Baseball is a tough sport to play. We’re currently in an era of unprecedented power, velocity, and reliever usage, all things that are pushing the human body to the limit of its capabilities. The baseball landscape is filled with, on average, the best and quickest twitch athletes the sport has ever seen. Professional sports have always been a young man’s game, and baseball is no exception; it’s a badge of honor to be a veteran still producing at a good level, because you don’t get to be a veteran player without being a good player.
Charlie Blackmon is well into the veteran phase of his career by this point. The 35-year-old Rockies outfielder is in his 11th big league season, and his career merits his presence: a .301/.360/.497 slash, close to 500 extra-base hits, 133 stolen bases, 23.0 WAR, and more. He’s been an excellent ballplayer for almost a decade now, including a truly remarkable peak from 2016-17 that included a top-5 MVP finish in the latter year and a pair of Silver Slugger Awards. However, the lovable franchise icon looks to be showing signs that the greatest heel in the sports world, Father Time, is knocking firmly on the door.
Let’s start out by saying that Charlie Blackmon is still a solid ballplayer. His OBP this season is a very solid .357, just about even with his career mark. He’s currently running the best walk rate of his career (almost 10%), and he’s never struck out less often than this year in a full season (below 13%, way better than MLB average). Most versions of WAR have him projected to end the season being worth somewhere between 1-2 WAR, which slots him right into the “average MLB player” tier. The thing that’s preventing him from being what he used to be? A power outage.
The evidence is right there in front of us: his .397 SLG% is the lowest full-season mark of his career by a pretty significant amount, almost 50 points below 2014, 2015, and 2020, that latter year being where some signs of decline first showed themselves. For what it’s worth, Statcast’s expected numbers say he should be slugging .422, but that would be his lowest number since 2015. Always known for pulling the ball a lot, that’s changed this year: Statcast considers that only 34.4% of his batted balls have been pulled, easily the lowest since he became a full time player in 2014.
Another likely sign of decline? The grounders are coming more often than before, with his 50.2% groundball rate being his highest in the Statcast era. Combine those things we’ve talked about (pulling the ball less, hitting more grounders, walking more and striking out less), and I think we can see what’s going on here. He’s swinging at strikes as often as before, but he’s all of a sudden chasing less pitches out of the zone, hitting the ball more up the middle, and trying to whiff less. Blackmon’s always been a very intelligent hitter, remember, and I think he knows that maybe his bat speed and raw power isn’t what it was four years ago, and is looking to compensate elsewhere to remain productive. This is me speculating, of course, because I don’t know what’s inside his brain, but the numbers tell that story I just told.
Losing power is something that tends to happen as hitters age (with the exception of Nelson Cruz, who’s still hitting the crap out of the ball at age 41, but let’s just assume he’s a unicorn and move on), as part of the natural battle against Father Time. Rockies fans will surely remember Todd Helton’s pop evaporating in his final few years, but there are examples as well from other teams, like Chase Utley, José Bautista, and many more. The key for longevity is accepting that change and working around it to remain productive. Charlie Blackmon has seemingly identified that problem, and I hope he can remain productive despite it for a little bit longer. Baseball is better with him in it.
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Tapia recently went into the 10-day IL with a nagging toe sprain, and it looks like it won’t be more than that; the left fielder is expected to return right after the IL stint. As for Rodgers, who can’t catch a break with injuries, he seemed to avoid serious injury after getting hit in the hand by a pitch, and could be ready to return to the lineup in just a few days.
I remember watching the college baseball postseason and doing a huge double take when I saw Tulo in the Texas dugout. A look at Tulo’s second baseball run as a coach from Peter Gammons.
On The Farm
You know, when a team scores 10 runs in a single game, you expect them to win... but that didn’t happen for the Isotopes yesterday, because their pitching staff allowed one more than that. Starter Lance Gold got crushed (4.1 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR), Antonio Santos gave up the lead and allowed four runs in the eighth inning, and those 10 runs were all for nothing. Nº 40 PuRP Alan Trejo went 2-for-5 with a double, a homer, and four RBIs, but the Isotopes lost the contest and could only manage a series split against Oklahoma City. Albuquerque is now 38-45 on the season.
Oh hey, a pitcher’s duel! Nº 25 PuRP Ryan Feltner was excellent, working into the 7th inning (6.1 IP, 8 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K), outdueling Binghampton starter Connor Grey (6.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR). Nº 40 PuRP Willie Abreu provided the game’s only run with a solo homer in the top of the 2nd inning, and the Yard Goats took the opener of their series against the Rumble Ponies, improving to 28-56 on the season.
Nº 7 PuRP Chris McMahon didn’t have a great outing against the Dust Devils (4.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 0 HR), but he wasn’t helped by a) the Indians bats, and b) the Indians defense, which made two errors on the day. Five of the nine runs allowed by Spokane were unearned, and Spokane hitters struck out 13 times, went 1-for-11 with RISP, and managed just one extra-base hit all game long. The Indians dropped the first of six against Tri-City, and their season record is now 41-43.
A blowout that was basically over halfway through, with the Grizzlies pulling away for good on the back of a six-run fourth inning and three total homers. Fresno starter Austin Kitchen was solid enough for five frames (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0 HR), but the bats were the story in this one. Nº 2 PuRP Zac Veen went 2-for-5 with a homer, bringing his season slash up to .300/.398/.530, Nº 8 PuRP Drew Romo got on base three times via two singles and a walk, Nº 16 PuRP Julio Carreras went 3-for-4, and Rockies Nº 24 prospect Mateo Gil also went 3-for-4, with a couple of doubles in his case. The Grizzlies remain atop the Low-A West’s North Division, with a 57-28 record and a three game lead over the San José Giants.
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