving Charlie a B-, especially with his issues in driving runs in with 2 out and RISP, alongside the very low OBP numbers for a lead-off, but Charlie was an All-Star, he made the fans want to come see him, he replaced at 1/16 the cost Dexter Fowler and gave them as much production, and he was a key reason for their home success. If the other players were better on the road, might Blackmon’s numbers also be better? Cannot say, but on balance I gave Blackmon the benefit of the doubt and a solid B for 2014.


Projection going forward – I still think there is a good chance Charlie is dealt this off-season, if CarGo and Tulo are not, as he is what a lot of team look for, a good outfielder who can play all three spots, who has good thump and speed, and comes cheap with a lot of control. Blackmon may not get the return they got for Dexter, but maybe he does, and the team has to remember they only have 3 starting spots and 5 outfield spots over all. Charlie might net a decent 4th or 5th starter for the team. But the issues of who plays CF (not Drew Stubbs for 154) and who bats leadoff will become even greater without Blackmon on the team.


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