When the Reds declined Ryan Ludwick’s 2015 option, they assured the club would be in the market for a new starting left-fielder.Ã‚Â Reds general manager Walt Jocketty confirmed this weekend that Nori Aoki and Michael Morse are priority targets, indicating the club preferred to acquire a LF through free agency rather than by trade (John Fay, Cincinnati Enquirer). Given his severe defensive liabilities in the OF, Morse seemsÃ‚Â destined forÃ‚Â a 1B/DH role.
That leaves Aoki, who after a superb eight-year career in Japan, has played for the Brewers in 2012 and 2013 and for the Kansas City Royals in 2014.
Report are circulating this morning (Jon Heyman, CBS Sports) that Aoki will seek a three-year deal and that the Reds are among teams interested. Experts in these things (Charlie WIlmouth, MLBTR) estimate that the left-handed hitter may earn $16 million on a two-year deal.
Should the Reds sign Aoki to a three-year deal, in the neighborhood of $20 million?
As I wrote a month ago, in certain respects, Aoki’s hitting has been consistent thus far through his MLB career. His batting average has finished between .285-.288 each season. His walk-rate has fluctuated from 7.3 to 8.2 percent (which is right around league average of 7.6 percent). That combination produced a tightly bunched OBP between .349 and .356. He also doesn’t strike out much.
The Reds finished 29th in OBP in 2014, so that’s definitely an area in need of improvement. And on-base skills are Aoki’s best quality. A great match, yes?
Not so fast. Looking primarily at past OBP is a simplistic recipe for failure.
First of all, Aoki will turn 33 this January. Expecting a player to perform the same from age 33-35 as he did ages 30-32 is fraught with peril. Remember the green line on this aging curve?
Over the past three seasons, Nori Aoki has already exhibited telltale devolution in his hitting.
Aoki’s power has vanished.Ã‚Â His home run total has declined from 10 to just 1 in 2014. Likewise, his doubles have fallen from 37 to 22. If you prefer rate-stats to counting-stats, Aoki’s isolated slugging rate (ISO) has plummeted from .144 to .075. For context, consider that among the 146 qualified hitters last year, Aoki’s power was fifth from last, ahead of only Ben Revere, Derek Jeter, Elvis Andrus and Casey McGehee. Nori Aoki would have finished between Skip Schumaker and Ramon Santiago in ISO on the 2014 Reds.
A further suggestive indication that his batting approach is in decay is Aoki’s fly ball rate. It’s fallen sharply, from 27 percent to 17 percent in three years. His ground ball rate of 62 percent was second highest in the majors, again ahead of just Ben Revere.
Aoki has rapidly become purely a slap-hitter.
Yes, Aoki is fast, but he’s been a horrible base runner. His stolen base total declined from 30 in 2012 to 17 for the Royals. Alarmingly, his success rate is 68 percent, below the cut-off for where SB attempts are a net positive contribution to scoring runs. Aoki would have been a frightening fit on Steve Smith’s Reds, having been thrown out a staggeringÃ‚Â fourteen times at home plate this year. Nick Ashbourne at Beyond the Box Score posted a detailed and cautionary breakdown of Aoki’s overall weakness as a base runner.
The defensive metrics are split on Aoki. His defensive runs saved number was -8 last season. Ned Yost benched him for three games forÃ‚Â defensive reasons when the World Series moved to San Francisco’s expansive right field. Defense in left field isn’t a primary concern for the Reds, but it it’s not a plus for Aoki.
Nori Aoki’s extreme lack of power and gruesome base-running skills limit the worth of his OBP. If his batting average and/or walk-rate start to slip, as one would expect with a player of his age, Aoki’s overall value quickly would become negative. That’s not what the Reds need at the top of their order, let alone inked for three-years.
AcquiringÃ‚Â Aoki would represent a bare minimum approach to LF by the Reds. It would also mean putting value onÃ‚Â the terrifying mix ofÃ‚Â empty on-base percentage (Willy Taveras, Ben Revere) and past-their-prime veteran status (Schumaker, Miguel Cairo).
Sadly, that would beÃ‚Â an all-too-familiar and antiquated move for the Reds. Let’s hope Walt Jocketty can resist the temptation.