Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Comes to an End; Waiting for Spring

A good bit has been happening with the Bulls, including quite a few roster changes. To summarize, the 2016 Bulls are going to be nothing like the 2015 Bulls.

As a reminder, here’s a link to a list of the 31 hitters and 36 pitchers that put on a Bulls uniform last year.

Boog Powell, who played in 56 games last year and was a very exciting Kevin Kiermaier-type player, was part of a trade to the Seattle Mariners. Too bad. I was hoping to see more of him in 2016. 
C.J. Riefenhauser, who did a fine job in relief in 2015 (29 games, 2.86 ERA) was part of the same deal. 

We have to thank the Bulls’ Hit Bull Win Blog for a terrific update on a big 40-man roster shuffle a while back. From that we can deduce that there’s a very good chance that a couple of guys from last year may show up back in Durham, if they don’t stick with the Rays out of spring training (or get traded). Among our favorites staying on the roster are:
Taylor Motter, Mikie Mahtook, and Richie Shaffer. Unfortunately, three of our favorite guys were designated for assignment: JP Arencibia, Kirby Yates, and Brandon Gomes. Arencibia has signed with the Phillies; Kirby Yates is off to the Cleveland Indians; and Brandon Gomes has signed with the Chicago Cubs.

Again, with great thanks to the Bulls front office, we heard of even more transactions;
  • Hak-Ju Lee, who has never seemed to really recover from his knee injury back in 2013, declared minor league free agency and signed with the San Francisco Giants.
  • LHP Scott Diamond, our favorite 2015 starting pitcher, is off to Toronto.
  • Joey Rickard got picked off in the Rule 5 draft, by Baltimore, which means he goes directly on their 40-man. Good luck. He was terrific at the end of last season.
  • Jim Miller, a very reliable reliever in 2015, is off to Milwaukee.
  • Jake Elmore is off to Milwaukee as well.
  • Joey Butler, who started 2015 with the Bulls but spent most of the year with the Rays, signed with Cleveland.
  • Robert Zarate, a very erratic guy and sometime Bull last year, is off to Pittsburgh.


The Bulls have also put up their list of the top 10 moments of 2015. Not quite sure why an ACC tournament that screwed up the playing field for the Bulls is in the top 10, though. (Have I ever mentioned that I’m not an ACC fan, or a Trinity College fan?)

Congrats to Mike Birling though for winning the International League Executive of the Year award. Well-deserved.

I see they’ve got a new tagline, "Known for Baseball, Famous for Fun" on web page.

This mild winter appears to have treated the field very, very well. 

Lastly, I have very mixed feelings about the new safety netting that’s going to go up over the dugout areas (and in front of my seat). I spent one year in a seat behind home plate and found the netting a distraction. Not sure just how it will work out. However, I have to say that all too often I’ve seen folks down by the dugout, with children, paying absolutely no attention to the game. So maybe they do need to be protected from themselves. For myself, I have not been particularly worried since Jon Weber left and I haven’t had to dodge one of his bats. From the image it doesn’t look like they’ve started work on that project yet.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

The New Richest Ex-Durham Bull

A few years back we headlined Carl Crawford as the richest ex-Durham Bull ever. That record, a mere $142,000,000, has been  crushed.

The same monster checkbook that bought Crawford just bought David Price for $217,000,000, who will go to work for the Boston Red Sox next season.

Price didn’t spend a lot of time with the Bulls. As a rising star he came up from Double-A Montgomery near the end of 2008 and even went up to the Rays for a few September relief appearances. He started 8 games as a Bull in 2009 and never looked back. [stats]

We wish him well.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Former Bulls in the Playoffs

If former Bulls figure into your calculations, then you should be rooting for the Blue Jays and the Royals this playoff season. Good luck with that. Two Blue Jays and two Royals spent time in Durham as they were coming up to the major leagues. And one ex-Bull is over in the National League.

David Price of the Toronto Blue Jays spent some time here as a 22-23 year-old as he was coming up through the Rays system. But not very much time—just 4 games in 2008 (18 innings) and 8 games in 2009. Stats.

Toronto catcher Dioner Navarro only spent part of one season (2010) with the Bulls. Stats. This Bulls fans remembers him mostly for him taking a 102 mph hit-by-pitch from Aroldis Chapman. Video here.

Wade Davis, now a reliever/closer for the Royals spent a lot of both 2008 and 2009 with the Bulls, all as a starter. Stats. As an example, here’s a mention of him from a game back in 2009.

Ben Zobrist, the durable and very talented ballplayer now with the Royals, had playing time with the Bulls in 2006, 2007, and a rehab stint in 2008. Stats. You could make a good argument that the Rays would have been much better off this year if they’d figured out a way to keep him.

Jason Hammel is the only ex-Bull on the National League side, pitching for the Chicago Cubs. Back in 2005-2007 he was with the Bulls pitching to catcher Kevin Cash, the Rays current manager. Stats.

Who did I miss?

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Few Charts for the Tampa Bay Rays

Just for grins, I keep a few charts about the Durham Bulls’ parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays. The first is simply the wins and losses over the season, plotted as games above or below .500. As can be seen, back around game 70 in early June the Rays peaked at 10 games above .500. They were at a season low of 6 games below .500 as recently as September 27th. And they wrapped things up in 4th place.

Note: click on a chart for a larger image.

One reason why they finished in 4th is that, oddly enough, their opponents scored more runs than they did. This chart is a running total of the net runs scored minus runs allowed for the year. As can be seen they just barely crept back to a midpoint.

How does this compare to previous years? Here’s the last five. Not quite as bad as last year, but not nearly as good as the previous three years when they made the playoffs either outright or through a wild card slot.

I got intrigued with the “game score” stat this year and tracked the Rays starting pitchers. Game score is sort of “quality start” with a few twists. Here’s a couple of charts that came out of those data.

50 is “average” and for the last several weeks of the season clearly the starters as a group were above average. However, the Rays only won half the games. Conclusion: starting pitching is really important, but the Rays bullpen and hitters just have not been up to par.

Here’s another way of looking at the game score stat, by individual pitchers. Note the number of games and innings pitched. An oddity is that Chris Archer had the best game score of the year (95 on August 20) and the worst (a 3 on September 26)

The last chart has little to do with the Rays, but back on September 1st it seemed that the Rays had at least a remote chance to go after a wild card slot. Here’s how that played out.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The 2015 Durham Bulls in Charts

The 2015 Durham Bulls ended the year at 74-70, tied for third place in the International League South Division, four games behind the division winner, the Norfolk Tides. As the first chart shows, the Bulls peaked at 12 games above .500 back on June 15 (game 66) when they began a slide down to 7 games below .500 in mid-August. Then began a fun-to-watch climb that lasted until the end of the season.

[Note: clicking on a chart will get you a larger image]

This was a season with considerable roster turmoil, mostly driven by injuries in the Tampa Bay Rays system that started in spring training  and continued throughout the season. Thirty-one different players came to bat for the Bulls this year and 36 different players pitched (including a couple of position players). That compares to 21 hitters and 26 pitchers in 2014; 19 and 16 in 2013.

What happened to the Bulls in mid-season? In a word, pitching. The starting pitching this year was never very good and, as a team, did not really improve. The relievers had a terrific start and showed some hope at finish, but the middle was awful. Note that these are cumulative numbers. They really should not be showing so much variance except for the above-noted roster turmoil. The end-of-year team ERA was 3.82, 11th in the 14-team International League. They did lead the league in strikeouts (1,117), but also led the league in home runs awarded (116).

Durham Bulls hitting fell off the edge of the cliff at about the same time as the pitching. However, it recovered very nicely and, excepting a hiccup in August, ended well. [Note for stats geeks: Our interest is in team performance here and team wOBA is a pain to keep track of. Plus it follows essentially the same path this year, as far as I can tell.] The Bulls’ team OPS was tied for third place in the International League and at .715, well above the league OPS of .689. Note also that the league as a whole wasn’t hitting all that well this year. The Bulls’ 123 home runs were in second place, as were its 263 doubles. That really helped the OPS, since the team batting average (.250) was 12th in the league. My superficial impression that the Bulls were a running team was off by a good bit. With 160 attempts (119 successful) they were well behind Indianapolis who tried 236 times (168 successful).

At the end of the day, a team has to score more runs than their opponents. In 2015 the Bulls did not. This chart is a running total of the net runs scored minus runs allowed for this year. We get the statistical quirk of ending the year at exactly zero.

The Bulls have done worse, most notably in recent years in 2012. The oddity in this chart is last year, 2014. Last year the Bulls were also barely above .500 (75-69) but that was enough to win the South Division. The South Division of the IL was much more competitive this year, we got to watch four very good teams go at it all year.

Next: Pitchers and Hitters

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Governors' Cup Goes to the Wire

Congratulations to the 2015 Governors' Cup Champions
The Columbus Clippers

Indianapolis and Columbus fans witnessing a terrific championship series. Every game has been decided by just one run and that run scored in the last or next to last inning.

We have to point out that a lot more Columbus fans watched the two games in Columbus (more than 23,000) than the two games so far in Indianapolis (7,200). That reflects a very successful experiment by Columbus leadership to open the gates for the playoffs.

Meanwhile the baseball has been a huge amount of fun for all concerned. Two very deserving teams battled each other all year are going for the championship tonight. Seems only appropriate. So far the home teams have won every game, but it has been a fight to the wire.

Game 1 at Columbus, Sep 15
Columbus Clippers 6; Indianapolis Indians 4
MiLB wrap, Box, Columbus Dispatch, Indianapolis Star
Attendance: 11,408. Attendance story.
[Note: The Columbus Dispatch goes behind a paywall after of couple of visits. Too bad for them and us]

Game 2 at Columbus, Sep 16
Clippers 5; Indians 2
MiLB Wrap, Box
Attendance: 11,894 (Governors’ Cup Playoff record?)

Game 3 at Indianapolis, Sep 18
Indians 6; Clippers 5
MiLB Wrap, Box, Indianapolis Star
Attendance: 3,845

Game 4 at Indianapolis
Indians 5; Columbus 4
MiLB Wrap, Box, Indianapolis Star
Attendance: 3,417

Game 5 at Indianapolis
Columbus 3; Indianapolis 0
MiLB Wrap, Box, Indianapolis Star

Monday, September 14, 2015

Bulls in the Bandbox by the Bay

Unless I’ve misremembered or miscounted (likely) ten Durham Bulls went “up” to the Rays this month, or just at the end of August. Six were position players and four pitchers. How are they doing?

I guess that depends on your point of view. So far in September the Rays have played 11 games, won only 4 of them, losing 7. Except for the last 3, they’ve all been road games, so they really haven’t spent much time in the bandbox by (or at least near) the Bay.

Of this crowd I have to say that only one of them has had much of an impact, J.P. Arencibia. And he was actually called up on August 26 and got in 5 games before the rest of the crew showed up. Among the pitchers only Andrew Bellatti has done particularly well. The rest? Not so much. Most of the numbers here are for September, unless otherwise noted.

Also note that with nearly 40-players on the bench, the Rays have been doing a lot of pinch-hitching and pinch-running. Does not seem to have made much difference in the won-loss column, though.
  • J.P. Arencibia: 15 games (Aug-Sep), 39 plate appearances, 14 hits, 3 doubles, 5 HR, .368/.359/.842
  • Mikie Mahtook: 10 games, 24 PA,  6 hits (double, triple, home run), two complete games. .228/323/.509 on the year (66 pa)
  • Richie Shaffer: 9 games, 26 PA, 4 hits, (double, home run) four complete games. .209/.320/.442 on the year (50 PA)
  • Nick Franklin: 4 games, 3 PA, no hits. .133/.198/.438 on the year (81 PA)
  • Joey Butler: 5 games, 6 PA, 1 hit. .272/.325/.719 on the year (265 PA)
  • Luke Maile: 6 games (1 start), 10 PA, 1 hit (a double) .100/.100/.200
  • Matt Moore: 2 starts, no-decision and a loss, games scores of 51 (OK) and 23 (not good)
  • C.J. Riefenhauser: 4 games, 3.1 innings, 2 ER, no decisions.
  • Kirby Yates: 3 appearances, 4 innings, 2 ER, no decision
  • Andrew Belatti: 4 appearances, 4.1 innings, 0 ER, 1 loss, 1 win