Saturday, July 30, 2016

News From the Bulls' Boss

Season (and half-season) ticket holders just got a letter from Durham Bulls General Manager Mike Birling that had some interesting news that seems to me to deserve a wider audience.
  • Netting: Some folks don't like the new netting, but foul ball injuries are down 20% and, even more important, major injuries are down 75%. My take: Keep the netting. I prefer the netting to having to worry about the fans who seem to be oblivious to the game — and that used to worry me quite a bit.
  • Parking: Day game parking was a big problem last year. However, for season ticket holders the problem went away this year. Thanks, Mike. Otherwise, parking and traffic will always be an issue that has to be worked on every day. Comes with being a growing city and successful downtown. I've seen Mike out directing traffic before and after games, so you know he takes it seriously.
  • Fewer games in a season: Going down to 71 home games in 2017 and 70 home games in 2018. Not sure why it's being done and whether or not it will affect the overall length of the season. Hope it means that with fewer games the players will get a couple of extra days off.
  • Now if only Major League Baseball will take a cue. Season's much too long. Who wants to watch baseball in the snow?

News From the Bulls' Boss

Season (and half-season) ticket holders just got a letter from Durham Bulls General Manager Mike Birling that had some interesting news that seems to me to deserve a wider audience.

  • Netting: Some folks don't like the new netting, but foul ball injuries are down 20% and, even more important, major injuries are down 75%. My take: Keep the netting. I prefer the netting to having to worry about the fans who seem to be oblivious to the game — and that used to worry me quite a bit.
  • Parking: Day game parking was a big problem last year. However, for season ticket holders the problem went away this year. Thanks, Mike. Otherwise, parking and traffic will always be an issue that has to be worked on every day. Comes with being a growing city and successful downtown. I've seen Mike out directing traffic before and after games, so you know he takes it seriously.
  • Fewer games in a season: Going down to 71 home games in 2017 and 70 home games in 2018. Not sure why it's being done and whether or not it will affect the overall length of the season. Hope it means that with fewer games the players will get a couple of extra days off.
  • Now if only Major League Baseball will take a cue. Season's much too long. Who wants to watch baseball in the snow?

Baserunning, Hot Bats, First Place

Game 107, July 29, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Louisville Bats (Reds): 1
Durham Bulls (Rays): 9
Season: 49-58; Home Stand: 4-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Stats:
Game Score: Pruitt 67; Season Avg 57 (21 starts, 120.1 innings)
Team wOBA: Game .438; Season .301; Diff +.137

Eury Perez came back to the Bulls last night when Nick Franklin was called up to the Rays. Batting ninth in the order he drew a walk to start off the 3rd inning with the Bulls trailing 1-0. The next batter, Jake Hager, struck out, but not before Perez stole second base. Jaff Decker flew out to center field for the second out. While Taylor Motter was at bat, Perez stole third base. Motter drew a walk, the fourth of nine the Bulls drew during the game. After Richie Shaffer came to bat, a couple of pitches in, Motter took off for second and Perez stole home for the run that tied the game. Gee, that was fun to watch. Here's a scoring puzzle, though. Does a guy who steals home get an RBI for himself? (Ans: No)

Then, remember Richie Shaffer's still at bat, a double by him brought home Taylor Motter from second base and the Bulls went ahead 2-1.

In the next inning, the game came unraveled (from the Bats point of view) or we could say that the Bulls bats came alive. In the middle of it? Eury Perez. Jake Goebbert drew a walk to start the inning, moved to third on a Johnny Field single. A Perez grounder towards second base started a double play effort, but Perez did get an RBI when Goebbert came home. Even better, the shortstop threw the ball away instead of finishing the double play and Perez ended up on second base. Jaff Decker picked up the Bulls' sixth walk of the game and Taylor Motter hit a very pretty home run over the Blue Monster. Bulls went ahead 7-2 on just 4 hits.

The Bulls picked up a couple more runs in the 6th. Austin Pruitt got his 6th win. All was right in the world.

Even better, up in Toledo, the Mud Hens were beating the Gwinnett Braves. That meant that the Bulls moved to sole possession of first place in the South Division. It's been a long time. To be specific, back on April 11th, the fifth game of the year, the Bulls went a half-game ahead of Gwinnett for the only other time this year that the Bulls have led in the South. (standings)

Outside the game —
  • If you're curious about all the "non-waiver trade deadline" talk. Here's the definition. Not saying it will help understand why folks are so obsessed with it. But maybe.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Matchup: Durham Bulls vs Louisville Bats

In one of oddest of the many oddities of this season's schedule, the Louisville Bats are coming to town tonight. This is the first time in our memory that an out-of-division team has ever visited twice in a season. Not only that, although the Bulls will play the Bats eight times this year, six games will have been in Durham and only two in Louisville. The Bulls did not do well in the previous games, losing 4 of the 5.

The Louisville Bats, Triple-A team of the Cincinnati Reds, is in third place in the International League West. By the stats geeks Pythagorean Expectation formula, they "should" be doing much, much worse than they are. By PE their won-loss record should be 45-60, which would push them down into last place in the IL West, behind the Toledo Mud Hens, the team the Bulls just swept.

The Bulls offensive stats ticked up every so slightly this week. Here's hoping that continues.


Outside the game —
  • The Raleigh News & Observer has not entirely abandoned Bulls coverage this year, although the game stories are just a cut-and-paste from the Bulls "wrap" items. The paper has been doing occasional feature articles. Today they had one on Eddie Gamboa and his knuckleball. Pretty good. Have to wonder, though, why the photo is of Gamboa in a Mexican winter league team uniform not throwing a knuckleball.
  • More on Patrick Kinas' trip to the Summer Olympics here, with video. Sounds like a lot of work (and a lot of fun).


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bulls Sweep Hens

Game 106, July 28, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Toledo Mud Hens (Detroit): 2
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay):5
Season: 48-58, Home Stand: 3-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Stats:
Game Score: Schultz 56; Schultz on season: Quality Start % .667
Tm wOBA: Game .320; Season .300, Diff +.020

This sweep of the Mud Hens is a big deal. Not that the Hens are all that good a team, but Bulls pitching and hitting showed some real improvement. In fact, the offensive trends are up since the All-Star break.

As an example, sacrifice flies are a rarity this year. The Bulls have only had 25 in the season and only in two games have they had two. Both of those games were in July. Both of them wins.

Last night Richie Shaffer and Jake Goebbert both had sac flies in the 4-run 6th inning that won the game.

Outside the game —
  • Patrick Kinas, the Bulls' superb broadcaster, is off to Rio to broadcast Olympic swimming. He will miss 22 Bulls games. In his absence we will be hearing quite an array of "voice talent". Check out the list at the link. 
  • If I heard right, there's a very good reason that Casey Coleman suddenly went on the disabled list — he had an emergency appendectomy a couple of days ago up in Pennsylvania. Why the Bulls, or, for that matter, reporters that cover the Bulls, don't pick up on human interest stories like this continues to surprise me. About the only way to get details about the Bulls is to listen to Kinas' pre-game interviews with manager Jared Sandberg, which the Bulls don't podcast. At any rate, we wish Coleman well. No idea how long his recovery will take.
  • Trade rumors are a'buzzin' [Rays Index]. Why should we care? Because the Rays could be trading for prospect talent and that talent could end up here, not to mention folks that might get called up to replace traded players.
  • The Bulls have a day off. The Louisville Bats come to town on Friday, 7 pm.
The Bulls remain in second place in the IL South. The Charlotte Knights have had an awful stretch. The Gwinnett Braves have bounced back from a big collapse.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A 14 Inning Win

Game 105, July 27, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Toledo Mud Hens: 4
Durham Bulls: 5
14 innings
Season: 47-58; Home Stand: 2-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Stats:
Game Score: Marks 58; Season Avg 52 (16 starts, 91 innings, 50% "quality starts")
Tm wOBA: Game .281; Season .299; Diff -.018

The longest game of the year ended in a very satisfying victory with a clear-cut hero in Jaff Decker. First, his 3-run homer in the bottom of the 9th tied the game. Then he bunted for a single in the 14th. Got moved to second base on a Hank Conger sacrifice. Then scored for the walk-off win on a beautiful Daniel Robertson hit down the right field line. Robertson got the ice dump, as he should have.

Before that 9th inning home run, we were regretting the decision for Justin Marks to come out for the 7th inning. Up to that point, the Bulls were ahead 1-0. We did note, however, that the Mud Hens were hitting a lot of deep fly balls, 8 so far in the game. After a walk, a deep fly ball got over the wall and that put the Mud Hens ahead. It wasn't until then that the Bulls even had a reliever warming up.

Rhyne Stanek had his worst appearance of the year. Two runs were added. The rain started falling. I went home and turned on the TV in time to see Decker's heroics.

I'm liking young Casey Gillaspie more and more. It seems odd to me to find a player who plays only first base, but he does a good job of it and he gets on base, a lot. Given the differences in their appearances and games played, you have to think it's very odd that he and Jaff Decker lead in a lot of statistical categories. They are 1 and 2 for both on-base percentage and OPS. Decker's been in 72 games, Gillaspie in just 10. Gillaspie had a double and a walk last night. Richie Shaffer, by the way, had three walks in his 6 plate appearances.

Outside the game —
  • Ryan Garton came off the DL to pitch in last night's game.
  • Casey Coleman went on the DL.
  • Melvin (the shortstop formerly known as BJ) Upton is now with the Toronto Blue Jays and back in the American League East. Fondly remembered as "E6" for those of us who sat on the first base side of the field during the three years (2004-2006) he spent time with the Bulls. During those years he committed 111 errors, earning his nickname. On the other hand, he was also just about the most gifted pure athlete to wear a Bulls uniform for an extended period of time.
  • We mentioned all the trade talk. Here's an example from Rays Index. There's lots more.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Conger Has a Good Night

Game 104, July 25, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, North Carolina
Toledo Mud Hens (Detroit Tigers): 2
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays): 8
Season: 46-58; Home Stand: 1-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Stats:
Game Score: Faria 56; Season Avg 47 (6 starts, 26.2 innings)
Team OPS: Game .952; Season .668; Diff +.284
Team wOBA: Game .383; Season .300; Diff +.083

In yesterday's post, I complained about new guy Hank Conger who was not having a particularly good introduction to the Bulls, hitting just .130. Nor could I understand why he'd be put in a DH slot with that kind of record. And then there he was in the lineup as DH as I filled out my score card! I grumbled about that all through the first two innings, along with being appalled at the appearance of the turf. The outfield looks just awful.

I continued to be sure of my opinion even after Mr. Conger's single in the 3rd inning. After all, every one of the players on the bench, Jaff Decker, Richie Shaffer, or Daniel Robertson, had much better stats than him. But then he came to bat in the 4th. By that time the Bulls had scored a run off an Arencibia fielder's choice. Runners were on first and second with two outs. So what did he do? Batting left-handed (he's a switch-hitter), he chips one over the Blue Monster, bringing home 3 runs and putting the Bulls ahead, 4 to 2. Jake Goebbert hit a home run the next at bat to put the game away.

Bottom line: As much as it pains me to my soul to admit it, putting Hank Conger in the lineup in the DH slot was the right call last night.

Jacob Faria had a good night. It was particularly notable following his last two starts where he had Game Scores of -6(!) and 24.

But it was a hitters' game. J.P. Arencibia continued his hot streak with a single and 2 RBIs. Taylor Motter hit two doubles, scored 2 runs, and had an RBI. Dayron Varona had a double, walk, scored a run, and an RBI. We've already mentioned the homers by Conger and Goebbert.

Plus, we need to mention that twice the Mud Hens put a runner on third base with a triple and neither of them scored. Good defense, good pitching.

Outside the game —
  • The Montgomery Biscuits, Tampa Bays' AA team, is in first place in  their division in the Souther League. (standings)
  • The Bulls are 12 games below .500, but have moved into sole possession of second place in the South Division of the International League. (standings).
  • The web is abuzz with possible deals involving the Rays. Most of the speculation involves them trading off starting pitchers. If they are dealing pitchers for prospects, we can expect some roster turmoil here with the Bulls.