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Split personality? Blackmon having historic year

Center fielder leaving fans light-headed with incredibly strong season
August 10, 2017

Charlie Blackmon is having one of the craziest seasons in baseball history.First of all, Blackmon is having a terrific year, a National League MVP Award-caliber season. He leads the NL in runs, hits, triples and total bases. Blackmon and Nolan Arenado have been the force driving the Rockies into surprising

Charlie Blackmon is having one of the craziest seasons in baseball history.
First of all, Blackmon is having a terrific year, a National League MVP Award-caliber season. He leads the NL in runs, hits, triples and total bases. Blackmon and Nolan Arenado have been the force driving the Rockies into surprising contention. (Fun fact: If Blackmon and Arenado both reach 90 extra-base hits, and both are on pace to do it -- with Arenado at 65 extra-base hits and Blackmon at 64 -- they will join Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of the 1927 Yankees -- Murderers' Row! -- as the only teammates to do it in the same season.)
But here's the really crazy part about Blackmon's year: At the moment, he is having the most lopsided home/road season since baseball expanded in 1969. There are a lot of ways you can look at home/road lopsidedness. You can look at batting average -- in 1996, Eric Young hit a career-high .324. He hit .412 at home and .219 on the road. Wade Boggs had a couple of seasons when he hit better than .400 at Fenway Park and about 100 points less on the road.
You could look at homers, too -- in 1954, Ted Kluszewski led the Major Leagues with 49 home runs. He hit 34 of them at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
But we're going to use OPS. At the moment, Blackmon is hitting:
Home: .398/.469/.815 for an OPS of 1.284
Road: .278/.316/..448 for an OPS of .764
That OPS gap of .520, it's the biggest gap of the Expansion Era. Blackmon is some combination of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams at Coors Field. And he is Rocco Baldelli on the road.
Here are the biggest gaps of the Expansion era (minimum 200 at-bats at home and road):
• Blackmon, .520
• Larry Walker, 1999: .516 (Home 1.410; Road .894)
• Vinny Castilla, 1995: .482 (Home 1.413; Road .661)
• Tom Brunansky, 1990: .466 (Home .998; Road .532)
• Gary Matthews, 1977: 455 (Home 1.021; Road .566)
• Eric Young, 1996: .454 (Home 1.021; Road .567)
• Jeff Cirillo, 2000: .450 (Home 1.078; Road .628)
• Fred Lynn, 1979: .436 (Home 1.267; Road .831)
• Michael Tucker, 2002: .430 (Home .950; Road .520)
• Bill Buckner, 1977: .420 (Home .954; Road .534)
As you might have guessed, half of these happened at Coors Field, which is the most extreme hitters park of our time. The other five happened at great hitters parks -- Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and, oddly, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. That year, Tucker hit .328/.408/.542 at home, superb numbers. On the road, he hit .169/.250/.270. It was just weird.
Let's talk for a second about that Brunansky year of 1990. He was having an absolutely miserable year for St. Louis -- he was hitting .158 through 19 games -- when the Cardinals traded him to Boston for Lee Smith. Brunansky went to the Red Sox, and he was absolutely terrible on the road. He hit .180 and slugged .240 on the road that year. He couldn't do a thing. But, man, oh, man, did Brunansky love Fenway Park. In 65 games there, he hit .340, he slugged .626, he hit 18 doubles, five triples and 13 homers in less than half a season. He adored that Green Monster.
And the very next year, that Fenway magic was gone.
Well, that gets to the point that is that these sorts of seasons are specific rather than player specific. For all the talk about players adjusting to their home park, loving to play in front of the home crowd and so on, it's hard to find in the statistics a specific player skill for hitting at home vs. hitting on the road. Yes, players generally tend to hit slightly better at home (though some, like Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio hit quite a bit better on the road), but it is not an individual skill. It's a part of the game. For the most part, the home/road splits come down to the quirks, dimensions and altitude of home ballparks.
No place is this more true than Coors Field. Coors makes it very difficult to judge a player's true value. We have already seen this in the Hall of Fame voting, where Larry Walker seems to have strong Hall of Fame credentials -- his career WAR is higher than recent inductees Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio, and it is very similar to Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell -- and he was a likable player with an NL MVP Award, three batting titles, no suspicion of steroids. Walker cannot even get 25 percent of the vote.
And everyone knows that this is largely because of Coors Field, where Walker got just 31 percent of his plate appearances. He was insanely good at Coors Field -- he hit .381, slugged .710 and and scored 555 runs in 555 starts -- but what else should he have done? Walker hit .282 outside of Coors Field, slugged .500, played great defense, stole bases … but Coors Field defines him.
This is likely to be the case with Todd Helton, too.
And now, you have Blackmon. His biggest fans will point out that his 2016 home/road splits were almost identical, which is absolutely true (.939 OPS at Coors, .926 away), but that seems an anomaly. For Blackmon's career, his home OPS is 227 points better than on the road, which is one of the biggest differences ever.
Biggest home/road differences for career (min. 1,000 home at-bats):
Carlos Gonzalez, .232 (Home .965, Road .733)
• Blackmon, .227 (Home .961, Road .734)
• Chuck Klein, .214 (Home 1.027, Road .813)
• Gavvy Cravath, .214 (Home .986, Road .772)
• Walker, .203 (Home 1,.068, Road .865)
Klein and Cravath played the bulk of their careers in the old Philadelphia Baker Bowl, which was the Coors Field of its day.
So what do we make of Blackmon's incredible season (or that of Arenado, on pace to lead the league in RBIs for the third straight year)? Well, I think that, if anything, we tend to overcompensate when adjusting for Coors Field. Colorado probably has the biggest home-field advantage in baseball, but with that comes a huge road disadvantage (the Rockies have the worst road record in baseball since coming into the league). If you are going to play in Denver, you have to hit big at Coors Field.
And that's exactly what Charlie Blackmon is doing.

Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year.