Ever since the dawn of day, baseball folk have had trouble projecting the value of Japanese players upon their arrival to Major League Baseball.
Players from across the pond that have turned into stars include names like Ichiro, Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui, and, most recently,
Yu Darvish. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kosuke Fukudome represent a large inability to live up to the hype (and money). Matsuzaka and his mythical gyroball created for arguably the most anticipated Japanese player signing when Boston brought him over in 2007, but following two seasons and a 33-15 record, “Dice-K” was paid $10 million to have a 8.28 earned run average last season; Fukudome, meanwhile, is now back playing in Japan after his four-year, $48 million tenure with the Cubs fell through rapidly.
For the first time in the Doug Melvin tenure, Milwaukee actively pursued what would be referred to as a “transfer” in the soccer world in Norichika Aoki. With the Darvish signing in Texas, the Brewers’ acquisition of Aoki went largely unnoticed–until he started playing, that is.
The expectations of Aoki,31, were nothing near the weight of the century-long championship-starved franchise that was placed on Fukudome or the markings of “the next Ichiro” put on Kazuo Matsui. He joined an already-crowded outfield featuring the reigning MVP, the franchise right fielder since 2007, the fan favorite and playoff hero coming off a career year, and a speedy defensive whiz in center.
Thus, when Aoki stole thirty bases, hit .288 and had a .355 OBP, it was something not seen coming. Injuries to half the team (or just about, essentially) and a sudden transformation from Tony Plush to Tony Hush gave the fastest player to reach 500 hits in Japan a shot to play every day.
Now, the right field spot is his for, well, as long as he doesn’t regress, which may be an interesting case to watch.
On defense, Aoki has a good first step and instincts–often making for highlight reel plays–but lacks a strong arm. He saved 5 runs on defense yet had a -0.9 UZR, per Fangraphs. Basically, what we’re saying is you know you’ll get a sound defensive player.
The most eye-catching part of Aoki’s 2012 rookie campaign was his amassing of infield hits.
His 34 infield hits led all of baseball, which doesn’t really match his .304 BABIP and all that is confusing to me, so pardon the run on sentence here. Digressing, 13.5 percent of all Aoki’s hits came via infield knocks, a number that in all likelihood should regress in 2013.
But Aoki won’t be completely useless without leading the league in infield hits, right?
The Brewers have a guy who just knows how to get on base, deftly put. You can still expect 25 or more infield knocks, plus his ability to hit to all fields suits him well and helps keep him out of slumps. Only at 31, hitting isn’t the issue with Aoki, who is still only a few years removed from a batting title with the Yokult Swallows.
Furthermore, he will draw his fair share of walks and steal plenty of bases with Ron Roenicke as manager, suiting him well the for the two-slot in the order.
2013 RtB Predictions: .283/.360/.428, 155 G, 7 HR, 53 RBI, 27 SB, 88 R, 2.6 WAR, a plethora of #AokiPokie’s
Follow @ReviewngTheBrew on Twitter and/or the author (and self-proclaimed most active Twitterist of the staff), Curt Hogg. Be sure to like us on Facebook, too, for more Brewers Season Outlook updates.