Blackmon up to .500! Is .400 season in play?

August 12th, 2020

With three more hits on Tuesday night against the D-backs, Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon’s batting average is up to .500 through 17 games -- more than a quarter of this year’s shortened schedule -- which means it’s not too early to start the .400 watch.

Blackmon, who has hit safely in 15 straight, is aiming to become the first batting-title qualifier to finish a season with a .400 average or better since Hall of Famer Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. Obviously, Blackmon wouldn’t be in the same stratosphere as Williams, who posted his .406 average over 143 games, but it would be a massive achievement nonetheless and a fun storyline to track.

Already, Blackmon has joined an elite club. He is the first player since the Giants' Barry Bonds in 2004 to be batting at least .500 through his team's first 17 games (minimum 50 plate appearances), and the seventh in MLB history. Before Bonds, the three most recent players to accomplish that feat are all Hall of Famers: Larry Walker for the 1997 Rockies, Hank Aaron for the '59 Braves and Stan Musial for the '58 Cardinals.

We wanted to find out just how difficult it will be for Blackmon to actually finish this season with a .400 average, so we got MLB’s Senior Data Architect, Tom Tango, to help.

To determine the likelihood of this happening, we needed to make a number of assumptions.

• The 34-year-old probably won’t play in all of Colorado’s remaining 43 games. Let’s assume he’ll get two games off, and log four at-bats per game in the other 41, for an estimated total of 164 at-bats remaining.

• Blackmon already has 68 at-bats, so if he gets another 164, it would put him at 232 on the season. Hitting .400 in 232 at-bats would require Blackmon to collect 93 total hits, or 59 more than he has now, which would mean going 59-for-164 (.360) the rest of the way.

• Blackmon has hit .307 in his career, and .312 since the beginning of 2018, in line with the Depth Charts forecast at Fangraphs, which projects he will hit .312 the rest of the season. So let’s say Blackmon has the “true” talent level of a .310 hitter.

• What this boils down to is a simple question: What is the chance that a "true" .310 hitter will get 59 hits over any 164 at-bat stretch?

The answer, according to Tango’s calculations, is 10%.

That number might seem low, but think of it this way: In 1998, Mark McGwire broke the single-season home run record by hitting 70 in 681 plate appearances (10.3%). In other words, the chances of Blackmon hitting .400 are about the same as the chance Big Mac would homer in any given plate appearance during that season. That doesn’t seem so far-fetched, right?

Blackmon’s chances of .400 would increase some if he sits more than we expect, which could become more likely late in the year, as the Rockies could give him strategic days off if he’s hitting over .400 with 10 games left. (Of course, this also assumes their playoff positioning is settled or they are eliminated.)

Another point in Blackmon’s favor is that the Rockies have played nine home games and eight road games thus far, so his current batting average is not purely a creation of the mile-high altitude of Coors Field. It also means Colorado has nearly as many home and road games remaining, and Blackmon is a career .352 hitter at Coors.

However, it’s also worth noting that the Rockies haven’t yet played the Dodgers, who had the National League’s best ERA (2.50) entering play Tuesday. Colorado still has 10 games against Los Angeles, more than 23% of their remaining schedule.

Overall, Colorado has the second-toughest strength of schedule remaining, according to FanGraphs playoff odds, which could make Blackmon’s .400 quest a bit more difficult.

In any case, one of baseball’s most storied benchmarks is in Blackmon's sights, and it will be fun to watch him make a run at it over the next six-plus weeks.