As is the case every season, a couple dozen new players made their way to Japan this year. Some guys swim, others sink. Let’s check in with a couple notable players and see how they’re doing in Japan so far.
* all stats prior to game action on May 17, 2011 JST.
We’re doing great!
Wladimir Balentien (OF, Yakult Swallows) — Unquestionably the biggest early success story, Balentien has feasted on Japanese pitching to the tune of .386/.485/.916. The first and last items of that slash line lead the Central League, while the middle one is .001 behind leader Jun Hirose. Balentien’s 13 home runs are five more than the #2 man, Alex Ramirez.
Bryan Bullington (P, Hiroshima Carp) — Bullington opened his NPB career with four consecutive wins, and was duly named the Central League’s Monthly Pitching MVP for April. He currently stands at 4-1 with a 2.19 ERA, and took a no-hitter into the eighth inning on April 29th against Chunichi.
Alfredo Figaro (P, Orix Buffaloes) — Figaro is looking like an inspired pickup by Orix. The numbers so far are pretty good: four starts, 25.2 innings, 22/10 K/BB, 2 HR allowed, 2.45 ERA. But beyond this early success Figaro has a little more untapped potential than I’m used to seeing in NPB foreigners. He clearly has a good arm attached to his right shoulder, showing a fastball that tops out around 95 mph, and a good slider. If he can find a little more polish and become more economical with his pitches, he’s got enough raw stuff to have some good games in Japan.
Mike Hessman (1B/DH, Orix Buffaloes) – It took a dreadful start from NPB veteran Seung-Yeop Lee for Hessman to crack Orix’s starting lineup, but he’s done his job so far. In 32 at bats over 13 games, Hessman is hitting .313, slugging .625 and has three home runs to his name. The catch is that he also has 10 strikeouts and not a single walk. It’s a bit early to call him a success, but I won’t be surprised if the home run power stays, even as the batting average descends.
Jonathan Albaladejo (RP, Yomiuri Giants) — Brought in to replace Marc Kroon, Albaladejo failed to win Yomiuri’s closer job in spring training, losing out prospect Levi Romero. That didn’t stop him from opening the season well, with 15 K’s four walks and one earned run so far in 13.1 innings pitched.
We’ve been better…
Joel Guzman (OF, Chunichi Dragons) — Chunichi is showing commendable patience with Guzman, who has struggled mightily with Japan’s breaking pitches. Through 86 at bats, Guzman has racked up 35 strikeouts, against four walks and 13 hits, for a weak .448 OPS. A little time to work things out in the minors would likely do him some good, but my guess is that the Dragons will give him another 40-50 at bats before looking for other options in right field.
Rusty Ryal (3B, Yomiuri Giants) — Like Guzman, Ryal has had strikeout issues so far this season, with 23 so far in 73 at bats, counterbalanced with minimal offensive value. Unlike Guzman, my casual observation is that Ryal’s challenges seem to be more of the strikezone judgement variety. Yomiuri has already demoted Ryal to the farm squad, but that doesn’t necessarily spell doom for him. Last season, Edgar Gonzalez overcame a rough start with Yomiuri after making some adjustments down on the farm, and wound up having a pretty good season.
Carlos Torres (P, Yomiuri Giants) — Torres has only gotten three starts and 14.1 innings so far, but the results haven’t been good: 9 K’s, 9 BB’s, 15 hits, 3 HR, 13 ER. The good news is that he’s likely to get more chances — the foreign contingent of Yomiuri’s rotation consists of him, Dicky Gonzales and Seth Greisinger, and the latter two have struggled in recent years with injuries and ineffectiveness. If Torres can make his cutter work in NPB, he has a chance putting up respectable results.