Aoki On Track For Painful Record

Aoki feels the pain once againSwallows’ outfielder and franchise man Norichika Aoki could be on his way to a rather dubious NPB record. He was struck on the hand by a pitch in the fifth inning of Sunday’s game against the Hiroshima Carp, a league leading 7th time he’s been hit by a pitch this year.

If he continues to be plunked at this pace he’ll be on course for 36 dead-balls this year, far in excess of the current record of 28 held by former Swallow Greg LaRocca (who “earned” the record in 2007 playing for his current team the Orix Buffaloes).

Aoki was hit only 10 times in the whole of 2008 and in fact has been hit a total of 31 times during his first four full pro-seasons from 2005-2008.

So what is it with this year I wonder? Is he leaning over the plate more or perhaps he’s being pitched inside more often than in prior years? Or dare I say it, has his raised profile from increasingly productive NPB seasons combined with this year’s WBC success mean that he’s now being targeted by opposition pitchers?

Whatever it is, it can’t be a good thing, because sooner or later he’s going to be more seriously injured by one of these pitches (see the ball he took to the head from Iwase versus Chunichi as proof of the luckiest escape so far). And losing a player of Aoki’s caliber for any prolonged period is a loss that Tokyo can simply not afford in their quest for playoff baseball.

About David Watkins

David is a baseball bothering Brummie who spends a fair portion of his life fretting over the Tokyo Swallows and the WORLD'S GREATEST FOOTBALL TEAM, Aston Villa. He completes the quartet of abusive sporting relationships by being a die hard New York Knicks and Mets fan. You can find him on twitter: @yakulto

  • Or dare I say it, has his raised profile from increasingly productive NPB seasons combined with this year’s WBC success mean that he’s now being targeted by opposition pitchers?

    Not impossible. The efficacy of immediate retaliation could be tested, although I don’t like putting opposing runners on for vengeance and there’s a lot of potential for silly escalation.

    This is one for some number-crunching, I think. How many other batters have the offending pitchers plunked? Is there any pattern to the place in the count Aoki is when he gets hit? Is he getting beaned in situations when other batters are more likely to get pegged?

    It certainly does seem a bit fishy that the best position player in Japan, a guy pitchers might like to walk, is getting beaned more than once a week. There’s an argument for just pegging a batter you intend to walk – you might hurt him, you throw fewer pitches if you do it quickly, you might intimidate other hitters and, heck, if you’re the pitcher, you’re probably not the one who’s going to get hit if the opposition retaliates in kind.

    On the other hand, I know that there’s an unwritten rule that only Yomiuri are allowed to have consistently great players, but we also need to look for other trends. Are other players getting hit at unprecedented rates? Do those players tend to be stars?

    Did Aoki say something to piss off pitchers?

    I’m even going to put some blame on Takada – he doesn’t seem to stand up for or argue for his players. Some managers sprint out to argue every dubious call, Takada doesn’t. Normally, I’d be in favor of having Takada remain as far away from the action on the field as possible, but, really, he should be out there pushing the idea of intentional beanings every time it’s plausible. Go out, have a word with the ump, argue that the pitcher should be tossed for intentionally hitting batters. It’s worth a try. If nothing else, repeated insinuation that Aoki is getting a raw deal could influence the way umps see him for the better – get him one of those sweet tiny strike zones.

  • Aoki’s 7 HBP is more than double the runners up in the CL with 3 each (7 players). Over in the PL former Swallow LaRocca and Lotte’s Burnham Jr. lead the way with 5 each. The sudden spike in Aoki’s HBP numbers definitely need to be tracked though. And does this explain his poor start to the season? (Intimidation and/or minor injuries from HBPs?)

  • Aoki does not crowd or hang over the plate, and I don’t buy that more than half of HBPs at the professional level are accidental.

    I would also like to see how many right handed pitchers have hit him. A righty hitting a lefty batter is nearly intentional by definition (ask Roger Clemens).

    Are 7 HBPs in the first 6 weeks of the season beyond one standard deviation for the average player? I would think so.

    We are also looking at one head plunk. I have to agree with Garrett here: Takada not coming out of the dugout when the best center fielder on the planet (yeah, that’s right) gets hit in the head is a disgrace.

    Should there be retaliation? Absolutely. This is baseball, not curling, and a team should never have more hit-batsmen against than their opponent. The Swallows are going to have to make things clear – you hit Aoki and Takada will push for the pitcher to get tossed, or at least warned. Takada needs to get himself ejected if necessary. At the same time, opposing pitchers need to realize that hitting Aoki means they are putting one of their own guys on the line.

    There won’t be silly escalation when pitchers actually start getting tossed. Yakult is in position to take the lead on this. Besides, just putting a runner on (put on someone who can’t run worth shit, like a catcher) is hardly a price to pay for protecting your best player.

  • flick

    Thanks for the article. Quite scary, but it was an interesting read, nonetheless.

    At first, I had a feeling that the main culprit was the Dragons (Ochiai is heartless), but it seems he has been hit twice each by Yokohama, Chunichi, and Hiroshima, and was hit last week by Hanshin. I don’t know how many of those was intentional, but Kubo last week for Hanshin was terrible in his start, so I don’t think he intended to bean Aoki.

    And I agree whole heartedly about Takada not stepping up for Aoki. Him just standing in the dugout while Aoki was down in agony was shameful.

  • N26

    Knowing how great Aoki is, maybe the pitchers are being extra careful and have some data stating that his weakness is inside therefore the pitchers throw more inside at him…?

  • N26
    It’s reasonable to think that, but Aoki doesn’t really have any holes in his swing. Like all batters, he sees pitches on both sides of the plate during most at-bats. Regardless of whether the pitcher is a righty or lefty, he can generally handle anything that he sees (unless it’s headed straight for his head).

    Just for reference: last year he hit .345 against lefties and .348 versus righties.

  • Kenzo,

    Takada needs to get himself ejected if necessary.

    Oh dear God, how I agree! I’d say it’s necessary sometime before the start of each and every game.