- Bats Right, Throws Right
Kenny Vandenbranden was a top pitcher in the Belgian First Division and the Dutch Hoofdklasse. He debuted in the First Division at age 17 in 2005, going 6-4 with 9 saves and a 2.54 ERA for the Hoboken Pioneers. In '06, he was 6-3 with 9 saves and a 1.80 ERA for Hoboken. He went 7-6 with 13 saves and a 2.46 ERA in 2007, walking only 16 and giving up 75 hits in 95 innings while fanning 108.
At age 20 in 2008, Vandenbranden was 6-3 with 10 saves and a 2.15 ERA, striking out 88 and giving up only 53 hits in 79 2/3 IP. He hit .263. In the 2008 European Championship Qualifiers, Kenny gave up 5 runs (2 earned) in nine innings in a win over Switzerland, throwing 134 pitches. Belgium won a spot in the 2010 European Championship.
The right-hander was 12-2 with 11 saves and a 1.42 ERA in 2009 though his control got worse with 50 walks in 107 2/3 IP. In the Belgian Series, he started the first two games, both won by Hoboken, as they took their first title in 39 years. His 2010 stats are unknown. He was roughed up in the 2010 Euros, starting against the Czech national team and allowing 10 hits (5 doubles), a walk and 7 runs in 1 2/3 IP before Yannick Sel relieved. His 37.80 ERA was easily Belgium's highest in the event, more than double Sim Ruts' 18.00.
In 2011, he was 2-1 with 3 saves for Hoboken, not allowing an earned run (10 unearned runs) in 31 2/3 IP, striking out 32, to win the ERA title. He was not as good in the 2011 European Championship Qualifiers as his 7.71 ERA was Belgium's highest; Sel was next at 6.23 but Belgium still won a spot in the 2012 European Championship. For Hoboken in 2012, he was 10-1 with a 1.98 ERA, tying Yannick Gontier for the win lead and finishing second in ERA. He had easily their top start in the 2012 European Cup, allowing three runs (two earned) in eight innings in a 3-1 loss to Germany's Paderborn Untouchables. The team ERA was 9.88.
At the 2012 Euros, Kenny was better than he had been in 2010. He was 0-1 with a 5.62 ERA, allowing 3 runs in two innings before being relieved by Sel in a 17-0 pounding by the Dutch national team and giving up 5 runs (2 earned) in six innings before Ben Van Nuffel took over in a 10-7 win over Great Britain. He beat the team ERA of 8.44; among the qualifiers, he was third on the staff behind Van Nuffel and Thomas De Wolf. In 2013, he was 7-0 with a 1.31 ERA for the Pioneers and hit .293/.348/.379 as well. He led the league in ERA again, this time by .64 and he tied Gontier for 5th in wins.
Vandenbranden moved to the Netherlands for the 2014 season when Kevin Knollenburg and Dennis De Quint (two Belgians who had played in the Netherlands) recruited him for UVV. He was 2-3 with two saves and a 2.70 ERA. He was 7th in the 2014 Hoofdklasse in opponent average (.220), 9th in strikeouts (56) and 13th in ERA (between Jos de Jong and Chris Mowday). In the 2014 European Championship, he continued his progress at the Eors as his 3.24 ERA was about the team mean (3.17). He shut out the German national team for the first five innings and left with a 1-1 tie in the 7th but van Nuffel and other relievers combined to give up five runs in the 8th in a loss. He relieved Jordy van den Heuvel with a 3-3 tie, one on and no outs in the 8th against France. He got out of that problem and had a 5-4 lead entering the bottom of the 9th but hit Arthur Paturel and allowed a one-out game-ending homer to Felix Brown to take the loss.
Benjamin Dille, another Belgian national team member, convinced him to join Dutch powerhouse Neptunus for 2015; Dille had been the team's second baseman for years. In the 2015 European Cup, he turned in three strong outings. He allowed one run in four against Heidenheim Heideköpfe but was relieved by Floris Timmer with the game well in hand so did not get the win. He then tossed three shutout innings of relief to get a win over Draci Brno. In the finale, he got the start against ASD Rimini and allowed only one run in six before Kevin Kelly relieved, getting the win as Neptunus became the first Dutch team to win a European Cup in eight years, ending a long rain of Italian dominance.
In the 2015 regular season, he had a 8-1, 1.26 record. He was second in the league in ERA (.42 behind Rob Cordemans), allowed the lowest average (.160, .007 ahead of Pim Walsma), was 8th with 65 whiffs (between Lars Huijer and Jurjen van Zijl) and tied for third in wins (one behind Kevin Heijstek and Diegomar Markwell). He was roughed up in the 2015 Holland Series (0-1, 7.94), losing game 4 to Corendon Kinheim, the only loss for Neptunus as they won the title.
Vandenbranden allowed 3 runs in 5 1/3 IP in the 2016 European Champions Cup before Kelly relieved in a 5-4 win over T&A San Marino. In the 2016 Hoofdklasse, he was 9-0 with a 0.62 ERA, .172 opponent average and 73 K in 72 2/3 IP. He won the ERA title (.26 ahead of Tom de Blok), allowed no homers, was second in opponent average (.019 behind de Blok), was third in wins (one behind Yntema and Huijer) and 5th in strikeouts (between Yntema and Nick Keur). He won Pitcher of the Year honors, only the second foreigner to win in the prior 30 years (American Ryan Murphy had won in 2009; Canadian-born Leon Boyd had won once but had Dutch citizenship), beating out fellow finalists Yntema, Huijer and de Blok. He allowed one run in six innings in his lone start in the 2016 Holland Series, getting a no-decision in game 5 with a chance to clinch the title over the Amsterdam Pirates as Kyle Ward also pitched well. Neptunus would win game 6.
In the 2016 European Championship, he had mixed results. He turned in a complete game (3 R in 7 IP) in a mercy rule win over France in a stunning upset to help Belgium finish 6th, their best in years, but was roughed up by the Netherlands in a relief outing (5 H, 3 BB, 4 R in 2 1/3 IP).
Despite winning Pitcher of the Year honors in 2016, Vandenbranden retired from the Hoofdklasse at year's end as he could no longer keep playing baseball with his off-field job. In Europe, baseball is a weekend activity (3 days a week in the Netherlands) and players hold down other jobs to pay the bills.
- First Division statistics
- CEB website
- Mister Baseball
- 2010 European Championship
- 2011 European Championship Qualifiers
- 2012 European Cup
- 2012 European Championship
- Hoofdklasse stats
- 2014 European Championship
- 2015 European Cup Round 1
- 2015 European Cup Finals
- 2016 European Cup appearance
- 2016 European Championship