MILWAUKEE -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon is a whiz at calculation. Hey, it helped him graduate with highest honors from Georgia Tech in finance. And his expressive eyes, goofy humor and bushy beard say he knows how to let his hair down and not think so much.
Blackmon's 2016 performance -- .324/.381/.552, 29 home runs, 35 doubles, 82 RBIs; all career highs -- appealed to those who take their baseball with a calculator or with the heart. Blackmon, 30, hopes to provide more treats in 2017 -- a season he'll open as the Rockies' leadoff man against the Brewers at Miller Park on Monday afternoon.
"I think of it in a scientific way," said Blackmon. "What makes sense? How do you transfer the most energy into the ball. But you once you start hitting, you have to feel it. And then it becomes art, I guess."
Beyond and behind last year's statistical highs in each category was this fun fact: According to Statcast™, 37 percent of Blackmon's batted balls had exit velocities of 95 mph or greater. The figure was 34 percent in 2015. Blackmon hit .600 when balls exited at 95 mph or better.
And he could launch more rockets. During Spring Training, Blackmon hit .375 with three home runs, six doubles and a triple.
Blackmon recently discussed his process of thought and feel.
His launch angle stayed steady, but the greater exit velocity keyed the homer increase.
"I tried to aim my swing toward center field more in practice," he said. "The more that you can hit the ball hard to the middle of the field, even the other way, the more you can feel strong deeper in the hitting zone, closer to the catcher. The stronger you can feel back there, the better off you will be once you get that bat head farther out front to pull the ball."
Blackmon is no fan of a well-meaning coaching philosophy to "hit down on the ball" to create distance-enhancing backspin, because the hitter isn't matching the plane of the ball. Interestingly, his own mental cue is counterintuitive.
"I'm a linear hitter," he said. "I think of things back-and-forth, as in, like, 'Straight to the catcher, straight back to the pitcher.' I don't like a whole lot of rotation in my swing. In thinking more linearly, I feel like I get more extension out in front of the plate through the middle of the field. And that's how you hit balls really, really far.
"'Linear' makes things simple for me, because your arms are a set length. It's going to end up being rotational, but you don't have to think of it that way."
Self-evaluation is based on feel more than stats or advanced measures.
"Most of the time it's how often do I feel I did the right thing, and if I were to go back and do it again, would I do it the same or would I do it differently?" he said.. "So it's more an overall quality of at-bats and execution of approach.
"I can go out there and execute an approach and still make an out. I can be maybe not happy with the result, but the fact I wouldn't change anything means I would go back up there and do the exact same thing. You do that enough, that's going to lead to success."