A lot of people are divided, speculative, and disappointed by Odor’s performance. The people who are doggin’ Rougned Odor must be CRAZY am I right??? He just hit 33 bombs this season! Well, I’m afraid there is some legitimate concern over his true ceiling potential, and what he has changed, or hasn’t changed in order to improve and reach that potential. I for one, truly believe, he has a much higher ceiling than people believe, and I’m going to show you what he needs to improve on to unlock that and become a 3.0+ WAR player per season.
First of all for me the most crucial part of his game he needs to improve upon, his defense. For 2017, the coaching staff should really work with Odor and express the seriousness for improvement at second base. He was truly poor to awful at second this season, with Elvis Andrus being equally poor. In fact, based off ultimate zone ratings (UZR) and the adjusted positional UZR (DEF), the Rangers had the worst middle infield in ALL of baseball. Intriguing, but not surprising, both Andrus & Odor combined for the MLB best double-play rating (DPR) with Odor being 1st in DPR, and tied 2nd in rGDP. So Odor is a wizard at turning some double plays, and having pitchers like Martin Perez give them a chance to turn-two over 40-50 times in a season is a good combination and make up. So if there is any silver lining to Odor’s defense in 2016, it’s the above.
However, we need more out of Odor than being a double play turning wizard in 2017. Odor has to make the more routine, and the top 3rd percentile of those routine/likely to make plays more often. We can see this using inside edge fielding and comparing to Robinson Cano, a guy who didn’t have a Cano-like year at second, but overall, was good.
Neither made any impossible or remotely possible plays and both were virtually equal on making unlikely plays. Which goes to show that they both have good range. Cano led MLB with 143 plays made outside his zone and Odor was tied for 5th with 82. So range is not the issue. However, the chart depicts a clear distinction in the difference on evenly easy/hard plays, likely to make plays and routine plays. The biggest gap is in the likely category (the upper 3rd percentile that I was speaking about) where Odor had more chances to make these plays but only converted on a play 69.2% of the time. This is a huge discrepancy that I feel the coaching staff could utilize video analysis on these plays to work with Odor in the spring to work on first step, timing, route, etc to improve these area of his defense. The routine plays aren’t great, but not as bad as I thought they would be.
Here’s a graphical representation of the missed plays from the inside edge statistics above. Hint: The presence of more green, lightly colored dots is not a good thing:
Fairly large difference. I believe Odor’s flaws on defense are more fixable than not, and will impact his game and value much more than improving his other flaws. I’d take an Odor with sub .300 OBP, 30+ HR, and +DRS, +UZR any time. Compared to his 2.0 WAR this season that would be closer to 3.0 WAR. Steamer projections actually have Odor in a slightly less productive season at the plate (power wise, very slightly increased wOBA/wRC+ however), and a much better defensive year (but still around replacement level) equating to a 2.6 WAR. projection. If he is able to pull off similar offense, and turn that into plus replacement level, there is your 3.0+ WAR season from improving only his defense.
And to what more people than not point their finger to, plate discipline. Odor is so damn good at hitting the baseball hard (and with good Contact% top 100 in MLB), and making fancy double play turns. No one can deny he is a very talented baseball player. However, I believe some still forget the kid was only 22 years old this season. He is YOUNG! He made his debut at the age of 20! There are a lot of young talented kids in baseball that are 22 and haven’t accomplished what Odor has, let alone all of baseball history. He’s the only second baseman in history to hit 30+ home runs in a season at the age of 22 or younger and the 7th player from any position since 2000 in their age 22 or younger season to hit 30 or more home runs in a season (joining Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Albert Pujols, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, and Miguel Cabrera). Speaking on age, I don’t have any regrets, but if I had a dollar for every time I did or said something stupid when I was in my early twenties, I’d probably have a league minimum salary on my hand. The point is that plate discipline is just that, discipline. It is not something that comes so quickly to every hitter. Repetition, practice, at-bat experience, research, and age. He shouldn’t be too far away, but he isn’t there yet.
In terms of batted balls, Odor as a hitter has improved. His GB rate is down over 5% and his LD rate is up 3% with FB rate just under a 3% increase. He has proven he dominates fastballs and breaking balls anywhere up in the zone, and is still working on hitting the slower stuff lower in the zone. And don’t throw the kid a change-up that won’t land in front of the plate, he has a great eye on the change-up. With that said, the pitches in the dirt below the zone, are the pitches he should be laying off of to improve his discipline at the plate. And when I speak about plate discipline, I’m talking about not just inside/outside of zone but also fastball/breaking-ball/off-speed. This past season, Odor saw a huge increase in curve balls and change-ups thrown to him with his fastball rate down as well. His scouting report is coming to fruition for most clubs, and he needs to make the adjustment to lay off these pitches down in the zone that he typically swings at and misses.
On the left, Odor’s swings and on the right Odor’s BA per pitch in 2016. Pitchers have stopped throwing him inside and starting throwing Odor down or away in 2016 and he has adjusted on the fly and extended his zone even outside a little bit. Anywhere on the left chart a lightly red colored to a dark red colored zone and see a lightly blue colored to a dark blue colored zone on the right is where the issue is at from a very high level of analysis. We can see down and outside the zone he is having issues hitting for average, but is continuing to swing at 44-51% of the pitches. These are probably most likely change-ups or curve balls starting as strikes and ending up way out of the zone after Odor has already started his swing. This is one thing he needs to improve on, is either the discipline to lay off the pitch or to recognize the is a breaking ball that he can’t hit. He’s also swinging 63% of the time at pitches up and inside over the plate and hitting only .045 and swinging at 68% of pitches down and inside over the plate and hitting only .043. We all know he can hit the high fast ball outside of the zone into the all you can eat upper deck in right field, but those are few and far in between and would improve his game at the plate if he wants to get on base more, at the cost of a very insignificant drop in .ISO.
Above we see where pitchers are pitching him to, and where Odor is contacting the ball the most. And here, we can see it even more clearly that he is swinging and missing the outside the zone, low pitches, shoelace smashing curve balls. Well, that’s what I’ve seen from the games, and what I suspect here at least. So let’s look at his contact rate on curve/sliders and fastballs below.
Breaking balls up in the zone and belt high are the pitches that Odor can drive, and belt high fastballs Odor thrives on. Again, up, and down outside of the zone are cold.
And the piece that matters, hits. I’m actually OK with Odor swinging at high fastballs. Aggressiveness can be great, but there is also a certain point when a pitcher only throws you fastballs above your head to get a strike out when you start to wonder what the heck Odor is doing. But that wasn’t the big problem. Ahah! We found it, the breaking pitches down outside the zone and inside to Odor outside the zone hitting zilch on 50 pitches at the shoelaces on curves/sliders and .019 on 54 curves/sliders middle and down outside the zone. And although Odor makes contact, lay off of the outside off of the plate pitches, including fastballs. They are not in a great spot to contact for a base hit and usually end up being a ground ball out.
But if I keep it simple for Odor, is to keep doing what he’s doing with fastballs. We know he can hit them, and chances are they are hard and far. He has to learn to recognize the curve ball or sliders that will look like strikes over the plate and end up barreling out of the strike zone. Like I mentioned, it’s either recognition that he is lacking, or simply discipline to not be overzealous in his approach at the plate and take a walk once in a while. Heck I think part of his problem is he swings so much that simply taking and looking at these pitches repeatedly would help the cause. He will eventually learn that he should play to his strengths, and protect against his weaknesses. When the 22 year old comes around, it should be eye opening. Maybe everything I’ve said is semi-known already, and I’m sure the Rangers know their players better than anyone. However, there is no denying that he does have his work cut out for him.
And that’s all I’ve got.