Norichika Aoki had a contact percentage of 92.5% in 2013, second in baseball. Evidently, Aoki is Japanese for ‘hits the ball.’
With even a quick glance, it’s clear that Aoki has a useful skill set: a left-handed bat that could provide speed and fill in at any of the three outfield positions. He fits perfectly into the Royals scheme of high-contact hitters who put the ball in play.
The Japanese import – some call “Ichiro-lite” – has an fun approach to hitting, in that he’ll often employ different batting stances dependent upon the count. While most players shape their mechanics to perfection, Aoki does not hesitate to switch from one stance to another when he runs into hitless stretches and has attested to the importance of lower body movement in his swing.
Aoki actually swung at pitches out of the zone a surprising26.2% of the time, which was 33rd best in the league. But as I said before, when he swung at a pitch, inside or outside of the zone, he hit it. (Read more about Aoki and Matt Carpenter‘s plate discipline here.) You can’t strike him out.
Once he’d make contact most of those batted balls where hit on the ground (60.4% of them) and they’d either squirt through the infield or Aoki would use his speed to beat them out. All this leads up to a .280+ batting average and a .350+ OBP, with barely double digit power, if that.
In all likelihood he’ll hit at the top of the Kansas City lineup and the Royals have more high contact hitters behind him to move him around the bases. As a result, he’ll help your fantasy league in the runs scored category, but don’t expect much in the way of RBI.
In his two seasons in the majors he’s had 30 and 20 stolen bases, but steals have always been a notoriously hard category to project. Stolen base attempts depend on a variety of factors, not least of which is that manager and if he decides to send his guy or not. I can list a range of 16-28 for 2014 and still might not hit the target, but let’s call 22 our over/under.
All of this adds up to a 4th fantasy outfielder. While it would be unwise to predict his decline, Aoki doesn’t have any upside left. What we saw in 2012 and 2013 is likely what we’ll see again in 2014, albeit with a new team.
This is a perfect example of Aoki being a better real life player than fantasy player. While he may just what the Royals ordered, he will do doing well to crack the top 50 fantasy outfielder list.