The 29-year-old Blackmon is intriguing as a top-of-the-order, table-setting hitter. He’s a lefty who can hit lefties and righties, he is an outstanding contact hitter with great speed and a little power.[table “” not found /]
Player A is Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain; player B is Charlie Blackmon. Both players posted BABIPs close to their career norms (Cain’s career mark is .345, Blackmon’s is .323.) Whatever your feelings on stealing bases, both do it in quantity and at efficient, value-adding rates. The similarities in style don’t stop there:[table “” not found /]
Neither player draws a large volume or rate of walks, but they both strike out less often then average and they don’t swing and miss (“whiff”) much, either. These are two highly contact-oriented hitters who hit both left and right-handed pitching well. One major difference between these two players is that Blackmon is much more pull-heavy about it, whereas Cain distributes the ball more evenly across the diamond. This does make Blackmon vulnerable to the shift – and to his credit, Blackmon is aware of the problem. He has a career 47.3% bunt-hit rate (and in 2015, he bunted successfully 53% of the time, which I believe indicates that bunting is a legitimate tool in Blackmon’s kit to keep the shift at bay.)
One area that the Cain/Blackmon comp doesn’t consider, obviously, is the Coors effect on Blackmon’s numbers.
Over three years, we see Blackmon displaying Fowler-like BABIP and ISO consistency in his home/away splits. Outside of Coors, his line-drive rate was down nearly half and his ground-ball rate was up about 10 points. These are definite red flags. But he actually hit more home runs away last season than at home. And in the 2013-2015 span, he’s averaged 6.3 home runs at away and 7.7 on the road – it’s not Gonzalez power, but it’s not a Denver fluke, either.
One area where the Cain/Blackmon comp decidedly fails is on defense. Of qualified players, Cain was the second best defensive centerfielder last year – and Blackmon was fourth worst. Cain posted a 14.3 UZR (a 14.5 UZR/150) as a centerfielder in 2015; Blackmon accumulated a -8.0 UZR (a -8.5 UZR/150.) That’s a whopping 22-run differential. It’s probably safe to assume his glove is and will remain deficient, and that he’ll be in the lineup because he can hit.
Blackmon’s played in about 300 games over the past two seasons, so he’s durable. He’s eligible for arbitration in 2016, so he’ll see a pay bump, but he doesn’t become a free agent until 2019, which means teams will get three seasons of economic control. He’s a lefty with speed and a relatively low-strikeout, high-contact style of lashing the baseball. He’s a perfect lead-off type of hitter and a highly desirable player, even if he isn’t a “brand name” like his teammate, Gonzalez.
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