Improving Plate Discipline from Rougned Odor
In a season that already looks very bleak, and we are not even to May, one must try to look at the positive side of things when it comes to Rangers baseball. Everyone is very familiar with the nut kicks 2014 brought, and 2015 seems to be following the same path. Injuries, poor performances, and questionable acquisitions, seem to be common now for this franchise.
Still, there have been some things to like so far in 2015. You have to love Prince Fielder returning to good health and swinging the bat well. Yovani Gallardo seems to be pitching admirably and getting more strikeouts than initially projected. Shawn Tolleson is blossoming into one of the better relievers in the American League. Yet, the biggest and most surprising development of the season is the emerging plate discipline from Rougned Odor. I thought I would look deeper into this to hopefully find some evidence that this could be a permanent fixture in Odor’s game. Plate discipline was the area Odor needed to refine, and with some improvement, could potentially catapult him into a very fine everyday middle infielder.
I know that Odor may be off to a slow start to the year offensively (like the majority of the Rangers), but the only healthy man that is doing much damage is Prince. The team batting average sits dead last in MLB at .210. For reference, the league average is .249 on the year. However, they sit above league average in team walks. so the approach seems to be there. Perhaps, we have just had rotten luck with balls in play. Odor has been a big part of that as I present you with a few initial percentages that are very positive in his favor. The first three items are his BB%, O-Swing %( that’s the percentage he swings at pitches ruled outside the strike zone, and his Pit/PA (Pitches seen per Plate Appearance)
As you can see, Odor has more than doubled his walk percentage so far this year from last year. A four percent walk rate is difficult to succeed with, but a percentage of over nine is much more palatable and fairly solid. Fangraphs lists anything above eight as average, and ten or more as above average. The O-Swing is down by over five percent! So he is being more selective, and not chasing as many bad pitches out of the zone so far. Obviously, that would result in much better contact and forcing the pitcher to come into the zone more where better results are found. Lastly, he is seeing an increase of nearly .5 pitches more per PA. For reference, lets say he has 600 PA’s this year. That would result in 2,400 pitches seen. That is nearly a 1000 more than he had last year. The more pitches you see, the better chance you have of getting a mistake.
If you dive a little deeper, you see some even better trends starting to form. While they don’t appear to be as drastic as the above chart shows, they still are a very telling sign of his new growing skill. So the next items are First Pitch Swing Percentage, or simply 1st/S, Strike Looking or L/Str, and the percentages of times he has been in hitter counts such as 3-0, 3-1, and 2-0. 1st/S is interesting because it shows the aggression in hitters. Wade Boggs was famous for being among the major league leaders in always taking the first pitch regardless. Joe Mauer is a more recent example. Whether it was to see what the pitcher has at his disposal, or just to try and get ahead in the count, the more times you are in hitter’s counts, the greater your chances for fastballs and better production.
Again, the results are much better and promising this year when compared to last year. He is swinging at the first pitch far less often. He’s looking at more pitches, and getting himself into more hitter’s counts. He got into a 3-0 count just six times in 2014, but he already has achieved that three times in 2015. James Gentile wrote a piece at The Hardball Times about the subject of swinging at the first pitch, which you can read here. He cites evidence that batters generally get better results when laying off the first pitch. We are in a more patient era of baseball as more and more hitters are ditching the super aggressive approach, and going to a more patient one. (Pitching seems to counter that with several relievers that throw 99). In Odor’s case, he seems to be drifting that way, and that is a good thing. We can’t be for sure if his new found discipline is strategic advice from new manager Jeff Banister or not.
I also decided to look at how Odor compares with the rest of the team and the league on some of these numbers to see where he stands. Even if the improvement has him in the league average percentile, that is a welcoming change. The first bar graph will show Odor’s 1st pitch swing percentage, the team’s, and league average. The second one will be Pit/PA. Finally, the last one will be BB Percentage.
As you can see, a total script flip here when you look at his 1st/Swing. He goes from above league average in a bad way, to below league average in a good way. Interesting that the team rates are right around where they were last year to begin the year.
Once again, a drastic difference from a year ago. He has improved to above league average just a bit in his Pit/PA, especially over the last few weeks. Wednesday alone against King Felix, SDI writer Kaz noted he saw 25 pitches in his 4 PA’s. These graphs really illustrate just how much he seems to be changing the approach.
Here he has gone from below average last year to being above league average this year. This is a massive change. Even the team is up over a full percent this year so far. I have seen reports that Bannister is making it an effort to stress taking more pitches, and that’s showing thus far.
The last little nugget I wanted to examine was how Odor stacks up in True Average or Tav, an all encompassing offensive metric using park and league factors from Baseball Prospectus presented in batting average form. League average is .260. The following graph shows how Odor, and the Rangers have fared in that department since Odor arrived early last year.
Obviously, he has gotten worse in his first 21 games in ’15, but that is likely just him being in an early season slump. He actually ranks fourth on the team this year in the figure. Last year he placed tenth (Factoring in anyone with a plate appearance). The Boston Red Sox over the years have always been among the leaders in this value as Ryan Morrison notes in his piece at BP Boston here. In their World Series title run back in 2013, the Red Sox were first in baseball.
It is early in the season, and we are looking at about 80 plate appearances here. However, Fangraphs does say that things like swing percentages stabilize after about 50. As for things like O-Swing, it may take a few more months before we can officially rule this as a fixed approach. So far things are trending in the right direction for Odor. He’s going to start hitting. He isn’t a .150 hitter, as his career BABIP will show you. You can assume that once he does heat up, he can really start to be a very productive player with this new found skill. He is a special 21-year-old to begin with, factor in continued development and who knows how good he can be.