Charlie Blackmon’s Improbable Season

Writing on the subject of Charlie Blackmon, Carson Cistulli once quipped, he’s “neither black nor Jamaican.” Our own FG+ player cap described him as “unlikely to ever be better than a fourth outfielder in real life.” Fantasy owners agreed and passed on drafting him according to FantasyPros. So how then did he provide a $25 season, ninth best among all outfielders?

The success is easy enough to measure. He posted a 82/19/72/28/.288 season, marking him as a five category monster. By the end of April, he was firmly ensconced as the Rockies lead off hitter, and injuries to other players kept the club’s depth from interfering with Blackmon’s playing time.

I keep looking back at his FG+ player cap. Given his gaudy fantasy numbers, it looks like we screwed up. Yet he only posted 2.0 WAR on the season. Once you factor in Coors Field, his .339 wOBA corresponds to a perfectly league average 100 wRC+. That’s better than a fourth outfielder, but it doesn’t leave much margin of error if Blackmon regresses. He could be right back on the bench in a year or two.

His position atop the Rockies lineup should not be assumed in 2015. He’s coming off a year in which he posted a 172 wRC+ in April, a 121 wRC+ in September, and failed to exceed an 80 wRC+ in any other month. Even after losing Michael Cuddyer to the Mets, the Rockies still have plenty of outfield depth. Drew Stubbs is going to play against left-handed pitchers, and it has to come at somebody’s expense. Brandon Barnes will get his platoon reps too.

Blackmon doesn’t have massive platoon splits – his walk rate drops from four percent to under two percent. However, Carlos Gonzalez is going to play when health and Corey Dickerson hit well enough against fellow southpaws that the club should probably give him the chance to become a full time player in his age 26 season.

Blackmon’s skill set isn’t particularly well tailored to the leadoff role. His walk rate of 4.8 percent was the highest he’s ever posted in the majors. Over 80 percent of his plate appearances ended with a ball in play, and he has a history of above average BABIP’s. While he offers positive value on the bases, his 28 steals were offset by 10 caught stealings. His average fly ball distance of 274 feet ranked 182nd in baseball, clustered with the likes of Yunel Escobar, Chris Johnson, and Kyle Seager. His home park will continue to help, but we can probably expect some regression.

Friend Eno’s analysis of Michael Brantley focused on an uptick of pulled hits to potentially explain Brantley’s home run spike. I decided to perform a similar visual inspection. Below is Blackmon’s 2013 (right) and 2014 (left) spray charts.

Blackmon Both

It does look like more outfield flies were pulled in 2014, but his 2013 chart lacks a sufficient sample size to draw any conclusions. Shucks.

Steamer projects a 87/16/65/23/.277 fantasy line next season in 666 plate appearances. The plate appearance estimate is a function of our depth charts, which are understandably unsettled at the moment. I think a 550 plate appearance season is more likely, which affects his counting stats. His projection probably looks similar to the 74/11/58/20/.271 line posted by Jason Heyward. He was worth $14 this season.

Despite a seemingly pessimistic viewpoint on Blackmon, I still think he’ll resemble a $14 player. Even better for us, I think a lot of fantasy owners will be hesitant to double down on him.We’ll learn in the coming months how mock drafters view him, but I foresee a price tag around $10.

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So, in conclusion, the market won’t buy into his monster year and neither should we?