Rougned Odor

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The SANDbox: Recovery Plan For Rougned Odor

May 20, 2019 - 10:18 am
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LEADING OFF

My name is Jared Sandler and I love Rougned Odor.

At this point, it feels like that’s an admission of guilt!

Despite my love of Rougie, there’s no debating that he’s gotten off to a very poor start and has looked as bad as he ever has at times. That a minor league demotion could even be possible—which, it is possible—is an unfortunate development after his second-half turnaround in 2018.

While it might be tough for some of you to envision a future with Rougie as a contributing member (and I understand why you might feel that way), I’d like to present a Rougie recovery plan. In addition, I’d like to share why I not only want patience for Rougie, but why, whether you love him or not, patience makes more sense than any alternative.

I want to restate the obvious so you don’t think I’m delusional: Rougie has been really bad this year. Here’s the reality, though: he’s under contract through 2022 as a part of his 6-year, $49.5 million extension (plus a couple horses). Has he “lived up” to the extension thus far? No. It’s also worth noting that his extension isn’t some mega deal that is crippling the Rangers. But, since they’re paying him, they’re not going to just give up on him. What’s also true is that Rougie is just 25-years-old. TWENTY-FIVE! Some really good players don’t even make it to the majors by 25. And, yes, some guys get to the majors at an early age and spend a handful of years not giving you much hope of progress and then it just clicks. Alas, I present to you Elvis Andrus…and I present to you my plan.

Let’s start with my plan: Rougie bats in the bottom-half of the order the rest of year, primarily bottom-third. Leave him in a spot where he doesn’t feel the responsibility to be a big producer and he can just…be. If he needs to go to the minors at some point, that’s fine, but only if there’s zero progress. But after a few weeks, bring him up and keep him in the bottom-third of the lineup.

There’s a precedent for this, you know?

Rougie and Elvis are two different players. Different in so many ways. But maybe they’re similar in some ways, too…

While Rougie wasn’t as big of a prospect as Elvis, like Elvis, he debuted at 20-years-old. And, like Elvis, he struggled to find offensive consistency through age-25. Heck, Elvis wasn’t really worth a ton offensively until he was 27 in 2016.

Through Elvis’s age-25 season, he had a .272 BA, but with meh on-base and blah power numbers. His OPS+ was 83…meaning his offensive production was 17% below the league average. Rougie is currently in his age-25 season, but so far, despite a .244 career average, his OPS+ is 90…meaning, relative the league during their respective stretches, Rougie was more productive by 7%. Whether you want to hold on to these numbers and what they mean to a tee or not, they demonstrate that, in different ways, both guys were below-average offensive players and, as a matter of fact, Rougie might have been better.

Understand, I’m not trying to definitively say Rougie was better than Elvis at this point in his career. But Rougie’s offensive struggles, from a bird’s eye view, aren’t much different than Elvis’s. The perception, however, is WAY different. Whereas Elvis got base hits and was really good on the bases, Rougie strikes out a ton and makes some iffy baserunning mistakes. Whereas Elvis came up a slick-fielding shortstop, Rougie came up an inconsistent second baseman…until he developed into a Gold Glove-caliber defensive player in 2018. Whereas Elvis had a great personality with a bright smile, Rougie plays with a swagger that turns some people off. And whereas Elvis played on two World Series teams, Rougie debuted during the abysmal 2014 season and has been a part of the disappointing 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Let’s go back to 2016. Elvis, who had had chances as a leadoff hitter and a 2-hole hitter, was relegated to the bottom of the order and he finally started hitting…and hitting…and hitting…and doing so in ways he hadn’t before: WITH POWER! The pressure was off for him to be a “_______-hitter.” He could just be a hitter. Am I to suggest he’d never develop into the hitter he is had he remained atop the lineup? No. That’d be unfair. But I also think relieving him of that burden helped him just do his thing. I think the same would benefit Rougie.

Now Elvis is a key member of the lineup. He’s no longer a noodle-swinging shortstop. He belongs in the middle of the order. I don’t know for sure that Rougie will have the same fate, but to me, that’s a plan that makes sense. Relieve the pressure. Let him hit. See where it goes.

Even with more development and growth necessary in their the lineup, the Rangers still rank among the top scoring teams in MLB. It isn’t like they’re a bad offensive team held back by Rougie. He can’t be much worse than he’s been and they’re scoring in spite of him.

The Rangers are also not a World Series contender this year. Maybe they fight for a playoff spot, maybe they don’t. But their position in that race more so hinges on improved pitching than improved offensive production from their second baseman. And because this year is still more a year of growth than anything else, you have the luxury to ride this out for a year.

Rougie is 25. Elvis didn’t figure things out until he was 27.

Patience is tough. Heck, it might be tougher than recognizing the difference between a Justin Verlander fastball and slider. But, especially in baseball, patience has a winning record…especially for 25-year olds. And if it doesn’t work out, then you move and nothing is really lost for giving it…wait for it…wait for it…a puncher’s chance.

STRATEGY NOTE OF THE WEEK

Jose Leclerc has looked a lot better his last three outings. It isn’t just the fact that he’s pitched 4.1 scoreless innings, but that he’s recorded ten strikeouts with 11 whiffs. A bit of dominance has returned. He looks like 2018 Leclerc. With Chris Martin blowing a save on Sunday, should Leclerc return to the role? That’s an interesting question.

First of all, long term, Jose Leclerc is absolutely still viewed as this team’s closer, it’s just a matter of when they decide to return him to that role. His performance of late has looked the part, but maybe the Rangers want to see a little bit more. Even if they’ve seen enough, there is a strong argument to leave him in his current role.

One of the challenges the Rangers face right now is a rotation that doesn’t go deep into games. That necessitates more bullpen coverage. With that being the case, having relievers who can throw multiple innings is important. This is especially true if the Rangers shrink their bullpen from eight to seven, a possible strategy to allow them to keep Willie, Pence, Santana, Forsythe, Maz, and Odor upon Elvis’s return.

So, a few questions…

Why can’t Jose Leclerc throw multiple innings as the closer? Fair question. He could. But until we hear that they intend to do that, it’s safe to believe that, if Leclerc returns to the closer’s role they’d make him mostly a one-inning guy with the occasional four-plus out assignment.

Couldn’t Chris Martin throw multiple innings? He could, but the fact he’s only done it once since joining the Rangers is probably an indication they feel like he’s best used in one-inning increments.

Does Shawn Kelley’s return impact things? Absolutely. Kelley is capable of getting more than three outs and perhaps the Rangers would feel comfortable taking away Leclerc’s multi-inning ability with Kelley back in the mix.

There’s a chance the Rangers feel like Leclerc is more valuable getting critical outs in the innings prior to the 8th and 9th with the current roster composition and challenges presented by the rotation thus prolonging his stay outside of the closer’s role. Ultimately, however, I think Leclerc will return to the closer’s role, even if it isn’t sooner rather than later.

AROUND THE TEAM

*The Rangers play 16-straight games against teams with losing records starting tonight. This is a great opportunity for them to go on a bit of a run.

*Great news on the Shawn Kelley front. He had lumps removed from his vocal cords on Thursday and could be activated from the IL as early as today. The initial biopsy of the lumps were inconclusive and have been subjected to further testing, but Shawn is at ease knowing that they’re out of there anyway.

*The most common question from the last week was whether Willie Calhoun has a chance to earn an extended stay. My thought? Absolutely. So long as he remains productive, I think he’ll stay at this level. At whose expense? If there isn’t an injury or a clear answer among the position player group, the possibility remains that the Rangers could shrink their bullpen from eight to seven and proceed with a four-man bench. What’s impressed me most about Willie is his more versatile offensive approach. He’s using all fields and executed a more stubborn approach while maintaining his high-level bat-to-ball skills.

*The Rangers will add Shawn Kelley and Elvis Andrus back to the 25-man roster in the coming days which means that they will have to remove two guys from the mix. It seems unlikely that Forsythe, Pence, or Santana’s spots are in jeopardy, especially because the Rangers can’t just send them down…they’d lose them. With the way Odor and Maz have demonstrated improvement, I’d be surprised to see either of them get optioned. While Willie Calhoun has hit really well, I guess it is possible he’d be optioned back, but certainly not likely. Jeanmar Gomez’s spot is definitely in jeopardy, especially if the Rangers plan on dropping to a seven-man bullpen. The Rangers have some optionable relievers who are candidates like Brett Martin and Jeffrey Springs. What about Asdrubal Cabrera? I don’t think the Rangers would punt on him just yet, but he’s struggled at the plate, on a one-year deal, and not a part of the future. I guess Ronald Guzman is also a candidate if the Rangers felt like they wanted to kickstart him for a few weeks in Triple-A, but if they went that route it would be done with the intention of getting him back up here as soon as he gets going.

*Joey Gallo made a ridiculous throw from centerfield to nail Kolten Wong trying to go first-to-third on Friday night. The play is in the “KT’s ‘Holy Wow’ Play of the Week” section below with some numbers on Joey’s throwing ability in the stats section. Woody shared some interesting thoughts about having a great arm as a weapon, suggesting that some players, like Puig, try to bait runners to attempt an extra base with the hopes of throwing them out. The real value, he suggested, is simply the threat of the arm to keep guys from even trying. Throwing a guy out is great, but if you can prevent them from even trying, you eliminate the potential for an off-target throw, the fielder not receiving it cleanly, the runner sliding around the tag, or a few other variables that favor the runner’s chances. The threat of Gallo’s arm and his ability to prevent extra bases is why, despite not having the same range as elite centerfielders, he provides great value in that spot.

*The are multiple reasons why Ariel Jurado has been more effective this year than last. For one, he’s throwing his sinker and slider harder (though, it will be interesting to see if that holds up if he starts working a starter’s inning load). More importantly, is that he’s not so sinker-reliant this year. Opponents have more to think about against the righty, including an elevated fastball, and that’s allowed his sinker to improve its roundball rate by 10% and drop its batting average from .326 in 2018 to .235 in 2019.

*There’s no doubt that the Rangers need improved pitching, both this year and beyond. I think it’s fair to say that they also need improved defense. They’ve committed 27 errors, which is middle of the pack in MLB, but they leave too many outs on the table. What truly makes a great defense is converting batted balls into outs. Obviously, that means doing so on balls that often time result in outs, but also doing so on balls that have higher hit probabilities. It doesn’t mean making the highlight reel play, but simply taking away hits.

*Jesse Chavez is starting to pitch well.

Why? His explanation is that he’s used to a starter’s workload in Spring Training but for the first time he received a reliever’s workload so it took him into April to really feel ready. Woody’s explanation is that Chavez is mixing his pitches better. While Chavez has a good cutter, he was using it too much which limited the pitch’s effectiveness and increased Jesse’s predictability. Check the “Stats of the Week” below for more on Jesse’s change in pitch usage.

*I’m not sure the best course of action with Shelby Miller. He’s struggling to throw strikes and command the strikes he throws, but he’s also not getting much at all in the way of swings-and-misses or strikeouts. His 6.15 K/9 ranks 124th out of 130. His whiff rate of 17.2% ranks 128th out of 130. Those numbers, along with his 59.2% strike rate, 127th out of 130, are a tough combination.

*RHP Edinson Volquez, who has been on the injured list since April 5 with a sprained right elbow, has been told his muscle is 95 percent better than from his first MRI, and there is no damage to the ligament. He will start playing catch in a few days, with the intention of pitching again for the Rangers this season.

*The Rangers and Cardinals met at Globe Life Park this weekend. What I’m about to share is not intended to come off as childish or dramatic, but my honest, genuine thoughts: I still have zero desire to think about 2011. Life includes far graver challenges and disappointments, but we still have our passions and they tug at our emotions for better and for worse. As is the case for others, 2011 still tugs extremely hard in a negative direction for me. I can’t wait for the day when that weight gets lifted and the Rangers take care of unfinished business.

MAILBAG

‪@Tuckermac_1: Who is the next arm to get a call-up?

If I had to predict the next starting pitching prospect to make his MLB debut, I’d say Joe Palumbo. Tough to say when that might be but with Brock Burke on the IL, I’d guess Palumbo is a little bit ahead of Jonathan Hernandez. From a relief standpoint, Brady Feigl, Emmanuel Clase, and Locke St. John will all likely be big leaguers this year.

@KennyBybee: What feature will you miss the most from The Temple that isn't carrying over across the street?

I love Greene’s Hill and I think the ode to Tiger Stadium with the home run porch in right field is cool. If I had to pick one of those two, I’d go with the hill. I also have a love-hate relationship with the sheer size of Globe Life Park. It has this huge feel to it that makes you feel like you’re within your own little city. Unfortunately, crowds of 30,000 still feel somewhat empty because of how big capacity is, so I’m glad the new park will shrink capacity.

@Hayden1234g: Would they feel comfortable going to a 7-man pen?

Willie Calhoun might force them to do that if they don’t want to send him back down and don’t feel comfortable parting ways with any of their other position players. It isn’t ideal because of how their rotation doesn’t give them consistent length, but if they have enough relievers capable of giving them multiple innings then maybe it makes it an easier challenge. This is a great question and one I’m sure with which they are wrestling.

@CoachStites: As we get close to the Draft will the Rangers be focused on Pitching again?

Naturally, they’ll draft more pitchers than position players, but rarely do teams stray from “best available.” The draft in baseball is so unique. In the NBA and NFL, you expect some of your draft picks to either start or impact your team right away so while teams preach “Best available,” it is undeniable they factor in need to a degree. Even in hockey, some draft picks are in the NHL close to immediately, though more are stashed than in the NFL or NBA. Regardless, baseball teams are just trying to accumulate talent and the Rangers are no different.

MOMENT OF THE WEEK

Adrian Sampson earned his first Major League win on Friday night versus the Cardinals in his 16th career appearance.

Sampson was three outs away from his first big league win on April 30th after he tossed 5.2 scoreless IP, but Jose Leclerc blew a three-run lead in the 9th against the Pirates and Sampson’s win walked the plank (pun intended). After a couple of poor performances, Sampson took the mound Friday as the “bulk pitcher” following Jose Leclerc, who assumed the role of the opener. After a scoreless second, Sampson’s offense got him a seven-run cushion. He surrendered two (one earned) in the third and then settled down, not allowing another run and ultimately earning the win. Afterward, Sampson talked about getting that elusive dub: “It feels unbelievable. Just all the stuff I went through since I got called up and to finally put one on the board and get that W, it was big for the team.”

Sampson debuted with the Mariners in 2016. He pitched one game in Boston and then, as he was warming up for his second start in Detroit, he felt a tug in his warm and had to pull himself from the game before even throwing a pitch. It turned out he had tore his flexor tendon and a long road to recovery was ahead. Sampson returned to the big leagues in 2018, pitching five games (four starts) for the Rangers. He was non-tendered by Texas following the season but returned to the organization on a minor league deal. Despite a great Spring, Sampson didn’t make the Opening Day roster but was added just a few days into the season when the team optioned Kyle Bird to Triple-A and he’s remained on the roster since.

Now, after his long journey, Adrian Sampson is finally one of the 3,096 players (and counting) to earn a big league win.

Congrats, Adrian!

ANECDOTE OF THE WEEK

Willie Calhoun and Jeffrey Springs arrived to Kansas City in enough time on Wednesday, but their equipment did not. As a matter of fact, it didn’t arrive until after the game starter. Clubbies had to track down cleats and help with other items. But what about a bat? Willie’s didn’t arrive until his third at bat, which means he used someone else’s bat for his home run. Whose did he use? Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s. Izzy swings a bat that’s 1.5 oz heavier (32  s. 30.5) than what Willie swings, but both guys use the axe handle technology, which is why Willie asked Izzy to borrow his stick.

KT’S “HOLY WOW” PLAY OF THE WEEK

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“It has been, what, 30-something games? It’s a long season. If you start panicking because you have one bad month…You understand in this game there are going to be highs and lows, and you have to figure out how to be more consistent. Nothing major, some of the guys are struggling at the beginning, which I am familiar with. Some guys struggle at the end, not a big deal.” - Adrian Beltre on guys who have gotten off to slow starts for the Rangers. Beltre will have his number retired on June 8 at Globe Life Park.

“It was one of those goosebump moments.” -Rangers manager Chris Woodward on Willie Calhoun’s first inning two-run home run on Wednesday, his first big league at-bat of the season, as a part of a 6-1 Rangers win over the Royals.

“I always want a higher average. I don't like hitting .206. But right now it's kind of part of the game, especially with the shifts. You don't just learn to hit the other way. If I'm slapping singles down the line, am I still Joey Gallo? Am I still productive? I can't try to play to that, because it's not me, and I like to play in the major leagues. I get paid to drive guys in and hit the ball out of the ballpark." - Joey Gallo to Jeff Passan about his hitting approach

“I don’t like it,” Chavez said. “You either have five starters or you don’t. That’s how I look at it. Why change the game? It’s called depth for a reason. That’s why you have it. That’s my plain-and-simple opinion on it. I really kind of don’t want to — if I say anything else, I’m going to get in trouble. I really don’t care, but I don’t like it. It’s not baseball.” - Jesse Chavez, who has already been used as an opener, on his thoughts on the strategy. Chris Woodward respects Jesse’s opinion but still plans on exploring the opener strategy, including with Jesse.

“The ultimate thing was the teammate he was, the way he treated everybody and the way he went about his business. Probably a lot of the same things people in here would say about him. I just got to experience it first.” - Jeff Mathis on one of his best friends, Mike Napoli (via FW-Star Telegram)

“He’s just an overall good human being. Great teammate. Someone that cares, cares about his teammates. It’s just good being around him. He loves the game. He’s a guy that could definitely teach younger players how to go about their business the right way.” - Mike Napoli on one of his best friends, Jeff Mathis (via FW-Star Telegram)

STATS OF THE WEEK

*Joey Gallo’s 6 outfield assists rank 2nd in MLB behind White Sox outfielder (and former Ranger) Leury Garcia’s 8. All of Gallo’s assists have come since April 26th. During that stretch, no outfielder has more than 2.

*Since Rougie got the double day off (Sunday and Monday of last week), he’s slashing .280/.333/.720 (1.053) with 2 2B, 3 HR, 2 BB, and 8 RBI over 6 games.

*Logan Forsythe has been on an on-base tear of late. Since April 24, he’s posted a .522 OBP thanks to reaching base in 35-of-his-last-67 plate appearances.

*Jesse Chavez’s improved pitch mix in May is a big reason why he’s turned his season around. Prior to May, he threw his fastballs 92.2% of the time and his changeups and slider just 7.8%. Since May 1, he’s thrown his fastball just 71.9% of the time and thrown his changeup and slider 28.1%. He’s still fastball heavy, but the increase in his other two pitches has helped him keep hitters off balance enough to maximize his fastball’s effectiveness.

*Joey Gallo leads MLB in hard-hit % with a rate of 60.0%.

*While the Rangers have had their challenges against fastballs, they’ve been very good against curveballs: 

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*Last week, I wrote about how Chris Sale was back after an 0-5 start. Well, his success continued this past week. On Tuesday, Chris Sale became the first pitcher ever to strike out 17+ in 7 or fewer innings. Sale’s posted a 2.05 ERA with 51 K in just 26.1 IP over his last 4 starts while opponents are hitting a measly .143 against him. Impressive.

*With the Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox all within 4.5 games of one another, the AL East is going to be extremely fun. But, maybe not as fun as the NL Central. Currently, the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, and Pirates are all within 4.5 games of one another. My preseason picks were the Yankees and Brewers to win their respective divisions, FWIW.

*Four players in MLB history have finished the year with 20+ 2B, 20+ 3B, 20+ HR, and 20+ SB. No one has done it since both Curtis Granderson and Jimmy Rollins did it in 2007. The other two who did it? Frank Schulte in 1911 and Willie Mays in 1957. It’s early, but not only are there two players who are basically on pace to join that club, but they’re on the same team! Through their team’s first 45 games this year, both Whitt Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi have a legitimate shot to reach that club. Merrifield is trending above all four marks and Mondesi is one home run off of a 20-home run pace, but paces above in the other three departments. Something fun to watch for a team that doesn’t have a lot of fun things going on.

*The Minnesota Twins have the second best record in MLB, a half of a game behind the Astros. Yes, the Twins! Wes Johnson, their analytically-driven pitching coach from Dallas Baptist deserves credit for what he’s done with that staff, a unit that ranks 9th in team ERA and 6th in rotation ERA. They have EIGHT players with 7+ HR (tied with the Mariners for most in MLB) and rank 2nd in MLB with 87 HR in 46 G, but rank first in HR/G (1.89). Off-season additions C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, and Nelson Cruz have helped. And then there’s Byron Buxton. Characterized by many as a “bust,” the former #2 overall pick is just 25 years old and, shockingly, is still getting better. Wait…a 25-year old can still get better? No way! Well, he’s off to a great start. Combine his slash line with his outstanding CF defense and unique base running and you've got a guy already with a 1.7 WAR, in line with guys like Carlos Correa, Nolan Arenado, and Kris Bryant, among others.

*Angles infielder Tommy La Stella entered this season with 10 career HR over 828 at-bats. So far this year? How about 11 HR in just 125 AB.

*How about Shane Bieber? The Indians beat the Orioles 10-0 on Sunday and Bieber twirled a complete game shutout…with 15 Ks and 0 BBs. MLB’s Sarah Langs put it all in perspective.

MINOR LEAGUE

*Cole Winn’s professional debut is under his belt after Texas selected him in the first round last year. Winn allowed 2 runs on 3 hits over 3.0 IP with 2 K and 2 BB on Thursday for Hickory.

*Tyler Phillips made his Double-A debut Tuesday. Here was his final line: 5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 2 K. Not a bad first step as he continues to climb the ladder. Word on the street was that he attacked hitters and gave up soft contact. He needed just 65 pitches to get through 21 batters.

*Jose Trevino suffered a quad injury Saturday and is on the minor league IL.

*John King is a 24-year old LHP selected in the 10th round out of Houston in the 2017 draft. The Rangers drafted him knowing he needed TJ so he had it shortly after the draft and 2019 is his first full year. On Saturday, he posted for the following line for Down East: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 SO. He now has a 0.69 ERA in two starts with the Wood Ducks since a promotion from Hickory. In total, King has a 2.52 ERA with 38 K and 4 BB over 39.1 IP.

*Feel terribly for Cole Ragans. He’ll undergo a second TJ procedure after the graft from his first one re-tore. Coming back from one TJ is tough. Coming back from a second is very tough. Here’s to wishing Cole a speedy and successful recovery. This will be the first time Rangers have a player who had to have second TJ surgery during the rehab process.

*Brock Burke is on the Frisco DL rehabbing both a blister on his right hand and some left shoulder fatigue. Neither one is believed to be a long term issue. He should be back relatively soon.

*Scott Heineman is progressing in rehab from left shoulder surgery. Played 9 full innings in the outfield in an extended game on Monday and will continue to do so over next few days. If all goes well, he could go on a rehab assignment by early next week.

*Detroit designated RHP Reed Garrett for assignment. Texas lost him in the Rule 5 draft. If Garrett clears waivers, the Rangers can re-acquire him for $50,000, and he wouldn't occupy a 40-man roster spot. (Detroit paid $100,000 to pick him.) The teams could also negotiate a trade. 

A/V DEPARTMENT

*21-year old catching prospect Sam Huff has been one of the many bright spots in the Rangers farm system so far this year. Until recently, he led MiLB in home runs and just got a promotion to Hi-A Down East. We talk about his development, early success, influences, and more.

*Rangers GM Jon Daniels joined Ben & Skin this week and dished on a couple of players who have gotten off to a rough start this year. First, he answered the question on what Rougie has to do to avoid getting a minor league demotion, and then also addressed whether he thinks his bat is too big. JD also shared his temperature on Nomar Mazara’s challenges.

Jon Daniels joins the Ben & Skin Show Mondays at 4:20pm.

*Mike Napoli returned to the metroplex this weekend. Watch a video below of him discussing what coming to Texas did for him and his career.