Norichika Aoki is the starting right-fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers of MLB. Aoki joined the Brewers following the 2011 season, after spending eight seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the NPB. He recently completed his second season with the Brewers with a season line of .286/.356/.370 in 597 AB.
Career in NPB
Aoki was born on January 5, 1982 (Age: 31) in the city of Hyūga, located in Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture. After high school, he enrolled at Waseda University and led them to four consecutive intercollegiate “Tokyo Big 6” baseball championships. Aoki was selected by the Tokyo Yakult Swallows as the fourth overall pick of the 2003 NPB draft. Aoki spent his entire NPB career (2004-2011) with the Swallows.
He made his NPB debut in 2004 but appeared in only 10 games before spending the remainder of the season with the teams’ minor league affiliate. He became the Swallows starting center fielder in 2005, finishing the season with a then Central League record 202 hits and a .344 batting average. He was named the 2005 Central League Rookie of the year. Over the remainder of his NPB career, he was a three-time Central League batting champion, six-time Gold Glove award winner, and seven-time All-Star.
Aoki’s emergence as an NPB star made him a clear choice to join Japan’s National Team. He played with Team Japan during the 2007 Asian Baseball Championship, 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and the World Baseball Classic in both 2006 and 2009.
Posting to MLB
Following the 2011 season the Tokyo Yakult Swallows put Aoki’s services up for bidding via the Posting System. The Milwaukee Brewers submitted the winning bid of $2.5 million for his exclusive negotiating rights. They signed Aoki to a two-year contract with a third year club option on January 17, 2012.
Career in MLB
Originally listed as the fourth outfielder to begin the 2012 season, Aoki worked his way into the Brewers starting lineup after several injuries and then right-field starter Corey Hart’s move to first-base. He removed doubts about his ability to transition to the MLB by finishing the season with a line of .288/.355/.433 in 520 AB, while also recording 30 SB, 10 HR, 50 RBI and 81 R. Aoki finished fifth in the voting for the 2012 N.L. Rookie of the Year award.
Aoki entered the 2013 season as the starting right-fielder and lead-off hitter for the Brewers. He provided the Brewers with stability at the top of the lineup that was in-flux for much of the season, with several starting players spending time on the disabled list. After a strong first half of the season, (.294/.360/.370) he was the subject of trade speculation. The Texas Rangers and New York Mets were amongst several teams rumored to be interested in his services. Out of playoff contention, it was rumored the Brewers would look to trade Aoki for pitching prospects but no deal materialized and he remained with the team. Aoki finished the 2013 season with a line of .286/.356/.370 in 597 AB and had 20 SB, 8 HR, 37 RBI, and 80 R. He was particularly effective against left-handed pitching (.339/.381/.400 in 180 AB).
Aoki finished the season ranking 10th in the N.L. in hits (171), 1st in singles (140), and 1st in AB per K (14.9). Defensively, he ranked 3rd among N.L. right-fielders in putouts (289) and fielding percentage (.990).
Comparing Aoki’s career statistics
- MLB (2 seasons): 161 R, 321 H, 18 HR, 87 RBI, 98 BB, 95 K, 50 SB, .287/.355/.399 in 1117 AB
- NPB (8 seasons): 664 R, 1284 H, 84 HR, 385 RBI, 417 BB, 491 K, 164 SB, .329/.402/.454 in 3900 AB
An analysis of Aoki’s career statistics from NPB and MLB shows the remarkable consistency in his performance over his career. While his numbers declined upon coming to MLB, the increased competition level and adjustment to on-field differences between NPB and MLB can in-part explain the statistical drop-off.
Outlook for 2014
On September 27th, 2013, it was announced that the Brewers would pick up the club option to extend Aoki’s contract until the end of the 2014 season. Aoki’s performance in his first two MLB seasons has made him a consistent and cost effective option in the outfield. He will enter the season as the Brewers lead-off hitter and starting right-fielder. This will give him the playing time and AB needed to make a strong showing as he moves toward free agency following next season. If Aoki continues the consistent performance at the plate, serviceable defense, and intelligent baserunning he has shown throughout his professional career, he will be primed to continue playing in the MLB for years to come.
Photo Credit: Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America