Friday, June 24, 2016

Short and Sweep

Game 75, Thursday, June 24, DBAB
Charlotte Knights: 1
Durham Bulls: 9
5 innings
Season: 34-41; Home Stand: 4-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Stats:
Game Score: Pruitt 57; Season Avg 58 (16 starts, 86 innings)
Tm OPS: Game 1.167 (season high); Avg .654
Tm wOBA: Game .508 (season high); Avg .295

The shortest game of the year was one of the most thrilling — home runs, manager tossed, storm clouds hulking over the outfield walls, an exceptional play at 3B, a win (and 4-game sweep), and a move into second place in the IL South.

Let's work this back to front, because the end of the game saw a very professional, yet nearly unique play. Weather began closing in around the DBAP in the 3rd inning. I started moving toward the exit above center field in the 4th inning when the rain started blowing in. What was urgent at that time was to get in 5 innings before the weather halted the game. The Bulls were ahead 9 to 1 and if they didn't "finish" soon the game would have to be resumed at some date in the future. The Bulls had a quick bottom of the 4th. Now, if they could just get through the top of the 5th.

The first Charlotte batter of the 5th, Nicky Delmonico, floated a popup over third baseman Richie Shaffer's head The wind scrambled things up and the shortstop, third baseman, and left fielder ended up in a cluster around the ball. Richie Shaffer's throw came in to the pitcher Austin Pruit in the middle of the infield and Delmonico figured he could make it to an open third base. He had not counted on the sheer baseball smarts of catcher J.P. Arencibia. Arencibia was at the bag, took Pruitt's throw, and made the out. I don't think I've seen a catcher cover third base before except for  a rundown. Terrific play. Perhaps the game-winning play.

But wait. There's more. The rains intensified. The next batter grounded out, but it took six pitches to get there. The rain was getting harder. On the fourth pitch to the next batter, a fly ball went to left and Jake Goebbert laid himself out  for the inning-ending out. If Goebbert doesn't make that play, the game would be suspended. Instead of eventually being called. Boom! I'm running for my car. The tarp is coming out as the skies opened up.

From Charlotte's point of view, I'd guess they'd put it down to sheer bad luck in the 2nd inning. Their pitcher, Scott Carroll had K'd the side in the 1st inning. But Dayron Verona led off the 2nd inning with a home run (his 9th). Then J.P. Arencibia and Luke Maile singled and a passed ball put runners on second and third. Juniel Querecuto K'd for the first out and Cameron Seitzer's ground ball didn't go far enough so that J.P. Arencibia was caught trying to get home. That put runners on 1B and 3B with two outs. It looked like Charlotte was going to get out the  inning.

Not so fast. Charlotte's third baseman's throw on Johnny Field's ground ball bit the dirt, skipped past the first baseman, a run scored, and Bulls went on the second and third base. Things came undone. Two singles, two walks, and a double later, 6 runs had scored in the inning, Carroll had thrown 65 pitches, and he was out of there.

It could have been even worse. Of course, J.P. Arencibia was in the middle of it. On his second at-bat of the inning, he lofted a ball over the Blue Monster that the ump called a home run. That would have been three more runs. It was an obviously bad call to those of us on the first base side of the field (although we were not going to say anything!) and Charlotte players and their manager erupted and got an umps' conference. The umps reversed the call and Jared Sandberg jumped into it. He must've said something ugly, because he got tossed just as the Bulls baserunners were going back to their bases and Arencibia went back to bat. His objection and ejection were particularly silly on Sandberg's part. If anyone should have seen it was foul it would have been Sandberg from his 3B coaching position. What was there to argue about? By my count, that was the third time this season he's been tossed this year.

By the way, Arencibia drew a walk. Pitchers were changed. Luke Maile flew out to end the inning with the bases loaded. 12 Durham Bulls came to bat in the inning.

In the 3rd inning the Bulls added three more runs on a Jake Goebbert sac fly and a Richie Shaffer double. The rains were coming.

Austin Pruitt gets a "complete game" win out of the deal. And he did look just fine throughout.

This is a very odd circumstance. The Bulls were swept three games to Norfolk, the worst team in the International League. Then they win  four in a row from the team that leads the IL South Division. Plus the Bulls move into second place in the division even though they are 7 games below .500.

Apparently, Shaffer's injury on Wednesday was not all that bad. Reportage on the radio said that when he hit the ground he felt an immediate numbness down his arm and side, something he'd never felt before and that's why he was taken out of the game. In his pregame interview, Sandberg did not sound concerned at all and Shaffer played just fine.

Outside the game —

  • Two new Bulls were seen leaning on the dugout rail last night. One transaction has been announced. The other will probably come out today.
  • Eury Perez was acquired from the Houston Astros. He's been playing in Fresno (How come the Astros AAA team is in Fresno, CA?). Looks to be our (or at least WDBB's) kind of guy — a speedy center fielder. Stats
  • Jacob Faria was also in the dugout. We are assuming he's coming up from Montgomery. The 22-year-old right-hander had a stunning 2015 at Port Charlotte and Montgomery. Less impressive this year with a 4.21 ERA in 83 innings. Still, a legit prospect who chose to go pro out of high school. Radio guys said he was going go into the rotation and that Eddie Gamboa was going back to the bullpen. Stats.
  • Dr. Miraculous has posted his take on the Montgomery Biscuits season to date.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Big Day at Bat; Shaffer?

Game 74, Wednesday, June 22, DBAP
Charlotte Knights: 4
Durham Bulls: 6
Season: 33-41; Home Stand: 3-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Stats:
Game Score: Schultz 50; Season Avg 54 (15 Starts, 77.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game 1.018; Season .649
Tm wOBA: Game .435, Season .293

A big day at bat for the Bulls, as the stats show. But let's get to what matters to Bulls fans first — Richie Shaffer. From a distance (We watched the game on TV) it looked like a "face plant" as he sprawled to his left reaching for a ground ball. After he finally stood up trainer was busy checking out his upper jaw. Today's Herald-Sun is the only source we have on outcome:
The Bulls lost third baseman Richie Shaffer in the sixth inning after he landed hard while diving for a ground ball. He was able to walk off the field. Sandberg speculated that Shaffer may have injured his neck or upper back.
Assuming tradition followed, any update is more likely to come from Tampa Bay than local sources, although perhaps from the radio lead-in to today's game.

Shaffer's departure led to a reshuffle of folks on the field including bringing in Mayo Acosta to catch. We like Acosta and we could not be more happy to report that he got his first hit of the year after 32 at-bats.

Meanwhile, Luke Maile got his first home run of the year, Jake Goebbert got his 6th (plus a sac fly), and Jayron Verona got his 8th.

Jamie Schultz was much improved from his last two starts, which were not very good at all. In fact, all of the Bulls pitchers kept all the Knights in check — except for former Bull and Smithfield High School product Jerry Sands. Sands hit two 2-run homers. Essentially telling the White Sox they shouldn't have DFA'd him. (Ironically, he was DFA'd to make room for another former Bull James Shields.)

If the name of the pitcher getting the win, Dana Eveland, is new to you, that's because he's new to the Bulls. It was his first appearance in a Bulls uniform. "Well-traveled" would be an understatement describing the 32-year-old's career. He has played for 10 different major league teams and 9 different AAA teams. Experience could be a good thing, though. I'd guess it depends on how he works out in the clubhouse.

Outside the Game —
  • Gonna be a bit warmish tonight. Predicting 97° for game time.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pretty Game

Game 73, Tuesday, June 21, DBAP
Charlotte Knights: 1
Durham Bulls: 3
Season: 32-41; Home Stand: 2-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Stats:
Game Score: Gamboa 57; Season Avg 46 (3 starts, 9.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .700; Season .644
Tm wOBA: Game .312; Season .291

Sometimes we get so caught up in our numbers that we forget what a genuinely beautiful game this is.

Last night we got to watch Eddie Gamboa flutter his knuckleball in towards the plate at 71 mph for 3 innings, and then a parade of four more Bulls kept the Knights in check. Only in the 8th were we particularly worried when runners got on second and third base. Richie Shaffer showed his chops as a third baseman, grabbing a grounder and throwing home to prevent a run. They got out of that inning, then Danny Farquhar struck out the side in the 9th to end a very quick game (only a few minutes over 2 hours long).

For the first three innings, the Bulls simply chipped away at Charlotte. In fact, if not for two very timely double plays by the Knights, the score could have been much more in favor of the Bulls.

Good pitching. Good defense. Good hitting. Great weather. A win. What more could you ask for?

Outside the game —
  • Nick Franklin got called up to Tampa Bay.
  • Juniel Querecuto came back to the Bulls from Montgomery.
  • After throwing a grand total of 7 pitches on Monday, Ryan Garton went back up to the Rays.
  • Reliever Dana Eveland is reported to be in the Bulls bullpen. Have not seen him yet.
  • Nice to hear that Mikie Mahtook's broken hand will not require surgery.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Durham Bulls at Mid-Season

The International League season is 144 games. Yesterday's game 72 was the midpoint. How are the Bulls doing? Not so good.

Standings

The Bulls at 31 wins and 41 losses are in third place in a very weak South Division. The good news (?) is that a solid run towards a .500 season might get them to the playoffs. Of course, that's exactly what Gwinnett, Charlotte, and Norfolk must be thinking.


Run Differentials

Runs differentials are a good metric to watch and here the Bulls are really in trouble. If you crunch this difference (currently -61) through Bill James' Pythagorean Expectation formula you come up with an "expectation" that things should be even worse — a won-loss record of 29-43.



How does the current run differential compare to previous years? It is approaching that of 2012, the worst year in the Triple-A Durham Bulls history.


Pitching

Twenty-five ballplayers have stepped up on the mound for the Durham Bulls this year. Two of them (Mayo Acosta and Dayron Verona) were position players. The performance of all of them is charted below. The team ERA of 3.67 is tied for 8th place in the 14-team International League. They strike out a lot of people, 654, and lead the IL in that category.

Until recently, the starting crew was doing exceptionally well. However, during this last road trip the starters were getting steadily worse.


Hitting

The big issue with this year's Durham Bulls is the weak hitting. The Bulls batting average, .256, is league-worst, as is the team OPS, .643. Furthermore, the current trend is drifting downward.


Individual Hitters

Twenty different players have come to bat for the Bulls so far this year. None of them has been particularly impressive. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the performance of the "invitation to spring training/minor league contract" guys. These are the players who usually make a difference. So far in 2016, not so much. We're talking about players like Kyle Roller, Jake Goebbert,  Dayron Verona and J.P. Arencibia. My impression is that Dayron Verona is doing better than his numbers show. He does have 30 RBI. We like him. Richie Shaffer, expected to be the big gun this year, has been disappointing. He would surely agree. An oddity in his numbers is that he leads the team in strikeouts (74) and comes close to leading the team in walks (33). Note that the leaders on this board have very few plate appearances.

This table is sorted by wOBA. The wRAA stat (Weighted Runs Above Average) gives a sense of what the player is contributing to the team in terms of runs.


Name
Age
PA
AVG
OPS
wRAA
wOBA
Johnny Field
24
83
.263
.760
1.4
.340
Jake Hager
23
47
.304
.732
0.4
.329
Kyle Roller
28
187
.216
.692
0.3
.320
Richie Shaffer
25
275
.241
.688
0.3
.320
Daniel Robertson
22
274
.256
.680
0.1
.319
Nick Franklin
25
247
.247
.704
0.1
.319
Dayron Varona
28
240
.235
.691
-1.2
.311
Jake Goebbert
28
175
.181
.618
-3.1
.294
J.P. Arencibia
30
90
.212
.608
-2.7
.279
Luke Maile
25
152
.201
.517
-8.4
.245
Cameron Seitzer
26
100
.185
.446
-7.6
.216

Source: Fangraphs.

Here's a way to understand the table. Note that the Bulls have a lot of "awfuls" and only one even "above average."


Rating
wOBA
Excellent
.400
Great
.370
Above Average
.340
Average
.320
Below Average
.310
Poor
.300
Awful
.290

Bulls Start With a Win; Callups Coming?

Game 72, Monday, June 20, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, North Carolina
Charlotte Knights (White Sox): 2
Durham Bulls (Rays):3
10 innings
Season: 31-41; Home Stand: 1-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Stats:
Game Score: Marks 60; Season Avg 49 (9 games, 53.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .575; Season .644
Tm wOBA: Game .261; Season .291

Justin Marks had an unusually good start, but left the game with the Bulls behind by one run. The bullpen crew threw no-hit ball for 3⅔ innings and the Bulls scored a run on a Nick Franklin single, a Richie Shaffer double, and a Dayron Verona single tieing the game.

In the 10th, after the Bulls got runners on 1B and 3B, Charlotte let Cameron Seitzer get to 2B on defensive indifference, then gave up on a 3-2 1 (oops! Tnx Chris) count and intentionally walked Johnny Field. Knights pitcher Tommy Kahnle walked Daniel Robertson and the Bulls got their first win in quite a while.

This is a critical series for the Bulls as they reach the half-way point of the season. Good start.

Outside the game —
  • The Bulls are now ½ game out of second place in the south.
  • Two Tampa Bay players were injured yesterday. WDBB favorite Mikie Mahtook had his hand broken by a pitch and infielder Steve Pierce pulled a hamstring. More info here and here
  • Can expect two callups today. Bulls currently on the Rays 40 man are Richie Shaffer, Nick Franklin, and Luke Maile. However, the Rays are very clever about manipulating the rules. So, they could add to the roster. Who gets a call? I'd guess Richie Shaffer for one. But who else? Dayron Verona? Or give a prospect a shot? Johnny Field?
Update: Nick Franklin got the call to Tampa Bay (playing in Cleveland). Juniel Querecuto called back from Montgomery. Still short one on roster.
Update to Update (16:19): Relief pitcher Ryan Garton recalled (didn't occur to me that Rays would reach out for a pitcher. Bulls now two short on roster.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Durham Bulls Limp Home

Game 69, Friday, June 17, Harbor Park, Norfolk, Virginia
Durham Bulls: 2
Norfolk Tides: 4
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot
Stats:
Game Score: Schultz 41; Season Average 55 (14 starts, 72 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .683; Season .651
Tm wOBA: Game .297; Season .294

Game 70, Saturday, June 18, Harbor Park
Durham Bulls: 0
Norfolk Tides: 1
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot
Stats:
Game Score: Pruit 74; Season Average 58 (14 starts, 81 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .198; Season .645
Tm wOBA: Game .102; Season .292

Game 71, Sunday, June 19, Harbor Park
Durham Bulls: 6
Norfolk Tides: 10on
Season: 30-41; Trip: 2-7
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

Stats:
Game Score: Wilk 13; Season Average 53 (14 Starts. 80.1 innings)
Tm OPS: Game .580; Season .645
Tm wOBA: Game .258; Season .291

After his best game of the year on June 13, Adam Wilk followed up with his worst. But the Bulls were not helped by what turned out to be one of Jared Sandberg's worst decisions of the season.

By the middle of the 5th inning, Wilk had already given up 9 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs. He was on his 97th pitch. He'd walked two batters and given up a single so far in the inning, loading the bases. A reliever was warmed up in the Durham bullpen. Yes, there were two outs and, yes, Tides' shortstop  Ozzie Martinez had little reputation, but what was the risk in taking out a pitcher who arguably should not have even started the inning?

Wilk gave up a grand slam and the Bulls were behind 8 to 2. They never caught up.

This was an awful road trip, the Bulls losing 7 out of 9 games. In these last three games they were swept by the worst team in the league, although you could now say that the Bulls are closing in on that distinction. Today's game will be the midpoint of the season (the International League plays 144 games, today is game 72) and we will be putting together some midseason stats. But they will not be pretty.

Why? We'll take a look at that. We could blame the Rays, and there's something to be said for that. They just got their head handed to them by the San Francisco Giants and their pitchers and hitters are not having great seasons. You could even argue that last season's turnover at the top of the Rays organization is behind what begins to look like two less-than-stellar seasons for the Bulls.

The question remains, however, are these players improving over the season or not? And if they are not, what's going on?

Should we even mention that in addition to the justly famed Bill Evers and Charlie Montoyo, the Triple-A Bulls had another manager who's name is never spoken, even though he managed the current Tampa Bay Rays manager? Should we mention he managed the 2006 Bulls who finished 15½ games out of first in the South?

Outside the game —
  • Reliever Ryan Garton is back.
  • Reliever Steve Geltz got called up.
  • A Tampa Bay rehab, Ryan Webb, has joined the Bulls. He has never pitched for the Rays. He has pitched one inning for the Bulls and was charged with the loss.
  • Tampa Bay reliever Dana Eveland may be showing up soon. He brings a less-than-stellar major league ERA of 7.56 over 16+ innings with him.
  • The Bulls roster is short a couple of position players.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Tampa Bay Rays in Pictures

The Durham Bulls had yesterday off, so I thought this might be a good time for Bulls fans to take a look at the parent club. Six players who started the year with the Bulls are with the Rays now, so we have an interest in them. They include Matt Andriese, Blake Snell, and Tyler Sturdevant among the pitchers (Ryan Garton just got sent back); and Taylor Motter, Jaff Decker, and Mikie Mahtook among the position players (Nick Franklin just came back).

How are the Rays doing?

The Tampa Bay Rays are tied with the New York Yankees for last place in the American League East. The last couple of weeks show an upward trend.

click on chart for larger image


Similarly, the last couple of weeks saw an improvment in the run differentials. The Rays remain a couple of games below their Pythagorean Expectation, which implies trouble on the pitching side.




The Rays great strength has always been their starting pitching (frequently ex-Bulls). Not so much this year. This chart shows the average Game Score for their starters. Note the numbers after players name are (starts, innings). Since 50 is the target for this metric it’s obvious that the Rays are just barely getting by. Matt Adriese is being moved to the bullpen, at least for the short term, while Blake Snell has just had the two games. Chris Archer and Matt Moore are not doing well at all.