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Nori Aoki: The White Sox Killer of 2014

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Kansas City Royals outfielder joins elite company in his success against the Sox

Ed Zurga

When looking through season splits for the biggest White Sox killer of 2014, one shouldn't get caught up in raw numbers, because sometimes they're not all that special.

Take Victor Martinez. He enjoyed his share of success against the White Sox this year, and he spooked Chris Sale into seeing sign-stealers in the outfield. But overall, Martinez's line against the Sox (.314/.395/.500) was a cut below his season totals in all categories. You could say the Sox actually held him down a bit.

So, Sox-killing requires context. Ryan Raburn is probably the laureate of this field, which would be strange if you only looked at his line (.297/.345/.508). But then you glance at his RBI column, and realize he's driven in three times as many runs against the White Sox (75) then the No. 2 team (24 against the Royals).

Basically, you need some art to augment the science, and after exercising subjectivity, there are four players that stand out in particular for an unusual amount of success against the Sox in 2014. Although in this case, one player's numbers did all the talking for him.

Josh Hamilton

Year G PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2014 6 26 26 2 0 2 6 3 7 .500 .577 .864 1.441

Hamilton's second season with the Angels was another disappointment, as he hit .263/.331/.414 over just 89 games played. Unfortunately for the Sox, he was healthy for all six meetings between the two clubs, and he batted them around harder than any other team this season.

That .500 average includes a 2-for-3 night against Sale on June 7. Those were the first two hits Sale allowed to a lefty all season, as he held them hitless over 32 at-bats entering the game. However, that night became infamous more for Mike Trout's game-tying grand slam.

Trevor Plouffe

Year G PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2014 13 61 23 3 0 2 11 7 11 .426 .492 .593 1.084

Plouffe had his most successful season, hitting .258/.328/.423 with 40 doubles, 14 homers and 80 RBI. Hawk Harrelson reiterated that Plouffe had even more in him, and after seeing Plouffe paste Sox pitching over 61 plate appearances, his perspective might be a little skewed.

That said, Harrelson used to say the same thing about Carlos Gomez, back when Gomez ran wild on the Sox during his mostly forgettable two-year stay in Minnesota. It took another four years, but Gomez eventually proved Harrelson correct with All-Star appearances in 2013 and 2014.

Kurt Suzuki

Year G PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2014 15 59 22 7 0 0 14 2 3 .415 .424 .547 .971

If I made this kind of list each season, Suzuki wouldn't be a stranger to it. In fact, he seems to bat at least .400 against the Sox in even-numbered seasons:

  • 2010: .419 over 35 PA
  • 2012: .400 over 10 PA
  • 2014: .415 over 59 PA

The fact that he kept it up over an intradivision amount of plate appearances made him extra annoying this past season. Also annoying -- the fact that he never struck out. He put the ball in play, and it often resulted in runs. Only Lorenzo Cain collected more RBIs against the Sox in 2014 (15).

But aside from the RBI total, whatever Suzuki did, the next player did better -- and that's what makes him the White Sox Killer of 2014.

Nori Aoki

Year G PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2014 16 71 31 6 1 0 4 8 2 .492 .549 .619 1.168

Aoki was so successful against the Sox that it dramatically altered his season line.

  • Season: .285/.349/.360
  • w/o Sox: .255/.319/.322

Hell, he raised his average by a whopping 17 points in mid-September by going 11-for-13 against the Sox in a three-game set, which stands as a Royals record for hits in such a series.

Aoki's success against the Sox had me going back through Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index, which carries complete splits through 1938.

Fun fact: Of any hitter to get at least 70 plate apperances against the White Sox in one season, only Bobby Doerr posted a higher average (.500; 34-for-68). But that was in 1944, and that was the first of two years where many MLB rosters were depleted due to World War II. Doerr missed all of 1945 himself.

The pool of players to get 70 cracks at one team during a season is relatively small, so let's dial it back to 50 PA. Aoki drops down a little bit, but the company is pretty damn good:

  1. Bernie Williams, .545 in 1999 (24-for-44 over 52 PA)
  2. Bobby Doerr, .500 in 1944 (34-for-68 over 79 PA)
  3. Rod Carew, .492 in 1977 (29-for-59 over 67 PA)
  4. Nori Aoki, .492 in 2014 (31-for-63 over 71 PA)
  5. Robin Yount, .489 in 1988 (22-for-45 over 51 PA)
  6. Paul Molitor, .477 in 1979 (21-for-44 over 51 PA)

That list has four Hall of Famers, a Hall of Very Gooder ... and Aoki. That's the kind of context that could make this performance stand as the Sox-killingest for years to come.