The defending World Series champions added Nori Aoki this offseason to little fanfare, but the outfielder is putting up a career year by the Bay.
The National League West made a lot of headlines this winter for the faces both coming and going. The World Series champions had one of the faces of their franchise, Pablo Sandoval, take off for Boston, but added Casey McGehee to take his place. The Dodgers lost Hanley Ramirez – also to Boston, actually – but added the likes of Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins. The Padres…well, the Padres changed just about their entire roster, and for the large part, dominated those headlines.
But one player came over to the National League West without much fanfare or notice, and all he’s done since is help lead the San Francisco Giants to within half a game of first place, which they can take hold of once again with a win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday night as they look to finish the sweep. That player is Nori Aoki.
Aoki, 33, is actually unlikely to play in Sunday night’s game after being removed in the bottom of the first inning on Saturday following a hit by pitch. Aoki took a Carlos Frias fastball off of his right foot in the top of the first inning in the Giants’ eventual 6-2 win. He stayed in the game at the time and eventually scored, but was removed before the bottom of the inning. Still, while he may miss a day or two with a bruised foot, Aoki’s presence and contributions to the Giants’ offense can not, and should not, be overlooked.
Aoki came over from the team the Giants beat in last season’s World Series, the Kansas City Royals. He spent one season in KC after coming up with the Brewers following time in Japan. His three previous seasons, the outfielder was nothing if not consistent on offense, aside from a small drop in slugging over the years:
Aoki’s career highs in home runs and doubles (37) in 2012 led to the inflated slugging percentage, but essentially, Aoki has been a .285 to .290 hitter who will leg out the occasional triple, steal some bases (though fewer as he’s getting older) and score a good amount of runs at the top of your order. A nice player, sure, but one putting up the same kind of numbers as plenty of players throughout baseball. In 2015 with the Giants though, he’s seeing improvement nearly across the board.
This season, Nori Aoki is slashing .317/.381/.385 in 66 games. The average and on-base percentage would be career highs; the slugging trails only that outlier 2012 season. He’s stolen 12 bases, putting him on pace to put up his best output in that department since that same rookie year in 2012, when he finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. According to FanGraphs, Aoki has already posted a 2.0 WAR, putting him on pace for a career high in that category as well.
It’s not just his bat that’s getting the job done, either. Aoki, who spends most of his time left field, has yet to make an error this season and has four outfield assists, tying him for 19th amongst all Major League outfielders. With an ultimate zone rating of 5.3 this year, per FanGraphs, Aoki falls into the “above average” category with his glove as well, and tenth amongst all Major League outfielders, ahead of noted Gold Glovers Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.
Nori Aoki isn’t the “signing of the offseason,” nor is he the sole or even main reason the Giants are where they are, taking on the Dodgers with first place in the division on the line on June 21. They can thank timely pitching and Buster Posey for a good deal of that. What he is, however, is a solid outfielder you can hit at the top or bottom of any lineup. He will hit for average, leg out the occasional triple, and score runs. He can steal bases and manufacture runs for your team; he can play defense and save them as well.
Nori Aoki isn’t a superstar; he’s probably a borderline All-Star this season at best. But he’s a guy you can depend on, and one the Giants certainly have done that, with Aoki leading off and setting the table for this team all season. Thus far, he has yet to disappoint.