Welcome to the 2021 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2021. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.
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No. 13, Charlie Blackmon: 0.9 rWAR
For the last two seasons, the Rockies have seen a different Charlie Blackmon.
Since 2020 was delayed and shortened by COVID, it’s fair to mark that season as an anomaly for everyone. However, Blackmon played 150 games in 2021 and posted his career-low in batting average at .270.
The hallmark of Blackmon’s game has always been his ability to hit the ball. He’s known for his rigorous study methods and dedication to his craft, which has netted four All-Star selections, the 2017 NL batting title, and two Silver Sluggers.
Blackmon, who will turn 36 on July 1, 2022, became a starting player for the Rockies in 2014, which is also when he earned his first All-Star nomination. In 2021, he posted his lowest numbers in his career since becoming an everyday player in slugging percentage (.411), OPS with (.761), homers (13), doubles (25), and runs scored (76).
On the bright side, Blackmon still recorded a decent on-base percentage at .351, he drew 54 walks (third-most in his career), and he posted his lowest strikeout total since 2013 at 91. After a career-low 29.8 percentage of hard-hit balls in 2020, he bumped that up almost 10 percent to 38.5 percent, which is higher than his career average of 37.7 percent. Chuck Nazty also hit three walk offs in 2021, which tied Elias Díaz for most on the team, and two came in the form of homers.
In the field, Blackmon registered a career-high 14 assists, which is pretty outstanding for an outfielder. However, he also finished the season at -8 outs above average and he prevented -7 runs, which ranks him 224th, according to Baseball Savant. With offseason talks of making the DH universal in 2022 (among other changes), Blackmon would be a leading candidate for the spot for the Rockies, especially with the vast amount of real estate in the Coors Field outfield. Blackmon has made his feelings known about not liking the idea of the DH in the NL or him playing that position, as he told Rox Pile, “I personally don’t like DH’ing a whole lot. I feel like I’m not like a legitimate part of the team that day.”
In 2018, Blackmon signed a six-year, $108 million deal with the Rockies and he will enter the first year of the player option of that contract in 2022. He’s slated to earn $21 million next season and then could make between $10-$18 million in 2023, depending on escalators like plate appearances. His $22 million salary in 2022 is far and away the highest on the team, with Ian Desmond next at $15 million (if he comes back for the last year of his contract or the Rockies have a $2 million buyout option) and Germán Márquez at $11 million.
Outside of being a fan favorite, Chuck Nazty is also a leader in a young locker room with his lead-by-example style. Considering the organization’s history, a trade seems unlikely and it’s hard to know whether or not Bud Black, a manager who tends to favor veterans in his lineup, would transition him into the DH role.
In Spring Training, one nickname arose for the younger players like Ryan McMahon, Brendan Rodgers, Sam Hilliard, Raimel Tapia, and others who are still in the minors became “Charlie’s children,” as the new version of Todd (Helton) and the Toddlers. Of the team’s composition, McMahon said, “Chuck has to be the centerpiece.” It’s hard to imagine a world where Blackmon doesn’t follow Helton’s footsteps and play his entire career as a Rockie.
For the second-straight season, in 2021 Blackmon finished with a 0.9 WAR. He was at 2.3 in 2019, his career high was in 2017 when it was 5.5, and he has a career average of 2.5. This brings up the question all fans are wondering: Can Blackmon bring his numbers back up, even if the power doesn’t return, or are his best days long behind him?