Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Red Wings Arrive

Season: 55-46; Home Stand: 1-0; Standings
Wrap, Box, Rochester

Enny Romero is not my favorite Bulls pitcher, so you will forgive me if I point out that last night he started out the first three innings with a runner on base, and did it again in the 5th. But only the walk he gave up to start the 5th scored. Meanwhile, his opponent, Rochester’s Sean Gilmartin, didn’t let a Bull on base for the first three innings, striking out five of them. Finally Jayson Nix singled and, who else, Jeremy Moore doubled him in in the 4th. Another run in the 5th, and then things really unraveled for Gilmartin in the 7th with the Bulls scoring one run while he was still in the game and then pushing across the two guys he left on base when he left.

This was the first game at the DBAP for the Bulls since July 7th, two weeks ago. Of course, several played in the All-Star Game, but it was still something of a homecoming for them. They showed at least some of that in their aggressiveness on the base paths, although that didn’t exactly pay off for them. Two runners going from 2nd to 3rd got put out, Jeremy Moore stretching out a double and Hak-Ju Lee in an awkward steal attempt.

Has Romero turned it around? Hard to say. On paper last night he was much, much better than his last six starts (5 losses and one no-decision). Certainly the Rays think a lot of him. So, maybe.

The Big Deal was, of course, Charlie Montoyo’s win # 614. Lots of well-deserved accolades, including ours.

Outside the game —
  • Tim Beckham, a regular presence on the infield for the 2012 and 2013 Durham Bulls, played in a game down in Florida yesterday. He messed up his knee working out in the off-season. As far as we can tell, this was his first official appearance this year. Good news for him and very likely for the Durham Bulls if he’s ready to progress.

Montoyo at 614

Photo courtesy Durham Bulls
The 2006 Durham Bulls finished the season 15½ games behind the Charlotte Knights. The year served as a pause following the Bill Evers years (1998-2005, 613 wins). John Tamargo was the manager of a team that struggled to deal with some very difficult personalities including B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, and Elijah Dukes. It was my first year watching the Durham Bulls. I wasn’t sure I’d be coming back. And I didn’t have a clue about how important the manager is to a Triple-A team.

Tamargo moved on and Charlie Montoyo was promoted up from the Montgomery Biscuits. In 2007 he began his extraordinary run as the manager of the Durham Bulls that reached 614 wins last night.

Just a short list of some of the ballplayers he’s managed is a testimony to a man doing his job — getting players to, or back to, the major leagues. Among them would be: Elliot Johnson, Evan Longoria, Justin Ruggiano, Ben Zobrist, Jeff Niemann, Andy Sonnanstine, Mitch Talbot, Dale Thayer, Ried Brignac, Jonny Gomes, John Jaso, Dan Johnson, Grant Balfour, Wade Davis, Scott Kazmir, David Price, Desmond Jennings, Joe Bateman, Jose Lobaton, Dioner Navarro, Jeremy Hellickson, Tim Beckham, Brandon Guyer, Stephen Vogt, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Dane De La Rosa, Brandon Gomes, Dirk Hayhurst, Jake McGee, Matt Moore, Ryan Reid, Cory Wade, Matt Joyce, Hideki Matsui, and many, many more who pitched or got at bats in the majors after passing through Durham.

That’s quite a list and one he should be proud of, along with all the South Division titles. Manager of the Year awards, and more. As we’ve written elsewhere, as wonderful as the Governors’ Cup championship is, the true measure of an International League team is the Division championship. And he's won it almost every year he's been managing the Bulls.

For a closer look, see Bull City Summer or John Feinstein’s Where Nobody Knows Your Name for insights into the challenges of Triple-A management.

In the meantime, let me just add my congratulations and thanks. Every time Charlie makes his run down the third base line to take up his position in the coach’s box I think we’re ready to win another game. Last night we did.

For more, check out this and this.

Photo courtesy Durham Bulls

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gettin' Outa' Laurenceville; Red Wings in Town

Season: 55-46; Road Trip: 2-2; Standings
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

That 2nd inning was just ugly. Doug Mathis came on after Mike Montgomery had managed only four outs, let 6 runs in, and had 2 runners on base.

Mr. Mathis has become this year’s sacrificial goat. He goes off to “extended spring training” or “Hudson Valley” when roster room is required. He comes back after the Rays have raided the Bulls. He usually comes in for long, very long, relief situations, often when the game is already out of hand. Is he any good? Hard to tell. All things considered, his line of 18 appearances, 49 innings, with an ERA of 4.22 isn’t bad at all.

After Mathis’ 3 innings, a couple of pitchers who haven’t thrown in a game since before the All-Star break got some time in: Riefenhauser and Kelly. Adam Liberatore wrapped up a lost cause.

Not a game for the Bulls to be proud of, though.


Tonight is the first time that the Durham Bulls have seen the Minnesota Twins’ Triple A team, the Rochester Red Wings, this year. After this four-game home series, the Bulls will play them again in the middle of August for their last out-of-division games before the end of the season. The Red Wings are doing very well in the tough North Division of the International League. In fact, if the season ended today, they’d be the Wild Card team for the International League playoffs.

The Red Wings lead the Bulls in every key statistical category listed, so the Bulls will have their work cut out for them over the next couple of days. And there’s the very distinct statistical oddity of their Pythagorean Expectation being so far off from their actual. That implies a lot of games lost by low scores, and games won by very big scores. Let’s hope that they don’t start balancing that out tonight.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Durham Bulls Hitters — 100 Games

We last looked at the Bulls hitters when the team was 60 games into the season. We’ve seen a few changes since then.

This table is sorted by Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) a stat we really like. A second not-usual stat is Weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA), which compares the player to the rest of the league in terms of runs contributed. The table is sorted by wOBA.

Players marked by an asterisk are on the Tampa Bay Rays 40-man roster. Those marked with a strike-through are players who have played with the Bulls this season, but are playing with the Rays right now. Two of them (Curt Casali and Cole Figueroa) we expect back. The other, Kiermaier, we’re not so sure about. He’s now had more games with the Rays (50) than he did with the Bulls.

Jeremy Moore
Mikie Mahtook
*Kevin Kiermaier
*Cole Figueroa
Justin Christian
*Vince Belnome
Mike Fontenot
Wilson Betemit
Jayson Nix
*Curt Casali
Robby Price
*Hak-Ju Lee
Ray Olmedo
*Ali Solis
Mayo Acosta

Source: FanGraphs

What’s changed? The big change is the addition of Jeremy Moore to the roster. He’s right at the top and he’s made an obvious difference. Mikie Mahtook continues doing very well. Justin Christian’s wOBA has improved from .355 to .362. Vince Belnome’s wRAA has come up a couple of points. Hak-Ju Lee, however, has seen his wOBA drop from .285 to .256, although Ray Olmedo’s drop has been a bit worse, .290 to .256.

This year’s Durham Bulls are not a great hitting team, but they aren’t bad. .320 is considered an “average” wOBA and most of this year’s Bulls are above that line.

Above Average
Below Average

Consider, for example, this year’s Tampa Bay Rays. Yes, it’s the major leagues, and yes, it’s a bit of a stretch. But several of them, notably Evan Longoria and Wil Myers, are not having good years. Note who’s at the top of the list.

Kevin Kiermaier175.313.921.39711.5
David DeJesus210.269.806.3587.4
Sean Rodriguez165.240.808.3484.6
Ben Zobrist376.267.763.3387.6
Matt Joyce308.270.773.3365.7
Desmond Jennings400.244.723.3254
James Loney407.283.717.3181.9
Evan Longoria431.260.723.3161.3
Brandon Guyer158.275.686.307-0.7
Wil Myers224.227.666.299-2.2
Yunel Escobar317.249.657.295-4.2
Ryan Hanigan190.212.636.291-3.1
Logan Forsythe210.250.649.289-3.7
Jose Molina165.196.442.205-13.7

100 Games; 55 Wins; A Good Year

Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

Season: 55-45; Trip: 2-1; Standings
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

The Gwinnett Braves had not scored a run in 28 innings and had lost their last five games. But they got a run off Alex Colome in the 3rd inning last night and that would be enough.

Only Jayson Nix had a good night, and that was spectacular as he went 4 for 4 with two singles, a double, and a triple as well as the Bulls’ only RBI. But it wasn’t enough.

Outside the game —
  • If you look a the box score of Friday’s Rays-Twins game a Bulls fan will see something interesting at the bottom of the lineup. The last three players came to the Rays from the Bulls this year. One of them, Curt Casali, actually started the year in Montgomery and was the starting catcher. Cole Figueroa started at 2B,  and Kevin Kiermaier was in right field. Casali got several nice comments from Rays manager Joe Maddon and also got a hit in his first AB. 
  • We’ll have more later, but Charlie Montoyo has now led the Bulls to 613 wins, tied for the most wins in Durham Bulls Triple-A history. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Back From the Break, In Style

Season: 54-44; Trip: 1-0; Last 10: 7-3; Standings
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

It's well beyond the actual midpoint of the season for Triple-A (that was back on June 15, game 72) and yet a psychological midpoint and several days off for most of the Durham Bulls. The game started out with a wonderfully familiar sequence: runners on 1st and 2nd (Justin Christian and Vince Belnome), and Jeremy Moore doubled in two runs and the Bulls never looked back.

WDBB’s favorite starting pitcher of 2014, Matt Andriese, was on the mound and threw a stellar 7⅔ innings backed up by 5 (count ‘em, 5!) double plays. Everyone but Robby Price and Vince Belnome got hits and they both got on base with walks.

The quirky stat (other than all the double plays) is probably the fact that they scored 7 runs on only two extra base hits (doubles by Moore and Mahtook.

This was the first shutout by Bulls pitching since June 9th.

Outside the game —
  • Catcher Curt Casali has been called up to the Rays. This will be the young player’s first time in the major leagues and the Rays will be doing some razzle-dazzle with the 40-man to make it happen. The callup was because Rays' catcher Ryan Hanigan will go on the 15-day disabled list, but outfielder Wil Myers is going on the 60-day disabled list to make room.
  • Not sure that we’ve mentioned that Jerry Sands, a terrific hitter who started the season with the Bulls, is likely out for the rest of the season after being called up to the Rays and then being injured.
  • Along those lines, have not heard a thing about injured infielder Tim Beckham in a long time.
  • We’ve been waiting for ground ball inducing pitcher Matt Andriese to pitch before putting up this link. In it blogger Cork Gaines speculates that the Rays don’t particularly like ground ball pitchers in their stable because the artificial turf down at Tropicana Field makes turning double plays difficult. To be honest I’m not sure the analysis holds up, but if it does it looks like a terrific young pitcher for the Bulls might not have a future with the Rays.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Durham Bulls (and the Rays) at All-Star Break

The Bulls begin their post-All-Star season at 53-44, 9½ games ahead of Gwinnett in the South Division. [standings] If the playoffs were to begin today, the Bulls would face a first round playoff series against the Columbus Clippers or Indianapolis Indians (they are tied in the West) while Syracuse (North) and Rochester (Wild Card) would be playing each other. This upcoming series could be Gwinnett’s last, best chance to climb back into contention.
[Note: click on charts for larger views]

The net runs scored/runs allowed chart shows a bit more dramatically the problems in June and the stabilizing and modest recovery since then. The Bulls' Pythagorean Expectation is 51-46, that is, they are doing better than expected. Conventional wisdom attributes that to relief pitching. That certainly appears to be the case as far as the Bulls are concerned.

This cumulative ERA chart shows the huge slippage in starting and relief pitching in June and then shows how it stabilized a bit overall (and improved among the relievers) in recent days. See our recent post on individual pitchers here.

If you take the last 20 games, figure the team OPS for each game, and slap a trend line on it, it looks like this. Pretty good trend, even if the absolute numbers are nothing special.

The Tampa Bay Rays

Since we’ve got the numbers, how about our friends down in St. Petersburg? They are tied for last place in the American League East.

And have a pretty dismal net runs scored chart. But looking better in recent days. At 44-53 they are doing worse than their Pythagorean Expectation of 46-51. Again making their bullpen suspect. No surprise there.

On the other hand, when they reached their nadir for the season back in mid-June I commented that they would be doing well to reach .500 on the season. Here’s a chart that implies that if they stay on track they could reach that goal.