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What’s that Odor? It’s Rougned, walking rarely, and carrying a big stick

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An initially maligned acquisition has become increasingly important to the Yankees.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball never ceases to amaze. Six months ago, if someone had told me that the Yankees would soon trade for a player coming off a four year stretch wherein he accumulated a grand total of 1.0 fWAR, I would have been very confused. If someone had told me that the Yankees would trade actual prospects for this player to facilitate no luxury tax hit, I would have been … irked.

If someone had told me this player would play a prominent role in the Yankees lineup, including batting third in the order on occasion, I would have been horrified and extremely worried about what happened to the rest of the team. Finally, if you had told me this player would help carry an offensive resurgence that began late in the first half, and that he is now a pretty darn critical part of the team, I would have begrudgingly admitted I have to give Brian Cashman credit.

After Rougned Odor failed to make the Texas Rangers’ roster out of spring training this year, the notion that he would be at the heart of the Yankees’ season months later was ludicrous. I fully admit that I thought Brian Cashman had lost his mind trading actual prospects for Odor, and I did not see a path where the second baseman improved the club. I guess that is why I am not the Yankees’ General Manager.

After a slow start in pinstripes, Odor has been critical to the club’s offensive success in the last six weeks. Rougie sits second on the Yankees in multiple offensive categories since June 10th. Homeruns? Six has him tied for second behind Gary Sánchez. ISO? A monstrous .306 trails only our aforementioned starting catcher. Batting average?! Odor raking at a near .300 clip (.292) lags only the resurgent-in-his-own-right DJ LeMahieu.

Not to be outdone by his teammates, two stats really identify how integral Odor has been to the Yankees offense since early-to-mid June. His wOBA of .398 not only leads the Yankees, but it is almost 30 points ahead of Sánchez in second place. Finally, his wRC+ of 156 also paces the Bronx Bombers.

Considering how rarely the Yankees have blown opponents out this season, it is also notable that Odor’s hot stick has often shown up when it matters. For example, in the club’s 6-5 victory over Kansas City on June 23rd, Odor clubbed a two-run home run in the eighth inning that (temporarily) vaulted the Yankees ahead of the Royals 4-3. Against Boston last Sunday, Rougie’s two-run dinger in the bottom of the seventh turned a tight 3-0 game into a 5-0 lead that eventually led to a 9-1 win, only the Bombers’ second of the season over Boston.

Wednesday night, Odor smashed another late moonshot in a tight game. With the Yankees up 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh, he deposited a two-run home run in the stands to extend a lead that, after another bullpen meltdown, the Yankees needed all of to eke out the win.

Odor has also shown a propensity during his recent stretch for hitting home runs with runners on base. This is huge, as the Bombers writ large have been exceptionally prone to hitting solo dingers this season. As of July 23rd, only 43 of the Yankees’ 125 home runs (34.4 percent) happened with at least one runner on. Meanwhile, four of the six round-trippers Odor has socked since mid-June have had traffic on the bases.

As a result of his hot bat and his play in the field — Baseball Savant places him in a tie among all second sackers in Outs Above Average and third in Success Rate Added – Odor has been the third-most valuable Yankee by fWAR over the last month and a half, trailing only LeMahieu and Sánchez. And it is important to note that Odor has made his mark on the Yankees in other ways. Pinstripe Alley’s own Erica Block has written about how Odor has gravitated to the epicenter of the club.

I finally want to point out that Odor has done all of this — hit, field, be a solid teammate, admire his home runs — during a season where … surprise, surprise … the Yankees have been consistently unable to run out their A-lineup. Odor’s ability to answer the bell at second base, thus enabling DJ to fill in for Luke Voit at first and Gio Urshela at third, has been a godsend.

I’m still horrified that I live in a world where the New York Yankees of all teams treat the luxury tax as a de facto salary cap and plead poverty. Trading away prospects so that the Rangers would pick up Odor’s salary is appalling. Nonetheless, bringing Odor and his bat, glove, and energy to New York looks better and better all the time.

It is probably unreasonable to expect Rougie to continue to post a near-1.000 OPS during the Yankees’ stretch run. But it is perfectly reasonable to forecast that, as injuries, COVID-19, and underperformance from key pieces continue to ravage the Yankees, Rougned Odor may end up being one of the Yankees’ most crucial players in the second half.