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Hitting leadoff with Charlie Blackmon

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It can be a thankless job, but someone has to do it. Purple Row talks about the mentality of batting leadoff with Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon.

Doug Pensinger

A lot has been asked of Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon in 2014. Blackmon has been deployed in left field 21 times, right field 72 times, and center field 63 times.

"The outfield is something where I take pride in being able to play more than one position," he says. "Maybe if you played one position every day you might be a bit more comfortable but it does a lot to help your team to be able to play more than one spot out there."

Hard to argue with that mentality, especially in a time when so many professional athletes insist that their teams conform to them. The flexibility that Blackmon adds to the lineup construction process is a characteristic lost on higher profile players like Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez either because of limited ability or preferences.

But it isn't the outfield where Chuck Nazty's game has most been altered. Most ballplayers will tell you that hitting leadoff in the batting order is a different animal that hitting almost anywhere else, and Blackmon did not enter the 2014 as the prototypical leadoff guy.

For that matter, he isn't closing out 2014 that way, either.

While batting leadoff is traditionally seen as a table-setting job, Blackmon has walked at only a 4.9 percent clip but leads all of the National League in RBI from the lead-off position. He ain't your grandpappy's slap-hitting, walk-drawing, Juan Pierre-esque game-starter.

Although his production has stagnated some as the lineup around him has fallen apart due to injury, Blackmon still managed to parlay an opportunity to play, even at a spot less suited for his specific talents, into an All-Star campaign, clearly earning the respect of his peers.

And one must wonder, how much has Blackmon's game been manipulated to fit his job description?

"It definitely changes what you do," he says about being the first hitter to step into the box for his team each game. "If I was somewhere else in the order, I would approach the at-bats a bit differently. While I don't take a ton of pitches, I feel like as a lead-off hitter I have to take a few more predetermined pitches earlier in the count in order to work into certain situations."

But it isn't just a matter of winning and losing individual at-bats. A leadoff hitter is forced to be cognizant of the flow and pace of the game in ways the casual viewer might not see at all.

"A lot of times you are hitting after the pitcher and you want to give [him] the chance to get a drink of water and sit down for a second in the dugout. Keeping all that in mind, you have to approach certain at-bats differently."

The balance between drawing walks and generating power is an age-old conundrum -- unless your name is Miguel Carbera -- and Blackmon is well aware of his profile.

"You can't just try to get on base just by walking. I'm just trying to swing at good pitches and eventually I'll hit a couple over the fence, but you can't force at-bats."

There are countless ways to measure performance and we often do so in a vacuum. But it is important to remember that Charlie Blackmon can only do his best to execute the job he has been given. It may be best for the team, it may not be best for Charlie Blackmon.

When viewed through the prism of someone being asked to do something he's never done before, having to make adjustments to his game at the highest level, and someone who still has limited time at the major league level, Blackmon's production becomes much more impressive.

"There are certain times I like it and certain times I don't like it," says Blackmon. "One day I'll hate it when I have to go out there and I feel like I have to take the first pitch and I see a fastball right down the middle and then after that it's all sliders off the plate. And then some days it will help me out. That first pitch will be close but be a ball and maybe I would have swung at it otherwise."

"It's something I've become accustomed to and I like it now."

Still, this role might not be best for either party moving into 2015, which is to say that the Rockies could likely get even better production out of Blackmon if given a different role. It is important to keep in mind the job(s) he has been asked to do this season when evaluating him moving forward.

I may be a bit biased because of his awesomely eccentric style, kick-ass walk-up music, and the fact that our beards are twins separated at birth.

Either way, the evidence is abundant that the Rockies have a low-cost, highly flexible player in Charlie Blackmon who will do what is asked and whose true value to his team may yet be unveiled.