The Rangers are 27-27, Offense Punchless in 4-2 Loss

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Does it feel like a broken record yet? The Rangers are back down to .500.

  • Mike Minor got the start tonight for the Rangers, and was good enough to deserve better than the final result. He went 5 innings with 8 strikeouts, 2 walks, and 3 earned runs.

  • However, it was the 6th inning that caused things to unravel. With Minor already at 97 pitches after the 5th inning, having thrown 26 pitches in that inning and a relatively short bottom half for the Rangers lineup, I was a bit surprised to see Minor come out for the 6th. I was even more surprised, when Minor allowed a single, that only then was there any action in the bullpen. Due to no one being warm, it took not only the Royals hitting a 3-run home run, but Minor facing another hitter and throwing 8 pitches before manager Chris Woodward went out to get his pitcher.

  • This, to me, seemed highly irresponsible. In Mike Minor, you have a pitcher with a history of shoulder injuries. Given the short recovery time after throwing 26 pitches in the 5th, and 97 pitches total, there was absolutely no excuse not to have at least one reliever warm when the decision was made to send Minor back out for the sixth. That it took until pitch number 113 to make a change is, quite simply, inexcusable.

  • That ended up being enough for the Royals on the night, as the Rangers offense was mostly punchless. Only four Rangers had hits, and the only other player besides those four that even got on base was Joey Gallo with a walk.

  • Which brings us, once again, to Rougned Odor. Odor had some of the worst plate appearances I can recall seeing from him — hell, from just about anyone — tonight. I get that the Rangers say he’s a hard worker. I get that they say he’s still confident and hasn’t lost hope. And yet, I can’t help but think that maybe staring down the pitcher isn’t the best idea for the worst everyday player in baseball. But that’s just me.

  • The good news is the Rangers have three more chances to secure a series victory against a team they should absolutely win a series against.

The Rangers are 27-26

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Having watched numerous games that the Rangers should have won but let get away, it’s nice to have one on the other end: A game that the Rangers probably shouldn’t have won, but did anyway.

  • After Jose Leclerc worked a clean 1st inning as the opener, Drew Smyly came on to work the bulk of the innings. He wasn’t sharp.

  • Smyly gave up 8 hits, 3 walks, and 7 earned runs, with two of the Mariners hits being of the 2-run home run variety. Smyly’s ERA is up to a grotesque 6.98, and his FIP isn’t much better at 6.64. Smyly is giving up a hard-hit percentage of 37.4%, so when he’s not walking guys, they’re hitting him hard. I’m curious how much longer the Rangers can keep throwing him against the wall.

  • Fortunately, the Mariners error show made yet another appearance, as 3 errors ended up allowing the Rangers 2 unearned runs, while a ball in the top of the 9th inning off of the bat of Nomar Mazara probably should have been caught, although it wasn’t scored an error (insert disclaimer about how this shows that errors aren’t a good measure of a defense’s effectiveness, or lack thereof).

  • Nomar Mazara had three hits on the day, with one being the double in the top of the 9th. It’s nice to see him putting good swings on the ball.

  • In the end, the Rangers managed to win 8-7, and won the series.

  • Going back to the thought of how long the Rangers can continue rolling with Drew Smyly in the rotation, much of that will depend on the next couple of weeks. The Rangers, who have been really good at home this season, begin the longest home stand of the season tomorrow night against the Kansas City Royals. After the series against the Royals, they’ll see the Orioles and the A’s. A lot of very winnable games, and they could go a long way toward determining if the team will continue clawing for a Wild Card spot heading into the summer months, or if they’ll fade from view. Should the Rangers manage to remain in that picture — or better, establish their footing in that view — then I could foresee them exploring other options to move Smyly from such a prominent role.

The Rangers are 26-26

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The seesaw of .500 continues, with a win getting the Rangers back that mark once again. Some notes from the game:

  • The offense came through in a big way tonight. The scoring started on a 2-run error in the top of the 1st inning, and continued with every starter except for Elvis Andrus getting a hit on the night.

  • Speaking of Elvis, he was lifted late in the game after being hit by a pitch in the leg in the 5th inning. It remains to be seen if it was cautionary or if there’s a bigger concern at hand. It would be quite disheartening if he sustained an injury on the play.

  • The bulk of the offensive output on the evening came in a seven-run 5th inning, capitalized by a mammoth home run by Ronald Guzman.

  • Jesse Chavez was the opener today, and worked a scoreless 1st inning while only allowing a hit.

  • Adrian Sampson took over for the next five innings, but then was unable to record an out in the 7th as Mallex Smith — who has apparently inherited Kyle Seager’s Rangers-killing gene — singled. Jeffrey Springs came in and was able to close out the inning with no further damage.

  • Springs ended up allowing another run in the bottom of the 8th inning, but with the Rangers having scored 11 runs, it was of no real consequence,

  • I had a piece up about Rougned Odor today, so naturally he went out and hit the ball hard in his first plate appearance, lacing a double to right field that might have been a home run in Arlington. It was his only hit of the night, and didn’t do a lot in the way of pointing toward a turnaround. Alas, it’s only one game, small sample sizes, all the applicable qualifiers.

  • Hunter Pence continues to impress. 2 hits, 2 walks, and a solid outfield game highlighted by the catch you see in the GIF above. It’s nice to be wrong like this.

  • Shelby Miller worked a clean 9th inning, and the Rangers got an 11-4 win. They’ll have a chance to win the series tomorrow.

Breaking Down the Struggles of Rougned Odor

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In March of 2017, just over two years ago, the Texas Rangers finalized a six-year, $49.5 million contract extension with second baseman Rougned Odor. The contract, intended to keep Odor in a Rangers uniform through at least 2022 with a $13.5 million team option for 2023, made sense at the time.

Odor had just finished his age-22 season, hitting 33 home runs to go along with a .271/.296/.502 clip. It was his second straight season to post an fWAR of 2.5. So on the face of it, Odor was set to cost the Rangers approximately $8.25 million per season through 2022, assuming the Rangers decided at that point to exercise the $3 million buyout rather than the $13.5 team option. If the team were to elect to exercise the option, the total contract would end up being a seven-year, $60 million deal with an average annual value of around $8.57 million. The Rangers were able to buy out Odor’s arbitration years, and for Odor, he obtained some financial security with the possibility of raking in an even larger payday before he turned 30.

I bring all this up because in the grand scheme of the future of the Rangers, Rougned Odor’s contract doesn’t hinder the organization much if it doesn’t work out. Odor could be a perpetual 2.5-WAR player and provide excess value beyond his contract. This isn’t a piece intended to beat the “Rangers should have never signed him to that contract” drum.

The contract did — and still could, moving forward — make a ton of sense for a young player who seemed to be a few improvements away from being a very solid contributor.

Of course, as is the way baseball goes sometimes, Odor proceeded to have an abysmal season in 2017 following his big contract. For the 2017 season, Rougie was the worst everyday hitter in baseball, posting up a .204/.252/.397 line in 651 plate appearances. He played in every single one of the team’s 162 games, and his reward was a baseball-worst wRC+ of 58 — meaning he was 42 percent worse than a league-average hitter — and an fWAR of -1.2.

Things proceeded to get even worse to begin the 2018 campaign. Through the month of May, his wRC+ was 42 before he proceeded to turn things around June-August, then fall off a cliff again with a wRC+ of 33 over the final month of the season. The fact that he ended the year at 97 — just three percent below league average — while also playing Gold Glove caliber defense at second base was a minor miracle considering how awful the season had started.

Coming into this season, the hope was that the worst days were in the past, and the Rangers would have the version of Odor they could slot in the middle of the lineup and count on for steady run-production. That hasn’t quite been the case, and no one seems entirely sure why. Odor’s wRC+ of 43 is basically in line with his awful start from a season ago, and for every time he has a game or two in which it looks like he might break out of his funk, he has four more in which he looks completely hapless. He is, once again to begin the first two months of a season, the worst everyday hitter in baseball.

So… what’s the deal?

In short, no one seems quite sure. Other than citing some instances of Odor working on the timing of his leg kick, there hasn’t been much in the way of detailed information coming from the Rangers, which I think is to be expected in this type of scenario. The overwhelming sentiment has been that Rougie appears to be struggling to hit fastballs.

For starters, I wanted to look at Odor’s wOBA — his weighed on-base average, which attempts to measure a player’s overall offensive contribution per plate appearance — compared to his expected wOBA, which attempts to remove defense and ballpark in order to account only for the skill level of the player at-bat. Generally, if you have a player with a significant gap between the two, you can expect some sort of regression or improvement.

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Rougned Odor’s wOBA through May 27 is .250. League average is .321. His xwOBA is .276, compared to a league-average of .323. In other words, even his xwOBA isn’t bringing him anywhere close to league-average. To which the question becomes: why?

A quick glance will tell you that a 34% strikeout rate, if it were to hold over an entire season, would easily be the highest of Odor’s career, and would seem to give us our starting point to identify where he’s struggling.

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Looking at a zone profile of Odor’s whiff percentage, you can see that while he’s not whiffing on nearly as many pitches outside of the strike zone, he’s shown an alarming uptick in whiffs in the upper two-thirds of the strike zone.

So while his Chase % is a career-low 31.1%, it’s his zone profile that is perhaps most alarming. His Zone Contact % of 79.6% is the lowest of his carer. The previous low was 82.9% in 2017. His overall whiff rate of 30.4% is also the worst mark of his career.

Digging even deeper, I wanted to see if the idea that Rougned Odor hasn’t been able to hit the fastball holds any merit. Indeed, his xwOBA of .298 on fastballs would set his lowest mark since Statcast began tracking batted balls in 2015, a year in which his xwOBA on fastballs was .322

Moreover, Odor’s whiff rate on fastballs this season is 28.7%. His previous high mark was 20.9% in 2017. Whereas you’d typically expect a high whiff rate on breaking and offspeed pitches, Rougie is managing a lower whiff rate on offspeed offerings (25.6%) then on fastballs.

It’s amazing, really — in a dark, twisted way — that Rougned Odor managed to become a more patient hitter like we were all clamoring for several years ago, and in the process, (hopefully only temporarily) lost the ability to hit.

It would seem there is clearly something to the idea that he’s not catching up to the fastball in the way he once was. I’m a bit out of my depth in this regard, but one thought that comes to mind is that I seem to recall that Odor typically uses 35-inch bat. Typically, a player of Odor’s build would be recommended to use a 34-inch bat. Naturally, a longer bat means that, at maximum strength, a swing with a 35-inch bat will be slower than a 34-inch bat. Could it really be that simple?

If he’s been swinging the same bat for most of his career, would he suddenly lose his bat speed at the age of 25? It doesn’t seem likely. However, I do seem to recall there being instances in the past in which Odor used Adrian Beltre’s bat during plate appearances. Beltre typically used a 34-inch Marucci during his time with the Rangers.

Another alternative — and one that would be a really tough sell for me — is that there is some sort of undisclosed injury hampering Rougie’s swing. This one doesn’t make as much sense to me as he’s already taken a stint on the Injured List, and there’s nothing to suggest that anything is dramatically different in regards to the before/after.

Whatever the case, if Rougned Odor is to get his season — and career — back on track, he’s going to have to figure out the fastball. We’re probably a week or so away from the Rangers having to make a decision on Willie Calhoun. If signs don’t point to a major turnaround very, very soon, we may see a scenario in which Rougie is sent down to the minors for an unspecified length of time to work through his issues there.

The good news is that, with all of the data available, the organization should be able to identify some key areas to work on an prescribe a way to work through the issues. In a year that was deemed the beginning of a new area in player development for the Texas Rangers coaching staff and front office, this may be their most important test to date.

The Rangers are 25-26

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Back below .500. Panic!

  • This was one of those games where it never really felt like the Rangers were going to win. The offense just never could quite get things going.

  • Lance Lynn started for the Rangers, and did his job fairly well. 6 innings, 10 stirkeouts, 3 walks, and 3 runs (all earned).

  • The problem is, a significant portion of the damage on the night came courtesy of Mallex Smith, 9th place hitter for the Mariners and owner of a .176 average, .521 OPS. Smith scored the game’s first run, and stole four bases on the night.

  • During a sequence in the bottom of the 8th inning, Smith was walked by Kyle Bird. He then proceeded to steal 2nd, 3rd, and home, driving home insult to injury for the Rangers. Kyle Bird was making his first appearance since being called back up… well, today. Needless to say, it wasn’t a successful outing. Bird walked three hitters, allowed an inherited running from Jose Leclerc to score, and allowed his own run to cross the plate, courtesy of Mallex Smith.

  • Speaking of Leclerc, shortly after giving up an absolute mammoth of a home run to Daniel Vogelbach, Leclerc came up favoring his right leg after one pitch to Jay Bruce. He was pulled from the game with what has been deemed right calf cramping/tightness. We’ll see what comes of it, but it’s probably a good bet that we don’t see Jose for about 10 days.

  • The Rangers only managed six hits on the night, with the top third of the lineup going hitless. Combined with what has become a daily lineup black hole with Odor and whoever happens to be catching, this just wasn’t the kind of game the Rangers were equipped to come back and win.