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Rougned Odor's surprising power surge

A trip to the Minors and some mechanical adjustments appear to have unlocked power beyond the Rangers' infielder's projections.

Rougned Odor has begun to deliver on the promise of his prospect status.
Rougned Odor has begun to deliver on the promise of his prospect status.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Below is a video of Rangers' second baseman Rougned Odor hitting a ball very far, against Athletics' relief pitcher R.J. Alvarez - an event that's begun happening with an almost concerning frequency for opposing pitchers:

That statement doesn't only apply generally to the obvious power displayed since Odor's most recent promotion - he's produced a .235 ISO with 14 home runs since his return - but specifically against A's relief pitcher R.J. Alvarez, off of whom this was Odor's third home run this season in four plate appearances (ouch!).

With reference to his overall numbers, Rougned Odor has had one of the best offensive second halves of any second baseman in the majors as a 21-year old, and has been no small part of the Rangers' reemergence in the AL West. He's hit .302/.344/.537 with a low 14.5 percent strikeout rate in 345 plate appearances, generating 2.7 fWAR during that time.

A performance of this magnitude appeared a bit less likely after the first six weeks of the season, during which time Odor hit .144/.252/.233 in 103 plate appearances. He was then demoted to AAA Round Rock where he hit exceptionally well (even for the PCL's notoriously hitter-friendly environment), and returned to the Arlington line-up on June 15.

Since then, his ground ball rate has dropped, he's pulling the ball more, and his hard-hit rate is almost 9 percent higher. These numbers are also significantly better than he had shown in 2014, as well.

BB% K% GB% Pull% Hard%
2014 4.10% 17.00% 49.00% 38.90% 25.30%
1st Half 6.70% 18.10% 50.40% 42.30% 22.60%
2nd Half 3.50% 15.70% 43.40% 50.50% 31.50%

In playing time terms, his exceptional return only constitutes a little over a half of a full season, but from what is known about sample size stabilization rates, it's enough time for both his power and contact rate to be fairly reliable.

Odor's always been known for his hit tool and contact ability, as it drove a large part of his prospect profile on his way through the Minors.

However, the 14.5 percent strikeout rate since his return would tie him with Pablo Sandoval for 52nd out of 266 batters with at least 300 plate appearances this season. That would be the best rate he's featured since his full-A debut in 2012. The high power provokes predictably similar comparisons - a .235 ISO ties Odor with Anthony Rizzo's full season rate, the 24th best out of the same 266 batter sample.

Since the 20-80 scouting scale is loosely based on the standard normal distribution, knowing that 99.7 percent of data should fall within three standard deviations of the mean, that 266 batter sample can be used to roughly approximate Rougned Odor's post-promotion power grade. With a mean ISO of .159 and a .055 standard deviation, his recent ISO earns a 1.383 Z-Score, which places him somewhere between 60 and 65-grade power.

That is beyond any projection - scouting or analytical. ZiPS preseason projections estimated Odor to have roughly league average power, and past prospect scouting reports typically projected 'moderate' or gap-power. Baseball America's 2014 Prospect Handbook rated his power as a 50-grade future tool (league-average), which is representative of the total sentiment.

Writing for Rotographs, Mike Podhorzer noted two weeks ago that Odor has been hitting balls about 14 feet further since his promotion, examining solely before and after the demotion within the 2015 season. However, the result tells the same story when including his entire pre-demotion career (2014 and 2015) into the sample.

From the beginning of the 2014 season thru May 8, 2015, Odor averaged 261.0 feet on all fly balls and line drives. Since his June 15 return, he's averaged 273.5 feet on the same kinds of batted balls.

Odor Spray Chart

It is possible that almost 350 plate appearances is still misleading (stabilization rates certainly aren't a guarantee) and Odor won't hit for this kind of power again, but it seems that changes have been made in terms of both approach at the plate and mechanical tweaks to help fix his struggles.

The change in approach seems fairly clear when looking at his zone profile - he's become more selective with pitches inside, and swinging more freely on pitches away. This approach is leading to a lot more power throughout the strike zone, and interestingly below it as well.

Odor Swings/Slugging

As a left-handed hitter who has still faced over 65 percent right-handed pitchers, a lot of the pitches Odor is now neglecting to swing at are glove-side breaking balls, the kinds of pitches that have been a particular weakness throughout his Major League career (numbers per Brooks Baseball).

1/1/2014 - 5/8/2015 6/15/2015 - 9/28/2015
Hard 0.232 0.375 0.142 0.320 0.586 0.266
Breaking 0.243 0.350 0.107 0.171 0.200 0.029
Off-Speed 0.237 0.382 0.145 0.451 0.824 0.373

It appears that Odor has a bit more upright and less-open stance since his return, that may be providing some kind of timing correction. The left still below comes from an April home run hit by Odor against R.J. Alvarez on a low fastball in Oakland Coliseum, while the right image comes from a September home run featuring otherwise the same description.

Odor Swing 3

He also has begun implementing a more pronounced leg kick in his swing. Using Alvarez's delivery as a guide for timing, he appears to be reaching the leg kick's highest point later during the pitch in September, than in April.

Odor Swing 2

It is difficult to proclaiming qualitative conclusions based on these differences, but they are worth noting nevertheless.

It suffices to say that Rougned Odor was banished to the Minors early this season, and reemerged as one of the top offensive second baseman in the Major Leagues. He reappeared with a different approach at the plate, a potentially tweaked swing, and demonstrating power well-above what was projected from him, while still only 21-years old. He's hitting near the top of the lineup for a pennant-chasing team in September, and given the quality of his play to this point, looks poised to do so for years to come.

. . .

Spencer Bingol is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.