This obviously isn’t a real award, but for the sake of this discussion it will be. The production that the Milwaukee Brewers saw out of both Mike Fiers and Norichika Aoki this season was incredible. Both players showed the Brewers’ organization that despite having no real prior experience in the MLB that they were beyond ready. Fiers, the 27-year old prospect finally got his chance to start in big league games. After have a terrific May through July, his dominance fell a bit in August and September. For Aoki, the 30-year old former batting champion in Japan had a chance to shine in America. Aoki got off to an incredibly hot start after becoming an everyday player, but hit somewhat of a standstill until September. Overall, both players provided more than enough production to solidify a spot on the 2013 Brewers’ roster. Now the question is, who deserves the Brewers’ 2012 Rookie of the Year Award?
What we saw from Fiers was a tale of two pitchers, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for a better use of a comparison. In May through July, Fiers was absolutely lights out. He was striking out an incredible number of batters a game, he didn’t allow a whole lot of base runners and just looked flat out confident up here. By the end of July, Fiers had a 4-4 record with a 1.77 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 66 innings pitched. He was definitely someone that the Brewers needed to keep up the consistency in the rotation, especially with Zack Greinke gone and Shaun Marcum hurt.
However, that spark would soon run out. Heading into August, Fiers had two good starts and even flirted with a perfect game through six innings against the Cincinnati Reds on August 7th. After that is when it all went downhill, and fast. August 13th was his first start against the Colorado Rockies and by far his worst outing of the season. Previously, this was discussed in a prior article I had written about Fiers’ collapse. After that eight run game, Fiers never really rebounded and brought a lot of concern not only to the coaching staff, but to the Brewers and the fans in general.
Fiers’ final 2012 stats are far from bad. A 9-10 record (which we all know records can sometimes mean nothing), with a 3.74 ERA, a WHIP of 1.26 and 135 strikeouts in 127.2 innings pitched. We learned that Fiers is a strikeout pitcher that also relies on the fly ball out as those would also be the main source of his outs in a game. Despite his rough ending, Fiers proved that he is not a fluke pitcher. He has the stuff to be up here and hopefully can carry some of that dominance into 2013.
Whenever a Japanese player comes over to America, nobody can really predict what will happen. Will they get a Hideki Matsui or will they get a Tsuyoshi Nishioka? Now, this isn’t a knock on Nishioka, but it shows that the fluctuation of Japanese baseball players is rather extreme. Fortunately for the Brewers, what they saw in Aoki is what they got. When he first came here, not too many people, Ron Roenicke included, were sure of what Aoki’s role would be. Would he play everyday? Would he be a guy to come off of the bench? Nobody knew, but Aoki soon answered those questions emphatically.
Aoki became a regular player after injuries were a common occurrence around the team. He would be leading off in the order and that’s a role he soon found a home in. Aoki had most of his at-bats (416) in the lead-off role and did fairly well there, batting a .286/.353/.438 slash line with eight home runs, 39 RBIs, 34 walks and had 119 hits. Contact was the name of the game for Aoki and he proved so by getting 150 hits in 151 games played. He also was a speedster around the bases, stealing 30 bases in 38 attempts.
His offense wasn’t his only strong suit. Defensively, Aoki was just as good. While his arm wasn’t the greatest, an overall -0.9 UZR from the outfield, his speed helped him make some spectacular catches. His UZR from right field, his main position, was a positive 3.3 so that’s something to smile about. He only committed three errors on the season and had a fielding percentage of .988. Aoki also helped turn two double plays from right field.
For Aoki, his rookie year not only in the MLB, but in America was rather successful. A .288 batting average with 10 home runs, 50 RBIs, 43 walks, 30 stolen bases and 41 extra base hits is something that the Brewers were hoping to get out of him. He also was second on the team in doubles which is rather impressive.
While both players had their ups and downs, they both impacted the team in two completely different ways. For me, Aoki wins the Brewers’ 2012 Rookie of the Year Award. His contributions, especially in the beginning and in September, really helped a ball club that was completely dependent only on two other guys offensively, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez. Aoki provides a lot for this team and is a solid outfielder that will be in Milwaukee for quite a few years. He’s earned it. The expectations of Japanese players are sometimes rather excessive, but Aoki’s lived up to the challenge. He’s come through big and helped this club achieve their over .500 record this season.