May 28, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals right fielder Nori Aoki (23) heads down the first base line after a bunt against the Houston Astros during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Nori Aoki Has Not Been the Upgrade the Royals Hoped For

Following the 2013 season, the Royals had several holes in their lineup. While Alex Gordon had done an admirable job atop the Royals lineup, the Royals still lacked a true leadoff hitter, someone to plug into the second spot in the lineup and a true power hitter. After missing out on Carlos Beltran during free agency, the Royals managed to plug the first two holes with Nori Aoki and Omar Infante.

Both have disappointed thus far, at least offensively. Infante’s struggles to the start of the season carry the injury caveat, as he has dealt with a myriad of injuries this season. Aoki, on the other hand, has been healthy; however, he has not been the dynamic leadoff hitter that the Royals had hoped for. Despite being solid at Kauffman Stadium, Aoki is only hitting at a .260/.322/.317 rate this season. Aoki is never going to be confused for a power hitter, but he has a grand total of twelve extra base hits. With his speed, it would be expected that Aoki may be able to get a few more doubles and triples, but that has not been the case this season.

The Royals offense has struggled virtually everywhere, but Nori Aoki stands out as he is expected to be the catalyst of the lineup. Instead, heading into last night’s game, the Royals rank 19th in on base percentage from their leadoff hitters, with at .316. Amongst major league right fielders, the Royals rank 21st in on base percentage, and dead last in slugging and OPS.

So, what should the Royals do with Aoki? In theory, as a slap hitting outfielder with speed and the ability to put the bat on the ball, he should fit perfectly into the type of lineup that the Royals were attempting to create. Likewise, his defense, which had been decent with the Milwaukee Brewers and of Gold Glove quality in Japan, was expected to help an already stellar defense become that much better. Instead, Aoki just has not lived up to that billing thus far as a member of the Royals, at least with the bat.

As the Royals do not have ties to Nori Aoki beyond this year due to his impending free agency, right field could be a position that they look to upgrade at the deadline. Unfortunately, that also would also mean replacing their leadoff hitter at the same time. Right now, unless Chris Denorfia of the San Diego Padres, Dexter Fowler of the Houston Astros or the return of David DeJesus would count as an upgrade, that type of player may not be available.

A lot can happen between now and the end of July. As more teams fall out of contention, other players could become available that could help the Royals lineup. Likewise, Aoki could turn back into the player that the Royals felt they were getting when they traded for him back in December, a slap hitting dynamo that can cause havoc atop the lineup.

Even though Nori Aoki has been a slight upgrade over what the Royals had in right field last year, they expected far more from their leadoff hitter. If Aoki is unable to produce at that desired level and the Royals remain in the playoff hunt, they may be seeking an upgrade yet again.

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Tags: Kansas City Royals Nori Aoki

  • jimfetterolf

    Simple fix for now is Dyson/Aoki platoon, next year Dyson/Maxwell or Orlando platoon. Trading David Lough and Will Smith were mistakes, we’re a better team with both.

    • Hunter Samuels

      Lough has been a worse hitter than Moustakas this year, who’s been a much worse hitter than Aoki this year.

      • jimfetterolf

        I’ld ask you if you know why, but we know better than that. David Lough has gotten homeritis in the East and screwed up his swing. He does have a proven record with the Royals and was one of the best OFs in the game last year, so having him and Smith here instead of Aoki and Valencia makes the Royals a better team.

        For our readers, Lough does have options left, so could be tucked at Omaha if he started slow. That was one of his positives.

        • Hunter Samuels

          The point is that Aoki has struggled, and he’s still been a better player than Lough this year. Aoki also has a longer track record of success than Lough’s partial 2013. Without Valencia, third base would have been even worse this year, too. It’s still bad, but he lessened the dreadfulness from Moose. I’d love to have Smith in the pen, but Aoki is a better player than Lough, and will likely be a better player than Lough for the rest of the season.

          As for the options, Lough was added in November of 2010, so his options were used the following three seasons. He couldn’t be sent to Omaha without clearing waivers.

          • jimfetterolf

            The point is Smith and Lough, since the trades were linked. If you’ld rather have Aoki and Valencia, great. There were people here at the time of the trade getting ecstatic over OBP while others were pointing out poor defense in a smaller park and the difficulties of changing leagues. In Lough’s case, he’s got Gio’s swing now. I still consider them bad trades.

            Lough was first called up the fall of ’12, actually later than Moose.

          • moretrouble

            Options can be difficult to understand, Hunter … in this case, jimfetterolf is right. Lough does have options left. Adding a player to the 40 man roster doesn’t automatically mean options are used.

          • Hunter Samuels

            Options aren’t that difficult to understand, really. Other aspects of service time, sure, but the options are pretty straightforward.

            Do you have some evidence to support that claim? Because I can’t find one mention of that anywhere, and the MLB rules dictate that once a player is added to the 40, he has to be optioned to the minors if he isn’t on the big league roster. They can’t just send him there without using an option, unless they remove him from the 40 man roster. Some players can get a 4th option year, but that doesn’t apply to Lough since he was in Triple-A when he was added to the 40 man roster.

          • moretrouble

            David Lough is, indeed, out of options. I stand corrected. 2013 was Lough’s last option year. I don’t remember these things from year to year because I follow many MLB teams … it’s information overload so to speak … so I appreciate your level of detail concerning KC. Thanks … best wishes.

  • cardsfanatik

    Enough with the Lough and Smith shit. Smith is a good reliever, but Aoki is more valuable to this team. We have a good BP. Lough isn’t ever going to be better than his glimpse of mediocrity he put up last year. Your not a hitting coach jimfetterolf, even though you pretend to know it all. Dyson/Aoki platoon shouldn’t happen. If they want an upgrade, go get an upgrade. Dyson/Maxwell shouldn’t happen next year either. They are both 4th OF’s on a team that is looking to compete into October. Trading David Lough for Danny Valencia was a smart baseball move, and anyone that says different is a moron. Valencia is what was available should Moose falter, which he has, Valencia also bats RH and kills LHP, where Moose has faltered against LHP, and if he hadn’t been hurt, Moose would STILL be in Omaha. Trading Smith for Aoki was a steal also. A middle reliever for an every day player? Come on. Smith is good, but he’s no Trevor Hoffman. And he was also miserable as a starter. Maybe he’ll figure it out and start, but probably not. Aoki on the other hand, brought the tools to be a very good lead off hitter. And he could still turn it on, and make the statement of “The Royal’s are a better team with Smith and Lough” look and sound even more stupid than it does right now. Aoki hasn’t lived up to what the Royal’s anticipated, but his HISTORY shows, that he is better than what he has produced so far. Some of that could be a comfort thing, some of it could be a coaching thing, who knows, but saying that Lough is better than Aoki, just proves my point. Some of the people that post on this site just type to see themselves type.
    Good article Hunter. I know they would have to scrap the lead off hitter aspect if they got a RF’er. My hope would be that IF they did go after an upgrade, they would forget about the leadoff thing, which I think that Cain could handle, and go for a guy with a slugging percentage above .500 or so. Not sure where they would find that, but it would be nice. I like the recent string of “pop” that the Royal’s are showing. It would be nice to put a guy in the middle of the line-up that could reach the cheap seats 1 out of every 20 AB’s.

  • Cbprxh3

    Nori and Valencia were good solid trades…filled important needs at the time and shifted Gordon to middle of order which is looking pretty good right now.