Mortal Kombat: Three Way Dance

Welcome to another edition of Mortal Kombat, where we would normally take two potentially evenly matched players and pit them against each other to see who the better man is.  This week we have something special in store for you, a three-way dance.  With Cuddyer moving on to greener pastures (so to speak), the Rockies outfield is basically set with Drew Stubbs standing on the sideline licking his chops hoping someone pulls a hamstring in spring training.  Looking at the early 2015 OF rankings, Cargo comes in at #13, falling out of the top 12 and ranking anywhere between 7 and 22.  Dickerson comes in at #21 ranks between 18 and 31.  Blackmon isn’t far behind coming in at #24, he ranked between 11 and 45.  Dynasty rankings were fairly similar with Cargo at #10, Dickerson #22 and Blackmon #34.  Is Cargo that far ahead of the pack?  Is Blackmon the worst of the three?  Is Dickerson the Jan Brady of the group?  “Marsha Marsha Marsha!” 

Let’s go to the tale of the tape to see how these three stack up against each other.

Charlie Blackmon Corey Dickerson Carlos Gonzalez 
Age  28 (July 1st) 25 (May 22nd) 29 (October 17th) 
Height 6′ 3″ 6′ 1″ 6′ 1″ 
Weight 210 205  205
Bats/Throws L / L L / R L / L 
First Year in Majors 2011 2013  208
ML At Bats 1050 630  2817

Ready…..Fight!

Home Runs

Carlos Gonzalez only managed 11 home runs during his injury riddled 2014 season.  The previous 3 seasons he hit 26, 22 and 26 home runs.  2010 was a special year where he managed to launch 34 balls over the wall, but don’t expect many (if any) more years like that.  While his 2014 season was cut short, his ISO wasn’t that far off of what we would expect from Cargo.  The .192 ISO was close to his career .226 average and the .207 he posted in 2012.  Cargo’s average fly ball distance was down in 2014, but in 2013 he was the league leader with an average distance of 313.76 feet.  He was second in 2012 with 311.05 feet and fifteenth in 2011 with 300.17 feet.  His 37.6% flyball ratio was down from the previous year but still above his career average of 35.1%.  The HR/FB% was also down and actually a career low of 15.5%.  With a career average of 18.4% and numbers above that average the previous 4 seasons, I would expect to see numbers more in line with his career norms in 2015.  Considering his underlying numbers and given the fact that he has tallied 22 home runs or more in season where he has missed time, 20 or more home runs for 2015 seems like a lock.

Corey Dickerson hit 24 home runs in 2014, and his minor league numbers suggest that this is sustainable.  In 2013 he hit 16 between AAA and the majors in just over 500 at bats.  In 2012 he hit 22 between A+ and double A and in 2011 he hit 32 in under 400 at bats in A ball.  His ISO last season was .255, that was close to what he averaged in AAA.  In his first taste of the majors in 2013 he managed an ISO of .196 which is right where Cargo was in 2014 and he was on pace for a 20 home run campaign.  Dickerson’s average flyball distance in 2014 was 298.07 feet, good enough to place him in the top 20 for distance leaders.  Last season he had a 36.5% fly ball percentage and a 19.5 home run to fly ball ratio, placing slightly above Cargo’s career totals in both categories.  I don’t know what he averaged in the minors, but what I do know is that his home run totals, FB%, HR/FB% and ISO remained consistent from month to month.  That alone should give owners hope that his power and distance will remain the same or possibly improve next season. 

Charlie Blackmon appears to be the low man on the totem pole here finished with 19 home runs.  He had shown flashes of power in previous major and minor league years, but never enough to make you think he would ever hit more than 20.  While his career ISO is only .140, he posted a .152 in 2014 and .159 in 2013 so that is where I see him going forward.  His average flyball distance in 2014 was 274.79 feet, putting him in the same company as players like Pablo Sandoval, Kyle Seager and Ben Zobrist.  None of them have game changing power, but each can provide enough to be relevant when combined with their other numbers.  Blackmon’s FB% last season was 37%, 2% higher than his career average.  Unfortunately his HR/FB% the past two seasons has hovered around 10%. 

The final thing to discuss is the Coors affect.  Gonzalez used to favor his home park when it came to home runs, but over the years he has stabilized and is now a power threat home and away.  Dickerson showed us last year that he can hit for power away from Coors with 9 of his 24 coming on the road.  How he progresses going forward will be the true test.  Blackmon hit 6 of his 19 on the road; while things could change moving forward, his power is somewhat limited so he may adapt to his home settings and try to drive the ball more on the road.

Of the three players, Blackmon wins the bronze medal.  There is the potential for a 20 home run season, but realistically you are looking at 15 homers as his ceiling.  This is a two-man race between Cargo and Dickerson that could go either way with experience going to Cargo and upside going in favor of Dickerson.

ADVANTAGE: GONZALEZ & DICKERSON

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Stolen Bases

Prior to 2014, Cargo posted four straight 20 stolen base seasons.  He had 16 stolen bases in 2009 and had he played more than 89 games we would be looking at 5.  Normally I would be optimistic about him returning to his 20 stolen base ways, but Gonzalez suffered a knee injury which required surgery.  Doctors removed a torn part of the patella tendon, removed a bursa sac and cleaned up a fat pad.  While everything was said to have gone smoothly, we won’t know until January how things have healed and there is a chance he could miss part of spring training.  Then there is the mental aspect of running and sliding without fear of re-injuring himself.  He has dealt with multiple injuries throughout his career so it would not surprise me to see him running out of the gate, but there is a chance for a slow start and some hesitation on the base path.  10-15 stolen bases seems like a safer estimate, but he could finish with 20 with a clean bill of health in March.

His stolen base rival here is Charlie Blackmon who finished the year with 28 swipes.  He stole 14 bases the previous two seasons and had 19 or more from 209 to 2011.  His SB totals remained steady from month to month last season with 15 steals in the first 3 months and 13 over the final 3.  He was also anointed at the teams leadoff hitter from day one which gave his SB total a nice boost.  Will Blackmon steal 28 bases again?  I’m not sure, but I’m confident he will steal at least 20.

Just like Charlie was the odd man out in the home run race, Corey takes a back seat here.  He stole 8 bases and was also caught 7 times.  His minor league track record is similar with 43 steals in 73 attempts.  He is young enough that the Rockies could continue to experiment with him, allow him to run and see if he can make improvements.  Even if that does happen, you’re not looking at more than 10 stolen bases in a year.  Realistically be happy if he matches the 8 steals from 2014.

Dickerson takes the bronze medal here with Cargo and Blackmon running away with things.  Consistency goes to Cargo and the advantage might as well if not for the knee issue.  Blackmon has more speed and while he has been in the majors for several years, he is still inexperienced.  All things considered I’ll take the leadoff hitter with two healthy legs and the potential for a few extra steals.

ADVANTAGE: BLACKMON

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Runs Batted In

Blackmon should maintain his spot at the top of the order in 2015 so we’ll start with him.  In 2014, Blackmon drove in 72 runs (69 batting leadoff).  His batting average with runners on and in scoring position was slightly higher but not far off the .288 he hit last year.  Those 69 leadoff RBIs were nice, but they aren’t a realistic number when you look at the RBI totals from the rest of the players in the league hitting in the same spot.  Matt Carpenter was second in leadoff RBIs with 59 and was one of 7 players to total 50 or more RBIs (Blackmon being one of them).  The rest of the leadoff men had 48 or fewer RBIs in 2014.  In 2013, 4 players had between 60 and 69 RBIs, 4 more had between 52 and 54 and the rest were at 49 or lower.  In 2012 we had Mike Trout and his 83 RBIs along with Ian Kinsler’s 72.  After that we had two in the mid 60’s and only 3 in the 50’s with the rest totaling 43 or less.  On average only 7 to 8 leadoff men ever total over 50 RBIs; on a good year, half of them may get more than 60.  Expecting a repeat in his RBI totals in unrealistic, possible, but not probable.  I wouldn’t count on more than 50 and be happy with everyone he totaled beyond that. 

Cargo, on the other hand, is the primary number 3 man and occasionally slides down to fourth in Tulowitzki’s absence.  Again, looking past his down year last season, Cargo’s lowest RBI total in the last four seasons is 70.  Those 70 RBIs were in 2013 when he played in only 110 games and totaled less than 400 at bats so his worst year is even with Blackmon’s best.  The previous three seasons he totaled 85 or more and he missed time in each one of those seasons.  Next year Gonzalez will have Blackmon hitting in front of him and there are a host of possibilities for the number two hitter.  I wouldn’t expect anything less than 80 RBIs from Cargo provided he gets a minimum of 500 at bats.

Of the three outfielders, Dickerson is the hardest one to gauge for this category.  He finished the year with 76, but he hit in every spot in the order and tallied RBIs in every spot except hitting 8th and 9th (two spots he will not be next year).  With the bases empty, Dickerson hit .285.  With runners on and in scoring position he hit .339.  Granted 300 at bats is a small sample size, but he did hit .312 in 2014 and was a career .300 hitter in the minors.  Placed in the right spot in the order (maybe 5th) and he could easily surpass the 80 RBI mark hitting behind Cargo & Tulowitzki.  Bump him down to 6th and you have Morneau or Anenado in front of him so the RBI chances stay the same.  Move him to second and you’re looking at totals in the 60’s with a slight chance of reaching the 70 plateau.  The possibilities are endless, but for now his totals are in question.  The one thing I can say for certain is that he will have more RBIs than Blackmon. 

Cargo wins the gold here, Dickerson comes in second with the silver medal with Blackmon getting the bronze.

ADVANTAGE: GONZALEZ

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Runs

While Blackmon came up with the short end of the stick for RBIs, he’s in a prime position to score runs.  He scored 82 runs (80 at the leadoff position) in 2014, and that was with a slumping Gonzalez behind him and Tulowitzki absent for the final 2 months.  Those 80 runs are the middle ground for the top guy as six players totaled 86 or more runs.  Eight men scored 81 or more runs in 2013, and both years there were several players in the mid 70’s.  That means that one-third of the leadoff men scored 75 or more runs each season.  Some teams don’t have a set man at top and others alternate, so having a player that will hit leadoff every single day like Blackmon is an advantage when it comes to calculating his totals.  I would pencil him in for 80 at a minimum but don’t be surprised if that total is 90 or more come September.

Gonzalez is in a similar position as he hits in a good spot in the order for scoring runs as well as driving them in.  Prior to last season, his lowest run total since 2010 was the 72 he scored in 2013.  Like I said with RBIs, this was an injury shortened season with less than 400 at bats.  In the three seasons he scored a minimum of 89 runs.  With Tulowitzki hitting behind him along with a rejuvenated Morneau and possibly Dickerson or Arenado, Cargo can be counted on for at least 85 runs provided he reaches 500 at bats. 

As for Dickerson, he scored 74 runs in just under 450 at bats in 2014.  48 of those runs came from the number two and five spot in the lineup, but like I previously said, Dickerson doesn’t have a set spot in the lineup.  Even so, 74 runs without a set spot is pretty good.  With Cuddyer traded, the outfield is a little less crowded so Dickerson should see at least 500 at bats in 2015.  The additional at bats could push his run totals into the 80 with the potential for more depending on where he hits in the lineup.

Blackmon has the advantage because of his spot in the lineup, Cargo has a track record that says he can score just as many, and Dickerson has the upside and ability to score just as many if the Rockies use him correctly.  Declaring anyone a winner here just wouldn’t be fair, but nobody ever said life was fair.

ADVANTAGE: BLACKMON

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Batting Average

We’ll start off with Gonzalez since we have a track record to work with.  Prior to last season, Cargo was a career .300 hitter.  Looking back at the three previous years you see batting averages of .302, .303 and.298.  He’s a model of consistency when it comes to hitting.  His strikeout percentage usually hovers in the 20% range, but that number spiked to 27% in 2013 and came back down slightly last year to 24.9%.  This coincides with the increase in his swinging strike percentage which has slowly inched up every year since 2009.  His contact percentage has also been on a steady decline, partially due to the decreased number of pitches he sees in the strike zone, but that hasn’t forced him to swing at more pitches outside the zone which is a positive.  Part of his average was maintained by a 20% line drive rate, so it’s no surprise the average dropped last year with a line drive percentage of 15.3.  As long as he turns some more of those extra ground balls into line drives, the average should bounce back to around his career average. 

Dickerson hit .312 this year after hitting .263 in his debut in 2013.  He holds a career minor league average of .322 which is good, but is partially inflated for the fact that some of it came in the PCL.  He also played only a half season or less at each level so there is some inexperience, but don’t tell him that.  He was consistent from post to post in 2014, batting over .300 in four of the six months and .280 in July.  His average was only .260 in August, but most forgave him for that since it came with a spike in home runs and RBIs.  His strikeout percentage is just over 20%, slightly higher than his minor league average so there is room for improvement and he’s young enough to do so.   The plate discipline and batted ball profiles all look solid for his first year, and we will find out in a few more months if he can maintain the standard he has set.  Dickerson does have two issues which need addressing.  The first is something that all rookies have to deal with, and that is hitting lefties.  A .253 average isn’t bad, it’s actually pretty good compared to some of the other prospects that have come up and got hammered.  He needs to improve quickly though because Colorado has this OF thorn by the name of Drew Stubbs who loves lefties and can steal some at bats.  The other area that needs improvement is his home/road splits.  Like with the Lefty/righty splits, a .252 road average isn’t bad, but if he wants to be known as something other than “Just” a Rockies hitter, he will have to work on that.

That brings us to Charlie and his .288 average from 2014.  He hit .309 in 2013 and .283 in 2012 (in limited at bats mind you) so there is some consistency to point to here.  Blackmon has a career .309 minor league average in just under 2,000 at bats (.309 AAA, .297 AA, .307 A+).  This year was his first taste of full-time at bats and he handled himself well.  There were a few shaky months in there, which were good as fantasy owners needed to be brought back down to earth after his .389 April.  His batted ball profile is split nicely with a line drive rate of 22%, groundball percentage of almost 43 and a flyball percentage of 35.  The contact and swing percentage have been stable for the past few years, and combined with an average strikeout rate there is no reason he can’t match or improve upon last seasons .288 average.  His average against lefties slipped a little this season due to the extra exposure, but he has shown in the past he can handle them so this should improve going forward.  Like most Rockies players, he needs to improve things on the road, but other than that he is a solid well-rounded hitter. 

Again, things are close.  Blackmon is the low man here if we bank on no improvements.  Still, a .288 average is pretty good, just not good enough compared to the other two.  Dickerson proved he can hit .300, but he needs to do that for consecutive years before he can be fully trusted.  That leaves Gonzalez as the only player with an average and track record you can trust, but he’s not that far ahead of his teammates.

ADVANTAGE: GONZALEZ

Winner – Gonzalez?

Gonzalez is the winner here, but given how close some of the categories are we need to clarify things.

Gonzalez is the safe choice.  He has a track record for 20/20 seasons, scoring and driving in runs and being a five tool player.  Yes he has missed time, but before 2014, when he has missed games, he has still produced superior numbers.

Blackmon is the stable choice.  He will give you a high run total with 20+ stolen bases and a very good average.  While his power numbers may be lower than the other two, the home runs he give you will be enough when you take the other three categories into account. 

Dickerson is the upside pick.  As long as there is no sophomore slump (which is always a concern), Dickerson can be as good as Cargo in batting average and power.  He could also give Cargo a run for his money in RBIs and runs depending on where he hits.  That makes him a virtual lock in two categories and two more he will do well and with the potential for more. 

For those of you wondering why no love for Drew Stubbs, I’m not sold on him yet and view him as a fourth outfielder/lefty specialist.  He has power and speed, but his batting average up until last season made him a liability.  Until he proves that last year was not a fluke, the Rockies are not going to trust him with a full-time gig so neither should you.  It’s not often that guys break out at age 30, but stranger things have happened so monitor the situation come spring and move him up your draft boards of Cargo does get traded.

As far as draft day is concerned, Cargo will cost you.  He may come up lower in the rankings on some lists, but there will be at least one person in your league that will be willing to pay a premium.  Blackmon and Dickerson’s value will be determined by the hype surrounding them come March.  Right now we have Dickerson ahead of Blackmon in the rankings, but they are close enough that they could flip-flop over the next few months.  I’m torn because I love the potential Dickerson brings to the table but also like how well rounded Blackmon is.

If you’re in doubt, go with your personal choice.  And, if you’re a Rockies fan, odds are they will be spread out enough come draft time that you can take Tulowitzki first, Cargo second, Arenado within the next few rounds and Blackmon and Dickerson later (and you know there is one guy out there who is planning this).

The Mortal Kombat Series

.Mortal Kombat RizzoFreeman.Mortal Kombat Murphy La Stella.Mortal Kombat Arenado Donaldson.Mortal Kombat Zobrist Aybar.Mortal Kombat Bruce Trumbo.Mortal Kombat Rockies OF.

Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.