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Wladimir Balentien is close to breaking the Japanese home run record

Aug 27, 2013, 11:51 AM EDT

Wladimir Balentien AP

One-time Mariners prospect and former Mariners and Reds outfielder Wladimir Balentien has been playing in Japan since 2011 and this year he’s making a serious run at the single-season homer record.

Balentien, who hit 31 homers for the Yakult Swallows in both 2011 and 2012, has 50 homers through 98 games this season. Yakult has 33 games remaining and the all-time record in Japan is 55 homers by Sadaharu Oh in 1964, Tuffy Rhodes in 2001, and Alex Cabrera in 2002.

Balentien always flashed 30-homer power coming up through the minors and went deep 15 times in 511 at-bats as a big leaguer, but he struck out a ton and struggled to post decent batting averages. This year for Yakult he’s hitting .335 with as many walks (76) as strikeouts (76) and sports an OPS near 1.300.

  1. tmohr - Aug 27, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    With that many games left, he’d seem a cinch.

    It’s worth recalling that Sadaharu Oh went out of his way to deny both Rhodes and Cabrera the chance to break his record. Hopefully that won’t happen to Balentien.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Tuffy_Rhodes#Stardom_in_Japan

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Alex_Cabrera#The_2002_controversy

    • carsuke - Aug 27, 2013 at 3:49 PM

      Does Wladimir Balentien have the right to improve and be a good player or is it decided that he’s bad and that his success is the proof NPB sucks ? He learned how to diminish his strikeouts, he’s more patient, he’s a way better player than when he first came two years and a half ago.

    • joanmiller5487 - Aug 27, 2013 at 4:49 PM

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    • moseskkim - Aug 27, 2013 at 6:48 PM

      Would u be my balentien?

  2. rbj1 - Aug 27, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    I’m surprised their still playing him. It is one of Oh-san’s records, and they’re risking a non-Japanese player break it? Has Japanese culture opened up the last few years?

    • rbj1 - Aug 27, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      their = they’re. Stupid brain.

    • yankee172 - Aug 27, 2013 at 12:23 PM

      That’s what I was thinking. Their attitude sort of makes sense if you think about it, too. The American players who play in their league are often either at the end of their careers or they’re guys who couldn’t cut it in the MLB. Similarly, the Japanese players who make it to the MLB are often the cream of the NPB crop. When you combine those two facts it’s easy to understand why the individuals in NPB would develop an inferiority complex.

      To have a failed MLB prospect come into your league and crush your most high-profile records has to be pretty hard to handle.

      • flamethrower101 - Aug 27, 2013 at 2:31 PM

        And my response to that is: If you hate it so much, change the rules so this doesn’t happen anymore. Otherwise, shut your damn mouths and let the guys play.

    • louderthanwords1 - Aug 27, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      Let’s wait to see when he hits 2 or 3 more homers how often he is played and how often he gets pitches to hit. I vaguely remember the stories of Tuffy getting pitched around.

  3. kalinedrive - Aug 27, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    PEDs!

  4. raysfan1 - Aug 27, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    “Balentien Blast?”

  5. holleywood9 - Aug 27, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    Does this only further legitimize Pete rose over ichiro?!

    • drewsylvania - Aug 27, 2013 at 12:38 PM

      Absolutely. The 4,000 hits thing for Ichiro is a farce.

      • forsch31 - Aug 27, 2013 at 1:57 PM

        Not really. Joe Posnanski actually has written a bit about this the past few days. Two things people tend to forget about Ichiro’s time in the Japanese league: (1) it was a shorter season, and (2) Ichiro actually averaged about 50 more hits a season more in his seven seasons in MLB than he did in Japan.

        Obviously, nobody should be making a direct comparison between Ichiro and Ruth, but that’s absolutely no reason to diminish what Ichiro accomplished. Posnanski’s initial post makes a great point in comparing what Ichiro did to what Warren Moon did between the CFL and NFL and what Satchel Paige did between MLB and the Negro leagues: http://joeposnanski.blogspot.com/2013/08/ichiro-and-moon-and-amazing-stories.html

  6. Bhavin Bavalia - Aug 27, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    Kind of important to provide the context of the NPB ball being juiced, no? http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/06/12/japanese-baseball-officials-admit-to-altering-the-baseball-to-increase-offense/

    • jwbiii - Aug 27, 2013 at 1:58 PM

      Ok, I’ll repost my comment on that thread:

      The baseball manufacturing situation in NPB has always been a bit odd. Until a few years ago, NPB had no standardized baseball. Each team had their own baseballs manufactured to their own specifications. The Japanese Baseball Federation was unhappy with Japan’s performance in international tournaments and leaned on the NPB to use to use baseballs that met international specs, so the players would be accustumed to the baseballs and would fare better. NPB offense dropped by 25%. Presumably attendance dropped as well, I don’t know where to find aggregate attendance data for NPB, so this is just a guess on my part. So now they’ve juiced the ball.

      When NPB started using a standard baseball, offense dropped significantly. Those balls that Oh and Rhodes and Cabrera hit were also juiced.

      • Bhavin Bavalia - Aug 27, 2013 at 3:29 PM

        Very interesting. Thanks. Just curious, though, do you have a link to any of this? Would love to read into it.

      • jwbiii - Aug 27, 2013 at 5:51 PM

        This covers most of it, and hey, it’s in English!:
        http://ajw.asahi.com/article/sports/base_ball/AJ201306120072

        You can see the drop in offense here, ERAs drop by a run or so in the season when the new ball was introduced:
        http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/league.cgi?id=0e8aae4b
        http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/league.cgi?id=c512db3e
        http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/league.cgi?id=62afd714
        http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/league.cgi?id=47c050fc

        I can’t find the reference for the Federation pressuring NPB to move to an international standard ball. There have been a couple of excellent Japanese websites that have either shut down in recent years (East Wind Update) or really cut back and I can’t find its older archives (West Bay Stars).

    • paperlions - Aug 27, 2013 at 2:30 PM

      No no no no…that can’t be it. If that is true, maybe people will have to seriously consider the documented changes to the MLB baseball in 1993 as a cause for the HR outbreak that started during the 2nd half of that year, when the ball was changed. Nope, can’t be the ball….must be steroids….or it is Puig’s fault…or ARod’s…..or Braun’s.

  7. weaselpuppy - Aug 27, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    I remember the same thing back in the day when Randy Bass was about to break the record….walked like 20 or 30 consecutive at bats or something?

    Well, at least this is mild Japanese racism…it’s not like they shipped over boatfulls of Korean women as sex slaves or anything back in the day….

  8. DonRSD - Aug 27, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    PED’s

  9. kingvorp - Aug 27, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    anyone even midly interested in japanese baseball and their view of americans in the game should check out Robert Whiting’s ‘You Gotta Have Wa.’ Apparently charlie manuel tried to fight the entire east german hockey team once….

  10. glennsyank13 - Aug 27, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    So the greatest power hitter in Japanese league history couldn’t make it in the big leagues, but according to Bobby Valentine, any Japanese league starter could make a major league team…..

    • raysfan1 - Aug 27, 2013 at 4:41 PM

      Who says Oh couldn’t have played and been a star in MLB? Remember that it was a big deal that NPB ever let Ichiro Suzuki play here. It just wasn’t done in Oh’s day.

      Of course it’s also ridiculous to claim every NPB player could make a MLB roster. However, NPB is generally considered to be between AAA and MLB in quality.

      If you really don’t understand how good Sadaharu Oh was, read this:
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Sadaharu_Oh

    • jwbiii - Aug 27, 2013 at 7:14 PM

      As a Yankees fan, are you seriously suggesting that Kei Igawa could make a major league team?

  11. weaselpuppy - Aug 27, 2013 at 7:53 PM

    Ya better give this guy a chance or we’ll send Rod Allen back to Japan…

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