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Is a Charlie Blackmon extension worth it?

Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Last month our own Renee Dechert made a case for signing Charlie Blackmon to a one-year extension, as did Evan Lang and myself on the Affected by Altitude podcast. The general consensus between the two cases deems that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to re-sign Blackmon, based on his leadership and presence on a team of youngsters. Still, if you’re familiar with my past articles under this same title premise, it’s important to look at the numbers to see if they support the sentiment.

It would be easier to make a numerical case for Blackmon if he had been able to play the entire season rather than miss a chunk in the middle due to the hand injury that kept him sidelined from June 11 to August 14. Due to the break in action, Blackmon’s resurgence since returning can be attributed to rest for a 36-year-old body that has kept his arms and legs. However, it’s still a promising path forward for Blackmon’s offensive contributions moving forward.

On-base machine and batted balls

Entering Tuesday, Blackmon has played in 85 games, batting .285/.373/.445 with 32 extra-base hits, including seven home runs, and 38 RBI. His 112 OPS+ is the highest it has been since 2019 as is his .356 wOBA and 109 wRC+. Blackmon has shown his evolution as a hitter this season, he is no longer the power hitter he once was, but has been able to display his greatest strength of getting on base.

Blackmon’s 53 runs scored currently ranks fourth on the team, just one behind Nolan Jones. How has he managed to score that many runs in 85 games? By making contact and getting on base. Blackmon has 91 hits on the season, with 20 doubles and five triples to go along with the seven home runs. He has improved his line drive rate to 24.6%, the highest it has been since the shortened 2020 season (28.5%), or, if you want to go back further to a full season, since 2016 when he 27.8% rate.

Blackmon’s batting percentiles show that he is among the league’s best in many categories
Baseball Savant

The increase in line drives has resulted in a decrease in groundballs (36.2%) and has increased his flyball rate to a career-high 39.1% rate. Unfortunately, that last mark hasn’t resulted in more home runs, but rather more infield pop-ups, but it’s also worth noting he is pulling the ball more. Additionally, his hard-hit rates and average exit velocity are within the realm of his career average, showing that he is at least consistent and the only real detrimental decline has been his home run power.

Leading off with eyes like a hawk

Strikeouts and lack of walks have been a problem for some time with the Rockies, but not for Chuck Nazty. With a career 16.7 K%, Blackmon brings a Helton-esque presence of plate discipline to the table. This season alone, Blackmon has 47 strikeouts and 36 walks, resulting in a career-low 12.7 K% and a career-high 9.7 BB%. The man has impeccable plate discipline.

Blackmon has returned to a 46.3% swing rate, a number that coincides with his 2016 and 2017 seasons. He has cut down on his swings outside of the strike zone, makes more contact inside the strike zone despite swinging less there, and overall has his best contact rates since 2017. He’s also been able to reduce his Whiff rate to pre-2020 numbers with a 19.6%.

Much of this success has come from batting in the leadoff position. Entering Tuesday he has led off 63 times hitting for a .273 AVG with a .807 OPS, along with six home runs, 34 RBI, 37 strikeouts, 27 walks, and 43 runs scored. His five triples are the most of the leadoff position in baseball, and he ranks in the top 25 in many offensive categories for leadoff batters.

Blackmon’s clutch nature has also shined through in his return to the regular leadoff man. Specifically, with two outs and runners in scoring position, he is batting .375/.516/.583 with 14 RBI. He takes professional at-bats every time he comes up to the plate and the results have surfaced. Like a shepherd leading his flock, Blackmon at the top of the lineup has helped make rookies like Ezequiel Tovar and Nolan Jones produce as they have, as well as the good offensive performances the team has been putting out recently.

If you want to see more about his clutch stats, I recommend checking out the table on Baseball Reference.

Is the extension worth it?

If you noticed, I didn’t mention his defensive contributions. At this stage in his career, Blackmon is more designated hitter than a regular right fielder. Sure, he can play the position decently enough, but the team can’t afford to roll him out there night after night for six months. Entering his age-37 season, the team has more athletic defenders capable of holding down the fort, but it helps that he can still man the position from time to time. Still, his return would mean the Rockies have to figure out a juggling act of setting the roster so that younger players still get ample playing time as both he and Kris Bryant would command more at-bats.

So, what could a deal look like? We know that both parties have a mutual interest in reuniting, but settling on a deal that makes sense is critical. Blackmon currently has a 0.9 fWAR (1.3 rWAR) which FanGraphs values at $7.5 million, which is half of what he is earning for the 2023 season. For some further context of what a deal could look like another 36-year-old in Andrew McCutchen made $5 million this season and posted a 1.2 fWAR with the Pittsburgh Pirates which is valued at $9.7 million. Both players have similar numbers, and McCutchen is discussing a new contract with the Pirates to return, despite suffering a partial Achilles tear to end his season early.

Knowing the Rockies, it doesn’t sound far-fetched that Blackmon could sign a one-year extension worth somewhere between $7 and $9 million. Yes, it’s a pay cut for Blackmon, but still rewards his years of service. Besides, there is a Rockies precedent when the team re-signed Carlos González in 2018 for $8 million. Corey Sullivan of AT&T Sportsnet claimed that Blackmon wants a two or three-year contract, but that’s too much to guarantee at his age. The best I would do is one year with some sort of mutual or vesting option for 2025, along with some performance incentives included somewhere.

Charlie Blackmon’s influence can’t be overlooked and if he returns he has a chance to further cement his legacy in a Rockies uniform. While others have taken over as the face of the franchise, Blackmon continues to remain the heart and soul of the organization, and that leadership is hard to replace or find anywhere else. He deserves at least one more season in purple to help lead the exodus to the new promised land, even if he himself won’t be able to partake beyond that point.


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