CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (07/23)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Painting the Black: Th... (07/16)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Painting the Black: Th... (07/27)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: 30 Tea... (07/23)

July 23, 2012

Painting the Black

The Surprise From Japan

by R.J. Anderson

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.

a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

The Brewers had one of the league’s best-hitting outfields last season. Any group led by National League MVP Ryan Braun ought to rank well, and the Brewers did—only the Cardinals had a higher aggregate OPS. However, advertising Milwaukee’s outfield as a one-man show is being untruthful. Right fielder Corey Hart improved on his breakout 2010 season, and center fielders Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan provided speed and, in Morgan’s case, on-base percentage.

Whenever multiple players achieve banner years in a single season, it’s typically safe to bet on the under in the subsequent season. Milwaukee’s outfield is proving no different. They entered the weekend ranked seventh in outfield OPS. Despite Braun’s best efforts to outdo his MVP-winning season, both Hart and Morgan have taken a step back—and in Hart’s case, many steps away.  Prince Fielder’s departure and Mat Gamel’s ACL injury left the Brewers in need of a first baseman. Hart, initially reluctant but ultimately cooperative, has become the answer at the cold corner. It helps that Milwaukee is receiving good production in the outfield from an offseason addition.

Norichika Aoki’s in-progress rise from unknown to happening rookie is surprising. Not just to us clueless outsiders, but to the Brewers as well. After winning the negotiating rights to Aoki over the winter, the club had him work out for them before agreeing to terms. We tend to think that teams acquire players after researching them and forming an opinion of their worth. Doug Melvin’s words obscured the idea of a careful plan when he said:

"[agent Nez Balelo] told us before the winter meetings that he represented this player and expected him to be posted," said Melvin. "He said he might be a guy we'd be interested in so we put in a bid on him to see what would happen. You never know what the winning bid might be."

Be it by luck or design, Aoki’s addition is paying off. Aoki is not Ichiro, but his rookie season is the closest any Japanese player has come since.

Aoki’s Rookie True Average Compared to Other Notable Japanese Position Players




Ichiro Suzuki



Norichika Aoki

2012 (YTD)


Kenji Johjima



Hideki Matsui



Akinori Iwamura



Kosuke Fukudome



Kazuo Matsui




How is it possible that everyone slept on a three-time Nippon League batting champ with a .329/.408/.467 line from 2007-10? It has a lot to do with Aoki’s timing. In his final season in Japan, the league introduced a ball that resembles the one used stateside. Aoki saw his numbers collapse. His line dropped to .292/.358/.360 and he hit four home runs after averaging more than 15 per season. To make it in the big leagues, Aoki would have to rely upon his speed, contact, and on-base skills. No small task when faced with superior pitching in a new environment.

But Aoki has taken the cultural and competitive shifts in stride. His overall line resembles a projection, not a translation from recent years. He’s already exceeded his previous season’s home run total with more than two months left in the season. It appears that he is the first Japanese-born player to have his home run total increase in his first season stateside.

Aoki’s Home Run Totals Compared to Other Notable Japanese Position Players


Final NPB Year HR

First MLB Year HR


Norichika Aoki


5 (YTD)


Kosuke Fukudome




Ichiro Suzuki




Kenji Johjima




Akinori Iwamura




Kazuo Matsui




Hideki Matsui




Aoki has a higher True Average than Bryce Harper, Alexi Amarista, and Will Middlebrooks, as well as every other rookie besides Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes, and Todd Frazier. He might not get Rookie of the Year consideration, but it won’t matter. To Milwaukee, he’s more than a rookie; he’s an enabler. Aoki helped fuel Hart’s transition by proving a suitable replacement. Then, with Rickie Weeks slumping, Aoki became the Brewers’ leadoff man.

Unless Hart develops feelings for first base, the Brewers will face a tough decision. They could shift Aoki to the bench, trade Hart, or try Aoki in center. Or they could test Aoki’s value on the trade market. He’s owed $1.25 million in 2013 with a club option worth $1.5 million for the 2014 season. Any acquiring team is paying $1.75 million (buyout included) for a potentially above-average right fielder. Try beating that on the free-agent market.

On the other hand, buyers might express skepticism. They can cite Aoki’s thick lower portion or his unconventional batting mechanics—which involves a kick over the plate—as concerns; or that he has fewer than 300 big-league plate appearances under his name. But if the Brewers are left to figure out how to deploy Aoki in a crowded outfield, they probably won’t mind, given how it worked out the first time around.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Norichika Aoki

1 comment has been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (07/23)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Painting the Black: Th... (07/16)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Painting the Black: Th... (07/27)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: 30 Tea... (07/23)

Fantasy Article The Stash List: 12th Edition
Fantasy Article Dynasty Dynamics: The Saddest Milestone
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: The Art of the Deal: Tran...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of June 21st
Short Relief: A Box Full of Things to Fill H...
Eyewitness Accounts: June 22, 2017
Flu-Like Symptoms: Giving 'Em LIP

Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Myers to Chicago
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Second, Short, and Catcher for ...
Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Getting Aggressive ...
The Week in Quotes: July 16-22
Premium Article Collateral Damage Daily: Monday, July 23
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Monday, July 23
What You Need to Know: Monday, July 23

2012-07-25 - Transaction Analysis: Not All Who Wandy Are ...
2012-07-24 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Tigers Shore Up Proble...
2012-07-23 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Padres Lock Up Quentin
2012-07-23 - Premium Article Painting the Black: The Surprise From Japan
2012-07-23 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Myers to Chicago
2012-07-20 - Transaction Analysis: Shaking Out the 10-Pla...
2012-07-19 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Arizona's Bauer Goes O...

2012-08-13 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Same Vogelsong, Second V...
2012-08-06 - Painting the Black: John Jaso and the Change...
2012-07-27 - Premium Article Painting the Black: The Guy With Baseball's ...
2012-07-23 - Premium Article Painting the Black: The Surprise From Japan
2012-07-16 - Premium Article Painting the Black: The Rewritable Alex Rios
2012-07-06 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Tiptoeing Around Landmin...
2012-06-26 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Why Does Everybody Go In...