Hot to trot (USAT)
The easy part of the Charlie Blackmon game came in early April. The harder part comes now.
We first started discussing Blackmon about three weeks ago, after his 6-for-6 explosion in the Coors Field opener. It wasn't a difficult call – we saw plausible upside, we outlined it, we talked about it.
If you wanted Blackmon back then, all you probably had to do is find one disposable player on your roster and you were in business. Simple trade-off. Maybe you were discarding someone in the minors, or moving a disabled player. Perhaps you were giving up on a March lottery ticket that didn't pay off. It probably was a painless, all-upside move. (Mind you, some reckless gamblers paid $14 for Blackmon in industry mixed leagues – okay, that was me. But in public leagues, a resource-drop probably wasn't required.)
Things are trickier now, 23 games into the season. Blackmon is off to a ridiculous .410/.453/.692 start, with five homers and six steals. He's scored 19 runs, driven in 16, reached the seats four times in his last three starts. Wednesday's delicious line: 5-4-2-3, homer, steal. Blackmon's the No. 1 or No. 2 hitter in fantasy to this point, depending on how your valuation calculator feels about Giancarlo Stanton.
Obviously Blackmon isn't this good – no one's this good. But just how good is he? Where should we rank him going forward? How much would you need before you'd move Blackmon in a trade?
These are the real questions. You know the refrain by now: regression is not the end of the conversation, it's the beginning of one. "He'll cool off eventually" is not analysis. Don't let the hacks get away with that.
There are pro and con arguments all over the place. Blackmon plays half of his games at Coors Field (heaven), he's tied to a tinkering manager in Walter Weiss (hell), and then there's the road schedule (purgatory). Blackmon doesn't always start against left-handed pitching, no matter that he's handled them well through his brief career (he actually shows a reverse platoon split). Heck, Blackmon homered twice Monday and still sat the next day against a southpaw, which is the type of silly stuff the Rockies normally do. Anything to get Out Machine Drew Stubbs into the lineup.
The believers point to Blackmon's pop and speed mix and his customary leadoff spot, tied to the biggest offensive giveaway in the world. The skeptics point to Blackmon's modest prospect pedigree (Corey Dickerson's resume has more juice; Blackmon didn't show great power in the minors) and last year's shaky K/BB rate in The Show.
Okay, we can counter that last point – Blackmon's walk rate was a lot better in the minors, and he's only stuck out five times this year (big contact-rate jump, and a nudge forward in walks). Skeptics: it's a small sample, hoser, and almost 60 percent of his at-bats have come at home. Believer: young players can improve, and Blackmon is 27, after all. He also was useful in a chunk of time last year (.309-35-6-22-7, 246 at-bats). Skeptic: Wait until Blackmon goes 1-for-9 and gets benched by the audible-friendly Weiss.
I opened up the comparison discussion on Twitter, asking Yahooligans to provide players they consider equal to Blackmon. Some of the common answers: Austin Jackson, Jayson Werth, Desmond Jennings, Melky Cabrera, Michael Brantley. At least one person said Dickerson, ironically or not. (I also noted some industry ranks that had Blackmon buried, as low as OF-80 on one list.)
If you want more cold water for Blackmon's case, the algorithms don't seem to like him. Pecota's rest-of-season for Blackmon reads this way: .269-42-7-33-9. The Steamer/Zips result is a little more optimistic: .281-51-10-48-12. Until you've proven something in the majors (and put something significant on the spreadsheet), the formulas aren't overly impressed.
In situations like this (and with an upside this exciting), I'm generally going to ask "why not?" instead of "why bother?" – so put me in the optimistic camp. The Werth comparison works for me. I even offered Jackson in a Blackmon trade Wednesday night (to esteemed colleague Andy Behrens, the good old Yahoo F&F), with two minor infielders also included. I haven't heard back yet. (Okay, it's a done deal: Behrens gets Jackson and Villar, I get Blackmon and Gennett. I have so many Jackson shares already, I didn't mind some diversification. If you like, declare your trade winner in the comments.)
It's rare I actively go looking for outside opinions (I trust my instincts and don't want to cloud them), but the Blackmon polarization encouraged me to make an exception. I wrote to longtime friend Gene McCaffrey, probably the wisest fantasy scribe I know. He's a super scout on any baseball issue, but especially sharp with the Rockies as he lives in Colorado. Here's Gene's email response regarding Blackmon:
Glad you have him. I thought for sure that Dickerson would at least play against righties, which may yet happen but it pisses me off anyway because Blackmon has no options and that was knowable. One thing I don't think will last is his power. BOTH his IFFB and HR/FB are 19%. He's probably going to go two months without hitting a home run at some point. But I think his BA will hold up and he can steal 25 bases rather easily, with 100 runs almost in the bag if he plays. If he doesn't go 1-for-9. No, he has earned the right to go 3-18.
Wise words from the Wise Guy. I've had my say and Gene's had his. Make your own feelings known in the comments. Where's this Blackmon story headed? What does your price gun say?
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