Go Figure: Blackmon's bid to hit .400 a long shot
Even casual baseball fans likely got wind of an emerging subplot this past week: a torrid stretch of six straight multihit games lifted Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon's average to .500 after 17 games (34 hits in 68 at bats).
Cue the "Will He Hit .400?" headlines.
My answer: it's a long shot. In fact, Blackmon will be hard-pressed to keep his average above .375. Since Ted Williams' legendary .406 season for the Boston Red Sox in 1941, that 3-for-8 pace has been accomplished only six times by those with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.
Entering Friday's action, Blackmon was at .472; by the time you read this and check on his updated average, odds are it will be lower.
Of course, anything can happen, especially in a truncated season. Here is one scenario in which he flirts with .400: Blackmon plays the bulk of his remaining games in the hitter-friendly Rocky Mountain air of Coors Field. In that case, we would need a new symbol -- because an asterisk won't come close to doing the job.
Simply put, and like some others in the team's 28-year history, Blackmon is a first-ballot Hall of Famer at home, but merely above-average in all other parks. Heading into this season, his career home batting average was .349, or a whopping 88 points better than his pedestrian .261 mark on the road. (By contrast, over the past quarter-century, hitting at home, leaguewide, results in a roughly eight-point lift to a typical player's batting average.)
Look for him to wrap up somewhere between .360 and .380 -- provided he plays in at least 50 of the Rockies' 60 slated games. That caveat underscores another factor boosting his .400 hopes: missing just enough games to reduce his sample size of at bats, but not so many that he fails to qualify for the batting title (3.1 plate appearances per game).
In truth, that sweet spot is common to nearly all the players who have come closest to joining the elite .400 club since 1941.
Consider Tony Gwynn, who hit .394 in his 110 games for the San Diego Padres in 1994, before the baseball strike halted the season on August 12th.
Or take George Brett's .390 in 1980. That year, the third baseman appeared in 117 of the Kansas City Royals' 162 games while winning the Most Valuable Player Award and leading the Royals to their first World Series appearance.
Perhaps the most relevant historical antecedent to a Blackmon .400 bid is that of Larry Walker, who won three batting titles in a four-year span while playing for the Rockies. In 1999, his .379 average was fueled by a .461 average at Coors Field that far outpaced his .286 road performance. And it didn't hurt that injuries limited Walker to 127 games.
Q1. Since 1941, only two hitters have posted a batting average over .375 while playing in more than 132 games. Which of these players does not fit this description?
(Stan Musial, Nomar Garciaparra, Rod Carew)
Q2. Entering Friday games, only one Major League team had multiple players on the Top 10 list of hardest-hit balls -- and they had three such hitters. Which squad?
(Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers)
Q3. Entering Friday games, one team was batting below the Mendoza Line, with a .195 average. Remarkably, they had a winning record. Can you name the club?
(Indians, Rays, Orioles)
Q4. Entering Friday games, the team with the highest on-base percentage (. 351), oddly enough, had a losing record. Who is it?
(Mets, Red Sox, Diamondbacks)
Q5. Entering Friday games, only one team was surrendering more than two home runs per game, a key factor in the squad's earned run average approaching six, or second-worst in the majors. Who is it?
(Pirates, Diamondbacks, Phillies)
1. Nomar Garciaparra; 2. Cubs, with Javier Baez (3rd), Kyle Schwarber (7th) and Willson Contreras (10th); 3. Indians; 4. Mets; 5. Diamondbacks
• Matt Baron is an Oak Park-based freelance writer. He supplements his baseball brainpower with Retrosheet.org for research.