When baseball fans think of Nori Aoki, a few words probably spring to mind. "Japanese" is simple and unavoidable, but better descriptions include "fast" or maybe even an overall evaluation like "average".
Sometimes the correct answer is what comes to mind first. To describe Aoki as a fast Japanese guy who is approximately an average player is about accurate.The 32-year old has accumulated 5.1 WAR over the past three seasons and has been a pretty steady regular for the Brewers and Royals.
Speed has been a trademark skill for Aoki; he's piled up infield hits and stolen bases (his 67 SB since he debuted in 2012 is 24th in the MLB among qualified hitters) at an impressive rate. His wheels have translated to fairly good defense as he has a career UZR of +8.3 and DRS of +10 to his credit.
With that information in mind it's easy to dream on a player who can combine those skills with above average production offensively, which he has done by posting a wRC+ over 100 in each of his three seasons. However, there is something holding Aoki back: his base running.
While Aoki does have solid stolen base totals, efficiency has been a problem.
|Year||SB||MLB Rank||CS||MLB Rank||SB%|
His career SB% of 70.5% is fairly normal due to a solid debut in 2012, but in the last two years he's had serious problems getting thrown out. Since the start of 2013 season, that SB% falls to 64.9%, and he has been caught stealing the sixth most in the MLB. Every player who has more CS to his name has stolen at least 27 more bases.
Not only has Aoki gotten thrown out often, he has done so in dramatic fashion. Hilariously, he has been caught stealing home four times. All of them in 2012.
It's hard to know how much blame he shoulders for this one that may have simply been a poor play put on by Ron Roenicke:
But he could definitely be considered at fault for biting on Yadier Molina's fake here:
Aoki just seems to have a knack for getting himself in trouble on the base paths, a knack that resulted in him getting picked off by a country mile in the ALDS.
He's actually so out to lunch here that Pujols swipes air and has to go get him on the noggin.
It would take an unreasonable number of videos to prove definitively that Aoki can be a problem on the bases, but you get the idea. In 438 games, between times caught stealing, picked off, and simply tagged out Aoki has made 54 outs on the bases, 14 of which have come at home plate.
That's approximately one out on the bases per 8 games. Simply put, that's too many outs. To give a frame of reference, legendary lead-footed behemoth Paul Konerko made only 75 outs on the bases in his entire career, or one per 32.3 games.
The comparison isn't fair because Aoki is clearly much more aggressive, especially when it comes to attempting to steal, but it gives a sense of the squandering of outs done by Aoki so far in his young career. The problem may well be correctable going forward, but for now it can't be denied.
At the end of the day Nori Aoki's free agent contract won't be very dependent on his base running acumen, but perhaps it should be. In one area of the game where you'd expect Aoki to excel he has instead been an anchor, even if he is the fastest anchor around.
. . .
Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.