Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Catching Up With the Bulls



The big news, so far, is that Craig Albernaz, one of our all-time favorite Bulls, will be back with the team as a coach. For example, there's this post from back in 2013.

Otherwise, not much change in the coaching staff.

Here's what we've heard about the players (and we have probably missed some of them).

The Hit Bulls Win Blog has provided a solid summary of players departed here. Notable are hitters/position players Richie Shaffer, Taylor Motter,  Jaff Decker, and Juniel Querecuto (which means I won't have to fumble around trying to type his name any more).

Among the pitchers, Adam Kolorek and Parker Markel are gone for sure.

For our comments about their 2016 year see our links to 2016 hitters and pitchers.

Since the HBWB item, reliever Steve Geltz has gone to Milwaukee.

Overall, it will be good to see some fresh faces. Here's hoping that they land on their feet with their new organizations.

The Rays are beginning to sign players to minor league contracts, adding players to their 40-man roster, and issuing invitations to spring training. Names we recognize are pitchers Dana Eveland, Justin Marks, and Neil Wagner and hitters Ryan Brett, Johnny Field, Jake Hager, Patrick Leonard, and Dayron Verona.

Overall, the Rays have not created a lot of excitement so far in the off-season, so it's hard to tell if 2017 will be a better, or at least more interesting, year for the Bulls.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Former Durham Bulls in the Playoffs

At least 13 former Durham Bulls are on the rosters of this year's playoff teams. Two of them are on the 60-day disabled list, so unlikely that we will see them in action. It's a bit of a commentary on the Rays that three of them (Gimenez, Navarro, and Lobaton) are catchers.

Congrats to them all. Good luck to them all.

Who did I miss?

Boston Red Sox
  • David Price, Durham Bull 2008, 2009 [stats]
Baltimore Orioles
  • Joey Rickard (DL, thumb injury), Durham Bull in 2015 [stats]
Toronto Blue Jays
  • Melvin Upton, Jr., Durham Bull 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 [stats]
  • Dioner Navarro, Durham Bull in 2010 [stats]
Cleveland Indians
  • Chris Gimenez, Durham Bull 2013, 2014 [stats]
  • Brandon Guyer, Durham Bull 2011, 12, 13, 14 [stats]
Washington Nationals
  • José Lobaton, Durham Bull 2010, 2011, 2012 [stats]
Chicago Cubs
  • Jason Hammel, Durham Bull 2005, 2006, 2007 [stats]
  • Ben Zobrist, Durham Bull 2006, 2007, 2008 [stats]
LA Dodgers
  • Scott Kazmir, Durham Bull 2008 and 2009 (rehab) [stats]
  • J.P. Howell, Durham Bull 2006, 2007, 2011 (rehab) [stats]
NY Mets
  • Justin Ruggiano (DL, shoulder surgery), Bull 2007-2011 [stats]
San Francisco Giants
  • Matt Moore, Durham Bull 2011, 2013 (rehab), 2015 (rehab) [stats]
Update:

We missed two former Bulls, but thanks to the Hit Bull Win Blog, we stand corrected.
  • Mike Montgomery, now with the Cubs, was a Bull back in 2013 and 2014.
  • Adam Liberatore, now with the LA Dodgers, was a Bull in 2012 thru 2014. He won't be pitching this post-season since he's out for elbow surgery.

Lots of interesting trivia at HBWB.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What Happened to the Rays on June 16th?

June 16th was the beginning of a long, long, long slide for the Tampa Bay Rays.

click on chart for larger image

The Seattle Mariners were playing the Rays inside the Bandbox-By-The-Sea Bay. The day before (the 15th) the Rays had won a 13 inning affair when the Mariners pitcher gave up a triple to Logan Forsyth, hit Tim Beckham, walked Taylor Motter, and walked Logan Forsyth for the winning run. Matt Andriese, who had been sent to the bullpen after winning five games as a starter, got the win in relief. The game lasted 4½ hours. Box. Wrap. That was to be the last game that the Rays had even a sniff at competing in the American League East.

Although no one noticed, the next day was the beginning of the end. June 16th was a Thursday and the last of the three-game set against the Mariners. It was a day game starting at 1 o'clock after Wednesday's long game. The Trop had 11,331 fans in paid attendance. Blake Snell was having his debut appearance at Tropicana Field. He'd had a spot start back on April 23, but with this start he was going into the rotation to stay for the rest of the season.

Seattle Mariners: 6
Tampa Bay Rays: 4
Box, Wrap

Snell's first inning didn't go well when the Mariners scored three runs, two of them on a Tim Beckham error. Nor did his 4th inning when the bases were loaded, partially due to yet another Tim Beckham error. Snell left the game with the bases loaded and Ryan Garton gave up a two-run double. Snell took the loss, but was only charged with one earned run of the five scored on his watch.

Meanwhile, the lineup for that day included four players hitting below .200 and a couple just barely over that line. Nevertheless, they did put together 12 hits and 4 runs. They were just one run back until Tyler Sturdevant gave up a home run in the 9th.

Manager Kevin Cash and Steven Souza were quoted in the Tampa Bay Times the next day:
   "We found some ways to win this series; obviously we didn't today," manager Kevin Cash said. "I think there's still enough to be a lot positive about. We continue to battle, put guys in scoring position. The big hit kind of eluded us. Loved the way our bullpen, Garty and Sturdy (that's Ryan Garton and Tyler Sturdevant in nonbaseball nomenclature) kept us in the ballgame and gave us plenty of opportunity. The at-bats were tremendous. We just couldn't quite find that one separating hit. Really, really liked the way the guys competed.
   "These," [Steven Souza Jr.] said, "are really important games."
MLB.com's Sam Blum was a bit harsher (video at link):
   The excitement that came with Blake Snell's arrival to Tampa Bay was erased quickly due in part to both his lack of command and the poor defense around around him.
Nevertheless, who would have thought that June 16th was the beginning of an 11-game losing streak and a subsequent slide that continues to this very day?

Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 Moonlight Graham Awards


Each year Watching Durham Bulls Baseball recognizes the hitter and pitcher who have spent the least amount of time in a Durham Bulls uniform. The award is named in honor of North Carolinian Archibald “Moonlight” Graham who famously played only two innings for the New York Giants in 1905, never coming to bat.

We have just a few criteria for selection, all negative. Not considered are players who come through on a rehab assignment, played only in post-season (did not apply this year, obviously), or (for the pitcher) a position player thrown to the wolves at the end of a game.

The 2016 Winners


Hitter
Alec Sole

Left-hand hitting infielder Alec Sole came up from the Single-A Charlotte Stone Crabs to play in three games, all at third base, and all against the Gwinnett Braves, on August 5, 6, and 7. He did not manage to get a hit in 8 plate appearances, but he did draw a walk. He went from Durham to Double-A Montgomery. In Montgomery, he only played in 8 games before going on the disabled list. Just 23 years old, he will likely be back in the Rays system next year. By the way, Sole had a similar short visit with the Bulls in 2015. He came up from the Bowling Green Hot Rods for two games in September. [stats] [background]


Pitcher
Kyle Winkler

Right-Handed Reliever Kyle Winkler came up from the Montgomery Biscuits to appear in one game on July 9th against the Pawtucket Red Sox. He pitched 1⅓ innings in relief, giving up 1 earned run on 2 hits and 2 walks. However, he did get the win. In Montgomery, he had a 2.59 ERA in 29 appearances and 31 innings. Very likely the highlight of his year came when he struck out the side to wrap up a 4-pitcher, 7-inning no-hitter against the Jackson Generals on July 11. [box] Winkler was involved in a trade in 2015 that sent him from the Rays system to the LA Angels system. He was released early this year and went to independent ball. He came back into the Rays system in June. [stats]

Congratulations to Alec and Kyle! Good luck in 2017!  

About Moonlight Graham

Archibald “Moonlight” Graham achieved lasting fame as a character in the W.P. Kinsella novel, Shoeless Joe, and then became even more famous when he was played by Burt Lancaster (and Frank Whaley) in the Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams. As a ballplayer, Graham played two innings in the major leagues as a right fielder for the New York Giants in 1905. He never came to bat. You can look it up. He went on to a career as a well-loved physician in Chisholm, Minnesota.

Of interest to us is that he was a North Carolina native (born in Fayetteville, grew up in Charlotte); graduated from UNC (where he played baseball); and was the older brother to UNC President and US Senator Frank Porter Graham. If you find him an intriguing character, the Wikipedia article is a good start. There’s a nice NBC piece done on him a few years ago. And then there’s a terrific book by Fayetteville writer (and Bulls fan) Brett Friedlander and Robert Reisling, Chasing Moonlight. Copies of the book are in the Wake and Durham County Library systems and Amazon.

Canadian author W.P. Kinsella recently died and was remembered at his website and elsewhere.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Durham Bulls in 2016: Part 5 - The Durham Bulls Athletic Park

This is Part 5 of our 2016 wrap-up. Part 1- The Team is here; Part 2 - The Pitchers is here; Part 3 - the Hitters is here, and Part 4 - the Tampa Bay Rays is here.



As usual, the Durham Bulls staff and management did a terrific job this year. Please jump in with your comments.

Netting

The most visible change this year was the extension of netting from just behind home plate out to the edges of the dugouts. We sit on the front row of the terrace view section behind the first base dugout, so netting did change our view of the game. At first, it bothered me. However, I have to say that for years what bothered me much, much more were inattentive parents among us. I've seen children sitting on top of the dugout with their back to the game! And that was even more distracting to me than the netting has been this year. Plus, our seats are pretty far back, unlike the netting in the old Durham Athletic Park, which feels like a cage.

Turf

Not a high point this year. After the extreme efforts of a couple of years ago, we expected better. Hasn't happened yet, although the field certainly drains better. A key problem was probably overuse of the field, first by Trinity College (sometimes referred to as Duke University) and then by the ACC tournament. It did seem to play well, but here's hoping they find the right mixture of grass species and usage so that appearances are better next year.

Food and Beverages

I am no expert on beers, but the variety available, including a microbrewery right in the ballpark, seems to be superb. Similarly, when you go to as many games as we do, you can't eat too much ballpark food without turning into a blimp. However, the loss of Rise Donuts pained me. I know they had a poor location and who (other than I) goes to the ballpark for a donut? On the other hand, my other favorite, Durham Coop Market, is still there. I hope they made money and will be back. Overall I'd say there's a tick upwards since Bull City Hospitality took over food operations.

Co-op Market 

Radio/TV

I have grown to really like Patrick Kinas as the Bulls broadcaster and am very impressed with the growth of Scott Pose as the color commentator for most of the home games. They make a very good team. Kinas went off to work the Rio Olympics for a couple of weeks and Pose did a very credible job backing up a stream of stand-ins.

And then there's the Post 50 TV crew, who set a very high bar for everyone in Triple-A baseball. I often check in on the Bulls when they are on the road via MiLB-TV. There I see what the home team is streaming and listen to their broadcast team is up to. Some are awful, some are OK, none of their TV operations come close to what  Post 50 does.

Just a few more watts of transmitting power would be nice for my little radio in the park and for those useless embedded antennas in modern automobiles.

Plus, Kinas did a daily interview of Bulls manager Jared Sandberg that was aired in the pre-game show. We were not able to listen every day and it sure would have been nice to have those interviews available as podcasts. In particular, the Rays are obsessively secretive about player injury status, but they will answer questions ... if asked. And Kinas often does ask. But if you're not listening in that moment, you simply don't know what's up. I get more information about Bulls players status from the Tampa Bay Times than I do from either the Bulls front office or the local paper, the Durham Herald-Sun.

The Bulls communications crew

Does a very good job, particularly on stats, little essays for the programs, and this year's set of "Arrival" videos. This year's fan appreciation video was well done.

All the between innings promotions get a bit old for folks who come to a lot of games.

We are going to miss Bill Law. See the tributes here.

A few nits to pick
  • For several years there was a pre-season "Meet the Team" luncheon for season ticket holders and sponsors. That's gone away. Too bad.
  • Although we've solved the cupholder problem for the front row seats of Terrace View, even I would admit that it looks awfully ratty. 



Lastly, the ACC has pulled its tournament from Durham for 2017. Here's the Bulls' response.
   DURHAM, NC – Our partners at the Atlantic Coast Conference had a difficult decision to make regarding the location of neutral site championships throughout the state of North Carolina. We understand the conference’s position, and support our partner’s decision to remove those championships from North Carolina. We look forward to a resolution of this issue, so that we can welcome the tournament back to Durham in future years.
    We have opposed House Bill 2 from the beginning, and continue to share that sentiment.

Good for the Bulls! We too share that sentiment.

Next Home Game: 200 Days

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Durham Bulls in 2016: Part 4 - The Tampa Bay Rays

This is Part 4 of our 2016 wrap-up. Here are the links to Part 1, 23.  and Part 5, The DBAP.

The Tampa Bay Rays are the Bulls' parent club.

We sometimes forget that all of the players, all the coaches, and almost everyone else in the dugout, work for Tampa Bay. Consequently, it's fair to say that what happens in Durham doesn't stay in Durham. How responsible are the Rays for this year's Bulls' performance? 100%

So, what about them Rays?

They are not a very good baseball team, not this year, not most years since they were formed. At the moment they are 21 games below .500 and in last place in the American League East. Their team OPS of .739 is 10th in the 15-team league; the team ERA of 4.18 is 13th. Most years, the Ray's rep is built around pitching, not so much this year. The most notable statistical oddity about the team is that the Pythagorean Expectation number says that they "should" be at just 5 games below .500. That difference between actual (-21) and expected (-5) is usually attributed to a combination of bad luck and pitching. We'd agree. The hitting is OK. Plus, their defense is OK. The "Defensive Difference Index" of 6.88% is actually better than the league average of 6.95%


But we are interested in the Durham Bulls.

Our view is that there are some systemic problems with the Rays and that those problems are having an effect on both teams. The issues show up in 1) player development, 2) selecting and managing/coaching veteran players, and 3) overall managing/coaching.

For example, so far this season, up in Tampa Bay, if you look at games played by position players [BaseballRef], of the top 7 players only two (Evan Longoria and Kevin Kiermaier) came up through the Rays system and played in Durham. Of the next seven, 3 players (Desmond Jennings, Tim Beckham, and Mikie Mahtook) came up through the Rays system and two others from outside the Rays system (Nick Franklin and Brandon Guyer) spent some time with the Bulls.

For pitchers, the picture is slightly better. Of the 24 (so far) pitchers in Rays' games, seven (the traded-off Matt Moore, late-season call-up Blake Snell, returned from rehab Alex Cobb, and relievers Alex Colome, Ryan Garton, Dylan Floro, and Enny Romero) came through the Rays system. Plus almost all of the rest we've seen in Durham one time or another.

Does the fact that not many ex-Bulls are playing for the Rays help explain why the Bulls have not been very good these last few years? Well, maybe. But that's certainly not all of the picture. As important is probably that they are not doing a very good job of spotting or managing veteran talent. Back in 2013 (with a lot of help) we put together some stats on "greatest" Durham Bulls. (here, here, and here). Unless you happen to be a thorough-going baseball fanatic, you may not recognize many of those names. But Bulls fans do. Our concern is that, without diving into the data too deeply, it doesn't look like any names could be added in the three years since we made up the list. What does that mean? It means that the Rays are not seeking out and finding quality ballplayers to fill out the Bulls' roster. Just exactly what did Kyle Roller, Jake Goebbert, Eury Perez and Carlos Corporan bring to the 2016 Bulls? About as much as 2015's Eugenio Valez, Bobby Wilson, Grady Sizemore, Jose Constanza, and Alexi Casilla. Only Casilla's OPS of .827 is particularly respectable among that bunch, and he got dumped in mid-season.

Then there was the using playing for the Bulls as a "punishment" at the end of the season. Two players on the 40-man were sent down and not recalled after the Bulls season ended, reportedly because the Rays didn't want them around. What does that say about being a Durham Bull?

Management? The record speaks for itself. How much difference does a management crew make? We have witnessed three of the Bulls losing seasons and if there's a thread it's that the "veterans" didn't contribute as much as they could/should. We fans expect the youngsters to have growing pains. But we also expect the veterans to come up with the timely double play, home run, accurate throw from the field, and smart base-running moment that wins games. And a competent job of pitching. However, even veterans need solid coaching and managing. Is coaching/managing another thread that's running throughout the Rays system as an issue? Begins to look like it.




Friday, September 16, 2016

Governors' Cup Update

The final best-of-five began Tuesday in Pennsylvania, then moved to Georgia yesterday. The Braves are on the edge. They are behind 2-1 to the Yankee's franchise.

Game 1, September 13, PNC Field, Moosic, Pennsylvania
Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta): 7
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRider (NYY): 4
Box

Game 2, September 14, PNC Field, Moosic, Pennsylvania
Gwinnett Braves: 1
Scranton/WB RailRiders: 2
A quirky, minor league playoff typical loss for the Braves. Their pitching crew walked in the tieing and winning runs (after putting all of the runners on based with hit-by-pitch or walk).
Box

Game 3, September 15, Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, Georgia
Scranton/WB Railriders: 3
Gwinnett Braves: 0
Box, Gwinnett Daily Post, Scranton Times-Tribune