Looking at Aoki’s Case

» 30 December 2011 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb »

After a little discussion about Norichika Aoki on an earlier post, I thought I’d break down the speedy outfielder’s case in a little more detail. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

The case for:

  • Was among the best hitters in Japan from 2005-2010, four times hitting .340 or higher (via npb.or.jp/eng)
  • Strong plate discipline mostly survived the new ball
  • Continued to make contact in 2011, career low strikeouts
  • Speed doesn’t slump
  • Rangey in the field, led Japan’s center fielders with a 2.45 range factor in 2011 through July 20 (via Baseball Lab)

The case against:

  • Performance decline in 2011 — from a career-best .358/.435/.509 to a career worst .292/.360/.358 (via Pro Yakyu Data Freak)
  • No power with the new ball; perilous drop from 44 to 18 doubles from 2010 to 2011
  • Weak throwing arm
  • 22.9% of his hits in 2011 were infield singles (according to Pro Yakyu Nuru Data Okiba)
  • In 2011 he hit .382/.452/.520 in 115 plate appearances against Yokohama, padding his stats by bashing Japan’s worst pitching staff (also via Pro Yakyu Nuru Data Okiba)
  • “Aoki’s plate discipline seems to have regressed” — me, August 5, 2011.

I’ve flip-flopped on Aoki as a prospect quite a bit this season, though I haven’t written much. I was extremely bearish early on, and had kind of written him off as a prospect, then I came around a bit to a more glass-half-full view. Now I’m backing off a bit a again. I think the specific numbers that I’ve keyed in on paint a rather negative picture.

I think Aoki has enough transferrable skills to be a useful MLB player, but there some real limitations to his game, most notably his lack of power. I still think my Juan Pierre comparison is not such a bad one, with the caveat that Aoki probably won’t get enough playing time to rack up 200 hits like Pierre was doing in his prime.

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  1. Patrick
    Michael Westbay
    31/12/2011 at 6:49 am Permalink

    Thank you for the more detailed examination. I feel somewhat vindicated of my earlier doubts about much of the hype I’ve been reading about Aoki. And I’m still relieved that he will still have some value to an MLB team other than a marketing prop.

  2. Patrick
    01/01/2012 at 5:07 am Permalink

    ah the baystars

  3. Patrick
    01/01/2012 at 6:40 am Permalink

    What are the chances that neither Aoki nor Nakajima end up in the majors?
    Especially with Nakajima I get the feeling that the contract negotiations with the Yankees are going nowhere…

  4. Patrick
    01/01/2012 at 9:26 am Permalink

    What are the chances that neither Aoki nor Nakajima end up in the majors?

    Non-zero. The fact that Milwaukee wants to work Aoki out in AZ before making a decision is not really a great sign either.

  5. Patrick
    01/01/2012 at 8:14 pm Permalink

    juan pierre comp is off-base because aoki will take a walk.

  6. Patrick
    01/01/2012 at 9:15 pm Permalink

    Good point.

  7. Patrick
    Jeff Hainey
    01/01/2012 at 9:54 pm Permalink

    Mlb is full of players with no plate discipline. This guy seems like a solid hitter who has proved it year after year. He had a bad season at the wrong time (adjusting to a new ball, perhaps). His outfield defense is far superior to Pierre, while his arm may be similiar. I’m looking forward to his exciting game. I’m expecting a very nice #2 hitter that is very valuable as a centerfielder in a small park or a left fielder in a large one.

  8. Patrick
    Dan Koch
    01/01/2012 at 10:49 pm Permalink

    Aoki has shown decent (if not transcendent) plate discipline in the NPB, but I’m not sure if that’ll translate to many walks at the MLB level. Part of the reason why Juan Pierre walks so rarely is because of his lack of home run power. MLB pitchers recognize that if you can’t hurt them with the long ball, it’s worth it to get aggressive in the strike zone in three-ball counts, especially if the bases are empty.

    Aoki is going to have to hit with some power if he’s going to walk much in the majors. And by “some” power, I’m thinking 30 doubles and 8-10 HRs if he starts the entire year. Anything less than that, and I think he’ll definitely be in Pierre territory.

  9. Patrick
    03/01/2012 at 6:57 pm Permalink

    The Brewers are in desperate need of someone with a decent OBP. Ricky Weeks has historically been lead-off, but with his power and Fielder’s departure, he is slated to most likely be at least in the 3-hole. So, the Brewers have virtually no one with the combination of decent speed and some good OBP.

    Nyjer Morgan is a major headcase and has rarely put consecutive good seasons together. The Brewers would love to have some insurance in case Nyjer goes MIA – which is quite likely. Gomez, the other CF, is very solid in the field and is a big liability at the plate where he had 15 BB’s to 64 k’s. Gomez has been regressing at the plate as well. Cory Hart, the RF is a power guy with a good OBP.

    My gut feeling is that the Brewers would love to have Aoki as an everyday leadoff hitter and steal about 30-35 bases. The lineup would then consist of:

    Lucroy (catcher);
    Aramis Ramirez;
    Cory Hart;
    Fielder’s replacement/Mat Gamel;
    Alex Gonzalez;

    I don’t see the Brewers going after a big $$ first baseman. The Brewers really got hosed when K-Rod AGREED to arbitration for around $14m/year. That has really handcuffed them from a budget perspective and I don’t know if the team is willing to go into the free agent market and get a pretty decent 1B. There are not many around.
    Aoki would be cheap insurance in case of a Morgan blow-up and when/if Braun gets suspended.