What, did you think Rougned Odor was going to stop knocking the crud out of the ball just because the calendar flipped from 2016 to 2017?
In fact, any such notion went out the window right off the bat.
After blowing away his previous career high of 16 by blasting 33 home runs in 2016, the young second baseman picked up where he left off with two long balls in the Texas Rangers' opener against the Cleveland Indians.
Granted, Odor has hit only one homer since then and has gone cold in general. He has just four hits in his last 32 at-bats.
But strictly on a rate basis, the 23-year-old is still growing as a power hitter. His isolated power—that is, his extra bases per at-bat—started with a roughly league-average .142 mark as a rookie in 2014. He's now at .271 early this year, putting him head and shoulders above the MLB average of .158.
Good stuff for a guy who, at 5'11" and 195 pounds, resides more towards Jose Altuve than Aaron Judge on the MLB hitter size spectrum. It's also good stuff for a guy who hit only 34 homers in five minor league seasons.
A paragraph like that could serve as a gateway to suspicion in some spaces. But not this one. From this vantage point, Odor's rise to power (sorry, not sorry) makes perfect sense.
Although Odor isn't tiny, he might look as though he is because he swings a huge bat.
Eric Nusbaum of Vice Sports noted in his profile of Odor that he sometimes borrows the bat of Rangers first baseman Mike Napoli, who's two inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. As B/R's very own Scott Miller found out last summer, this is not something Odor does on a whim. He uses big bats because he's used to it.
"He's swinging a 35-, 36-ounce bat, which is a big bat for anybody," recalled San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller, formerly the Rangers' director of international and professional scouting, of a time he worked out a teenaged Odor in the Dominican Republic.
If you're going to swing a bat like that, you better not mess around. Anyone who's ever put eyes on Odor will know he doesn't. He attacks every baseball that comes his way as if it has Jose Bautista's face on it.
Put the two things together and mix in a dash of major league experience, and you'd expect Odor to start hitting the ball harder.
Of course, exit velocity on its own isn't the key to hitting for power. A hitter also has to get under the ball and hit it in the air. The higher the angle of the ball off his bat, the better.
Which brings us to yet another "sure enough." As Odor's exit velocity has gone, so has his average launch angle:
To an extent, this is just Odor going with the same flow as the rest of the league. Hitters have made a collective effort to get the ball off the ground so as to avoid all those pesky defensive shifts and to take advantage of a baseball that may or may not be juiced.
But credit where it's due, this is also a case of Odor following the teachings of Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce.
When Iapoce joined the Rangers ahead of the 2016 season, he was coming from a gig as a minor league hitting coordinator for the Chicago Cubs. In that role, he got to work with Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and other young Cubs hitters who literally launched the team to a World Series title last year.
Thus, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News teased the approach Iapoce would be imprinting on Rangers hitters:
Boiled down to the essentials, it means looking to drive your pitch in the air for the first two pitches of a plate appearance but thinking contact with two strikes. Do not give away pitches by swinging at a pitch outside your zone in the first two strikes. Do not concede with two strikes.
It's worked. As a team, the Rangers have seen their average launch angle go from 10.1 degrees in 2015 to 10.9 degrees in 2016 and now to 14.8 degrees early in 2017. With Odor himself in the vanguard of the movement, the Rangers' power output has risen accordingly.
In a perfect world, Odor wouldn't have to pay a price for helping to lead the movement. But in this world, the price he's paying is quite significant.
In a system where trying to drive the ball early in the count is encouraged, the inherent danger is incentivizing aggression. While the Rangers have indeed gotten more aggressive under Iapoce, Odor has taken the issue to an uncomfortable extreme.
He wasn't exactly Joey Votto, but he was reasonably efficient with his swings back in 2015. He hacked at 48 percent of all the pitches he saw and at 35.1 percent of the pitches he saw outside the strike zone.
Both numbers got worse last year and are now comically bad early in 2017. Odor entered Sunday swinging at 57.5 percent of all pitches and 45.5 percent of pitches outside the zone. Any more of this and he could soon be making even Pablo Sandoval blush.
This is not a victimless crime. The victim in this case is Odor's on-base percentage. He fell below .300 with a .296 OBP in 2016, and his OBP is now crying for help at .240.
But while this is a high enough barrier to keep Odor from becoming a true superstar, he can at least handle being a star.
Even in a dinger-rich environment like this one, a second baseman with 30-homer power is going to stand out. Odor also showed last year that he can provide excellent baserunning value. And while it's early yet, defensive runs saved is teasing an improvement on what's been hit-or-miss glovework.
Sounds like the kind of guy the Rangers should want to keep around for a while.
(Chatter in earpiece.)
Oh, right. Guess that means they knew what they had even before Odor resumed proving the point.