Norichika Aoki fits right in to the Milwaukee Brewers. When the Crew signed him in the offseason, there wasn’t fan fare surrounding the deal. After all, the big name out of Japan was Yu Darvish and the history of major overseas signings for Milwaukee was next to nothing.
The team themselves admitted they didn’t know a lot about Aoki going forward, and there was a small amount of risk involved in even giving him a workout. They had no position for him going into 2012, and the money to give him a look seemed steep for a player that wasn’t necessarily on a lot of team’s radars.
Hindsight, as you know, is frequently 20/20. Besides the acquisition of Aramis Ramirez in the off-season and Zack Greinke two years ago, the Brewers have never quite struck gold like they have with Aoki.
We here at Reviewing the Brew are unabashedly in love with the 30-year old rookie. Nothing would make us happier than seeing the slap-happy right fielder bring home some hardware in 2012, but we must remain as objective as possible. Therefore, we present the case for and against Norichika Aoki and his rookie season.
PRO: Aoki has played 132 games so far in 2012. That is the second-most total of any rookie in the National League.
Why this works: In my opinion (and I’m not necessarily alone here) a large amount of rookie service time creates a better overall case for a player. It’s more indicative of the type of player he is and the talent level he possesses. If he was producing at this level at, say, 71 games (like Martin Maldonado) one could make the argument that the sample size simply isn’t large enough to make the case. I don’t think consistency factors in much in the voters’ minds, but there’s something to be said for a true everyday rookie.
CON: He has a relatively low WAR compared to other rookies.
Why this works against: I don’t think WAR comes into play much in the minds of voters, and there are both good and bad reasons for this. The inconsistency amongst how to measure WAR, and the idea that players are often rewarded as much for the context of the game played as their relative performance are only a few reasons people find it hard to latch on to the stat. Though, it is a rather elegant solution to the unifying player stat and probably gets us closer to seeing overall performance better than anything else. That, and the fact that ESPN and others use it with more regularity makes it an important part of the discussion that should not be ignored.
Aoki currently sits with 1.9 WAR, good for sixth in the majors according to FanGraphs and fourth in the NL. Bryce Harper, Todd Frazier, and Zack Cozart all have higher numbers in that field – Harper considerably so.
PRO: He has other numbers that are considerably better than his counterparts
Why this works: Because, as I stated earlier, I don’t think voters care as much for less easily accessible metrics like WAR. Aoki strikes out less than nearly every other rookie with comparable service time. He has a better On-Base Percentage than everyone not named Matt Carpenter, who has played 33 less games than Aoki. He is leading all NL rookies in stolen bases. If you’re taking a less modern approach to evaluating players, Aoki is a stand-out candidate when it comes to production.
CON: Norichika Aoki plays for the Milwaukee Brewers
Why this works against: Because if he plays for Milwaukee, that means his name is not Bryce Harper, Zack Cozart, or Todd Frazier. It means that when Aoki performs well, it carries less significance than those players because there is less attention surrounding his accomplishments. Say what you will about thinking rationally and intelligently about a player, but the simple fact is if you hear Harper’s name 12 times to every one time you hear Aoki’s on national media coverage (and the number is at least twice as high I think) there is not a fair debate at place. The same can be said for Yonder Alonso in San Diego who is having an outstanding year. If you’re team is winning, you are perceived to be a better rookie. Even if the numbers don’t tell the same story.
PRO: Aoki’s power numbers are fairly surprising
Why this works: Because power does play a factor in history. The general rule, in looking at basic statistics surrounding previous winners of RoY, is that if you aren’t approaching .300, you had better be approaching 30 homers. Unless you can do both, then you’re a shoo-in. Prior to his investigation, I didn’t think of Aoki as much when it comes to extra bases – the prevailing thought being that he is a slap-hitter who digs out sharp grounders and lazy line drives. But he has 30 doubles this year – third amongst NL rookies, and four triples which puts him fourth in that category. His .781 OPS isn’t stellar compared to many other rookies, but it lends to a consistency when compared with his other numbers as a whole that makes him more valuable as a player overall. True, he won’t hit as many home runs as Harper, but he’s going to have a lot less outs in between his hits.
There are about 1,000 other pros and cons in play for Aoki, who entered the league in a season with some very good rookie competition – some would even argue that this is one of the best rookie classes in recent history. I think that Aoki deserves a place in the discussion for NL Rookie of the Year – call it hometown bias if you’d like. But even if he doesn’t get the award, I think he has a great future here in Milwaukee.
Where do you think Aoki fits into the discussion? Let us know in the comments below.