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Patrick Newman

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Balentien’s Hot Start

by Patrick Newman (May 22, 2011)

The best NPB newcomer this season has been, without a doubt. Yakult’s Wladimir Balentien. Through 117 plate appearances, he’s got a slash line of .367/.462/.827 and leads Japan with 13 home runs. It’s not unusual for foreign players to start strong in Japan, but Balentien’s status as a former top prospect, his relatively young age (27 in July) and his massive power numbers make him an interesting case to study.

First I grabbed the opponent and pitch data for the 13 home runs he’s hit so far:

gamePitcherPitch TypeVelocity (kmph)
20110416Takayuki Makkacurve
20110421Yudai Kawaifastball131
20110423Dennis Sarfateslider133
20110427Kentaro Nishimurashuuto145
20110427Tetsuya Utsumifastball142
20110428Hirokazu Sawamuracurve122
20110501Jason Standridgefastball
20110501Shinobu Fukuharafastball138
20110503Souma Yamauchifastball135
20110513Shintaro Ejirifastball145
20110513Kota Sudaslider129
20110513Kota Sudacurve105
20110514Kentaro Takasakislider130

Nothing too surprising here — a lot of unimpressive fastballs, and some sliders and curves which I’ll assume were of the hanging variety. Home runs off Yokohama pitchers account for a big chunk of his power production. What I don’t see in this list is a lot of Japan’s top caliber pitchers, with the possible exception of Sawamura. The power is real, but it’s reasonable to expect it to even out as Balentien faces more of Japan’s top competition.

Balentien entered 2011 with a bit of a reputation for struggling against breaking pitches. That hasn’t really been the case so far:

PitchResultcount
changeupstrike looking1
curvestrike looking6
fastballstrike looking39
forkballstrike looking2
shuutostrike looking2
sliderstrike looking10
changeupstrike swinging3
curvestrike swinging1
cut fastballstrike swinging1
fastballstrike swinging19
forkballstrike swinging7
shuutostrike swinging4
sinkerstrike swinging1
sliderstrike swinging29

To put this into context, Balentien has seen 471 pitches so far. It does appear that he does have a little bit of issue with sliders. I dug a little further into the data and found that he seems to struggle with Shun Tohno, one of the better slider guys in the Central League.

Lastly, the guys at Tsubamegun made this observation:

Balentien has monster numbers, but he needs to watch [Josh] Whitesell work a count, take notes, and stop getting sucked into first-pitches in the strike zone. The results are bad more often than not.

The Tsubamegun guys have seen far more of Balentien than I ever have, so I’d thought I’d check their assertion against the data. Here’s what Balentien has done on the first pitch of each of his 117 plate appearances, aggregated by result:

resultcount
ball51
flyout6
foul11
groundout1
home run6
linedrive single3
strike looking22
strike swinging17

73 takes; 44 swings, 27 resulting in contact. The six home runs jump out — if you took away his other seven homers and he just had these six, he would still be tied for second in the Central League in bombs. The three line drive hits aren’t too shabby either, so we have a total of nine hits and seven outs.

Balentien is averaging a solid four pitches per plate appearance, so he’s not being unduly aggressive. To the extent that Balentien can identify hittable breaking pitches and weak first-pitch fastballs, I say keep on hacking.


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