By all accounts, Charlie Blackmon is having a career year. His offensive numbers are up across the board and he’s been a key part of the explosive top half of the Rockies batting order. Sadly, there’s a chance that he might not be in a Rockies uniform as early as 2017 and that’s something GM Jeff Bridich will have to reckon with. But just how good has he been? Lets take a look.
There have been five other center fielders that have been on Blackmon’s level, and they are Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr., the Cubs’ Dexter Fowler, the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes, the White Sox’ Adam Eaton, and, of course, the Angels’ Mike Trout. All five of these players have has excellent seasons and are great players in their own right, but Blackmon has been better than all of them except Trout. (Trout is still on his own proverbial cloud where he drinks from the fountain of youth, is endowed with the strength of Hercules and the speed of Hermes to create a man-god on a baseball field. But I digress.)
The chart above outlines the stats of the six center fielders sorted by Offensive WAR. Looking at that chart it’s hard to make the argument that anybody has had a better season than Blackmon has. As you can see, Trout’s 60.7 Offensive WAR is insanely high and nobody is going to be close to that. He’s eliminated from this conversation.
Traditionally, center fielders are the speedy, leadoff types, but today’s elite have evolved into complete hitters. Only Blackmon and Fowler were in the leadoff spot on Sunday, while Eaton hit second, Trout and Cespedes hit third, and Bradley Jr. was in the eight-hole. In order to judge these players and truly assess their impact, it’s best to approach it from three angles: power, on-base ability, and defense.
Blackmon has had an uptick in power, surpassing his previous single-season home run total by eight already this year. Cespedes has a few more homers, sure, but there’s more to power hitting than home runs. Blackmon and Cespedes have the same slugging percentage because Blackmon has made up that difference with doubles and triples. Hell, they’re both .001 percentage points behind Trout in that category.
Blackmon leads all center fielders in batting average at .321, and it’s not just a Coors Field creation. In 299 plate appearances on the road, Blackmon is hitting .320 and has hit 17 of hit 27 home runs outside of friendly confines. The road numbers show that he’s a good hitter regardless of where he’s playing, but still doesn’t make up for his on-base deficiency. Blackmon’s 6.9% walk rate this year is not as nice as it should be and is the most glaring deficiency in his offensive game. Luckily, that low walk rate is coupled with a low strikeout rate which makes it easier to stomach. Even with the low walk rate, Blackmon is still top three in on-base percentage behind Trout and Fowler.
This second chart outlines the six outfielder’s road performance this year. As you can see, the “LOLCoors” argument doesn’t work for Blackmon. He’s arguably been better on the road than he has been at home. In order to truly appreciate how good Blackmon has been, we need to acknowledge that fact.
According to Fangraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average (Def), Blackmon is 13th out of 18 qualified center fielders with -4.7. It’s hard to judge a Rockies outfielder on their defense because of how expansive Coors Field’s outfield is. Not only does the ball fly at altitude, the Rockies have one of the largest outfields in baseball, making it difficult for any outfielder to cover that much ground. Range Factor has Blackmon as average, ranking 9th out of 17 qualified with a -0.7. On the flipside, Cespedes has only played half of his games in center field and has a -8.1 Def. His value comes from his bat, but Blackmon has shown that he’s his equal this season and his defense, while not great overall, puts him as the second best center fielder in baseball this year.
Honestly, I think Blackmon is destined for a corner outfield spot. He’s not quite good enough to continue to cover center field, but would profile as a plus corner outfielder and, with his newfound power, has a better chance of slotting there than he had previously. Blackmon’s status in Colorado is unclear, but one thing is: Chuck Nazty is the second-best center fielder in baseball.