"(Norichika Aoki) has been a big pickup for us. Getting Nori allowed us to move Gordo into the middle. The success of our team is going to depend on the current group that we have getting better."
Dutton speculates the December lineup would look something like this:
Aoki - RF
Bonifacio - 2B
Hosmer - 1B
Butler - DH
Gordon - LF
Perez - C
Moustakas - 3B
Cain - CF
Escobar - SS
OK, I'm going to go with the good things first. Remember how we used to draw up lineups for the Royals where they had one or two guys who could hit and the rest of the order was filled with guys who were number eight hitters? Yeah. Now with Aoki in the lineup I feel like there are five decent bats present.
The bad (and with the Royals there's always a bad) is that Emilio Bonifacio shouldn't be anywhere near the top of the order. It would seem that Ned Yost didn't learn a damn thing from the Alcides Escobar Bats Second Experience last summer. Not that this is a huge surprise.
My lineup would look like this:
Yeah, yeah, yeah... That shatters Yost's unwritten rule that you can't stack the same handed hitters at any portion of the lineup. In fact, Ned sees Aoki as a natural at leadoff.
"We can put him at the top of the order, where he can work the count and get us on base."
A nice idea. The right idea. Except Aoki is a contact hitter who doesn’t walk. The Royals think he is an ideal leadoff hitter because he "can work the count" according to Yost. Would you be surprised to learn Aoki saw 3.62 pitches per plate appearance last year. Of the 64 hitters in the National League that qualified for the batting title, Aoki finished at 60th in pitches per plate appearance.
Goddamn are the Royals frustrating.
Mind you, I'm not frustrated with Aoki. His skill set is what it is - and it's pretty damn useful. He makes contact and it's generally solid contact. He's a bit of a ground ball hitter (58 percent ground ball rate for his career) but he has hit into just 15 double plays since joining the majors. I suspect that has something to do with batting leadoff for a National League team. But because he doesn't truly work the count and because he doesn't walk, I see Aoki more as a bottom of the order type of hitter. Your second leadoff man, if you will. Since the Royals are OBP-challenged, it's wasteful to hit him ninth. I still like Alex Gordon batting leadoff, so if I were in charge of the lineup, I'd hit Aoki second. His contact skills are imminently useful there and having two strong OBP guys at the top set the table nicely for what could be a solid three through five.
(Go ahead and quibble with the rest of my batting order. I have two right-handed hitters in Billy Butler and Salvador Perez, but then I go left with Mike Moustakas, right with Lorenzo Cain, switch with Bonifacio and right with Alcides Escobar before I go to my three lefties in a row back at the top of the order.)
"In our ballpark, it's a big, wide, expansive ballpark with a lot of ground out there. He can hit the ball to left. He can hit the ball up the middle, pull the ball to right field. He's got a lot of spots he can find holes. And hopefully, again, set the table for our big run producers and score more runs."
Is there some sort of mandate that whenever someone from the Royals talks about their offense, they must mention the "big, wide, expansive ballpark?" I mean, this is a joke, right? We get it. There's acreage out there. It should have it's own zip code. And maybe a Starbucks.
Back to the main point... Yost says Aoki is basically a spray hitter. And spray hitters can find holes. Wouldn't you know FanGraphs has some cool spray charts now? And look at Aoki:
Credit to Yost here. Aoki very definitely moves the ball around. His home run power is to his pull field, which is to be expected. Otherwise, he's lacing the ball all over the place. While his OBP is going to be dependent upon his BABIP due to his contact rate, if he's hitting the ball to all fields, I'm comfortable in agreeing with Yost that he can be very successful hitting at The K.
I am falling in love with most of that spray chart. Except the part about the bunts. There are a lot of bunts there. Ned didn't mention the bunts. He's probably keeping that part secret from the rest of baseball. He's a crafty one, that Ned.