While it’s possible that Odor’s biggest hit of the season came on the basepaths against Jose Bautista, there’s no doubt his impact was felt by the league as a whole when the 22-year-old second baseman exploded for 33 bombs in his third full season, despite only hitting double digits twice in his entire professional career (this includes minor and independent leagues).
He did so by maintaining a satisfactory average (.271), especially given his power output. He hacked and hacked at whatever pitchers threw, being a more aggressive hitter, selling out more often to get more long balls. It’s something that both he and his manager have noted, both the pros and cons of his new approach. It’s one that can be used for amazing results – who complains about 30+ dingers, but it’s also one that can leave teammates and fans shaking their heads with the swing happy lifestyle.
Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister has made continued observations to the press about how he feels about Odor’s approach at the dish, although some quotes are perhaps a little tough to decipher if you’re not looking for anything. Take what he said in July about Odor, coming off a multi-homer game and in the middle of a hot stretch, as told to Gerry Fraley:
“Focus is at a premium now. The approach at the plate is calmer in that he’s searching for pitches to hit, but still is going to be aggressive.”
This is off a win, where most managers are more inclined to let bad habits go in favor of rewarding the players who are keeping their jobs safe. But Banister is more than hinting at the stink that is Odor’s patience. While he was never going to be the kind of guy who made you work the count as a pitcher, Odor’s walk rates have dropped from 4.9% to just a flat 3.0%. Some context? He is the literal worst player in the league at getting free passes. The next lowest walker who also managed at least 30 homers is Matt Kemp, and even his walk rate came in at 5.4%.
If you’re going to be a feared hitter at the plate, part of the job is actually making pitchers pitch around you. While it’s frustrating when the best sluggers aren’t getting meatballs every plate appearance, it’s a productive one nonetheless because you’re still putting a batter on base. Odor’s average is okay, but his on base percentage is a measly .296, under the nonexistent OBP Mendoza line. It’s the kind of patience (or lack thereof) that is conducive for flash in the pan style seasons, where we see a power burst one year, then back down to single digits the next.
Odor essentially needs pitchers to keep giving him good pitches to hit despite the fact that he’s willing to swing at, and through, just about anything. Look at where his 33 bombs came in relation to the strike zone last year:
Yes, there are a couple out of the zone, but like most hitters he does the most damage in the zone. It’s hard to see what is enticing pitchers to keep pounding him with good pitches to hit when he hasn’t shown an ability to lay off bad ones, especially with his new groove.
And while this is all nice and frightening about his future stock, looking at his ADP and projections, there seems to be another story to be told. He’s going around 80 in most leagues, but composite projections have him valued at the 40th most valuable pick in the draft. And this smells really fishy since there’s a precedent for guys with this profile to crash hard, but underneath the hood it looks like there’s more to be told.
Even though he’s whiffing like a champ, his fly ball rates jumped from 39% to 42%, and he cut his grounders from 46% to 40%. He’s made great strides towards fitting an actual power hitter build, even if his physical build looks nothing like it. And even though he’s chasing crazy amounts of pitches, his contact on them is higher than league average (65.2% to 62.1%), allowing himself more on base opportunities.
While what we see under the hood is nice, so is the comparison forecasts that we have from past players with similar numbers. Odor’s slugging and homers are projected to come down, but not by as much as we might think given the initial conditions. His slugging is forecasted around .480 with 25+ homers. Also, his strikeouts are expected to fall some (21.4% to 18.0%) thanks to his good contact despite the chase rates, and actually that number is better than average. Plus, his walks will rebound some, but that’s not a stat that he’s ever going to be anything but a black hole at.
So yes, Odor had a crazy breakout season that he’s just not going to replicate in 2017, or perhaps in his career. But the peripheral changes that need to be made for long-term success were, and a good heap of good luck regression appears to be in his corner as he changes the calendar year.
Rougned Odor is, by definition of the kind of hitter he is, a risky pick. But the rest of the fantasy owners are way too far down on him to the point that he’s become one of the most undervalued players on the board. No need to feel dirty about picking him, especially if you can get him in the 70s range like some leagues are showing, because that’s a pick anyone will feel good about as the season goes on.
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