Rangers Invest in the Highly Unusual Rougned Odor

Any day now, the Rangers and Rougned Odor should finalize a six-year contract extension worth about $49.5 million. A club option at the end could boost the maximum value up to $62 million, and the deal would be effective immediately, buying out two or possibly three of what would’ve been Odor’s free-agent years. Even when it’s all over, Odor would be going into his age-30 season, so he could conceivably make another splash. Jon Heyman was the first person I saw with reports.

This time of year counts as extension season, as teams and players try to avoid having negotiations spill into the summer. And as a general rule, long-term extensions for young players tend to be more team-friendly than player-friendly. That is, at least, relative to what might count as “fair” terms. This is in part a consequence of differing incentives — teams are trying to save future money, while players are eager to sign their first impact agreement. The first millions of dollars for a player mean more than subsequent millions, for a variety of reasons, and Evan Grant highlighted what this contract should mean for Odor’s family. The MLBPA is no fan of these deals, but you can understand why they exist.

For business reasons, the Rangers are probably going to like this. They’ll get to keep Odor’s costs down even beyond those first six years. I also don’t think Odor is going to find himself regretting a $50-million contract. Just like that, he’s a massive success story, as a guy who just turned 23. There’s nothing atypical about this arrangement. What’s most atypical here is simply Odor himself. His is a very unusual profile.

At the start of last September, I wrote a post titled “They Don’t Make Many Like Rougned Odor.” This is basically going to repeat some of the same points made in there, so if that post is still fresh in your mind, you don’t need to read this one! But this one’s at least more timely. Here’s a glimpse of why the Rangers think that Rougned Odor is good:

For a little dude, Odor swings a big bat, as demonstrated up there and elsewhere. His power isn’t a Texas mirage, and he averaged the same exit velocity last year as Kris Bryant and Paul Goldschmidt. Odor is a legitimate power source, to say nothing of his on- and off-field energy. Every team would be pleased to have him.

But let’s get into the weird stuff. Odor can hit for power. Okay. Lots of guys can hit for power. Here are some ways that Odor is uncommon.

For one thing, last year was his age-22 season. He was an everyday player. There were just six position players 22 or younger who came to the plate at least 500 times. Odor is younger than Byron Buxton and Joey Gallo.

Odor has not rated well in the field. As a second baseman, according to DRS, only Daniel Murphy has been worse since Odor first came up. According to UZR, only Aaron Hill and Brett Lawrie have been worse. To whatever extent you’re willing to trust advanced defensive metrics for infielders, they believe that Odor’s been a liability.

Pitchers just threw Odor far fewer fastballs than before. As a reaction to Odor’s powerful and aggressive approach, pitchers trimmed their collective fastball rate by more than eight percentage points. Last year among regulars, only Mark Trumbo saw a lower rate of fastballs, and the difference there was basically negligible.

And Odor was willing to chase! He just had last year’s fifth-highest swing rate at pitches out of the strike zone. The four players in front of him had higher swing rates at pitches in the strike zone. It’s reasonable to question Odor’s eye, although, of course, he still finished with a better-than-average bat. Just as he did the season before.

That last point, about discipline, leads to this next one: Odor just had a strikeout rate that was equal to or higher than the league average. At the same time, he had a walk rate that was equal to or less than half the league average. Four players pulled that off last year while batting at least 500 times — Odor, Salvador Perez, Jonathan Schoop, and Freddy Galvis. Odor was the only one with a three-digit wRC+. This is a weird thing to do.

Over the past 30 years, there have been more than 4,200 player-seasons with 500 plate appearances or more. Out of that sample, there are just 49 player-seasons with at least a league-average strikeout rate, and at most half the league-average walk rate. Expressed differently, that’s 1.1% of the sample, and of those 49 player-seasons, eight wound up with a wRC+ of at least 100. The average wRC+ of the sample is 86; the median is 83. Here are the top 10 offensive years:

Top 10 Seasons In Last 30 Years
Player Year BB% K% lg BB% lg K% BB% vs. lg K% vs. lg wRC+
Alfonso Soriano 2002 3% 21% 9% 16% 0.3 1.3 131
Dante Bichette 1995 4% 16% 9% 16% 0.4 1.0 131
Adam Jones 2013 4% 20% 8% 19% 0.4 1.0 119
Benito Santiago 1987 3% 20% 9% 15% 0.3 1.3 109
Jacque Jones 2003 4% 19% 9% 16% 0.4 1.2 107
Rougned Odor 2016 3% 21% 8% 21% 0.4 1.0 106
Adam Jones 2010 4% 19% 9% 18% 0.4 1.1 105
Joe Carter 1987 4% 17% 9% 15% 0.5 1.1 101
Jonathan Schoop 2016 3% 21% 8% 21% 0.4 1.0 97
Kevin Kouzmanoff 2008 3% 21% 9% 17% 0.4 1.2 96
Given 500+ plate appearances, with a strikeout rate at least the league average, and a walk rate at most half the league average.

Maybe more than anything, this gets at the essence of why Odor is so strange. His value is built upon his bat, and his bat has obvious thump, yet he’s below-average in terms of making contact and pitch selection. I should re-state that — it’s not strange for a powerful player to have an over-aggressive approach. It’s far more strange for that player to still be successful. The Rangers are going to be happy with Odor for as long as he’s a productive everyday hitter. The question is one of sustainability, because last year had little big-league precedent.

The fact of the matter is that Odor hasn’t just been a fine hitter for one year — he was also a fine hitter for much of the year before. That helps make it easier to believe he could be another Adam Jones, or Alfonso Soriano. The downside is that Odor could instead become a worse defensive Jonathan Schoop, but even Schoop is just 25, not yet necessarily a finished product. There aren’t that many player comps, because, again, Rougned Odor is atypical. That’s part of the problem with trying to analyze him.

A fair assumption would be this: Odor will improve in certain areas as he gets older. Perhaps his approach will in some way mature. For now, he’s an outlier, challenging to project. The probability is that the Rangers will be happy, almost no matter what. Odor would have to sink rather significantly to become a problem at his cost. Yet if he’s truly as exceptional as he just was, this is going to be another player-extension steal. That’s not automatic, but this case is intriguing.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

Could potentially be a very bad contract; the worst fielder at 2B and the worst BB/K in all of the majors last season among qualified players. Value is in his bat but his bat isnt that great either. I will concede that he is very young and the sky is the limit plus the Rangers look to have a very weak lineup so that doesnt help his numbers either – not all on him. Still could throw a mean punch.

7 years ago
Reply to  phillipmike02

Even if he’s not very good, he’ll be the 148th highest paid player in baseball. He needs to earn about a win above replacement a year to justify the contract. It’s chump change for an MLB team.

7 years ago
Reply to  Robert

This is not how you do cost analysis when buying out 4 years of a rookie contract.

7 years ago
Reply to  Terence

Thank you. This argument is constantly made when extensions are signed and it continues to be incorrect each time.

The $/war figures often used here are $/free agent war.

7 years ago
Reply to  Terence

You’re right but even so you’re going to come out ahead more often than not if you can buy out players at lower rates over the long-term when you have leverage. Odor’s not the textbook case for this kind of extension for reasons mentioned in the article but it’s a good overall approach.

7 years ago
Reply to  Robert

But the alternative wasn’t paying him market rate; it was paying him one year of rookie salary and three years of arbitration salaries.

7 years ago
Reply to  phillipmike02

Dont know why it is getting down voted. All of it is true. I cant remember the last time someone came off a season where they were the worst at their position at something and then the worst in the league at another and a team signs them to a 6 year deal. Its not a bad per year in terms of money (under 6M) but seems like an unnecessary extension as you had him for 4 more years. Doesnt help that 2B is one of the deepest positions in the league so its not like they are paying to keep a good player at a premium position.

7 years ago
Reply to  phillipmike02

It’s not getting down voted due to your assessment of Odor’s skills and risk factor; it’s getting down voted because you’re failing to grasp the essence of cost analysis when buying out arbitration years of rookie contracts.