The Colorado Rockies have two of the best players in baseball, each having terrific years. Centerfielder Charlie Blackmon and third baseman Nolan Arenado are both firmly in the discussion for the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
BSN Rockies editor Drew Creasman and beat reporter Jake Shapiro rarely disagree, but in this debate, each thinks the other is wrong about which star Rockie has been most impactful to the club.
Creasman: I think Arenado is the MVP of the Rockies and the National League largely because of his production in the clutch and the fact that he is a once-in-a-generation defender.
Shapiro: I think Blackmon has been the most valuable Rockie in 2017 because the consistency in high-level production. Blackmon has had a historically good year, let alone for a centerfielder, who also bats leadoff.
DC: Can’t disagree with any of that. He’s had an unbelievable, historically impressive year that few saw coming. He is an invaluable member of the team, no doubt, and as we have often said, sets the tone for the club every single day. But Arenado provides more production for the Rockies partly because of his spot in the order. It’s hard to hold being a leadoff hitter against Blackmon, especially considering he’s been one of the best ever this season, but it reminds me of the MVP debate between Adrian Peterson (broke records as a running back) and Peyton Manning (still, somehow, had more impact on the outcomes of games) and by hitting in the middle of the order, Arenado has become the only third baseman in history to drive in at least 125 runs for three straight years.
SHAP: Sure, but half of what we do on BSN Rockies is to put things in context and in this single season Blackmon is doing things offensively that have only ever been done by Hall of Famers, and mind you, things that haven’t been done in 70 years. Blackmon’s total offensive production is better as seen by his OPS being .120 points higher. I don’t think that you can argue that Arenado has been as good as Blackmon on offense. Arenado leads the league in RBI but the guy he’s driven in most is Blackmon, who has been brought around 44 times by Arenado.
DC: You’re right, it’s hard to separate those things. Who knows if Arenado would be breaking RBI records without Blackmon and who can say if Chuck would be breaking run-scoring records if not for hitting in front of Nado? But even with his insane clutch rate, Blackmon has been almost as good by rate and so I must concede that Blackmon has, indeed, been the better offensive player in 2017. And then we come to defense…
SHAP: Okay here’s the thing, Arenado is obviously better that’s not the question. The question is, how much do you value defense and how much better is Arenado than Blackmon and does it make-up for Chuck being better than Nado with the stick?
DC: In short? A lot, a lot, and yes.
Arenado isn’t just great defensively. Even the phrase “Gold Glover” sells him short. In fact, calling him the best defender in the game might even be slightly underrating him. Allow me to deputize Greg Holland into my argument. He recently told us on record that Nolan is indeed, somehow, still underrated and counted him as the best defender of any kind he “has ever seen.” Brooks Robinson has stated as such on multiple occasions and even when he is slumping defensively (which he has a little bit lately) he still has the ability and instincts to change any game he plays in without ever taking an at-bat. I’ll admit this is the most difficult thing to measure but baseball-reference does a decent job coming up with approximations and even while missing a lot of what makes Arenado so special with the glove, has him ranked well ahead of Blackmon (and Paul Goldschmidt) in WAR for precisely that reason.
So, allow me to flip your question. Is Charlie Blackmon so much better with the bat that he makes up for the gap between a decent defender and an otherworldly one?
SHAP: Yeah Arenado is a generational defender but Blackmon isn’t half bad himself. Blackmon isn’t a Gold Glover, he’s somewhere between good and a tick above average. This season he’s been towards the higher end of that range.
Yet I do not think that Arenado’s defense even with how good it is, makes up for Blackmon’s bat. Even if you just outright boosted Arenado’s dWAR to best in the league like it probably should be his overall fWAR isn’t as good as Blackmon’s. bWAR does have Arenado ahead of Blackmon overall but I come back outside of WAR to what we’ve seen raw. As good as Arenado is in terms of historical context as a defender is as good as Blackmon has been with the bat. He’s joined Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio in ways this season just as Arenado has joined Robinson, The Wizard and Mays with his glove.
Also, almost every Rockies’ win starts with a solid Blackmon at-bat to begin the game. And while Arenado has stepped up as a leader this year inside the clubhouse, I think Blackmon’s persona is one that’s just as valuable to his club.
DC: Well put. Both guys are in uncharted territory here which is part of what makes this so difficult and fascinating. We literally have never seen anyone do some of the things that both of these guys are doing and I will go one step further and argue that Charlie has been the most important guy in the clubhouse after Carlos Gonzalez. And he deserves credit for that. But when it comes to indelible images, The Sandblaster is the Colorado Rockies. They wear shirts with his bleeding face on it. You can immediately pick out multiple plays on defense and offense (walk-off cycle anyone?) that have defined the season the way his abilities have defined this franchise for the past few years.
SHAP: Nolan is iconic, but that’s more iconic than Chuck Nazty’s beard?
Who do you think should be the MVP of the National League? Should it be a Rockie? If so which one?