Is Charlie Blackmon Baseball's Best Leadoff Man?
As the 2017 season drew near, there was a sense amongst the baseball cognoscenti that the Colorado Rockies could make life difficult for the rest of the National League West. With a ton of talented position players and a top of the rotation that featured some promising arms, they had the look of a squad that could pose a serious threat to the Los Angeles Dodgers or, at the very least, stick their nose into the wild card race.
The cognoscenti were proven correct after the Rocks' 8-2 destruction of the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night. With the win, Colorado became the first NL team to reach 30 wins (the Houston Astros lead all of baseball with 31), and it so happens that their leadoff man, Charlie Blackmon, is leading the way.
Blackmon -- whose overgrown facial hair could give James Harden's cookie crumb catcher a run for its money -- is not your prototypical leadoff hitter. While he did steal 43 bases for the Rockies in 2015, he had just 17 last year, and only 4 so far this season. But what he lacks in stolen bases, he more than makes up for in overall production at the plate.
He currently leads the National League in RBI (40), an insanely high number for a leadoff hitter. After crushing a pair of two-run homers against Zach Eflin on Tuesday, he now has 11 dingers with 35 runs scored and a slash line of .325/.361/.618. His weighted on base average (wOBA) of .407 and his weighted runs created (wRC+) of 131 are both almost identical to the numbers he put up last season.
While he may not get as much press the Bryce Harpers of the world, Blackmon is a legit MVP candidate, and he's perhaps the best leadoff man in the game.
His 11 bombs are tied with Corey Dickerson for the most among MLB leadoff men, his 62 hits are 12 more than the next closest leadoff batter (Ender Inciarte), his 11 doubles are one behind A.J. Pollock, his 6 triples give him a slight edge over Billy Hamilton, and his 35 runs scored are currently better than Cesar Hernandez.
Check out his numbers over the last calendar year, and as you absorb them, remember the shaggy-faced wonder is a leadoff hitter.
#Rockies Charlie Blackmon last 162 games: .329/.381/.588, 129 R, 219 H, 40 2B, 9 3B, 38 HR, 108 RBI, 44 BB, 15 HBP, 4 SH, 5 SF, & 18 SB.
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) May 24, 2017
Those numbers figure to go up over the Rockies' upcoming two games, a couple more roadies against the Phils. Blackmon eats up Citizens Bank Park, with three career multi-homer games, one more than the entire current Phillies roster. But outside of Philadelphia, Blackmon, like many Rockies players, has some home/road splits that eat into his wRC+, which considers park factors.
At home this year, Blackmon is batting .391/.432/.828 with a wRC+ of 186 and an OPS of 1.259. On the road, he's hitting .269/.300/.442, with a wRC+ of 92 and an OPS of .742. Those are pretty much right in line with his career numbers, and it's why he ranks just tied for 20th in wRC+, while his fWAR of 1.9 is tied for 7th in the National League.
Blackmon's speciality this season has been mashing on the soft stuff. According to FanGraphs, he's been 5.1 runs above average against sliders this season (5th best in baseball), 2.2 runs above average against curveballs (among the top 20), and 3.7 runs above average against changeups (among the top 10). Much of that is due to the fact that Colorado's thin air wreaks havoc on opposing pitchers' breaking and offspeed stuff.
While he probably won't get any first-place MVP votes at the end of the season, Blackmon has proven to be one of the best center fielders and overall hitters in the National League. Considering his domination of Philly's home field, we should be ready to see his numbers (and that beard) continue to balloon.