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On the Yankees and as a ballplayer, Rougned Odor is a paradox

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Odor seems to come through just often enough to make Brian Cashman think twice, should the Yankees consider letting him go.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Rougned Odor was once a highly-touted prospect and is now one of the worst-performing hitters in baseball. Odor doesn’t produce at the plate consistently — since turning 23 and earning a long-term extension with the Rangers in 2017, he has been notoriously inconsistent — but it seems as though he comes through with the big hit just often enough to serve as an addictive form of intermittent reinforcement.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Odor when he steps up to the plate. Will he hit a go-ahead homer to give the Yankees the lead, or swing at pitches in the other batter’s box? Will he offer glimpses of the guy who hit .271 with 33 home runs and 14 steals in a season, or will he pop out on the first pitch? With Rougie, both are in play. In a way, he’s a study in contradictions. He’s both subpar and clutch. He seems like a grizzled veteran, yet he is actually 27 years old. At this moment in time, Odor’s the heart of the Yankees to some, and to others, he is the personification of the way the Yankees prioritize being economical over starting the best players available to them.

It’s easy to understand why Odor’s likeable. He’s already come through for the team in several big moments this season, and has notched multiple clutch hits since joining the Yankees in April. He’s fun and spunky and seems like a good teammate. That said, even with a supposedly-deadened ball, he is batting .211/.284/.422 with only 31 hits in 162 plate appearances on the season and a 95 wRC+. (And that figure was sitting much lower at a 79 wRC+ earlier in the week until a couple good games against Kansas City.)

So why does it seem like Odor is playing better than he actually is? It’s because Odor has recorded hits at particularly opportune times this season. Just over one-fourth of Odor’s hits this year (8) either tied up the game for the Yanks, or put them in front. In 45 games, he has eight home runs, and that five of them either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead is impressive.

I’m sure the Yankees saw something in Odor’s underlying stats that they think they can get more out of, like how they did with Luke Voit. However, Odor doesn’t fill an obvious unmet need on the roster, especially with Voit now healthy and back in the lineup playing first base and DJ LeMahieu free to return to his natural slot at second. As a result, Odor will probably see less playing time there.

But exactly where Odor fits in is less important to the Yankees than what they value most about him: he is cheap, adds some lefty power to the Yankees’ mostly right-handed lineup, and his contract is still on the Rangers’ books. In other words, he doesn’t count at all toward the Yankees’ luxury tax payroll, and the team’s front office cares about that enough to tolerate Odor’s shortcomings as a ballplayer.

To be rather middling most of the time, but rising to the occasion when it counts makes it easier for fans to remember the times when Rougie has excelled. His personality engenders support from fans, who seem to want Odor to succeed and deliver. It’s true that Odor has come through in a couple tough spots this season.

That said, at the end of the day, there are too many weak areas in Odor’s game for the Yankees to depend on him in high-leverage situations. Looking ahead to the trade deadline, it will be interesting to see if Odor becomes part of a different solution, and what role the Yankees envision for him if the team manages to make it to the postseason.