Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Trade Deadline Bothers Bulls

Ray Olmedo slides into third, safe, 29 July 2014.
Photo by Robert Lahser, Charlotte Observer


Season: 58-51; Trip: 0-1

We missed the broadcast intro last night. But it sure looks like the Tampa Bay Rays’ indecision/secretiveness as they approach the trading deadline cost the Bulls a game last night. How was that? Well, Merrill Kelly started the game and, while we think the world of Mr. Kelly, it hardly seems fair to put him up against the best hitting team in the IL in a hitter-friendly park when he has not started game since 28 June. Since then he’s has only thrown 90 pitches over 4⅓ innings in five relief appearances. 

Nevertheless, Kelly did just fine if it weren’t for the two home runs. He was followed by his colleague Doug Mathis who did not let another run in, although he did provide some thrills with his 3 Ks.

The larger question is why the Bulls, who are already short a reliever in the bullpen (Jeff Beliveau was never replaced) had to use one of them to start a game? A plausible answer is that the Rays may be about to do some trading and want maximum flexibility. So who’s up tonight? 

Yes, the Bulls did have their chances, but the Rays made it tough on them.

Outside the game —
  • WDBB got 15 seconds of fame the other day when one of our charts got posted on the Rays Index. Big deal in the blogging world.
  • The Process Report, another Rays blog, has taken a look at WDBB favorites Kirby Yates and Jeff Beliveau, who are now with the Rays. 
  • Isn’t that a nice shot of Ray Olmedo?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Karns emerging; Knights Matchup


Season: 58-50; Home Stand: 3-4; Standings
Wrap, Box

The first several starts of Nathan Karns were not very impressive, but July has been terrific, with four wins and a no-decision. Notable last night was the sheer efficiency of his pitching. WDBB’s back-of-the-envelope measure of efficiency, pitches per out, was a spectacular 4.29 last night. Add to that his 7 K’s and it was all good.

As were Brandon Gomes, after he gave up of leadoff triple, and Adam Liberatore. A puzzle to us was why, after striking out the first two batters of the 9th, Liberatore was pulled for Josh Lueke. Lueke did finish out with a K after allowing a Joe Bateman-ish double, but we couldn’t figure out why he was out there at all.

At the plate, a very good night. Notably Justin Christian’s two doubles and single; Ali Solis' (!) and Wilson Betemit's (opposite field) home runs; and Mikie Mahtook’s breaking of mini-slump with a couple of singles.

The Mud Hens seem overstocked with left-handed pitching, with all four starters this series being lefties. Overall, the Bulls have not been doing so well against lefties the year, but the last two games’s 28 hits holds out some hope.

Outside the game —
  • Sometimes it takes us a while to notice things, but it finally sunk in that Mikie Mahtook has been playing right field and Justin Christian playing center field the last three games. Right field was Mahtook's spot early in the season when Kevin Kiermaier held center field, and this might be some sort of Montoyo matching up going on. On the other hand, the Rays are more likely to need a corner outfielder before they need a center fielder, so could be they want to keep Mahtook working out there. Of course, the DBAP's left field doesn’t prepare anyone for anywhere, except maybe Fenway.
  • The Rays have DFA’d starting pitcher Erik Bedard. That puts two of their players in DFA Limbo, Bedard and Juan Carlos Oviedo. Even though Bedard did pitch a game at the beginning of the season for the Durham Bulls (4 innings, no decision, 7 April), it’s hard to imagine that he would return. As for Oviedo, maybe.
  • After a long, long trial, the turf at the DBAP seems to have finally established itself. Beautiful. This has been a tough slog for Scott Strickland and his crew — over six months. But it looks great at last!
Matchup

The Charlotte Knights are poster children for the importance of pitching. They lead the entire International League in OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging) and have a pretty good 4th place batting average. On the other hand, their team ERA is the league-worst and their won-lost percentage puts them a decimal point from the bottom in the league. Lately, however, they have been doing quite well.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Bats Come Alive, Joe Bateman in the House?


Season: 57-50; Home Stand: 2-4; Standings
Wrap, Box

Where to start? With the problems with home plate umpire A. J. Johnson who blew a call at the plate in the 3rd inning and then threw Charlie Montoyo out of the game for the first time in 4 years? And who then shrunk the strike zone on Josh Lueke that led to two BBs, a three run homer, and a near disaster 9th inning?

Or the rules/statistical weirdness of Adam Liberatore coming in the game in the 6th inning with two outs and a runner on third base? Liberatore struck out the batter to end the inning and he then left the game. The Bulls scored four runs in the bottom of the 6th to go ahead. For his 4 pitch, ⅓ inning appearance, Liberatore got the win.

Why not at the beginning?

After Matt Andriese served up a walk and three home runs in the very first inning, I was ready to pack up and go home, especially since the Bulls hitting has been awful in recent games. (See the chart from a couple of days ago.) The Bulls were down by four runs and then left runners on second and third in their part of the 1st. But then came a hint, just a hint, the 2nd when catcher Ali Solis nailed the best base stealer in the International League, Toledo’s Ezequiel Carrera (42! so far this year), for the third out of the inning. The Bulls then put four runs across in the bottom of the inning, most notably Justin Christian with a three-run home run, and the Bulls were back in the game.

More than just back in the game, by the end of the night the Bulls had 16 hits for 27 total bases for the 11 runs. And there should be have at least one more but for the blown call at home when Jeremy Moore scored from second base on a Vince Belnome single. As noted above, umpire A.J. Johnson was the only one in the park who didn’t see it that way. Every Bull hitter had a multi-hit game except for Mikie Mahtook and Mike Fontenot. Justin Christian had a spectacular night with 4 RBI off of two singles and a home run. Vince Belnome went for a single, double, and homer. Wilson Betemit had two hits, notable for the fact that the switch hitter was batting right-handed and he’s had trouble with that this year. Watching Ali Solis trundle around for a triple was simply great fun.

Do not want to overlook the performance of Steve Geltz. He came on in the 7th inning and absolutely handcuffed the Mud Hens. He did allow a single, but struck out 2 in the 7th, and everyone in the 8th. Leaving a 4 run lead for Josh Lueke in the 9th.

Lueke promptly put himself and the fans through the wringer. The ghost of Joe Bateman (see below) must have drifted into the house. Lueke walked the first batter, got fly outs for the next two, but then walked batter number four and then gave up a home run to, who else, Mike Hessman. That brought the Mud Hens to within a run. But Lueke K’d the next batter to finish it off.

Outside the game —

  • Joe Bateman was with the Bulls in 2009, 2010, and for a couple of games 2011. In 2010 he appeared in 54 games and seemed to get our hearts pumping every appearance with narrow escapes from disaster. Chasing down his stats I see that at 34 he’s still in baseball and pitching for the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Bluefish of the Atlantic League. 
  • If you want to take a real walk down memory lane, a colleague of his on the Bluefish is none other than Winston Abreu, also a closer of some renown from the same era. And also a favorite of WDBB. Abreu is now 37 and appears to be having a decent year with the Bluefish.
  • We have nothing but fond memories of their time with the Durham Bulls.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

7th Inning, Again?


Season: 56-50; Home Stand: 1-4; Home Game Remaining: 18
Wrap, Box

What is it about the 7th inning? Déjà vu. And not as if it should have been unexpected. Enny Romero has only gone past 6 innings once this year, back on 1 June. Going into the 7th his pitch count was low at 79 pitches, so that must have been why he went out to face famous home run hitter Mike Hessman. Bad decision. Hessman hit a home run. Two more hits and one more run later the Bulls were three runs behind and had even less of a prayer of winning than before.

Because the Bulls simply have not been hitting lately, as yesterday’s chart showed. Last night Toledo’s pitchers tied them in knots. Only 5 hits, all singles, a walk, and a hit batsman. That’s just seven base runners. Plus the one time they did get a runner to second base (Mike Fontenot in the 4th), he was thrown out trying to steal third base. And the Mud Hens were able to pull off three double plays, which did away with three of those guys who got as far as first.

Outside the game —
  • The Norfolk Tides have won six in a row and are coming on strong as the Gwinnett Braves fall off the edge of the cliff (see chart below and the standings) The Bulls’ lead in the South Division of the IL looks much less comfortable.
  • Juan Carlos Oviedo is a Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher who started the season with the Durham Bulls. Technically he was on a rehab assignment and never counted against the roster. He made 7 appearances for the Bulls, pitching one inning in each appearance.[ Bulls stats]  A short reliever for the Rays, he made 32 appearances for 31.2 innings down there. Stats. I mention him because he has been designated for assignment by the Rays. That means that he could show up in Durham. The Bulls are short one man and the Rays did not send Jeff Beliveau back. Could be Beliveau is going to stay for a while. 
  • Dan Johnson’s still up with the Blue Jays and “blasted” a 70-foot infield hit for a go-ahead RBI. He followed that with a 3-run, 9th inning homer to win a game against the Yankees. 


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tough 7th


Season: 56-49; Home Stand: 1-3; Home Games Remaining: 19
Wrap, Box

Beautiful night for baseball at the DBAP. Not too hot, not too steamy. Well-matched teams.

Seems like the 7th inning made all the difference. Mike Montgomery was looking much better than in his awful start down in Gwinnett on the 20th. However, the Mud Hens’ Robbie Ray was looking pretty good himself. Jeremy Moore had muscled an opposite-field home run over the Monster in the 6th to tie the game and Montgomery was up with just 86 pitches thrown. Too many? Hard to say. As a practical matter, no one was warming up. Montgomery walked the first batter, who stole second base and came home as the go-ahead run on a solid single to centerfield. That brought in Adam Liberatore, who had only allowed one of his 17 previous inherited runners to score — by far the best on the team. So although the Mud Hens were ahead by one with no outs it didn’t look impossible to catch up. But a bizarre bunt single that went out into right field put runners on first and third and the runner on third scored before Liberatore could put out the fire with two ground outs and a K. Should Montgomery have started the 7th? Probably not. Ain’t hindsight wonderful? Vince Belnome's pretty shot, also opposite field over the Monster, would not be enough.

Let’s celebrate the Bulls homers though, by Vince Belnome and Jeremy Moore. Let’s continue to worry about Hak-Ju Lee, who does not seem to be improving this last month either at bat or in the field.

Outside the game —
  • Terrific essay on Charlie Montoyo’s record-setting career as Bulls manager in the program notes for this series. Worth coming to the game to get a copy.
  • Nice ceremony after the game honoring Charlie. Nice to see wife and children out there with him.
  • Don’t look now, but there’s been a complete turnover in the IL South Division. Norfolk and Charlotte have both put together winning streaks, Norfolk rising to 2nd place and Gwinnett dropping into last place in just the last few days.
  • Looking back to a game a year ago, July 25, 2013, some interesting names pop up in a Bulls-Braves game.
  • Notice the surprising number at the beginning of this post. Only 19 home games left! Where did the season go?
More Geek Stuff

In spite of a couple of homers, Bulls hitters have not been doing well lately. This is the game-by-game team wOBA (weighted on-base-average) of the last 20 games. It’s the trend that matters. As for what it means, let’s just say that the descriptors for wOBA include terms such as “average” for .320 to “awful” for .290, which is where the trend is below after last night’s game. In other words, it ain’t looking good these days.


Friday, July 25, 2014

The Rain Came Down; Mud Hens in Town

We should have known that it was a doomed effort from the start. After all, that’s what all the weather predictors were saying. Nevertheless, the tarp was pulled in time for the game and we drove through thunderstorms to the DBAP, getting there one inning late. That meant we only saw a couple of innings of baseball before the tarp came back on. At that, though, the Red Wings were hitting Alex Colome pretty well. Worrisome.

The Bulls are going to try to finish the game while they are up at Rochester next month.

Matchup

The Toledo Mud Hens seemed to have sorted themselves out until they arrived in Norfolk four days ago. But then they lost four in a row and are coming in to  Durham in 3rd place in the West. [standings] Statistically, the Mud Hens and Bulls are not that far apart in any department.


Possible Bulls starters for the four game series are: Mike Montgomery, Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, and Nathan Karns.

Geek Stuff

The Pythagorean Expectation computation attempts to translate runs scored for and against into win and losses. So if you were to run the PE equation as we went along this season, here’s what you would get.

click on chart for expanded view

Now, the question is, how come the Bulls are doing better than their expectation? The most likely answer is the bullpen. The Bulls overall ERA is nothing special. At 3.57 they are 4th in the IL. But the relievers’ ERA is 2.86, pretty special. Otherwise, something of a mystery, and something to worry about if the Bulls cannot score runs to push their expectation up. It takes runs to win a game, and the Bulls are not as good at that as some of their competitors.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ugly, Ugly, Ugly


Wrap, Box, Rochester


Season: 56-48; Home Stand: 1-2; Standings
Wrap, Box, Rochester

The Rochester Red Wings did not score one earned run last night.

And that just about says it all. Plenty of blame to go around, but this was the worst, by far, game of the year for Durham Bulls defense. Prior to last night, the most errors in one game had been two. This set a new record. Another new record was strikeouts, 16, but in an 11-inning game that’s bad, but not the worst of the year. That would be 15 K’s in a 7-inning game on May 16 against Charlotte. Buy, hey, the Bulls won that game 6-2. So it wasn’t the K’s, it was the E’s.

Outside the game —
  • You have to think that Neil Allen must have puffed up with pride when he looked at the Rays/Cardinals box score yesterday morning. All the pitchers were former Durham Bulls and 3 out of 4 from this year. 
  • Jeff Beliveau was among them. He’s been called up for the 4th time this year. He’s only made three game appearances, though.
  • No replacement for Beliveau has been named. The Bulls are operating one relief pitcher short in the bullpen and used three last night.