Fear The Beard? Has Charlie Blackmon Overcome Regression in 2015

PITTSBURGH – After posting a .288/.335/.440 slash line with 19 home runs, 72 RBI, 82 runs and 28 stolen bases in 154 games last year with the Colorado Rockies, the guy once dubbed “unlikely to ever be better than a fourth outfielder in real life” by FanGraphs was now dubbed, “…better than a fourth outfielder” but without “much margin of error” for regression.

The analysis concluded by saying, in 2015 “he could be right back on the bench in a year or two.”

The person in question is, of course, Rockies centerfielder Charlie Blackmon.

Ever since his huge breakout in April of 2014 where he posted a .434/.642/.1.076 line with five home runs, 18 RBI and seven stolen bases, the word REGRESSION has been included in nearly every piece written about Blackmon (including, now, this one). 

A lead-off hitter with a walk rate of 4.8%? Regression is coming! A lefty who hit .267 against other lefties and just .241 away from Coors Field? Regression is coming! A guy who likes to fish on his days off? Regression is coming!

(okay, maybe not that one, but you get the idea)

Whether it was Carlos Gonzalez, Drew Stubbs, Michael Cuddyer (when he played for the Rockies) or Corey Dickerson, somehow, someway, the analysts had Blackmon pegged as a guy who was going to be relegated to the bench sooner rather than later.

But a funny thing happened. Cuddyer signed with the Mets in the offseason, Dickerson got plantar fasciitis, CarGo got hurt again and Stubbs fell off a cliff.

So far, it seems Blackmon is the only one who has avoided injury and/or #REGRESSION.

But is that really the case?

Through 305 plate appearances in 2015, Blackmon has put together a .279/.353/.446 line (nearly identical to last year) with nine home runs, 31 RBI, 42 runs and 19 stolen bases. His BABIP of .320 is just a tick above his .315 BABIP from last year, while his walk rate of 7.6% is currently a career-high. He’s hit six of his nine home runs on the road, away from Coors Field, in seven fewer games.

While those numbers look robust enough to suggest things will be smooth sailing the rest of the year, let’s look a little deeper.

Blackmon is still struggling versus lefties, but this year it’s been a Struggle with a capital S.

He is putting the ball in play 14.9% of the time versus lefties, which, coupled with a BABIP of .193, has lent itself to just 12 hits, accounting for 3.8% of his 75 hits on the year.

Overall, he is hitting .162/.215/.270 versus LHP’s with an ISO of .108 compared to .267/.297/.400 (.133 ISO) last year. At Coors Field, it’s even worse as Blackmon is putting up .136/.208/.227 with an ISO of .091.

His line drive rate, which accounts for a .667 overall batted ball average, is cut in half from 29% versus righties to 15.8% versus lefties, while his soft contact rate is 20.3% versus lefties as opposed to 10.1% versus RHP’s.

Let’s see for ourselves.

Charlie Blackmon Exit Velocity Heat Map
Charlie Blackmon Exit Velocity Heat Map (courtesy of Baseball Savant)

Blackmon has had only nine at-bats versus lefties that have resulted in an exit velocity of 95 mph or more, and only one at-bat with an exit velocity that has broken the century mark.

Against righties, it’s a completely different story.

Blackmon is hitting .323/.404/.510 (.187 ISO), with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph in 50 at-bats, and 100 mph or more in 25 at-bats. Blackmon has eight of his nine home runs, nine of his 12 doubles 45 of his 52 singles, 27 of his 31 RBI and 21 of 24 walks against RHP’s.

Overall, Blackmon ranks No. 133 in MLB in average exit velocity at 87.3 mph. His average home run length sits at 393.4 feet (No. 125), while his average batted ball distance of 309 ft. ranks No. 55.

While his home/road splits aren’t too glaring, his .371 BABIP versus righties (including a .384 BABIP versus righties at Coors) suggests – and here is that word again – regression is on the way.

While hitting in Coors will certainly help that inflated BABIP versus righties, there is big reason to believe Blackmon’s numbers will plummet in the second half as he has shown at this point in his career he can’t hit lefties.