CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Futures Guide 2014 is Now Available in Paperback and Three E-book Formats.

Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!

<< Previous Article
Reworking WARP: The Ov... (08/28)
<< Previous Column
BP Unfiltered: 2013 Hi... (08/28)
Next Column >>
BP Unfiltered: Scoutin... (09/03)
Next Article >>
Fantasy Article Bullpen Report: Oh, Br... (08/29)

August 29, 2013

BP Unfiltered

Would MLB Teams Want Wladimir Balentien Back?

by Ben Lindbergh


You might remember Wladimir Balentien from his age 22-24 seasons, when he hit a combined .221/.281/.374 for the Mariners and Reds, or his age-25 season, which he spent with Triple-A Lousville because he was blocked by the barely passable bat of Austin Kearns. Then again, you might not, because your brain has space for only so many baseball players, and Balentien didn’t make much of a case for inclusion.

He’s making a much stronger case today. Now 29, Balentien is having an insane season for the Yakult Swallows in the Japanese Central League, where he’s spent the past two-plus years. He’s hit .339/.463/.826 with 51 homers in 100 games, and with over 30 games to go, he’s a near-lock to break the single-season record of 55 held by Sadaharu Oh, Tuffy Rhodes, and Alex Cabrera, assuming he stays healthy and gets pitches to hit.

Balentien led the league in homers in each of his first two seasons in Japan, but it took much less eye-popping totals—31, both times—to do it. He happened to arrive just in time to experience two extremely anomalous offensive years, thanks to a less lively ball that was introduced in 2011.

This year, the old ball (or something similar) has been restored, and Balentien’s bat has responded. However, his big numbers aren’t purely the product of inflation—scoring has simply returned to pre-2011 levels, not reached new heights. And no one else in the league is within 15 homers of him, other American exports included.

The question, then—aside from “Will he hit five more homers?—is this: How good is Balentien’s bat, really? No major league team wanted him three years ago, at least not at the price he commanded from the Swallows. None wanted him last winter, when Yakult inked him to a three-year, $7.5 million contract that runs through 2016. Would anyone want him now, if he were available?

I asked a Pro Scouting Director whether Balentien’s NPB line suggests to him that he could hit in the States, and whether the industry would be any higher on his abilities after seeing him mash in Japan than it was before he went there. Sam Miller and I discussed his response in detail on our podcast today, so if you’re the sort of person who’d like to listen to the two of us talk, you can put on your headphones and stop reading right now. If you’re not, I want to share the answer with you anyway:

This is a good question, and I'm not sure that I have a great answer. The general rule of thinking is that the level of play in the NPB lies somewhere between Triple-A and the Major Leagues (though much closer to Triple-A). You're going to be running up against fewer pitchers with mid-90's fastballs, and more pitchers who rely heavily on trick-pitching and changing speeds with breaking balls. That isn't to take away from what Balentien has done, but only to highlight that if he were to return to the states, the walk rate would likely drop precipitously while the K rate would rise. But by the same token, I was convinced that there was no way that Colby Lewis could perfom at the same level that he was at when he was in the NPB, and he certainly proved me wrong, so I wouldn't rule out Balentien being able to provide average value for a Major League team. But I think there would have to be a lot of teams that see Balentien as a viable power bat off the bench, and maybe one or two that would be willing (mistakenly, in my humble) to roll the dice on him as an everyday player.

Ultimately, this is almost certainly a hypothetical scenario, since Balentien is under contract and making good money through age 31. But it’s interesting to note that at least one scouting exec in a position of power still sees Balentien as a borderline big leaguer, even after his historic NPB season. That might seem surprising, since as Sam pointed out, anyone would give a player with Balentien’s line a chance if he’d posted the same stats against roughly equivalent Triple-A talent. And it’s possible that Balentien is a better player than he was in his early to mid-20s—he’s walked more than he’s struck out this season, though that might reflect opposing pitchers’ fear more than anything else. But the specter of Rhodes, who could hardly hold a roster spot in the big leagues before becoming a star in Japan, might still be too strong to make Balentien’s power outburst believable to those who've seen him look like a marginal talent in the majors.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

7 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Reworking WARP: The Ov... (08/28)
<< Previous Column
BP Unfiltered: 2013 Hi... (08/28)
Next Column >>
BP Unfiltered: Scoutin... (09/03)
Next Article >>
Fantasy Article Bullpen Report: Oh, Br... (08/29)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Painting the Black: Super Twoing
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Meltdown in Minnesota
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Friday, April 18
Premium Article Notes from the Field: A-Ball Notes
Premium Article Raising Aces: Masahiro Tanaka, the Debut Ant...
Baseball Prospectus News: New Stat Reports a...
Premium Article Skewed Left: How Service Time Dictates Top P...

MORE FROM AUGUST 29, 2013
Premium Article What You Need to Know: An Ugly Outing for Fe...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Wednesday, Aug...
Premium Article Hot Prospect Video
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Thursday, August 29
Fantasy Article Free Agent Watch: Week 22
Fantasy Article Bullpen Report: Oh, Brothers
Premium Article Daily Roundup: Around the League: August 29,...

MORE BY BEN LINDBERGH
2013-08-30 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 2...
2013-08-29 - Premium Article Overthinking It: Erik Kratz, and Another Thi...
2013-08-29 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 2...
2013-08-29 - BP Unfiltered: Would MLB Teams Want Wladimir...
2013-08-28 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 2...
2013-08-27 - Overthinking It: A Search for Matt Harvey In...
2013-08-27 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 2...
More...

MORE BP UNFILTERED
2013-09-04 - BP Unfiltered: Gerrit Cole, New Owner of an ...
2013-09-04 - BP Unfiltered: Decoding the Safeco Paper
2013-09-03 - BP Unfiltered: Scouting Position-Player Pitc...
2013-08-29 - BP Unfiltered: Would MLB Teams Want Wladimir...
2013-08-28 - BP Unfiltered: 2013 Hitter Uncertainty
2013-08-26 - BP Unfiltered: The Significance of Position ...
2013-08-25 - BP Unfiltered: Grading Casper Wells' Perform...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2013-09-17 - Baseball ProGUESTus: Made in Japan