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Charlie Blackmon: Renaissance man

He’s said he’s resistant to being a designated hitter, but the numbers suggest he’s very good at it.

Charlie Blackmon was never a fan of the designated hitter.

In a 2020 interview with MLB Network Radio, he said of the position, “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.”

This year, however, Blackmon has found himself used more as a DH than as a right fielder, and it turns out, the change suits him.

How Much Time Has He Spent as a DH in 2022?

Quite a lot, actually. Baseball Reference has the specifics.

This table from Baseball Reference shows that Blackmon has been more effective offensively when DHing as opposed to playing right field.
Charlie Blackmon’s 2022 offensive performance as a designated hitter and as a right fielder
Baseball Reference

Notice first that Blackmon has seen 248 plate appearances as a designated hitter as compared to 179 as a right fielder. Bud Black said early in the season that the Colorado Rockies planned to use the designed hitter position to keep Blackmon’s bat in the lineup while giving him less outfield time. That’s certainly been the case in 2022.

Now notice the difference in his performance when comparing the positions. Blackmon’s OPS+ as a DH is 116 while his OPS+ when playing right field is 103. In fact, he’s better in most categories as a designated hitter. To be fair, given that Blackmon has spent more time as a DH rather than playing right field, some increases would make sense, such as the increased number of RBI. However, Blackmon has doubled his home runs as a DH, which suggests that getting time off his feet is making him more effective offensively.

Clearly, Blackmon has not returned to the offensive production he had in 2016 and 2017 (an OPS+ of 130 and 141, respectively). However, his OPS+ of 104 far exceeds his 2021 OPS+ of 96.

In short, Charlie Blackmon is having a bit of a renaissance.

Have Blackmon’s Thoughts about the Designated Hitter Changed?

They have, in large part because he has come to understand the position differently.

“It’s different now because it is an everyday part of the game,” Blackmon said. “So that is a legitimate position, as to where in the past, I felt like it was a bit of a party favor — you know, only in interleague play on the road. But now it’s a real thing.”

Moreover, through practice, he’s gotten better at it.

“I’ve been able to do it enough to get used to it,” Blackmon said. “It’s different, but it’s a necessary part of the game.”

He added, “If you’re going to play that position, you need to get comfortable there.”

To do this, Blackmon — who is notorious for his pre-game rituals — has created some new ones.

“For the most part, I try to make myself feel like I’m playing the game. So I sit in the dugout when we’re hitting,” he said.

But when the Rockies are on defense, his approach changes.

“I usually go ride the bike or stay loose,” Blackmon said, “as if I were playing defense, and then come back.” But he’s careful not to overdo his offensive preparation. “I don’t take swings. I don’t I don’t do anything I otherwise wouldn’t normally do.”

And he agrees that his increased time as a designated hitter has probably helped his season.

“I think it helps with the accumulation of activity,” Blackmon said. “I think DH’ing helps your body recover a little bit. There’s less pounding; there’s the ability to consistently get a base hit without having to exert yourself quite so much.”

He added, “I think I think it helps you stay effective at the plate whereas normally if you were to get that many bats and play in the outfield every day, I think you would you get to a point where you would maybe not be as sharp because you were tired or fatigued.”

Blackmon also notices a physical difference.

“There’s parts of my body that made me feel tired or banged up,” he said. “I feel better rested.”

Just How Good Is Blackmon This Season?

He’s good, though, again, not as good as he was at the height of his career. But in 2022, the 12th year of Blackmon’s career, fans are seeing Chuck Nazty cement his place in the pantheon of great Rockies:

  • His 281 doubles put him ahead of Carlos González with 277, making Blackmon third on the Rockies’ all-time list, behind Larry Walker (297) and Helton (592).
  • With 56 triples, he leads all Rockies hitters.
  • Only Helton’s 2247 games played surpass Blackmon’s 1367.
  • He has 1554 hits, which makes him one of only 16 active players to achieve that goal. As for the Rockies, he is second only to Todd Helton with 2519 career hits. In fact, here’s Blackmon’s 1500th career hit.

And enjoy his 200th home run. (He’s currently sixth on the Rockies’ all-time leaderboard.)

Then there’s the experience factor to consider. Take this example:

Last week when playing their fourth game against Padres, the Rockies got off to a bad start, falling behind 5-0 in the first inning. Compounding problems was the crowd’s enthusiasm for Juan Soto and Josh Bell, both making their Padres debuts in an inning that included a grand slam. Petco Park was electric.

Then this happened in the top of the third inning when Blackmon faced Blake Snell:

This graphic taken from MLB Game Day shows Charlie Blackmon’s 12-pitch at-bat against Black Snell.
MLB Game Day

Blackmon’s 12-pitch at-bat seemed endless, but, as Ryan Spilborgs noted, “He’s taken the crowd out of the game.” And he had.

Even more, that at-bat resulted in a sacrifice fly that brought home Yonathan Daza for the Rockies’ first score of the night

It wouldn’t be enough, but Blackmon gave the Rockies a chance. That kind of patience under pressure is learned through years of practice.

He’s also making some nice defensive plays, like this one:

Perhaps spending less time in right field makes Blackmon a more effective outfielder as well.

What Happens to Blackmon Next Year?

In 2023, should he choose to exercise his $10 million player option, he will complete his six-year, $108 million contract extension. Blackmon has told Patrick Saunders that he “wants to play next year,” hopefully for the Rockies.

In 2022, he is the Rockies’ 10th most valuable player as measured by rWAR (0.6), and with 16 home runs, he is second only to CJ Cron. According to FanGraphs, Blackmon is the 14th-best designated hitter in baseball.

Blackmon’s ability to adapt to being a designated hitter has been good for his career and good for the Rockies.