Expectations were high for Rougned Odor coming into the 2017 season. The Rangers slugging second baseman hit 33 home runs with 88 RBI, 89 runs scored, and a .271 batting average. Those numbers moved Odor to the top of most fantasy rankings just behind Jose Altuve, and rightfully so.
Despite the upside and potential, there were several red flags that hinted towards future troubles. We got a glimpse of those concerns in 2017. The power was still there (30 home runs), and the counting stats were close enough to satisfy most people (75 RBI, 79 R). However, that .204 batting average was unacceptable, and now fantasy owners are split when it comes to expectations for future production.
Sometimes, when trying to gauge a player’s production, it helps to look at past players and find a hitter with similar attributes. It isn’t a perfect science, and the final outcome is not always accurate, but it is a fun exercise and could give us a glimpse of maybe what we can expect from Odor moving forward. So I dug through the archives, compared Odor’s numbers to those in the history books, and came up with one name that not only matched up statistically, but physically and at the same position. Before we get to who it is, let’s take a look at the similarities.
While Odor has a lower strikeout percentage, it was 21.4% in 2016 and 24.9% in 2017, putting him in line to match player X. The same goes for the swinging strike percentage; Odor is lower but averaged 12% the past two seasons. Walks are the big standout here. Player X took two years before settling into the double-digit range. This is a plateau Odor may not reach given his free-swinging ways, which will be addressed below.
Player X had several years batting in the .280 range, but he had an equal number of years batting around .240 and a number of Odor-type 2017 seasons. Odor should bounce back in 2018, but his career path isn’t that of the .271 hitter we saw in 2016.
Power wise, the two are dead even. Odor has consecutive 30+ home runs seasons, as does player X, and player X went on to have several more 30 home runs seasons, which is good news for Odor.
Career Batted Ball Profile
Overall, the career numbers line up rather nicely. Player X had a higher fly ball rate, but Odor could increase this as he matures, putting fewer balls on the ground. The hard hit rate is even, but Odor could move ahead in this category given his 36% average over the past two seasons. Also, Odor has shown an increase in pulled balls with fewer to opposite field, so in a few years, these numbers could easily mirror each other.
Career Plate Discipline
Here’s where the similarities fall apart some… or do they? On the surface, it appears that Odor is the better contact player — that is, until you look at his decline from year to year. Since arriving in 2014, Odor has seen his contact rate drop each year, from 84.8% to 75.4% Meanwhile, player X posted virtually the same contact rate annually. If this trend continues, Odor could finish his career not far off of 72.5%.
What makes Odor’s contact decline troubling is that his swing rate is climbing. Normally as players age, they swing more to make up for lost timing and bat speed. Odor is taking this all-or-nothing approach early, leaving him little wiggle room in the future. Player X was the polar opposite, posting average to below average swing rates for his time, yet his contact rate ranked in the bottom 50, similar to Odor in 2016 and 2017.
What makes things closer is the time. Today, increased swings, high strikeouts, and a swing for the fences (contact be damned) mentality has become more readily acceptable. Had Player X started his career today, we might see a similar profile.
Who is player X?
None other than Dan Uggla, or the man I commonly referred to at the time as the Adam Dunn of second baseman. Uggla had big-time power, posting five consecutive 30+ home run seasons from 2007 to 2011. The batting average went up and down like a yo-yo during this span. After years of being on top of the power plateau, the poor plate discipline started to show, the strikeouts increased, the batting average went into the toilet, and the power collapsed.
Odor has one positive attribute in his favor. He has produced these past few power seasons at an age three years younger than when Uggla broke in. Odor will be 24 in February, and so he has some time on his side; Uggla didn’t start until age 26. Odor is also a free swinger, so the potential for home runs is greater. However, increased swings plus a declining contact rate could have the opposite effect if something doesn’t change — we got a taste of that in 2017.
Just like we’ve seen with third base, there is a youth movement underway at second base. Not all of these younger players possess Odor’s power, but their ability to hit for average combined with speed and a little pop could (and has already started to) push Odor down the fantasy rankings.
Just like Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla, you’ll love Odor when he is having a positive batting average season. However, you’ll regret adding his name to the draft queue on those years that the average falls below the mendoza line. Consider the risk when drafting him in 2018 or trading for him in keeper/dynasty formats.
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