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Ranking the Rockies: No. 5 Charlie Blackmon became a better baseball player in 2015

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Charlie Blackmon's changed approach at the plate led to real improvements in 2015.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

There is something about Charlie Blackmon that we are just going to have to accept: He is a firmly average baseball player. Far from a bad thing, that’s a good thing. A windy road has led us to this point.

After Charlie Blackmon’s scorching hot start to the 2014 season, it was very easy to get excited and dream a little too big. He clearly was not going to be anywhere close to the .400 hitter he was in April 2014, but he sure looked like he was going to post a fantastic season for the Rockies. After falling back down to earth, Blackmon wrapped up 2014 with a .288/.334/.440 line, which adjusts to the almost literal definition of average at the plate. His wRC+ was 99, where 100 is league average. In terms of Wins Above Replacement, Blackmon’s 2.0 WAR, according to FanGraphs, is the figure usually used to define average—well above replacement level, but not approaching star levels of production.

In 2015, Charlie Blackmon showed real improvements, especially regarding his approach at the plate, but he remained essentially the same player. Blackmon made strides in terms of taking walks, which came with 12 point bump in OBP. He struck out a little bit more, but he still struck out at a better than average rate. Blackmon’s increase in OBP didn’t affect his batting average, which was a single point lower in 2015 than in 2014. And while he hit two fewer home runs, his slugging percentage increased by ten points. He stole 15 more bases in 2015 than in 2014, and his rate improved beyond 75 percent, which is the threshold at which stolen bases become worth something.

Season Name Team G PA HR R SB% SB BB% K% BABIP AVG OBP SLG BsR
2014 Charlie Blackmon Rockies 154 648 19 82 74 28 4.80% 14.80% 0.315 0.288 0.335 0.44 3.7
2015 Charlie Blackmon Rockies 157 682 17 93 77 43 6.70% 16.40% 0.325 0.287 0.347 0.45 3.2

These improvements were no accident. As I noted after the first half, Blackmon’s progress can very clearly be traced to the different approach he took at the plate. The most significant change in Blackmon’s approach from 2014 to 2015 was that he swung a lot less in 2015. That goes for balls inside as well as outside of the strike zone. The most significant thing that did not change from 2014 to 2015 is that Blackmon made contact at a similar rate in both seasons. If his contact skills deteriorated due to his patience, he would have ended up with a worse season. As it was, however, he swung less, hit the ball as much as before, and when he did hit the ball, he did so with a touch more authority.

Interestingly, however, the improvements were not quite enough to move the needle in terms of his adjusted offense and WAR. While in 2014, Blackmon’s 99 wRC+ was just one percent below league average, his 2015 wRC+ of 101 was a single percentage point above league average. His WAR increased from 2.0 to 2.1, and WAR is not precise enough for the right side of the decimal point to matter when the difference is 0.1.

While Blackmon’s production in 2015 was very similar to that of 2014, he was unmistakably a better baseball player in 2015. Blackmon’s improvements have made him a bit more predictable. There is always room for unexpected improvement, sudden dis-improvement, and luck to interrupt what we think we know, but it sure looks like Charlie Blackmon is a two win center fielder. While two win center fielders are not exactly rare—he was one of 18 center fielders to post about two or more wins in 2015—he gets a boost because his season appears repeatable.

In 2014, Blackmon looked fluky average. In 2015, he looked realistically average. And that’s why he’s an asset to a major league team.