What Wladimir Balentien Did: A More Full Understanding

Many of my younger years were spent living in San Diego. As such, I got to watch a lot of the Padres and the Braves — the Padres, because they were local, and the Braves, because they were inescapable. As such, I got to watch a lot of Ryan Klesko, and of all the things Klesko ever did, one in particular stands out in my own mind. I remember few of the important details — I don’t remember the year, I don’t remember the pitcher, and I don’t even remember for whom Klesko played. What I know is that Klesko hit a pitch for a home run, and the pitch was somewhere up near his eyes. Over time, my reenactments probably grew exaggerated, and my memory now is that Klesko homered off a pitch literally over his head. Wherever the pitch really was, though, it was up. Klesko chopped at it, and it soared 400 feet, over the fence and into my brain.

I thought of Ryan Klesko when I saw the most recent clip of Wladimir Balentien in Japan. The single-season Japanese home-run record, if you don’t know, is 55. At present, Balentien’s home-run total, if you don’t know, is 54. He’s mighty close, and he’s got a lot of time. Many of Balentien’s homers this year have been impressive, but I’m guessing none have been quite like his 54th. That homer is unlike most; that homer is straight-up hard to believe.

The .gif, just because:

WladHighHR.gif.opt

The most meaningful screenshot:

balentien54_un

The result is a home run, to deep center field. The location is even with Balentien’s shoulders, standing almost straight up. The pitch is a fastball at 93 miles per hour, thrown by Kenta Maeda, who has a 1.92 ERA, the lowest among Central League starting pitchers. There were two strikes, and the intent was to whiff Balentien by getting him to chase up. He did chase up, just like the pitcher wanted, and the ball went really far in the other direction. Maeda did what he wanted. Japanese pitchers plan, and Balentien laughs.

It should be pretty obvious what I felt compelled to investigate. Balentien hit a really high pitch for a dinger. Here in the States, we have PITCHf/x data going back to 2008 for major-league baseball. Have there been higher pitches hit for homers in major-league baseball? How rare is this, really?

Immediately, there’s a problem: we don’t have Japanese PITCHf/x. So we can’t easily tell the height of the pitch Balentien hit out. But we do have a workaround that might allow us to approximate. In 2009, when he was with the Mariners, Balentien hit this dinger. According to PITCHf/x, the pitch was 3.819 feet off the ground. That’s very high! Let’s look at a screenshot, and let’s draw some lines:

balentien2009

We know the distance from the bottom line to the top one. That allows us to calculate the distance between the bottom line and the middle one, roughly representing Balentien’s lower half. Working through some pixel measurements and simple math, we get 3.364 feet. Let’s assume that stays more or less the same. Now let’s look at homer No. 54, and draw some more lines:

balentien54

Let’s say the lower half is the same. If we know the distance between the bottom line to the middle one, we can figure the distance between the bottom line to the top one. The result of the calculation: 4.660 feet. Of course, this is an approximation, and the real answer is just “way above 4 and kind of close to 5,” but Balentien stands 6-foot-2, supposedly. This pitch is at his shoulders, and his knees are slightly bent. The approximation makes sense. We’re looking at a pitch about 56 inches off the ground. We’re looking at a pitch that gives Jose Altuve a buzzcut.

So let’s take that to our PITCHf/x record of major-league home runs hit since 2008. According to the spreadsheet, the highest pitch hit out was hit out by Jason Kubel in 2009, with the pitch coming in a hair over five feet. That one has Balentien beat, but only in the numbers — it turns out that must represent a PITCHf/x glitch. In reality, the pitch was pretty normal. Kubel did not homer on a pitch at his eyes. He homered on a pitch at his belt.

So we look down. According to the spreadsheet, the real highest pitch hit out was hit out by Corey Patterson in 2011, with the pitch coming in at 4.538 feet. This one’s legitimate. The meaningful screenshot:

patterson2011

That one, also, came with two strikes, with the pitcher just trying to put Patterson away by getting him to chase. Patterson somehow stood up and got himself extended, and that’s the highest pitch hit out in about six years, at least. By our estimates, the pitch was less high than the pitch that Balentien crushed. But then, officially, Patterson is shorter than Balentien by four inches, so that’s a consideration. By raw pitch height, Balentien probably wins. By relative pitch height, we don’t quite have enough information.

Wladimir Balentien just hit a home run on a pitch that was closer to being five feet off the ground than four feet off the ground. That’s seemingly higher than any homer hit in the majors since 2008. We don’t have complete data covering those six years, because sometimes PITCHf/x just messes up. We obviously don’t have any meaningful Japanese data, either, and if we’re going to compare professional leagues, we don’t have stuff for the American minors, either. I don’t know if Balentien hit the highest major-league home run in at least six years. I don’t know if Balentien hit the highest professional home run in at least six years. I suspect he might’ve, but I can issue no confirmation.

But I know I’m impressed, and while you can say what you will about Japanese ballparks and Japanese pitchers, that was a hell of a pitcher on the mound, and Balentien’s homer wasn’t cheap. Many batters have trouble laying off the high fastball. It’s a win to take the pitch for a ball, or to just foul it off. Balentien recognized the strikeout pitch and decided to turn it into a part of his record pursuit. It’s hard to believe that’s even possible.

There’s been some weirdness around home-run record pursuits in Japan in the past. Balentien is a foreigner, and when previous foreigners have come close, they’ve been curiously and suspiciously pitched around. Balentien has a lot of time left in his season, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get pitched around, too. That’s the precedent. Yet the most pressing question for opposing pitchers is just how to pitch around him. It’s probably possible, but I wouldn’t want to be the one trying.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Spit Ball
Guest
Spit Ball
2 years 11 months ago

Sweeeeet find. I’d like to have a recap Of all Vladimir Guerrero’s dingers. He was tall and I seem to remember him clubbing some dingers earlier in his career around the bill of his batting helmet with all hands and a swing that was not an uppercut but a hack that had the tip of his bat 15 degrees above his hands. If only we had the data.

AA
Guest
AA
2 years 11 months ago

I remember him killing low ones more than high. Of course, Vlad hit everything.

Spit Ball
Guest
Spit Ball
2 years 11 months ago

Yeah he definitely crushed low stuff more. I remember the one hoppers in front of the plate as mentioned below. Maybe my mind is fooling me but I seem to remember him clubbing a couple high balls for homers in his younger days with the Expos. When he swung it either looked like he was golfing or chopping wood. One of the more freakishly awkward yet incredible athletes I can remember. His throws looked weird, his swing was LONG, and his running was odd. Yet at his peak he could hit run and throw.

JP
Guest
JP
2 years 11 months ago

No El Oso Blanco vs. Strasburg gif. That ball was at least eye level

RC
Member
Member
RC
2 years 11 months ago

Go back and watch the video. It was chest high…even with the tomahawk on Gattis’s chest. Still very impressive, especially coming off of a Strasburg fastball. But eye-level it was not.

Adrian Beltre
Guest
Adrian Beltre
2 years 11 months ago

Let’s see him do that with his knee on the ground.

Vladimir Guerrero
Guest
Vladimir Guerrero
2 years 11 months ago

Let’s see him do that when the ball bounces in front of home plate.

Al Kaline
Guest
Al Kaline
2 years 11 months ago

He already hit hr 55

Don Sutton
Guest
Don Sutton
2 years 11 months ago
SKob
Guest
2 years 11 months ago

So if he does become the sole owner of the NPB home run title, should I be proud that I owned him in fantasy when he was a Mariner? I’m actually a little pissed! Do they test for ‘juicers’ in the NPB? Not making any accusations, just waiting for the Fangraphs articles about what mechanical improvements he’s made over the years, or if international baseball steroid testing is behind MLB or not. Pure curiosity!

marlins12
Guest
marlins12
2 years 11 months ago

He hit #55

Angelsjunky
Guest
Angelsjunky
2 years 11 months ago

I wonder if he can flip this for a major league career now. Certainly some team would give him a chance at DH.

Of course Balentien might prefer being a big fish in a small pond. I’m reminded of Roberto Petagine, a mythical figure of sabermetric lore.

SKob
Guest
2 years 11 months ago

If he can turn this into a 5+ million a year NPB contract, why risk crapping out in the MLB again? If a MLB team offered him over 20 mill for 3-4 years, he should come over and try again, but otherwise, it’s not worth it!

JayT
Guest
JayT
2 years 11 months ago

Belentine is in the first year of a three-year $7.5 million contract, so an MLB team would have to somehow buy out his current contract before they could make a deal with him.

http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2013/08/quick-hits-balentien-francisco-ramirez-de-aza-angels.html

Dboss
Guest
Dboss
2 years 11 months ago

Win the WBC then you can say that USA have the biggest baseball …. japan won it twice , if MLB only uses American player, then MLB would be a Bowl of fish that small

Vince
Guest
Vince
2 years 11 months ago

You really believe that, don’t you?

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 11 months ago

How dare you impugn Americans’ balls!

SKob
Guest
2 years 11 months ago

I just saw a gif of his 55th homer… I hadn’t notice it above (it’s there though), but he has an ugly leg kick that I don’t remember from watching him years ago! I don’t think he can stop a swing once he starts, so wherever the ball crosses, he has to try and hit it there!

Mister
Guest
Mister
2 years 11 months ago

Any idea what the highest pitch ever hit for a HR by Dustin Pedroia might be? Obviously he wouldn’t be the guy to break the record in absolute terms, but perhaps he’d be up there if you looked at the height of the pitch relative to the hitter. Pedroia seems like he is always lasering line drives and the occasional dinger on pitches at or above his shoulders.

Tom
Guest
Tom
2 years 11 months ago

What speed was the pitch that Patterson hit out? For me, it’s the fact that he hit a pitch that high for a homerun AND it was 93.8 mph that is doubly crazy.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 11 months ago

with Patterson, it’s surprising enough he got his bat on it and hit it fair.

Doober
Guest
Doober
2 years 11 months ago

It almost makes the 100s of high fastballs he struck out on worth it.

Aly
Guest
2 years 11 months ago

When Alex Cabrera and Tuffy Rhodes chased the record, they both faced Sadaharu Oh-managed teams at the end of their seasons. Oh’s not managing anymore. I bet Balentien breaks the record.

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
2 years 11 months ago

Cabrera and Rhodes were also down to just a handful of remaining games. Balentien has 22 games left.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
2 years 11 months ago

I would be amazed that Pablo Sandoval wouldn’t be included?? I remember him hitting a HR on a pitch at eye level that went out over the LF fence. He was batting left handed.

Drew
Guest
Drew
2 years 11 months ago

I remember the one against Latos, I believe around July/August 2010. Maybe the same one?

Blasphemous
Guest
Blasphemous
2 years 11 months ago

I remember that Latos HR – he hit it left handed but it was pulled over the RF wall into the cove. Ball was at his shoulders for sure. Latos could not believe it..

MustBunique
Member
Member
2 years 11 months ago

Wow. Great swat, Wladdy.

Thanks for reminding me of Klesko. Ever watch the show the Adventures of Ryan Klesko? Hunting and fishing, from SENAH ranch in Georgia to diving for Abalone off the coast of northern California. Incredible stuff.

Darryl
Member
2 years 11 months ago

I am experiencing nightmares of Corey Patterson with the Blue Jays.

FeslenR
Guest
FeslenR
2 years 11 months ago

Surprised they didn’t pitch around him to keep Oh’s record like they did for Tuffy Rhodes.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 11 months ago

It’s pretty clear from the gif that, try as they might, they can’t pitch around him.

Harry Hippie
Guest
Harry Hippie
2 years 11 months ago

That pitcher looks like he’s setting himself up for a liner in the crotch.

toleterito
Member
toleterito
2 years 11 months ago

Obligatory Barry Bonds mention: Bonds bettered Wlad’s current NPB season hitting rates over four consecutive complete seasons. In a pitcher’s park. Against MLB pitching. Pitching around him every at bat.

M’s/Reds probably gave up on that Wlad’s bat too soon, considering some of the DHs teams are throwing out there these days.

Cream
Guest
Cream
2 years 11 months ago

Hi! Have you met my friend Clear. He says hi too.

marc w
Guest
marc w
2 years 11 months ago

“we don’t have Japanese PITCHf/x.”

Yes, that’s absolutely true in that you and I don’t possess this data. But isn’t the system installed in Japan, and isn’t it included in the yahoo gameday-like application? Does anyone know where to find old NPB pitch fx data, and did anyone happen to scrape this game?

jessef
Guest
2 years 11 months ago

i remember a blowout where, late in the game, Ruben Sierra (batting for the Yankees at the time) hit a homerun that he actually seemed to have left the ground to hit a linedrive homerun to the opposite field. the pitch was not only high, it was very far outside.

BenRevereDoesSteroids
Member
BenRevereDoesSteroids
2 years 11 months ago

What are the chances that he has ACTUALLY turned a corner? We’ve seen power hitters who were late bloomers before. Whether its Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, or Domonic Brown. Is there a chance that he could be the real deal? Can we assume that the best hitter in a league usually thought to be better than AAA would be a valuable major leaguer? Its at least fun to think about.

Adam C
Guest
Adam C
2 years 11 months ago

This is Wladimir Balentien’s third season in Japan.

2011: .228/.314/.469, 31 HR, 76 RBI, 63 R, 61 BB, 131 K
2012: .272/.386/.572, 31 HR, 81 RBI, 58 R, 62 BB, 92 K
2013: .340/.464/.816, 54 HR, 116 RBI, 84 R, 88 BB, 86 K

This improvement seems really screwy. Well, the NPB has admitted thast they altered the ball this reason and they admitted that they altered the ball too much. Home runs are up 40% from 2012.

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/sports/AJ201306120072

http://web.yesnetwork.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130612&content_id=50449720

dave
Guest
dave
2 years 11 months ago

This is Exhibit A of my suspicion that Japanese professional baseball quality isn’t between MLB and AAA, as many would suggest. Exhibit B would be Tuffy Rhodes.

If these fringe major leaguers are hitting 50+ HRs over there, how good can the overall quality be?

Adam C
Guest
Adam C
2 years 11 months ago

The NPB changed the ball and home runs have shot through the roof. Balentien hit .228 in his first NPB season in 2011. He’s hitting .340 this season. Balentien hit 31 HRs in 2011 and 2012. How he has 55 HRs in about 100 games played? Also, the parks are smaller. I “read” NPB stats as they were PCL stats.

Kaid
Guest
Kaid
2 years 11 months ago

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that smaller parks + pitcher abuse would generally lead to higher HR totals?

Anyway, I would assume that NPB testing standards would be tougher than MLB, since NPB follows WADA standards, whereby MLB doesn’t.

AA
Guest
AA
2 years 11 months ago

Tuffy Rhodes was a definite AAAA player. Have you seen his MiLB numbers? Guy could hit.

Gyre
Guest
Gyre
2 years 11 months ago

Apparently the ball has changed, but I think this speaks volumes about the pitching.

AA
Guest
AA
2 years 11 months ago

The same pitching that seems to come here and dominate?

AA
Guest
AA
2 years 11 months ago

The pitch was 151 km/h. That’s over 94 mph

some.guy
Guest
some.guy
2 years 11 months ago

I’m getting 93.8

Winston
Guest
Winston
2 years 11 months ago

Wlad the Impaler?

dominik
Guest
dominik
2 years 11 months ago

Do you have the average height for a MLB home run?:)

TanGeng
Guest
TanGeng
2 years 11 months ago

Definitely a really high ball. Check out the video here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKiVkURgH_o

It has all the angles.

The ball is basically level with his neck at 2:45.
Sick high ball.

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