When Jabari Blash signed with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League it was met a lot of enthusiasm from certain online circles. Blash had been a Minor League Baseball stud, known for his towering home runs. When Blash connected with one it was a sight to see and the idea of him in NPB parks made some think he was going to do nothing but mash tater after tater.
Blash possesses both the raw physical tools and a baseball mind that teams dream of in their players. However, simply having those skills doesn’t mean that a player will be able to translate it onto the field. Blash was able to translate his considerable attributes onto the field in the minor leagues no problem, but the major leagues represented something of a challenge for the U.S. Virgin Islands native. In nine full seasons of minor league ball, Blash never put up a DRC+ below 107. In 2018 with the Salt Lake Bees of the Triple-A level Pacific Coast League Blash sported a massive DRC+ of 180, only good for his second-best season in the minors.
It’s easy to see why people, lots of smart people, thought Blash would decimate the baseball upon arriving in Japan. My take was somewhat more measured because in terms of skill NPB is closer to Major League Baseball’s level than it is to MiLB. In three abbreviated MLB stints, Blash had never posted a DRC+ above 81. The main culprit was a change in Blash’s ability to get on base. He was an on-base machine in the MiLB ranks, but in MLB he found himself walking back to the dugout more often than not. Blash has always had the propensity, if not the actual results, for high strikeout numbers coupled with low walk rates. However, in MiLB, he made more than enough contact to make up for any high strikeout totals. With the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres Blash struck out a lot and when he did make contact it was very weak and lacking in the prodigious power he had become known for.
Taking all of the above into account my measured take makes more sense, but, alas I was very, very wrong to be measured. Blash has been dominating NPB pitching, to the tune of a slash line of .296/.426/.631. He’s walking more and striking out less, 39 and 64 in 256 plate appearances. He’s back to making quality contact in his other at-bats with the prodigious power returning in the form of an ISO of .330. His WRC+ (DRC+ isn’t calculated for NPB and in its absence, WRC+ is the closest approximation) is a league-leading 183. His wOBA isn’t at his MiLB insane .470+ levels, but it’s damn close at an excellent .446.
A Hard Hit% of 45.9 is good enough for second in the league, behind only Xavier Batista, and he’s mainly punishing pitches in the zone. His Z-Contact% of 74.4 illuminates his Hard Hit%; he’s making good contact, and when he is it’s on balls in the zone that he is hitting very hard. Blash’s overall SwStr% of 14.9 is very high, tops in the NPB among qualified hitters by a very wide margin. However, it’s not concerning because Blash is who he is, a guy who swings hard, swings often, and will miss more than most. As long as he keeps hitting for power, and keeps, or improves upon, his Hard Hit% and Z-Contact% there’s no reason for the Eagles to be nothing but ecstatic about the player they acquired in Blash.
By every available measure, Blash has been hitting and hitting extremely well. Taking his league average defense and below average baserunning into account, Blash has been worth 2.9 dWAR and is just outside the top ten positional players in NPB this year. Blash is going to stick in the NPB, the right-handed slugger will be mashing home runs for many years to come. I’m glad Bash has found his home, he’s such a fun player to watch. In NPB Blash is showing the raw talent and the baseball mind he’s always possessed are still present and that he can shine on the biggest stage. Oh, and did I mention, he’s hitting lots of taters?
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Kyodo News