Rougned Odor has improved his plate discipline, and that's a great sign for the Rangers
Odor is walking at a career-high rate
The Texas Rangers entered Friday with the ninth-worst record in baseball, at 51-66, due to a horrid pitching staff and a young lineup that hasn't performed as desired. Even so, the Rangers have some reasons to be encouraged about aspects of their season, including second baseman Rougned Odor's quiet reinsertion into their long-term plans.
Odor was so unproductive last season that he made history: his 65 OPS+ represented the worst mark ever by a batter with 30 home runs. (Tony Batista's 81 OPS+ was the previous record holder.) While Odor isn't going to hit 30 homers again this year, in part because he missed nearly a month due to a hamstring injury that contributed to a slow start, he's batting .272/.349/.482 (115 OPS+) in 352 plate appearances. Just as importantly, he's seemingly improved his plate discipline.
Even before last year, Odor was known for his grip-it-and-rip-it, free-swinging approach at the dish. To wit, the sum of his walk rates in 2016-17 was 7.9 percent -- that's right, the sum. This season, however, Odor has walked in 8.2 percent of his plate appearances, or about the league-average clip.
His growth is evident in other plate-discipline measures, too: he's trimmed four percentage points off his chase rate, 11 percentage points off his in-zone swing rate, and as a result is swinging at less than 50 percent of pitches for the first time since 2015.
That 2015 season, by the way, serves as a good reminder that Odor could fall back into his hacking ways -- although all his plate-discipline measures are better this year, the gaps are smaller than you might suspect for someone sporting career-best swing tendencies. Plate discipline is often viewed in binary terms -- a batter has it or they don't -- and that may be true on a macro level; on a micro basis, hitters can alter their aggressiveness, a la Odor.
If the Rangers have a say in the matter, the more well-rounded Odor would be here to stay -- in part because he's owed more than $40 million through 2022, and in part because he could be the most reliable quantity on their infield. Third baseman Adrian Beltre is a free agent at season's end, shortstop Elvis Andrus could opt out and become one too, and Jurickson Profar has missed too much time over the years to be viewed as a sure thing at this point in his career.
Should the Rangers foster competitive hopes for next season, they'll need a healthy and judicious Odor to do it -- in other words, they'll need this Odor, the one taking the leap while the rest of his team fails to do the same.
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