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Will the real Rougned Odor please stand up?

The Rangers second baseman has had a rough start to 2017. Did he take a step forward in 2016, or was last year an anomaly?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Texas Rangers Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the start of the season, the Texas Rangers signed Rougned Odor to a six-year $49.5 million contract extension. It was hard to argue with the decision. Since 2014, the 23-year-old has given the Rangers at- or above-league average production at the plate. He experienced something of a breakout a season a year ago when he tallied 33 HR, 89 R, and 88 RBI, and 14 SB.

Still, there have always been deficiencies in Odor’s approach at the plate. Among qualified hitters, he has the ninth-worst walk rate in baseball (3.8 percent), and that’s still better than his 2016 walk rate of 3.0 percent. His strikeout rate has been trending upward every season and now sits at a career high 23.0 percent. Still, in spite of those issues, Odor had been able to give the Rangers positive value via his power and base running.

But this season has been a different story. Not only are Odor’s deficiencies still clearly on display, but he also hasn’t provided the kind of production elsewhere that might compensate for those problems. Odor has been the seventh-worst hitter in baseball this season by wRC+ (58).

This isn’t the type of production Texas was looking for when they signed Odor to that extension. He’s never been known for his defense, so his ability at the plate was his primary skill with which to provide value. Are there any explanations for why his offense has declined? And more importantly, are there reasons to believe he can get out of this funk this season?

There are some expected factors at work in his results. Odor’s .237 BABIP is well below his career mark of .283. Maybe all Odor needs is a stretch of better luck to get his stats back up? That could account for some of his struggles, but it doesn’t paint a complete picture.

In terms of his batted ball profile, Odor has experienced an increase in his soft contact rate. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this has also come along with an uptick in his infield fly ball rate. It’s interesting to note that in both instances, Odor’s 2017 numbers are much closer to his 2014-2015 totals as opposed to those of 2016.

Soft Contact Rate

  • 2014 - 24.4%
  • 2015 - 20.9%
  • 2016 - 15.4%
  • 2017 - 22.9%

Infield Fly Ball Rate

  • 2014 - 16.8%
  • 2015 - 19.1%
  • 2016 - 8.2%
  • 2017 - 22.7%

There are other metrics that also help explain Odor’s struggles. During the 2016 season, Odor feasted on fastballs. However, he also saw significant improvement in his ability to handle curveballs. Odor had provided negative value on curves in 2015 by FanGraphs “pitch values” (-2.3 wCB). Yet, in 2016 he surprisingly produced positive value against the pitch (3.0 wCB).

This season, Odor has returned to providing negative value in this area. Not only that, but he’s experiencing career low production against the pitch. The below chart details Odor’s slugging percentage by pitch type from the last three seasons. Odor’s SLG% is down across the board, but it’s noticeably worse against curves.

Rougned Odor SLG% By Pitch

Pitch Type 2015 2016 2017
Pitch Type 2015 2016 2017
Fastball .503 .647 .404
Curveball .296 .411 .177
Slider .180 .305 .320
Data courtesy of Brooks Baseball

To be fair, Odor has been heading in the right direction this month. He’s already hit more home runs in June than he did in either April or May. His batting average and slugging percentage are both up, and his BABIP is trending toward normal. But even with those positive steps, he’s still below league average production for the month, and he has a ways to go in terms of providing the Rangers with positive value.

The Rangers moved Odor down in the order earlier in the month, and maybe that’s worked in terms of getting his attention. Odor’s start to the season does raise an important question as we consider his 2016 results. We now have two and a half seasons worth of data with Odor supplying comparable results in several categories, with a single better season slotted into the middle. That doesn’t mean Odor is going to continue to struggle like this, necessarily, but it does suggest that 2016 might be more of the outlier in terms of production moving forward.

All stats are current through June 25.

Eric Roseberry is a writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @ericroseberry. He also writes for Baseball Prospectus and The Sporting News.