Norichika Aoki #23 青木宣親
Birth Date: January 5, 1982
College: Waseda University
Birth Place: Miyazaki Prefecture
Nickname: Ao, Aoki, Nori
Height: 175cm (5'9") / Weight: 80kg (176 lbs.)
Bats: L / Throws: R
Experience: 5 years
Salary: 2-oku 2-sen man ($2.05M)
Draft: 4th round
At 26 years of age, Norichika Aoki is having one of the best seasons of his career. As of July 30th, Aoki is batting .359, best in the NPB. His .427 on base percentage is tops in both leagues and his .582 slugging percentage is good for third in the CL. And while Aoki did end up missing about 19 games ealier this season when he went down with a right oblique muscle strain, he still has managed to pound out 103 hits, which places him in the top 10 in the Central League.
Aoki also has a good shot at finishing off his second consecutive campaign where he strikes out less than he walks -- last year he ended the season with 80 walks to 66 strikeouts and so far this season has 30 walks and 26 strikeouts. What's more, since topping out at 113 strikeouts during his first full season in 2005, Aoki's strikeout totals have dropped continually: 113 to 78 to 66 to the 26 he has so far this season.
If there is one area of his game that might be of concern it's his walk totals. In 2005, Aoki managed only 37 walks. The following season, he almost doubled that total by walking 68 times. And then last season he walked 80 times. With that sort of progression, you would expect something in the range of perhaps 70-90 walks this season, except he only has 30 with less than a third of the season to go.
That said, walks in the NPB aren't that big, so perhaps the fact that Aoki isn't walking that much this season isn't that much of a concern (his 30 walks actually place him in the top 10 in the CL). Take for example last season, where only one player in the entire NPB walked more than 100 times. To break this down a bit more, there were only 2,480 total walks over 32,779 plate appearances in the CL last season. That's about one walk for every 13.2 plate appearances. For a point of reference, it was 11.8 for the NL last season (100,807 plate appearances / 8,576 walks). That may not seem like a big difference, but assuming 700 or so plate appearances a player and you're talking 53.0 walks CL to 59.3 walks NL for a difference of about 6 walks.
NL 2007 - 11.8 TPA/BB
NL 2006 - 11.7 TPA/BB
CL 2007 - 13.2 TPA/BB
CL 2006 - 14.8 TPA/BB
The faily low walk totals across the board in the CL may actually be a good explanation as to why Aoki doesn't have more walks. But perhaps he doesn't need to walk that much in order to be a successful player (as his past few seasons have shown). In fact, there's another player that everyone should be familiar with that had a similar start to their career.
G AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB Player A 443 1759 590 78 9 36 147 186 263 88 Player B 433 1676 594 90 13 55 221 177 169 113 Totals through first 4 seasons.
Who are players A and B?
Player A is Aoki. Player B has been a success in the MLB and just recently collected his 3,000 combined hit.
If you guessed Ichiro, you're absolutely right.
As you can see, Ichiro and Aoki have eerily similar stats through the first four seasons in the NPB. If anything, Ichiro probably had a bit more power, and there is an age difference -- Ichiro was between 19-22 during those four seasons while Aoki was between 22-25 -- but otherwise, the numbers stack up pretty well. This all begs the question: when will Aoki hit the Majors and does he have the potential to perform at the same level as Ichiro? Unforunately, we probably won't get to know the answer to those two questions for at least a few more years. And that means Aoki may be closer to his declining years than Ichiro was by the time he crosses the ocean. Remember, Ichiro was still only 27 during his first season with the Mariners.
Some interesting facts:
Played 1 game at second base in 2006 under player / manager Atsuya Furuta's advice.
Has a number of different stances. When asked why, "If there ever comes a time when I'm slumping, I can try changing my stance to break out."
Aoki is currently the highest paid player on the Swallows. He is also the quickest/youngest Swallow to surpass the 2-oku "milestone."
When he signed his contract earlier this year he said, "If I think about the team, I can't think of posting or about myself. I feel like I must play in Japan. There are still many things for me to do here." When asked about his own goals, "I can't really think of anything other than making the Swallows the number 1 team in Japan."
His 202 hits in 2005 made him one of only 3 players in the NPB to ever accumulate 200 or more hits in a season. The other two? Ichiro Suzuki with 210 hits in 1994 and Alex Ramirez with 204 hits in 2007.
Aoki lead the league 3 years in a row with the most single base hits. His 169 singles in 2005 are actually an NPB record. Incidentally, the last player in the NPB to have 3 consecutive seasons with the most single base hits was Ichiro Suzuki (1994-1996).
His batter walk-up music is a remix of Carmina Burana.
Aoki's chant song:
Koukakudahou no reedofu-man
Chance no tobira-o hirake
Ute! Ute! Aoki!
Spray the ball to all fields, our lead-off hitter
Take off! Norichika
Take your chances
Hit! Hit! Aoki!
- Rookie of the Year 2005
- Top Batting Average 2005, 2007
- Stolen Base King 2006
- Most Hits 2005, 2006
- Top OBP 2007
- Best Nine 2005, 2006, 2007
- Golden Glove 2006, 2007
- All Star MVP Game 1 2006