Speedster Nori Aoki setting the table for the San Francisco Giants


May 17, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Nori Aoki (23) steals second base ahead of the tag from Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart (2) in the second inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Nori Aoki is a thief, stealing bases at a rate that San Francisco hasn’t seen since Barry Bonds became the second member of the 40/40 club back in 1996.

Aoki currently sits as No. 4 in the National League in stolen bases (with 10), and is on pace to surpass 40 on the season. To put his prowess on the base paths in perspective, here are season-best totals for other Giants speedsters (since 2000):

  1. Dave Roberts – 31 (2007)
  2. Angel Pagan – 29 (2012)
  3. Andres Torres – 26 (2010)
  4. Omar Vizquel – 24 (2005)
  5. Hunter Pence – 22 (2013)

That’s some good company…and and enough wheels to open up a Les Schwab. It’s also a testament to most of those players’ work ethic. It takes tremendous effort and dedication to continue to steal bases well into the second half of an MLB career.

But with Aoki, it’s not just about the bases he’s pilfering—it’s about setting the table. By willing himself into scoring position, it gives Panik, Pagan and Posey an opportunity to bring him home early and often.

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The call to have Aoki at the top of the lineup is looking like another one of Bruce Bochy’s stellar decisions. With Pagan in the three-spot boasting a hot bat (batting .324 through Sunday), and Nori consistently swiping second base, it’s been a perfect storm that “keeps the line moving.” It’s a recipe that the Giants have executed to perfection in recent years—just ask the triplets.

Aoki’s speed is also a factor in left field. His range combined with other excellent gloves in center and right field makes it even tougher for hitters to find gaps in an already difficult pitcher’s park.

Another aspect that’s easy to be overlooked is the distraction that Aoki becomes when reaching first base. With pitchers concerned when (not if) Nori’s going to take off, Joe Panik has been taking advantage and compiling walks. He’s third on the team with 15 free passes, and on pace to accumulate 60 or more base-on-balls in 2015. That would be more than any other San Francisco player tallied last season (Brandon Crawford led the team with 59).

Moreover, as a fan of the game, it’s a breath of fresh air to have a true leadoff hitter. Aoki is willing to do whatever it takes to get on base at the top of the lineup. He’s a player who will drop down a drag bunt, leg out a slower roller and bloop a single just out of an infielder’s reach—sometimes all in one night.

Nori Aoki’s approach, attitude and humility are keys to his success, and a reason why he has quickly become a fan favorite in San Francisco. He just wants to do everything fast, doesn’t he?

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