Sunday, April 20, 2014

Harbor Park Nice to the Bulls So Far

Wrap, Box, Virginia-Pilot

The Virginia-Pilot’s lead for their game story implies that local folks aren’t too happy with this year’s Tides team.
If it’s possible for nine innings to epitomize more than two weeks of slovenly baseball, it happened Friday at Harbor Park. 
On the other hand, MiLB has a nice story focusing on Bulls starter Nathan Karns who got the win in the Bulls second shutout of the season.

Season: 13-4; This Trip: 2-0 [Note: Bulls are 7-0 on the road this year]
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

This was this year’s first extra-inning game and the team of Kevin Kiermaier and Mikie Mahtook created the win. Those two guys played together all of last year in Montgomery and after Kiermaier stole second and third base in the 11th, Mahtook brought him home. They make a terrific team.

The Herald-Sun link above does a nice job of putting Matt Adriese’s nice 7 inning start in perspective.

Outside the game —
  • See DNA of Sports for a terrific backgrounder on outfielder Justin Christian and the home run he hit to his wife and child watching a game from Tobacco Road the other day.
  • Relievers C.J. Riefenhauser and Brad Boxberger swapped places yesterday, with Riefenhauser being called up and Boxberger on his way back to the Bulls. A little bit of teasing over at Rays Index regarding the length of Riefenhauser’s name. He got in 1⅓ innings in last night’s slaughter of the Yankees, 2 Ks, no runs. The Tampa Bay Times has a nice story, as does Roger Mooney at the Tampa Tribune
  • Stacy Long is changing how he reports on the Biscuits and the Rays system over at the Montgomery Advertiser. I’ll be changing my link to his work.
  • I think I heard broadcaster Kinas speculate that Saturday's appearance might be the last for rehabbing Juan Carlos Oviedo. Similar ideas show up in the Tampa Bay Times story linked to above.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kelly Resets the Bulls

Season: 11-4; Home Stand: 1-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Merrill Kelly was a big deal for the Durham Bulls last year. He’s back in town and keeping the Bulls on track this year. He’s only had four appearances, two in relief and two starts. But he nevertheless has the most innings (18), most wins (3), and a very nice 1.50 ERA.

Last night he got only slightly off track in the second inning when a walk, single, and a double put two runs across. Otherwise, he was untouched for the rest of the game. Those two hits were the only hits of the game for the Tides.

And then there’s the rehabbing major leaguer, Juan Carlos Oviedo, who got in his inning last night. Oviedo is on his way back from surgery and a stellar career as a closer. Mostly, we here at WDBB are not big fans of the Bulls' role as a place for rehabbing ball players to work on their ouchies. More often than not their constraints mean that the Bulls have to work around them and they don’t really help the team win ball games. Oviedo seems to be an exception. Apparently he’s on a “one-and-done” rule. He’s made six appearances in relief, each for one inning. His very first time out he got touched up for 3 hits and two runs and threw 14 pitches. Those were the last runs scored on him and he’s only given up 1 hit in the last 5 games. His WHIP is a stellar 0.67 and his “efficiency”/pitches per out is an equally stellar 4.28. He doesn’t count against the Bulls 25 man limit, so in his case, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Lastly, Kirby Yates had a two-inning save. He did let two guys get on base — a rarity. But his 5 saves and ERA of 0.00 are the best in the International League. You just know he’s going to get some time with the Rays this year.

Sometimes we’ve participated in that great debate regarding shortstops — do you want a strong arm or a quick release? Last night Ray Olmedo made his case for the quick release faction. My notes show three very smooth plays where the ball seemed to barely touch his glove before it was on its way to 1B. You don’t see a clothesline throw from Mr. Olmedo and he often throws sidearm. But it does not seem to matter. He is so often positioned just where he needs to be and the transfer is so smooth that he gets the out anyhow. Fun to watch the veteran at work.

Lastly, kudos to Jerry Sands for his 1st inning 2 RBI shot to right field and to Mike Fontenot for his very hard hit grounder that just ate up Norfolk’s 2B and brought the winning run home.

Outside the game —
  • Chris Gimenez, a catcher we liked to watch last year, appears to have found a home with the Round Rock Express, the AAA, Pacific Coast League, team of the Texas Rangers. There was a moment when he might have come back into the Rays system. Guess not.
  • The Bulls have four games in Norfolk then drive past Durham to go to Charlotte for four games. One of the IL schedule quirks for this year.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

System Failure

Season: 10-4; Home Stand: 0-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The Tampa Bay Rays lost two games yesterday, one up in Baltimore and the other in Durham.

I was unable to attend the game last night and only caught the last few innings on the radio when I heard something I am at a loss to explain adequately. How is it that a position player is sent to the mound in a tie game? Neither of the Bulls broadcasters, who have between them witnessed or played in thousands of baseball games, had ever seen it before. In a blowout, sure. In fact, Scott Pose, last night’s color commentator mentioned his experiences as a position player pitching in the minor leagues (AAA, see here). So how did it happen that catcher Mayo Acosta, who had never pitched a game of professional baseball ended up on the mound?

It sure sounded like the decision was made much earlier than Acosta’s appearance in the 8th, because Montoyo’s quote below (from the Herald-Sun) implies that he made up his mind when the Bulls were down 6-4 and before they came back in the 6th and 7th to tie the game.
“There’s no excuse, but we just were running out of pitching,” Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said. “The team still battled back, knowing that Acosta was going to go in the eighth.”
But I’d say that the real reason goes back to last Monday when Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi was feeling bad and went back to his Baltimore hotel. The Rays apparently told Montoyo to take starting pitcher Enny Romero out of the rotation. The Bulls went with a pitch by committee approach that night and last night the ripple effect caught up with them.

Of course, if starter Mike Montgomery hadn’t given up 5 runs (with 5 BBs) and new guy Doug Mathis’ first appearance had not been such a disaster (5 more BBs and another run), then Acosta would never have been on the mound in the first place. It was the Bulls worst pitching performance of the year even before Acosta came in the game.

Credit the Bulls for not giving up. That’s what makes the outcome for a Bulls fan so frustrating. It really sounded as if they had a chance until the 8th.

A short memory is a blessing in baseball. So today is another day. But there are system issues afoot for the Tampa Bay Rays. Distressed that a fine young man like Mr. Acosta gets thrown to the wolves like that. It could not have been fun. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First Charts of 2014 Durham Bulls

Regular readers of WDBB know that I try to make pictures of how the team is doing. The Bulls are back in town tonight and it seems to me that it’s time to put up our first set of team charts. Larger views of the charts can be obtained by clicking on them.

I like the way that tracking games above/below.500 gives you a sense of how team performance is trending over time. After all, in the end a championship is decided by how many wins you have. The Bulls have ripped off an early streak of 7 games in a row and go into tonight’s game 3½ games ahead of Gwinnett in the IL South.

This chart will get more meaningful over time. It is a display of the game to game net of the runs scored minus the runs allowed. The intent is to provide a visual supplement to what called “Pythagorean Expectation” or PE. PE is the spooky observation that if you take runs scored minus runs allowed and run them through an equation, you can come up with a “expected” run-loss for the team. The Bulls current PE is 9-4 whereas their actual is 10-3. That is, the team is doing slightly better than the PE would project. We will have to see. In general, the variance of actual vs expected is attributed to relief pitching.

Which leads us to our next chart, Bulls pitching.

This is the cumulative ERA for the Bulls over the last ten games. As can be seen, the relievers are doing better than the starters, but both are doing very, very well. They are the best in the IL as a matter of fact.

Lastly, the hitting.

For this chart we have simply figured out the weighted On Base Average (wOBA) for the entire team for each game, then displayed the last 10 games. We prefer wOBA over any other hitting stat even if it isn’t all that well known. Think of it as a mashup of on-base percentage and slugging with a slightly more sophisticated weighting of extra base hits than OPS and adding in base running.

The Bulls are doing very well (.400 is considered an top-rated wOBA)

Seven in a Row!

Mickie Mahtook

Season: 10-3; Road: 5-0

The Bulls had an amazing 16 hits last night for a stunning 32 total bases (3 doubles, 2 triples, 3 home runs). Leading the charge was Jerry Sands with two home runs, and Mikie Mahtook with a double, triple, and two singles. His 11 hits in a row were close to an IL record, but he K’d in the 8th to end the streak. It was, by the way, 45ยบ when they reached that point and the stands were reportedly empty. But it was a stellar night for the hitters.

Meanwhile, Enny Romero, who had be held out from his regular start on Monday because the Rays thought they might need him, got the start and the win. Matt Adriese, who was to have started the game in his ordinary rotation instead came in the game in relief and went two innings. Jeff Beliveau closed it out. Very astute management of the pitching crew, I’d say.

Outside the game —
  • The Bulls have a new pitcher. Doug Mathis has been signed after leaving the Rangers system a couple of days ago. The Bulls need the arm. So we can hope.
  • The Bulls are the first team in the IL to reach 10 victories, but that’s partly due to the fact that they are one of only two teams that have played the full 13 games. Other than Charlotte, every other team has had at least one game postponed. Columbus has only managed to play a total of 10 games. Buffalo has played just 9 games. It’s ugly out up there. 


Norfolk is off to an awful start this season. They really got bashed last night down at Gwinnett (15-0). Obvious problems with their pitching so far.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pitching Scheme in Shreds, But Durham Bulls Still Winning

Season: 9-3; Trip: 4-0
Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

Six in a row is a big deal. This team is looking good. Adversity and roster turmoil does not seem to be taking a toll on them … yet.

The Knights management took a page out of the Bulls book and moved the game up 30 minutes to try to escape a rainout. It worked. But the Bulls ripped off four runs in the first inning and that was enough.

Those early runs made a huge difference since the Bulls were short yet another pitcher when young Enny Romero was scratched, apparently just in case he would be needed by the Rays. See Outside the Game below for more. Juan Sandoval showed his maturity with a solid three innings. Rehabbing Juan Carlos Oviedo made a bid for trivia immortality with a 7-pitch, 1-inning win. I say made a bid, because I’m not going to look it up. It might have been a good moment for Brad Boxberger to come in, but wait, he was in Baltimore with the Rays where he had a crisp 1 inning, 10 pitch, 1K appearance. Steve Gelz did three innings, and Adam Liberatore and Kirby Yates wrapped it up.

The Bulls got their first shutout of the year. On the road. That’s very, very nice.

Meanwhile, Mikie Mahtook played left field in the Knights’ new park, batted 6th and had himself a terrific 5 for 5 night.

Is Vince Belnome getting his eye back? Maybe. He got his first home run last night.

Outside the game —
  • These last several days we Bulls fans have had any number of reminders that the Durham Bulls have limited control over their roster. When the mother ship comes under fire and starts taking on water, some folks get sent to the lifeboats and others are summoned from steerage to the bridge to keep her from foundering. 
  • Former Bull Matt Moore is out for at least a year. That means that Erik Bedard’s 4 innings back on April 6 could be his only appearance in a Bulls uniform, ever.
  • Former Bull Alex Cobb has strained an oblique. We don’t quite know what that may mean to the Bulls. At a minimum that was part of the carousel that Jeff Beliveau and Brad Boxberger have been on.
  • Then former Bull Jake Odorizzi, scheduled to pitch today in Baltimore, was reported to be under the weather, so Enny Romero was scratched from his start last night. 
  • Who’s next?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sweep on the Road; Where's Jeff?

Season: 8-3; Trip: 3-0
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

The Durham Bulls did a nice job of messing up the Gwinnett Braves home opening series by sweeping them. They are up to five in a row.

Nate Karns showed off his talent for the first time in a Bulls uniform and was very impressive in his first AAA win.

The quirk of the game was the Bulls’ 12 hits, all singles. That was enough, but if they had lost I’m sure we’d have been writing about the 16 runners who got left on base. In addition to the 12 singles, 7 BB and 1 HBP, put a lot of guys on base.

Outside the game —

Where’s Jeff?

So far this year Jeff Beliveau has pitched 6 innings in relief, 4 for the Bulls and 2 for the Rays. But there’s really no telling how many frequent flier miles he’s piled up. His first game (2 innings) was in Durham on April 5th. Then he was off to pitch an inning for the Rays in Kansas City on Wednesday, April 9th. He was back with the Bulls in Georgia to pitch a couple of innings on Friday the 11th, then off to pitch an inning for the Rays in Cincinnati yesterday (the 13th). At at guess he’ll stick with them for a while. Hard to tell given the turmoil in the Rays’ starting pitching ranks. How’s he doing? Not bad. ERA of 0.00 overall. 1 hit, 0 BB, 7Ks.


The Bulls are off to Charlotte to take a look at their shiny new stadium. The Knights’ pitching is the best in the International League, but the Bulls are improving. These two teams may turn out to be the key matchup in the IL South for 2014. After these two games, the Bulls will be back in Charlotte for four more games next week and then won’t play them again until May 13th, in Durham.