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Rougned Odor has a horrible two-strike approach

He’s been one of MLB’s worst hitters with two strikes in the count.

Division Series - Toronto Blue Jays v Texas Rangers - Game Two
Gotta lay off those two-strike breaking balls.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Back in March, the Rangers signed Rougned Odor — who was coming off back-to-back two-win seasons and had just turned 23 — to a six-year, $49.5 million contract extension. It looked like a fairly safe deal at the time, given his age and track record, but man, has it backfired to this point. Odor’s been in the worst slump of his young career in 2017:

Image via FanGraphs

His April wRC+ was 52. His May wRC+ was 52. His June wRC+? He managed to improve… all the way to 62. As my BtBS colleague Eric Roseberry laid out earlier this week, Odor’s been making a lot more soft contact this year, which doesn’t bode well for someone who predicates his game on power.

But the biggest red flag for Odor is actually something that extends back to last year. Starting in 2016, he started swinging and missing a lot more often:

Image via FanGraphs

Whiffs in and of themselves aren’t necessarily a bad thing — often, they’ll accompany a surge in power. That was the case last year, when Odor cracked 33 home runs and put up a .231 ISO. What’s most disconcerting for Odor isn’t the swinging strike rate, but rather the situational swinging strike rate. He’s seen the biggest uptick in whiff rate with two strikes in the count:

Odor situational whiff rate

Year 0 strikes 1 strike 2 strikes
Year 0 strikes 1 strike 2 strikes
2014 6.2% 9.3% 12.4%
2015 5.2% 11.2% 12.6%
2016 7.6% 13.7% 20.7%
2017 8.6% 13.8% 21.5%
Data via Baseball Savant

Since the beginning of the 2016 season, Odor has floundered with two strikes in the count. Here’s how his situational whiff rates in that span compare to the rest of MLB:

Odor situational whiff rate — 2016-17

Count Whiff rate %ile rank
Count Whiff rate %ile rank
0 strikes 7.9% 40th
1 strike 13.7% 28th
2 strikes 21.0% 2nd
Percentile ranks are out of hitters with 1,000 pitches in zero-strike counts (n=187), 750 pitches in one-strike counts (n=188), and 750 pitches in two-strike counts (n=165). Data via Baseball Savant

To put this another way: Over the last year-and-a-half, Rougned Odor has a better two-strike whiff rate than Danny Espinosa, Brandon Moss, Miguel Sano, and… well, that’s it. Odor makes a respectable amount of contact early in the count, but once his back is against the wall, he just can’t stay alive.

This has affected his performance in a couple of ways. In addition to having a higher strikeout rate — he’s gone down on strikes 22.0 percent of the time in 2016 and 2017, up from 16.9 percent in the two seasons before that — Odor has gone from a solid two-strike hitter to one of the worst in the majors:

Odor two-strike hitting

2014 .191 .236 .235 .471 86
2015 .207 .246 .357 .602 132
2016 .135 .172 .252 .424 61
2017 .140 .177 .255 .432 63
sOPS+ measures a player’s OPS relative to the MLB average OPS for that split. Data via Baseball-Reference

What’s to blame for this two-strike meltdown? Let’s look at some zone maps. Here’s Odor’s swing patterns by count during this season and last:

Images via Brooks Baseball

Lots of cuts throughout, especially with two strikes. He’s an aggressive hitter, which doesn’t necessarily hurt him. The issue, of course, is that those swings aren’t resulting in contact, and in one area in particular:

Images via Brooks Baseball

Odor has problems with low pitches throughout the count. It’s the high pitches that have really hurt him — with two strikes, he’s whiffed at a clean 30 percent of pitches above the strike zone. When pitchers work the count in their favor, they can deal him a fastball at the letters and know there’s a good chance it’ll put him away. That’s a big problem.

Many of the other hitters who swing a ton with two strikes don’t miss much — guys like Jose Iglesias and Freddy Galvis will foul off pitches until they get something to hit. Odor is no contact hitter, so when he expands the zone, it usually backfires. Maybe the solution is to become more patient, or just to develop better judgment. Whatever the case may be, something needs to change.

Odor is still just 23 years old, so he has plenty of time to figure things out. He could return to the .271/.296/.502 hitter he was a year ago, instead of the .207/.244/.376 hitter he is now. To regain some of that clout, he’ll need to improve when he’s down in the count, because whiffing at one out of every five two-strike pitches won’t suffice. While some swings-and-misses are tolerable, Odor needs to be able to make contact when it matters the most.

Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, sometimes. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.