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.
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.
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.