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Rougned Odor stinks but Rangers have to hope he turns it around

The Rangers signed Rougned Odor to an extension with the hope that he would build on a solid 2016 campaign. Instead, he's regressed.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rougned Odor has had results that are about as bad as it gets in 2017. Rougie has a 66 wRC+ in 130 games played which ranks him at 148th among 155 qualified players in 2017. At first glance it looks like it might be a little luck driven as he is sporting a .232 BABIP, but a look at deeper suggests that luck has little to do with his overall struggles.

In addition to a 16.9% IFFB%, his xwOBA-wOBA is hovering around .010 which suggests that his batted ball profile is producing about as well as it should expect to in the future barring adjustment. This begs two questions; what is the cause for the massive shift in run production from Rougned’s 2016 and 2017, and what is a reasonable outlook on what he can do going forward?

Surprisingly the first thing that is easy to rule out is a big shift in Rougie’s skillset and approach. The eye test would tell you that Rougie has great feel for the barrel, plus bat speed, big pull-side power, difficulty recognizing breaking pitches, and a poor plate approach. That could be said about Rougie in 2016 or 2017 and it’d be right for both seasons. The data seems to back this up.

Aside from the doubled IFFB% and a 4% increase in Soft%, nothing in the batted ball profiles jumps out and screams an almost 50 point drop in wRC+. Looking at the plate discipline numbers tells a similar story, while there are some good and bad trends, there aren’t any key indicators as to why Odor would experience significant decline.

Before a deeper look, there is some easy to find evidence for a .050 shift in wOBA which is simply that Rougie over-performed his batted ball profile in 2016. Over last season his xwOBA-wOBA was fairly significant at -.030. That would suggest that Rougie’s 2016 performance was at least in small part a mirage and could account for a significant chunk of his performance drop. That being said, it’s not a completely satisfying answer.

If Rougie’s disaster of a 2017 season can’t be explained by luck, a significant drop in skill, or a massive decline is plate approach, the change would likely come from external circumstances outside of Rougie’s control. Since the largest external factor not explored is pitching, it’s the logical place to take a deeper look.

Rougie in 2016:

Rougie in 2017:

Overall Rougned is seeing fewer pitches in the zone at 54.1% compared to 52.5% in 2016, but that alone wouldn’t account for the drop. Pitchers are attacking his weakest zones more consistently in addition to attacking his weak locations that are farther away from his best exit velocities.

Pitchers are staying low/high and away more consistently while continuing to attack the low/high inside zones, both of which he struggles against.

Rougie in 2016:

Rougie in 2017:

When added to the location data and Brooks Baseball location by pitch, the pitch type data shows there are multiple shifts in how pitchers are attacking Rougned. When Rougie gets 4-seam fastballs they are much more likely to be inside or outside off the plate than in 2016 while a higher percentage of the strikes thrown are sliders and changeups, which Rougie has consistently struggled with throughout his career.

As a result Rougned is making worse contact against a pitch he feasted on in 2016 while continuing to struggle against offspeed+breaking balls both in and out of the zone.

In addition to pitchers abusing fastball location, pitchers are just plain throwing Rougie more of the pitches he struggles against. Odor has already seen more sliders in 2017 (332) than he did in the entirety of 2016 (313). Pitchers are not only attacking the fact that Odor is an aggressive hitter, but they are increasingly taking advantage of his inability to recognize and lay off or attack sliders.

In summary, the biggest portion of the decline in performance seems to be explainable by pitchers attacking Rougie’s weaknesses better and more consistently while Rougned has failed to improve his eye and approach. The physical tools and abilities are there, but a lack of adjustment or ability to recognize off-speed and breaking pitches have crippled his performance in light of pitcher adjustment. What does the future hold for a player like this?

Compare Rougned’s performance against pitch types to two players early in their careers with massive offensive tools, but hindered by an overly aggressive approach at the plate in Jeff Francoeur and Adam Jones:

Both of these players walked relatively little and feasted on fastballs, much like Rougned. The key difference appears to be that Adam Jones was able to recognize pitches and make consistent contact with most pitch types while Francoeur, in addition to being overly aggressive, struggled to adjust to offspeed and breaking pitches.

Adam Jones has had a good productive career despite being overly aggressive while Francoeur has hovered around replacement level before retiring fairly young.

Unfortunately Odor’s trends run closer to Francoeur’s than Jones’s and it’s hard to see pitchers shifting their approach towards Rougie until he shows them he can adjust to theirs. If he cannot improve his ability to recognize the pitches he struggles against in addition to consistently being over-aggressive at the plate, it’s hard to see where improvement can happen.

Rougned is a young player with offensive upside in droves, but his trends are more than just concerning. It’s not impossible for a player his age and with his talent to improve, but it’s not likely either. Rougie’s career can either plateau or thrive from here on depending on his ability to recognize, adjust, and conquer.