Charlie Blackmon Would Be a Deserving MVP

The baseball season is currently about seven-eighths complete. Typically, around this time, the MVP races in both leagues start to become somewhat clear, with two or three players distinguishing themselves from the crowd. In the American League, that’s more or less the case. Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout possess the highest WAR marks among batters by some distance. Boston’s Chris Sale, meanwhile, will almost certainly provoke philosophical debates about a pitcher’s worthiness for the distinction of MVP.

In the National League, however, the picture is much less clear. One could make a convincing argument for Paul Goldschmidt. On the other hand, Giancarlo Stanton might hit over 60 home runs. Anthony Rendon is the current NL WAR leader. Corey Seager is the best position player on the team with the best record. Joey Votto is having a great season even for Joey Votto (and even for a last-place team). Kris Bryant has approximated the offensive numbers from his MVP-winning season last year. And, finally, Nolan Arenado is generally regarded as the best player on a Rockies club that’s likely bound for a play-in game.

This post actually does concern a member of the Rockies. It isn’t Arenado, though. While Arenado is probably the club’s best player, that’s not necessarily the same thing as having authored the club’s best season. Charlie Blackmon earns that distinction, and he’s a deserving MVP candidate.

A brief examination of Blackmon’s stat line reveals some gaudy numbers. He’s got 34 homers, the third-highest total in the NL. His .338 batting average leads the league, as does his total of 128 runs scored. His .404 on-base percentage ranks seventh in the NL; his .617 slugging percentage trails only Stanton’s .644 mark.

Of course, those numbers are all a product of Coors Field to some degree. As a member of the Rockies, Blackmon plays half his games in a ballpark that inflates offensive lines, which naturally invites suspicion regarding the legitimacy of Blackmon’s hitting exploits.

Fortunately, we can account for that. His 147 wRC+ — a mark that adjusts both for league and park — ranks sixth in the NL and indicates that Blackmon has been one of the National League’s best hitters even after acknowledging the influence of Coors.

For some, simply adjusting for ballpark isn’t sufficient, however. There remains some mistrust due to Blackmon’s splits. Before we address his home and away numbers, though, let’s recognize Blackmon’s other credentials — namely, the value he’s provided both from baserunning and defense. Put it together, and here are the WAR leaders so far this season.

National League WAR Leaders
Rank Name Team PA HR wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
1 Charlie Blackmon Rockies 652 34 147 2.3 41.5 2.2 6.4
2 Anthony Rendon Nationals 543 23 142 1.9 31.0 15.5 6.4
3 Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 610 54 159 -2.2 44.4 -1.8 6.2
4 Joey Votto Reds 631 34 163 -7.5 43.5 -4.2 5.9
5 Kris Bryant Cubs 594 25 141 5.2 36.5 1.8 5.7
6 Corey Seager Dodgers 543 19 134 3.5 27.1 12.0 5.6
7 Paul Goldschmidt D-backs 595 34 153 3.1 43.5 -6.2 5.6
8 Nolan Arenado Rockies 612 33 130 -0.1 23.5 9.5 5.2
9 Justin Turner Dodgers 488 19 153 1.0 34.0 1.1 5.1
10 Bryce Harper Nationals 472 29 163 -0.7 37.3 -2.1 5.0
Max Scherzer has a 5.2 WAR, leading NL pitchers

Blackmon is currently the WAR co-leader with the aforementioned Rendon, who has amassed his value in 100 fewer plate appearances. We could quibble with Blackmon’s defensive marks — fielding metrics require a considerable sample to become reliable and his numbers this year are better than in recent seasons — but even a slight adjustment here wouldn’t suddenly render him useless.

If Blackmon is going to win or lose the MVP, it likely isn’t going to have much to do with his defense, anyway. A winning campaign is going to be founded on Blackmon’s offense, and there are some reasonable questions to ask about how much Coors Field is helping Blackmon.

The graph below shows all qualified MLB players with their home and road wRC+. Even after that adjustment is made, we can see how much offense Blackmon is producing at Coors.

Blackmon’s 187 wRC+ at home is the best in baseball. (J.D. Martinez has actually recorded a slightly better mark, but he’s also played at two “home” fields.) What’s more, the difference between Blackmon’s 187 wRC+ at home and his 111 on the road is the second-greatest in the majors to Eddie Rosario.

So what are we to do with this information? Blackmon’s line is being greatly influenced by his performance at home, but should we give Blackmon an extra penalty above and beyond what WAR already does? As an example, compare the wOBA, the wRC+, and the offensive runs between Joey Votto and Charlie Blackmon. The wOBA is nearly identical and even though Votto plays in a hitter-friendly park, his wRC+ is 16 points higher. When we translate that into runs, that’s more than 11 runs. If Blackmon had merely the small penalty for home park that Votto has, Blackmon’s WAR would be above 7.0 and he would be atop the NL in WAR comfortably.

So Blackmon receives the benefit of Coors Field in his stat line and his counting numbers, but when it comes to WAR, Coors Field takes a lot of that away by penalizing him by more than a win. Should he be penalized more given the massive disparity for Blackmon at home compared to the road? All players hit better at home than on the road, even after accounting for park factors (the notable exception being those players who visit Coors Field, of course, where they hit much better). For the players in the graph above, the average split is roughly five points in wRC+ between home and road. Blackmon is an outlier, although the effect at Coors Field makes for a bigger difference for Rockies hitters. The chart below shows the last three seasons of wOBA and wRC+ at home and on the road.

Coors Effect
wOBA wRC+
Home 2015 0.359 98
Road 2015 0.281 75
Home 2016 0.375 104
Road 2016 0.301 84
Home 2017 0.358 90
Road 2017 0.305 84
Home 2015-2017 0.365 98
Road 2015-2017 0.296 81

At home, Rockies hitters put up a well above-average wOBA — a mark which is then rendered merely average by accounting for Coors Field. On the road, the hitters are just bad, roughly 20% below average. The gap this season between home and road for all players is 8 points, with a 104 wRC+ for non-pitchers at home and a 96 wRC+ for non-pitchers on the road, both figures in line with recent history. The Rockies appear to have a massive penalty when they go on the road, an effect that’s compounded by the fact that, when visitors come to Colorado, they don’t have a similar penalty, instead receiving only the benefit.

Jeff Sullivan looked at a potential hangover effect of playing at Coors on a granular basis and couldn’t really find one, believing perhaps the effect was bigger than something that could be seen over the course of a few games. Others have looked into it, and the effect seems to be real, but explanations vary. Over the last three years, Rockies hitters have a 30-point gap in xwOBA, which measures only exit velocity and launch angle, from home to road. Neither the dimensions of the park nor the atmospheric conditions play an explicit role in xwOBA. Perhaps the air causes breaking balls to break less and perhaps the batter’s eye is just really, really good, but there is a penalty for Rockies players when they go away from home in addition to the sort of generic park factor that’s assessed to their home numbers.

In any event, we could penalize Blackmon more just because his numbers are so elevated at Coors Field, but might that also require an upward adjustment of his road stats? It’s possible. Nor is it as though Blackmon is incapable of hitting on the road. He’s still an above-average batter despite this Coors hangover effect, and last season, he showed no differences whatsoever.

Charlie Blackmon Coors Effect
wOBA wRC+
Home 2015 .384 115
Road 2015 .302 89
Home 2016 .398 120
Road 2016 .390 144
Home 2017 .504 186
Road 2017 .346 112
Home 2015-2017 .427 140
Road 2015-2017 .346 115

Blackmon actually exhibited an inverse home/road split last season, recording a slightly better wOBA at home but much better road numbers after adjusting for park. This year, Blackmon’s probably hit into some luck, especially at home. The difference between his wOBA and xWOBA is greater than 100, which is about double what you might expect after looking at park factors. Using wRC+ takes care of some of that luck, and further adjustment on BABIP luck can take you into a philosophical discussion about how many actual results you choose to ignore. It’s fair to factor it in, to be certain.

As for Blackmon, if you do choose to penalize him further for playing in Colorado, you might want to appropriately credit him for the observed difficulty of hitting on the road after playing at Coors. It’s probably easiest just to admit that wRC+ probably does a pretty good job adjusting for park factors. That 147 wRC+ is well earned, and while he might not end up winning the MVP, Blackmon is one of a few legitimate candidates who deserve consideration at the end of the year.

We hoped you liked reading Charlie Blackmon Would Be a Deserving MVP by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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mikey1004
Member
mikey1004

“…his 111 [wRC+] on the road is the second-greatest in the majors to Eddie Rosario.”

Huh?

SpencerLB
Member
SpencerLB

Look at the whole sentence:

What’s more, the difference between Blackmon’s 187 wRC+ at home and his 111 on the road is the second-greatest in the majors to Eddie Rosario.

The difference between the two is second-greatest. (wRC+[Home] – wRC+[Road])