You may not have paid much attention when the Brewers made the move to add Norichika Aoki to their squad last season, but after a strong rookie season perhaps you should be paying a wee bit more attention to the Japanese import heading into 2013?
Aoki will turn 30 years old in January, so it’s not as if he is likely to show marked growth in his skill set at this point of his development. An accomplished hitter in Japan, Aoki hit .329 over his final 685 games playing for the Yakult Swallows of the Japan Central League including three seasons in which he hit better than .345 (2007-08, 2010). However, even in Japan, he was unable to be much of a power threat as he hit 20 homers just once in those five seasons while averaging 14 homers a year. He did flash a little bit of speed though stealing at least 17 bases on four occasions. How did his skills translate into his first season in America? Pretty darn well.
Aoki hit .288 for the Brewers in 520 at-bats last season. Aoki hit a strong .299 against righties an a passable .270 against left-handed hurlers. He also batted .290 at home and .287 on the road and .283 during the day and .292 at night. From the looks of all of that he certainly earned his average. Given that his BABIP was .304 things are looking pretty solid there too. His 0.78 BB/K mark also points to a player who knows how to control the strike zone (in fact, he struck out only 55 times in 151 games, a rather remarkable mark in today’s game). It certainly would be nice to see him hit a few more liners, his 16.9 percent line drive rate is well below the league standard which usually falls in the 19-20 percent range, an a mark that low, given his lack of big fly power, would likely cap his batting average right around the number he posted last season. In fact, if he were to replicate that line drive rate in ’13 odds are his batting average would recede a bit. At least he knows his game though. Standing 5’9” and weighing about 180 lbs Norichika isn’t the type of fella to pound balls into the seats. Therefore, his ground ball centric approach that led to a 2.00 GB/FB ratio in ’12 is the game that he should be playing.
Since it’s so obvious and easy to do, and since I almost always take the easy road, let’s compare his efforts to Ichiro. Does it surprise you to learn that Aoki was easily the more valuable player in 2012 at a mere fraction of the cost?
Does all of this mean Aoki is a target for 2013? The answer is yes and no. If you have to reach for Aoki then the answer is no. At this point of his career it’s unlikely that he will be able to boost his power totals at all, and there is also a chance that he will have a hard time replicating his steal total as well. However, expecting similar numbers in bother categories is warranted. It also wouldn’t be at all surprising for him to repeat in the batting average and OBP categories either. That being the case, if you can add Aoki in the middle rounds then he does become a good risk to take for 2013 as he has the look of a player who could very easily be a strong 5th outfielder in mixed leagues, one that may only have 4th outfielder upside, but if everything broke right it’s quite possible he could be a top-30 outfielder (that’s stretching the bounds of expectations a bit thin in my mind). It’s all about value with Aoki my friends.
By Ray Flowers