Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pic of the Week

Wladimir Balentien of the Yakult Swallows
watches his 56th home run of the season
leave the yard. The homer broke the
Japanese home run record set 49
years ago by Sadaharu Oh.

Wladimir Balentien showed good (but not great) power in the minor leagues. He also showed almost no strike zone judgment, with such walk-to-strikeout ratios as 33-to-160 early on. Those ratios improved as he moved up the ladder.

When he reached the majors, with Seattle and then Cincinnati, he got only sporadic playing time (559 plate appearances over three seasons) and didn't do much with it: 15 home runs and a slash line of .221/.281/.374.

So it was off to Japan for the native of Curacao. There he debuted with 31 homers but a .228 average. Second season, another 31 dingers, .281 average.

And this year: 58 home runs (according to Baseball Reference this morning) and a .341 average. Wowzer. (And about as many walks as strikeouts, further testimony to his growth as a hitter.)

Japan's majors aren't at the same level as the American big leagues — just ask Tsuyoshi Nishioka — but this is still an impressive accomplishment.

The 29-year-old has a long-term contract with the Yakult Swallows (another three years to run), so I doubt he's headed back for another crack at the American majors.

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