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Comparing San Francisco Giants outfielders Gregor Blanco and Nori Aoki

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Before the end of a somewhat quiet offseason for the Giants, they agreed to terms with outfielder Nori Aoki. This gives the team four viable outfielders, but who should get the majority of the playing time in left field, Gregor Blanco or Aoki?

Blanco, 31, is about to start his fourth season with the Giants after a hell of a journey with Atlanta and Kansas City. He has a slash of .257/.336/.355 with San Francisco in 1408 plate appearances including a 100 wRC+ and 7.2 fWAR (FanGraphs WAR).

Steamer projects Blanco to hit for a slash of .248/.327/.346 with a 97 wRC+ and 0.9 fWAR in 293 plate appearances.

Steamer projects Aoki to hit for a slash of .277/.341/.365 with a 107 wRC+ and a 1.5 fWAR in 565 plate appearances.

“(Aoki) kind of reminds of Pablo a little bit, he’s not going to hit the home runs like Pablo. We acquired him to play” – Bruce Bochy

Aoki, 33, has three seasons in the majors posting a slash of .287/.353/.387 in 1811 plate appearances including a 106 wRC+ and 6.2 fWAR. The Japanese born slap hitter signed with the Brewers before the 2012 season and was later traded to the Royals before the 2014 season for LHP Will Smith.

Oct 25, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Kansas City Royals pinch hitter Norichika Aoki breaks his bat as he grounds into a double play against the San Francisco Giants in the sixth inning during game four of the 2014 World Series at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The players play a different kind of game. Blanco is a great defensive left fielder saving 13 runs over the past three seasons (1652 innings) to go along with a 7.6 UZR, and a 19.2 FanGraphs’ defensive rating. Aoki, on the other hand, has only played 97 innings in left field, but 3121.2 in right. The first two seasons he had 21 runs saved with a 6.1 UZR, but in 2014 he had -8 runs saved, but a 5.4 UZR. Blanco would be the better defensive option in left.

Blanco:

vs LHP since 2012: 364 PA, 101 wRC+, .266/.339/.361 with a .311 wOBA.

vs RHP since 2012: 1044 PA, 100 wRC+, .254/.335/.354 with a .308 wOBA.

The problem with Blanco against righties is that he hits a flyball 34% of the time compared to 28.9% against lefties. He doesn’t have much power, so it’s better for him to keep the flyballs at a low rate.

Here is a spray chart for Blanco against RHP. Notice how it is tough for teams to shift against him, but they can rotate three or four steps towards Blanco’s pull side.

FanGraphs

Here is Blanco vs LHP. The defense can shift move a couple steps to the pull side, but it won’t help that much. Most of his flyballs are center field to left field.

FanGraphs

Aoki:

vs LHP since 2012: 537 PA, 117 wRC+, .319/.371/.405 with a .345 wOBA.

vs RHP since 2012: 1274 PA, 102 wRC+, .273/.346/.380 with a .323 wOBA.

Aoki is even more of a mystery. Here is his spray chart against righties. The defense can’t shift. His spray chart is evenly distributed throughout the park.

FanGraphs

And now Aoki vs LHP. Same result. Aoki is a rare player, where the defense can’t shift on him.

FanGraphs

Both players bring similar value each season, but in different ways. Aoki strikes out 8% of the time while Blanco does 20.3% of the time. The difference is that Aoki relies on BABIP and Blanco relies on walks. Blanco walks 10.3% of the time, while Aoki walks 7.8%.

Since 2012, Blanco has a BsR (FanGraphs Base Running – Base running runs above average, includes SB or CS) of 4.9 with 56 stolen bases out of 76 tries. Aoki has stolen 67 bases in 95 tries, but has a -3.0 BsR since 2012. Their overall play makes them both starter quality players.

I would start Blanco against righties and Aoki against lefties, but not be strict about it at all. Bochy could give each player 300 plate appearances and still have a wRC+ of around 105 in left and at least 2.5 fWAR combined. These two give the Giants depth that they have needed the last few years.

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