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:
|game||Pitcher||Pitch Type||Velocity (kmph)|
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:
|cut fastball||strike swinging||1|
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:
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.