Saturday, August 1, 2015

Blue Moon Over the DBAP

Desmond Jennings, July 21, 2010, Courtesy Durham Herald-Sun

Season: 52-54; Home Stand: 0-1

The Gwinnett Braves are the worst in the International League when it comes to hitting home runs, just 34 on the season, 8 behind the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (The Bulls are second in the League with 91). And that in spite of the fact that they play most of their games in a hitter-friendly park. So how come they got 2 last night? That’s 6% of all their home runs for all year! Sigh.

Former Bull Desmond Jennings is back in town and he met one of the two clothing items I watch for among rehabbing major leaguers. He was in long pants rather than the knickers and stockings all the Bulls are required to wear, but he was wearing the minor leaguer-required batting helmet (two ear flaps, more cushioning) instead of his major league version. Recovering from knee surgery, he was more aggressive on the bases than I expected. He drew two walks and participated in the Bulls’ best shot to get back into the game in the 6th inning when he came to bat with the bases loaded. He got a gift, a 3rd strike foul popup dropped by the Braves catcher. But then had another long foul ball caught on a gutsy grab by the Braves right fielder. 

In addition to the home runs, miscues by the Bulls didn’t help. They had three errors, a passed ball, and a wild pitch that kept the anxiety level high even if they only one led to a run. They’ve had 12 errors in the last four games.

This was our first chance to see Grady Sizemore in a Bulls uniform. He was playing left field and did not do well at the plate (most Bulls did not). The Bulls mostly got runners on base through the generosity of Braves pitching (8  bases on balls), although there was the dinger by Nick Franklin and timely shots by Ryan Brett and Richie Shaffer.

Ah, but the blue moon that rose up from the east around the 8th. Wasn’t that spectacular? Now that’s something you won’t see at Tropicana Field.

Outside the game —
  • I left at the 8th and saw the beginnings what looked to be a enormous traffic snarl developing on the ramps to the eastbound Durham Freeway. To his credit, I also saw Bulls General Manager Mike Birling out there personally trying to sort things out with the road repairing crew at the key intersection of Magnum St and the freeway service road. I got lucky and was able to get on 501 north and back to my part of Raleigh on NC 98. I’m guessing that the post-fireworks crowd had some serious problems. My point is that Bulls folks were trying to figure it out for us. Here’s hoping they did.

  • Mikie Mahtook got called up to the Rays and went 2 for 4 with an RBI playing left field in Boston.
  • Kirby Yates got called up.
  • Catcher Bobby Wilson was DFA'd and claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers, so he’s gone.
  • Catcher Mayo Acosta was assigned “from  Short-Season Hudson Valley”
  • Infielder Jake Elmore is back from a long stint with the Rays.
  • As noted above Desmond Jennings is with the Bulls on a rehab assignment. He would be with them through much of this home stand.
  • Rehabbing Drew Smyly has gone off the roster, but that’s a day-to-day thing. If the Rays want him to pitch against AAA hitting, he’ll be back.

Innings Pitched

The radio guys, Patrick Kinas and fellow Razorback Scott Poser, got chatting about August and innings pitched. Here’s how the current crew looks. The chart does not include innings pitched elsewhere. For example, Blake Snell, not on the chart at all, has 98.2 innings this year at all levels.

click on chart for larger view

NOTE: Sizemore has been called up and Mahtook is coming back — 1 August update

Thursday, July 30, 2015

They're Back

Lurker at the Charlotte Stone Crabs' visiting team dugout. A prospect due for promotion from A to AAA? [story]

 Wrap, Box

Season: 52-53; Trip: 3-8
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

Well, maybe a gator in the visitor's dugout is what the Rays need to import up to Durham for the next few games. The Bulls are going to be in town now for quite a while — 10 straight games. Here’s hoping that they do better than the last 10 games.

Looks like newcomer Blake Snell is the real deal. So we will want to try to make the games he’s starting. He only gave up one hit last night. If not for a wild pitch and an error, likely not even the one run would have scored on him.

Nick Franklin is showing his talent and his performance is one of the few bright spots from this trip. New guy Grady Sizemore was in the last couple of games. Boog Powell has come down from the celestial heights he was at, but still leads the team in his On Base Percentage of .375. Taylor Motter is back in the lineup and had a decent night in Tuesday’s losing cause.

Outside the game —
  • We expect considerable roster turmoil over the next couple of days. We know that catcher Bobby Wilson is headed somewhere. And we have read that Jake Elmore, who played in 25 games before being called up late May, is coming back. Something will have to give to make room for him. 
  • Interesting, for stats geeks, look at Boog Powell, with mention of fondly remembered former  Bull Joey Gathright.
  • Good article in Grantland about the effect of the pace of game efforts
  • Also in Grantland a deep look at the company/team behind some of the advanced analytical efforts in baseball.
  • Lastly, some thoughts from the Tampa Bay Times on trading deadline concerns for the Rays. 
  • Note that the Rays have already traded off one outfielder.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Slide Continues

Season: 51-51; Trip: 2-6
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

The Bulls have now drifted on down to the bottom of the International League South Division. Standings. This was not a pretty game. This is not a pretty road trip.

Visiting Tampa Bay rehabber Drew Smyly  get off to a poor start and it went downhill from there. Apparently the idea was to simply let Scott Diamond, who had been the scheduled starter, come in after Smyly got his pitches in.

Not a bad idea, assuming that Smyly was ready to go. Smyly came up through the Detroit system and this was his first time in a Bulls uniform. After giving up 4 runs on 51 pitches in 2⅓ innings. José Dominguez finished out the 3rd and then Diamond came in for his “start”. He actually settled down after the 4th inning — and 6 runs — to finish out the game. That spared the bullpen for duty another day, or was perhaps simply an example of being left to twist in the breeze.

Note that former Bulls reliever Andy Oliver came on for the Tides in the 9th. He walked two batters but got out of the inning just fine.

The 2015 Durham Bulls team simply isn’t very good. Not quite as poor as 2012, but, as the chart shows, they are working their way down into that region. This computation of net runs scored actually tracks out to an even worse Pythagorean Expectation of a won-loss record of 48-54, so the Bulls are doing a good bit better than “expected” under that bit of math. For a while, back around early to mid-June, it seemed as if things were getting on track. But it looks are looking grim just now. Can it get better? Sure. But not without some real improvement in the pitching crew (and a few more runs per game wouldn’t hurt).

By this same metric, runs scored minus runs allowed, the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays just reached a five year low. That goes some way to helping explain why the Bulls are the team they are. But not all the way. We’ll save for another day a look at the platoon of pretty good baseball players the Rays dropped off the Bulls roster after a spate of panic buying this spring.

The Bulls are off to Lawrenceville, Georgia for a three game set before coming back to Durham. The Braves have been on a run lately and are a ½ game ahead of the Bulls in the standings.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Playing Catchup

Wrap, Box

Season: 50-48; Trip: 1-3
Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

A little bit of catch up on the line scores. We went off to the mountains for a few days and only occasionally checked in on the games. Not a particularly good set against the Knights.

Matt Andriese’s  Game Score of 80 last night was the best Durham Bulls starting pitcher performance this year, just two hits and no walks over 7 innings. He was followed by Andrew Bellatti in a two-inning save for a rare Durham Bulls shutout (the 10th this year). Congrats to both of them.

And the scoring was entirely through extremely small ball. The Bulls drew 7 walks and hit only singles, 6 of them. Luke Maile got above the Mendoza Line (.200) with his 9th inning RBI. Nice to see that.

Outside the game —
  • The first game tonight is a continuation of a rain-interrupted game from July 3. Box score here. The game will go for the usual 9 innings and then be followed by a 7 inning affair.
  • The second game will be the introduction of left-handed starting pitcher Blake Snell, who seems to be on a fast track to the top. Young (22) Mr. Snell was drafted out of high school and has pitched in 16 games this year at A and AA levels. Tonight will be his first AAA start. Stats.
  • The other significant roster change is the addition 32 year-old of big leaguer Grady Sizemore to the Bulls. I’ll confess my lack of understanding of exactly why the Rays hired him or how he happened to still have options so that he could be sent to the Bulls without going through waivers. Not sure I want to know. Let’s just wait and see what he brings to the team.
  • Richie Shaffer gets some love from a Rays blogger. 
  • Remember Hideki Matsui who wore a Durham Bulls uniform for a few weeks back in 2012? He’s back in the game, sort of. Here’s a terrific NYT  article about him playing in a rec league game recently both pitching and batting (right-handed). Thanks to Rays Index for the tip.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vince Belnome Released

Vince Belnome

In 2013 Vince Belnome came to the Bulls from San Diego system. Only 25 years old at the time he seemed to have everything going for him. Here’s what we said about him at the end of that year:

Vince Belnome was the all-around star of the 2013 Bulls. If his performance fell off a bit in the last few weeks of the season, he still had a career year and deserved the accolades he accumulated (All-Star, MVP). He led the team regulars in virtually every category and his importance shows through in his superb wOBA and wRAA stats. At the beginning of the year he played some 3B and even some 2B, but by the end he was essentially the Bulls regular first baseman, although he shared some time with Shelley Duncan. Belnome is only 25 years old, so going forward will certainly depend on his fit with the Rays, not the Bulls. He made a difference to the Bulls. Sure wouldn’t hurt to have him back.

For Bulls fans, he was joining a grand tradition of players like Chris Richard and Dan Johnson, although he was younger than those two. We thought he would likely not be back. But he did make it back for 2014.

The next year, 2014. wasn't nearly as good for him, although he did start the year with his one and only callup to the Rays. In addition his numbers, while down from 2013, were still strong and he played in a lot of games for a winning team.

Vince Belnome (118 games) had a very disappointing year, although things picked up near the end. He never looked very comfortable at the plate and was nothing like the star we watched in 2013, where his numbers eclipsed anyone’s on this year’s team by far. What the Rays (and the Bulls) are going to have to figure out is whether 2013 or 2014 should be the expectation. Mr. Belnome did get his first callup this year, appearing in 4 games with the Rays and picking up a double and an RBI. Will he stay on the 40-man? Hard to say. At a guess, the Rays are going to give the 26 year-old another year.

This year has not been good at all. He was DFA’d in the spring, has not played much at all, and has been stuck well below a .200 batting average most of the season. In some ways we have been waiting for this shoe to drop for several weeks.

Now he has been released to make room for a player the Rays want to keep in waiting, Grady Sizemore.

Where does he go from here? No way for an outsider to know. We have to think that there’s something not quite right physically, but the Rays are notoriously tight-lipped about that.

So let’s take a moment to simply appreciate what he did for the Bulls while he was with the team. The Bulls won a ton of ball games in 2013 and 2014. They brought Bulls fans a lot of pleasure. Vince Belnome was a part of those memories and we certainly want to thank him for them. Plus, he’s young. There’s every chance he’ll land with another team and return to his previous form. I certainly hope so. I’d like to see him stay in the game so we can all say that we saw him play as a Durham Bull.

Good luck, Vince. Thanks.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Relief Crew Implodes

 Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Season: 48-45; Record at Home: 22-23; This Home Stand: 2-4


The Herald-Sun has done a decent job summarizing these two games. I've got nothing to add except ...

Somewhere around the  4th of July the relief crew of the Durham Bulls came undone. They’ve gone from a not-all-that-impressive 3.30 ERA to an awful 4.03 in just a couple of weeks. Where once they were supporting a fairly weak group of starters, they are now worse. 

click on chart for larger view

Friday, July 17, 2015

Maile Makes Good

Season: 48-43; At Home: 22-21; This Home Stand: 2-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Home plate umpire Brian De Brauwere had his hands full last night. He was on the crew (at first base) back on May 1st when the Bulls played the PawSox up in Pawtucket. Veteran catcher for the PawSox, Humberto Quintero, chunked a full-strength throw into Bulls catcher Luke Maile’s gut and later in the game spiked Hak-Ju Lee. We summarized the aftermath at the end of a post back on May 3.

De Brauwere's first big challenge came in the 2nd inning. Cory Brown was attempting to score from second base and to everyone (except the one guy who mattered) it sure seemed like Brown made it past the tag. So we’d have to say he (De Brauwere) missed his first chance.

Corey Brown slides under Humberto Quinetero's tag
Photo by Sue Roth
If Quintero got a gift then, the Bulls Maile in the 5th did not. Again, folks in the stands figured that Boog Powell in left field made a perfect throw home to catch the runner. De Brauwere did not agree.

Maile tags Jamile Weeks
Photo by Sue Roth

However, as they say in some circles, payback …

Even after wearing out the grass between home and the pitcher's mound — Quintero must have gone out the mound 15 or 20 times last night trying to sort out the PawSox pitching crew; he was the main reason the game went on for 3½ hours — in the 8th the Bulls managed to load the bases. Luke Maile hit a very pretty double that cleared the bases putting three runs across and putting the Bulls ahead 8-7.

Even more fun in addition to Maile's 3 RBI ensued. Boog Powell singled and Maile moved to third base. Ryan Brett and Mikie Mahtook struck out and J.P. Arencibia came to bat. Boog Powell attempted a steal of second base. On the throw, Luke Maile headed for home. So we were seeing double steal in action. Powell beat the throw to second and the second baseman threw home. Quintero blocked the plate without the ball as he waited for the throw (remember he’s an old-school guy). Catcher’s interference was called and the run scored. Luke Maile, the young catcher Quintero had essentially slugged in the gut back in May had three RBI plus had stolen home for a fourth run (in the books it will go down as an error on the catcher)! So, in the eyes of WDBB, umpire Brian De Brauwere had redeemed himself.

It got better when he threw PawSox manager Kevin Boles out of the game a few minutes later. Boles was last seen flipping a bird at the ump. Here’s hoping he gets whacked with a serious fine for that bit of childishness.

Lots of other thrills in last night’s game as the Bulls seem refreshed from their break. Richie Shaffer showed a ton of plate discipline as he drew three walks and got a RBI on a bloop single. Corey Brown got two doubles. The team batted around twice and came from behind twice, something not typical in this year’s Bulls.

Roberto Zarate actually looked very good for 4⅔ innings, but that previously mentioned call at home and then an uncharacteristic error by Corey Brown messed things up for him. Similarly, C.J. Riefenhauser got some solid defense from catcher Luke Maile and almost got out of a bad start to the 8th. But then a 3-run homer had him with at least a blown save. He ended up, however, with the oddity of a blown save stat and a win stat.

Best of all from the pitching side is that, at least for this game, the Kirby Yates of 2014 came out of the bullpen and struck out the side. That is a very, very good sign for the Bulls.

Outside the game —
  • Scanning down the Pawtucket roster we see our old friend Ronald Belisario looking very odd in his brand new PawSox hat. Expect we’ll see him the next day or so.
  • Last night the paid attendance 10, 370 and it looked like almost all of them actually came to the game. Good vibe, even if some of them were members of the Red Sox Nation.