The Brewers placed the high bid on Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki, which was reported to be only $2.5 million. This is a terrific move by the Brewers, at least at this price, even though very few people in the U.S. have any familiarity with Aoki.
I have long felt that Aoki would be a good bet for a major league team because of his outstanding ability to get on base. I posted this study two and a half years ago (I’ll admit it needs updating), which suggests that on average Japanese hitters lose between 25 and 30 basis points on their on base percentages and a little over 90 basis points on their slugging percentages when they come from NPB to the major leagues.
What this means is that except for an NPB star with exceptional power like Hideki Matsui, Japanese hitters will not hit for power in the U.S. On the other, Japanese hitters who are particularly good at getting on base, will continue to be good at getting on base in the U.S.
That is where Norichica Aoki comes in. Even after a 2011 season way below his career norms, most likely due to the complete collapse of offense in NPB this past season, apparently due to the introduction of new baseballs, Aoki still has a career .402 OBP in NPB. (Aoki’s .292 batting average and .358 OBP in 2011, were respectively good for 7th and 4th place in the Japan’s Central League out of 24 qualifying players.)
Aoki’s career NPB on-base percentage strongly suggests that we should reasonably predict about a .370 OBP from him in Milwaukee next year. Given how well Aoki runs (164 career NPB stolen bases at a 76% success rate), he should be a better than average lead-off or second place hitter in the U.S.
The biggest knocks on Aoki are that he will be 30 next year, his career NPB .454 slugging percentage probably correlates to below .400 in MLB, and his outfield range and weak arm suggest that he’d be a better than average left-fielder in Milwaukee (he plays center field in Japan).
According to this website, Aoki made 330 million yen last season, which converts to about $4.24 million. That makes me think the Brewers would have to give him at least $11 or 12 million over two years to convince him to come to the U.S.
That’s a fairly big commitment for an untested left-fielder with no power, although with Ryan Braun facing a 50 game suspension for alleged PED use and the Brewers recognizing the uncertainty that comes with Nyjer Morgan as the apparent every day centerfielder, bringing in Aoki makes a certain amount of sense.