Players aren’t recognized as their league’s top player week to week for their shiny defensive play. It’s all about the bat, barring exceptional pitching performances.
Rougned Odor knows as well as anyone how hitting, good and flat-out bad, can define a player.
His plate prowess in 2016 convinced the Texas Rangers to drop $49.5 million and two quarter horses on him over six seasons. His plate woes in 2017 had the Rangers looking for a do-over button.
Of late, though, there haven’t many hitters going as well as Odor, who on Monday was recognized as the American League Player of the Week. He also won the award two weeks ago.
It seems like it might be happening too fast too soon for a player who batted .204 last season and was at .171 in late May. The Rangers have seen this before from Odor, they say, but it’s been awhile.
Odor showers credit upon Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers’ lone All-Star this year whose selectively patient approach at the plate has started to rub off on Odor.
“I don’t do anything,” Choo said.
But he knows better than anyone what it takes to maintain that approach. The question is how will Odor, who is only a few months removed from the bottom, avoid crashing again?
“Because he’s working,” Choo said. “I’m not saying he wasn’t working last year. He still worked, but this year he learned the right way to do it. He doesn’t want to be good. He wants to be a great ballplayer in the major leagues. That’s why he made everything different one level.”
Odor batted .304 last week with four homers, which tied for the MLB lead, and 10 RBIs, which tied for the AL lead. His OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was 1.318 in large part because of his five-walk game Thursday.
He homered in four of the Rangers’ six games last week and was riding a mini four-game hitting streak as the Rangers opened a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners.
Since June 9, Odor was batting .321 to push his average to .272. Since mid-May, Odor has transformed from can’t hit a lick, to can’t draw a walk, to can’t hit for power, to the eighth player in Rangers history to be named player of the week twice in one season.
He can field his position, too.
To do both, though, Odor had to change the way he worked, Choo said.
Every swing in the cage had to be taken with purpose. The same for every grounder fielded during batting practice. Taking a few swings or grounder without intent doesn’t help.
Taking off a dozen? More?
“He did a lot of things, but he wasn’t just working,” Choo said. “When he was in the cage he was working and joking around. Now, it’s focus. If you take 100 swings and you focus only on 35 swings, that’s bad. I’m very happy how he’s doing it.”
Odor says that focus, learned from Choo, has been the key to his success. Zeroing in on each pitch has allowed him to recognize pitches better, and his ability to look for one pitch has cut down on chasing pitches out of the zone.
Once he gets ahead in the count, he has learned that he gets pitches to hit. He’s not just driving the ball out of the ballpark, either. Many of his AL-best 24 hits since the All-Star break have gone the other way.
“I’ve been feeling really good,” Odor said. “I’m trying to stay on one page, the page where I am right now. I hope I keep going. I’m trying to stay focused on my defense and my hitting, too. The last three weeks I’ve really been focusing on hit my pitch and don’t swing at the other pitches, and I think that’s been helping me a lot.”
All hitters will slump at some point, and Odor knows it. But his new approach will allow him to avoid the kind that gobbled him up over 162 games last season.
Manager Jeff Banister said that Odor, who is still only 24, had shown signs of a turnaround in spurts, and then showed improvements from at-bat to at-bat that left the Rangers encouraged that the 2016 Odor was about to emerge.
The 2018 Odor, though, is drawing walks at a higher rate. Sometimes, these things just take time.
“I think that if you really go back and look at it, you’ll see it was a little bit longer stretch than just clicking,” Banister said. “We’ve seen him do this before. The work part of it is the addition. ... He’s got to be able to repeat it.”
Odor’s mentor sees it lasting and sees stardom ahead.
“This is not done yet,” Choo said. “He’s got great talent. He’s a game-changing player.”