Jul 1, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki (7) waits on deck during the game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Brewers should keep Norichika Aoki

When I say that the Milwaukee Brewers should keep outfielder Norichika Aoki, I believe that places me in a minority of fans who think that way. Aoki is essentially the consummate baseball player you would want for your team and with the bargain of a contract he has, it would almost be a shame to trade him.

Here’s why I believe the team should keep him for at least another year.

Jul 11, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki (7) during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Norichika Aoki has been one of the most productive Brewers since 2012. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Aoki does a lot of the right things in baseball that really seem undervalued. First and foremost, he’s one of the better lead-off hitters this team has seen for a long time and his ability to get on base only speaks volumes about his overall value to the team. In particular, Aoki hit .296/.366/.395 out of the lead-off role (538 at-bats) this season and picked up 159 hits, which made up the majority of his 171. Lead-off batters who get on base consistently don’t just grow on trees and I think that’s one of Aoki’s most undervalued skills.

Not only is Aoki a great guy to have at the top of the order, but he’s one of the toughest outs in the line-up. Aoki only struck out 40 times while walking 55 times this season in 597 at-bats. This by far made him one of the absolute hardest players to get out this season when compared to nearly every other starter in baseball.

Sure, Aoki only drove in 37 runs, but for a lead-off man that’s not exactly a fair argument. A majority of the time when he came up to bat this year, there was no one on as 435 of his at-bats happened without a runner on base. With runners in scoring position, Aoki came through as he hit .289 and drove in 28 runs. He doesn’t have much of an opportunity to hit with runners on base, which is why an argument against him for having a low number of RBIs is ridiculous.

Perhaps the main reason why I don’t want the Brewers to part ways with Aoki is Khris Davis. Honestly, I don’t think Davis is ready to be a starter and I think his decline (granted he did get injured) in September proves that. Unlike rookie second baseman Scooter Gennett, Davis cooled off tremendously, which makes me concerned about his status as a starter. I’m not discrediting Davis, but why trade away Aoki when it’s clear Davis only had two months of productivity whereas Aoki has been producing from the get-go.

The Brewers are only paying Aoki $2 million for 2014 and that is by far a steal. Aoki rewards the Brewers with his play on the field and while his defense is pretty average, I believe his bat more than makes up for that. I’m probably in the minority that believes Davis should be benched for the time being, but who knows what will happen. Davis has the makings to be quite a tremendous player, but I don’t believe a small sample size is enough to boot Aoki out of Milwaukee.

So for the time being, Aoki should continue to be the starter in one of the corners of the outfield. I feel rushing Davis out into the role will only be a train-wreck, which is why I believe he has definitely earned the job as the fourth outfielder and will become the starter when he’s ready. For now, the Brew Crew should continue on with Aoki instead of trying to shop him because that would be a move to regret sooner than later as he is a valuable asset in Milwaukee.

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  • Vineet Barot

    The current value of a player has nothing to do with the question of whether or not you should trade him. The questions are: 1) What is the future value of the player and 2) Does that fit the need of the org. ?

    1) Aoki is set for decline as he ages (like any other players) especially since relies on his legs for IF hits and SBs. This is reflected in his 2013 stats (as compared to 2012) as he his doubles declined from 37 in 2012 to 20 in 2013. Since Aoki is not a power hitter, he needs his legs to convert would-be singles into doubles. His SB’s declined from 30/38 attempts to 20/42 attempts!

    2) Because of Aoki’s age and the availability of young OF’s: Khris Davis, Sean Halton & Logan Schafer, he is not the right fit for the Brewers future.

    And lastly, even if Khris Davis declines, the relative downgrade from Aoki (4.2 WAR over last two seasons and projected WAR of less than 2 per fangraphs) to Davis or even Halton/Schafer, would be much less compared to upgrade the Brewers would get either as a SP or 1B or a prospects package.

    • Benjamin Orr

      Thanks for your comment Vineet.

      Oh it’s definitely true that Aoki will decline over time. I just think the Brewers just should let his contract finish out after 2014 and then move on from him. Next season, they can focus on Khris Davis as the fourth outfielder and giving him more experience before throwing him to the wolves in 2015. I definitely agree that Aoki is more than likely not in the plans for the team’s future, but they should hold onto him just for this next season.

      • Vineet Barot

        I understand your hesitation with starting Khris Davis outright. His 2013 performance over 150 PA was impressive but the sample isn’t large enough to be certain about his talent. But we are also forgetting about so many other replacements

        Other candidates to play RF:

        - Caleb Gindl! He hit .242/.340/.439 over 150 PA. Again not an astounding sample but enough to take seriously but the chances a lot higher that at least one of Davis or Gindl’s performance is repeatable in 2014.

        - Corey Hart: This is assuming he gets signed AND Juan Francisco plays well enough to take over 1B.

        If all 3 scenarios are bust, then you still have 2 other options to go to:

        - Logan Schafer: Definitely a glove-first player but his +speed and +arm make him a 1 win player if he is platooned and used for def. sub and pinch running. In 2013, he hit .220/.293/.332 over 274 PA against righties. Well below average but he can more than make up for it with the other tools.

        - Sean Halton: Basically a replacement level player but showed flashes of power over a small sample size.

        Lastly, do we think the Brewers are within 2 wins of making it into the post-season in 2014? I don’t think so as most people peg them at 84 wins or so (and it takes about 88-90 wins to make WC).

        Losing Aoki now and getting some prospects would be the best option, in my opinion.

        Thank you for the fun discussion.


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