Charlie Blackmon: The Reluctant DH
He’s always said he wants to play in the outfield, but is Blackmon better as a DH?
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Given how badly the Rockies’ 2022 season is going (30-40 and being swept by the Marlins?), it seems like nothing is going right for them, which is mostly true. However, there are a few encouraging stories to report, one of them involving Charlie Blackmon.
During last Saturday’s broadcast against the Padres, AT&T SportsNet analysts Drew Goodman, Ryan Spilborghs, and Cory Sullivan discussed Blackmon’s reluctant acceptance of his role as a designated hitter. I’m paraphrasing here, but Spilborghs pointed out that Blackmon had resisted spending significant time as a DH, saying it made him feel like “half a baseball player.” The three went on to conclude, however, that Blackmon is having a better season due to reduced defensive demands.
They’re right: Charlie Blackmon’s time as a designated has (slightly) improved his game.
What Does Blackmon Think About Being the DH?
Last week, Thomas Harding asked Blackmon if his new job as a DH helped him “stay fresh.” Blackmon answered, “I think so in terms of wear and tear on your body, but it still takes a lot of energy to play the game and stay hot for three-and-a-half hours in between at-bats. There is less pounding, fewer steps, less explosive running in the outfield.”
Blackmon then described his strategy for staying ready and engaged: “What I’ve been doing is I try to ride the exercise bike when we’re on defense, either in a place that I can see the field or right in front of a screen – actively watching.”
So Charlie Blackmon, always the careful student, has found ways to adapt to the new position he’s been assigned.
How Many Games Has Blackmon Played in Right Field as Opposed to Being a DH?
The numbers are interesting.
First, Blackmon has gradually increased his time as a DH during the 2022 season.
April: RF-13 games; DH-5 games.
May: RF-12 games; DH-11 games.
June: RF-4 games; DH-17 games.
In sum, the season started as a typical year for the Rockies’ long-time outfielder; then things changed — a lot. Altogether, Blackmon has played right field in 29 games and been a designated hitter in 33 games.
Now, consider some of the specifics. Blackmon has hit four home runs when playing right field as opposed to seven when he is the DH. In fact, here’s a nice one from last weekend:
His doubles are evenly split (six and six). He has 26 hits when playing right field and 41 as a DH. These numbers, however, have limited value given that Blackmon has played significantly more games as a DH than as a a right fielder, so it makes sense that some of his DH numbers would be better. (I just thought they were interesting.)
He’s also reaching personal goals and breaking team records. Earlier this month, he surpassed 200 home runs and 1500 doubles. In addition, he now leads the Rockies in triples. Clearly, longevity plays a part — Blackmon is in his 11th year as an MLB player — but he’s having a solid 2022 to help him reach those numbers earlier in the season.
How Do His 2022 Numbers Compare to His Career Numbers?
He’s having a (relatively) good season, especially for someone about to turn 36. Blackmon has not returned to the levels of his exceptional 2016-2019 seasons, but his 2022 numbers are more consistent with those the put up in his last good season, 2019. Blackmon is close to surpassing his 2021 home run total, and on track to have a wRC+ of higher than 100.
He’s also already accrued 0.5 fWAR. That’s not an especially notable number, but Blackmon has already earned his fWAR of 2021.
Short version: If Blackmon continues on this trajectory, he’s going to have a solid 2022. He also illustrates the point that by adopting the DH, baseball has created more jobs for aging players.
Okay, Then, How Does He Compare to Other Designated Hitters?
You know, he’s fine, but it’s also interesting.
Blackmon is, currently, the 15th-best designated hitter in terms of fWAR — with Connor Joe right behind him. Blackmon’s 11 home runs rank him eighth among designated hitters, and he’s fifth in terms of RBI with 38. He’s not walking enough (23rd), but he also has the fourth-lowest K% (17.0%) and is 10th in SLG (.460).
TLDR: Charlie Blackmon isn’t Bryce Harper, but the DH position seems to fit him pretty well. That reduced wear and tear is probably making a difference in his offensive contributions.
Blackmon is occasionally tossed about as part of a potential trade when the Rockies begin dealing (which we will surely see happen in the coming weeks). As I’ve written before, I just don’t see it. Blackmon’s contract ($21 million) means other teams are unlikely to be interested, and he’s worth more to the Rockies given that he’s become a clubhouse leader and is a long-established fan favorite.
And, it turns out, whether he likes it or not, he’s a pretty good designated hitter, and the new job increases the odds of Blackmon extending his MLB career.
★ ★ ★
Yesterday, Substack enabled polling, so I thought I’d try one.
Down on the Farm
This is a nice piece on Yard Goat Brenton Doyle.
There’s good news in Fresno.
For the second time this season, Tony Locey has been selected as the Northwest League Pitcher of the Week.
Congratulations to some former Rockies who were inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
In this story from 2000, Michael Knisley recounts Todd Helton’s reaching .400.
Bryan Shaw is back at his Cleveland home and throwing more like himself. Kevin Henry talked with Shaw about where he is now.
Catlike, Chris Owings always seems to land on his feet.
What I’m Reading, Watching, and Listening To
Mario DeGenz’s “Connor Joe’s Missing Power” (Purple Row) — “The Greatest Rockie Ever” is struggling at the plate. DeGenz has some ideas as to what’s happening.
Tyler Kepner’s “Need to Fix a Struggling Pitcher? Put Him in Dodger Blue” (New York Times) — Yes, there are mentions of Yency Almonte and Tyler Anderson, but Kepner gets at what sets the Dodgers apart in terms of player development.
Dave Levitan, Alex Leeds Matthews, Anna Deen, and Matt Stiles’ “From Bad Refs to Brain-eating Amoebas: How Climate Change Is Reshaping Warm-weather Sports” (Grid News) — It’s bad.
If there’s a player Rockies fans are excited about, it’s Ezequiel Tovar. Here’s why.
I still don’t expect to see Tovar in Colorado this year, but next year, I’m predicting he’ll be the Rockies’ starting shortstop.
Thanks for reading —