When the Royals traded Will Smith for a high-contact right fielder named Nori Aoki before the 2014 season began, the reaction was swift and just. "He's terrible!" "We should have kept Will Smith!" "Dayton should...."
Wait a second. I'm relatively sure no one said those things. In fact, I'm fairly sure people had the opposite reactions. I can't really be sure because I can't find an article on Royals Review about the trade when it happened. I guess that's how excited Royals Review was. Google and the search function have failed me. Tyler Drenon says we loved it, so we loved it. I wasn't writing for this site when the trade happened, but I probably would have written things like, "This is a trade" and "The guy we got in return for the guy we gave away is a player".
All this serves to highlight the mixed opinions about Aoki's performance in 2014. On one hand, he hit a 104 wRC+ with decent baserunning and defense for 2.3 fWAR. On the other hand, Aoki wasn't really all that good until the selective endpoints that I'm about to show you. Through August 24th, Aoki was sporting a .261/.330/.332 line for a 90 wRC+. We expected better. After August 24th, Aoki hit .370/.419/.463 for a 153 wRC+. We didn't expect this much better, but Aoki was an integral part of the Royals' September run into the playoffs.
Aside from his performance on the field, which was perfectly acceptable when it was all said and done, there was his performance on the field. Aoki is a walking gifustration both for his routes taken to catch baseballs in the air as well as routes taken to the ground after being caught by baseballs in the air. Aoki is made of whatever material attracts the material out of which a baseball is made. You know, like a magnet and metal, but with baseballs.
I'll try to illustrate Aoki's typical route to a ball later, but this video will suffice for now.
Even the Royals fan after this catch is thinking, "lolwut".
This one was actually just pretty cool.
Not so much "nice grab" as "ball fell into glove while glove was falling down".
Screams like an eagle?
He's not safe anywhere.
At least something good comes out of his getting hit by the ball. Sometimes.
Are there dance classes opening up?
Obviously, this one has to be included. Nutshots get extra points.
Seriously, Aoki's not safe anywhere.
OK, really, Aoki can't be on the field anymore, regardless of where the foul lines are. He needs a helmet at all times, and he must be pitched to in the dugout.
When I initially started going through some of his highlights videos, I had no intention of showing so many. However, I feel like I really need to show the evidence here. Aoki gets hit a lot, and it literally doesn't matter where he is. I'm sure you know of things I missed.
Anyway, I promised an illustration of Aoki's typical route to a ball. What follows is a completely legitimate rendering of a randomly chosen fly ball.
Here come the strikeout, walk, and batted ball data. 100 is average, less than 100 means he did less of the thing than league average, and more than 100 means he did more of the thing.
|Season||Rel K||Rel BB|
Aoki strikes out a lot less than league average, but he walks at about a league average rate. This gives him some leeway in terms of production on contact. He has a decent performance floor. He was no different than usual in 2014.
|Season||Rel LD||Rel GB||Rel FB||Rel IFFB||Rel HR/FB|
Aoki hits a lot of ground balls, as you would expect. Aoki traded some fly balls for line drives in 2014, which is good because Aoki stinks pretty hard at hitting fly balls. Aoki's HR/FB cratered in 2014; the Brewers' home park is very homer friendly, so I'm not surprised that his home run totals dropped. His one home run of 2014 was pretty awesome, and even though it looked like a squeaker line drive homer that barely cleared the fence in Arizona, ESPN's Home Run Tracker says it would have been out of 27 parks out of the 30. Kauffman stadium would still have allowed that.
Here's Aoki's production by batted ball type. Rel PRD is calculated by (1.7*BA+SLG)/(1.7*lgBA+lgSLG).
|Season||FB Rel PRD||LD Rel PRD||GB Rel PRD|
His fly ball relative production fell even further in 2014. It's really, really low. It's terrible. His line drive production fell. Luckily, his ground ball production rebounded a bit. In case you didn't already know, Aoki is not a power hitter who can hit the ball hard in the air. Thusly, the ridiculous ground ball rate. Is this getting repetitive? Aoki sounds like Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain. How is he not a Royal4Lyfe?
Overall, Aoki provided exactly what the Royals needed. He was a relatively stable contributor on both offense and defense for a position at which the Royals had a glaring hole. His red hot September did save his grade from being worse, but he didn't need to be GianJustin Stupton. All the extra entertainment was really an added bonus.