Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another Chart

(click on chart for larger image)

I like this one even if it really doesn't pass the "So what?" test. Runs scored by the Durham Bulls and runs scored against them, including last night's game. And a moving average trend line over the last five games.

What careful examination of this chart will tell you is -- the team that scores the most runs wins!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Now That’s a Lot of Ball

Game 77: Bulls 8, Clippers 7 (13 innings)
Season: 43-34
Wrap, Box, Indy Week Story

I’ve always thought that relievers had the easiest job in baseball, if a bit boring. How hard could it be to show up every day, maybe play a little catch, and hang out with the guys chewing sunflower seeds out in the bullpen? Probably not a good thing to be sitting in the bullpen with your iPod plugged in and your head bobbing, or working out your thumbs on Twitter, but otherwise, not a bad job. Every 3 or 4 days you warm up, take a look at the situation (or get told about it by your catcher), and stroll/trot out to the mound and do your thing.

On the road sometimes it’s even easier, since the home team doesn’t even come to bat in the 9th when they’re ahead.

Until you trek up to Ohio and in the first six games three of them go into extra innings (13, 15, and 13). Then you have to go to work.

In the last six games:

  • Jason Childers: 3 appearances, 18 batters faced, 5 innings
  • Julio DePaula: 3 appearances, 24 batters faced, 6 innings, 1 win, 1 save
  • Dale Thayer: 3 appearances, 21 batters faced, 5 innings, 1 save, 2 blown saves
  • Joe Bateman: 3 appearances, 28 batters faced, 7 innings, 1 win
  • Calvin Medlock: 2 appearances, 14 batters faced, 4 innings
  • Jorge Julio: 3 appearances, 21 batters faced, 5 ⅔ innings
  • Chad Bradford: 2 appearances, 11 batters faced, 3 ⅓ innings, 1 win
  • Dewon Day: 3 appearances, 18 batters faced, 3 innings, 1 loss

Some very complicated math reveals that the starters pitched 28 innings over the last six games and the relievers pitched 39. Which leads me to a picture of what might be going on in the locker room or out on the field prior to today’s game. Something like this.

Relievers to Starters: “Look guys, we’re getting tired and way, way behind on our tweets. Do you think you could last, oh say, 6+ innings or so?”

Starters to Relievers: “We’re doing our job. If you can’t hold them in check it ain’t our problem (OK, maybe Matt DeSalvo isn’t part of that conversation — in two games he’s only lasted a total of 6 ⅔ innings).”

Position players (especially the catchers) to all of them: “Just stop the bleeding guys. Justin can’t save the game every day. How about a full 9 innings of baseball and we go back to the hotel with another win?”

Odds and Ends
  • The Bulls are in first place in the South!
  • Dan Johnson is playing for the Yokahama BayStars
  • Joel Guzman is playing for the Nationals’ AA team in Harrisburg, PA
  • Andy Sonnanstine is set to open the Bulls home stand on Thursday.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hitters Hit; Pitcher Pitches

Game 76: Bulls 12, Clippers 5
Season: 42-34
Wrap, Box

Great night for Bulls at the plate. Lets just list them:
  • Henry Mateo: 2 for 5, 2 homers, 3 RBI, 2 runs
  • Reid Brignac: 3 for 5, 1 homer, 2 singles, 1 RBI, 2 runs
  • Matt Joyce: 2 for 5, 2 doubles, 2 runs
  • Justin Ruggiano: 3 for 5, 3 singles, 2 RBI, 2 runs, no strikeouts (he leads team with 41 RBIs)
  • Chris Richard: 0 for 5, 1 run scored (he reached first on an error)
  • John Weber: 2 for 5, double, single, 1 run scored
  • Ray Sadler: 1 for 5, single, RBI (Sadler has 40 RBIs on the year)
  • Ray Olmedo: 0 for 3, 2 walks, 1 run scored
  • Craig Albernaz: 1 for 4, double, 3 RBIs

Now, that is a great night. Our best at the plate since a 13-2 blowout of Rochester on May 27th.

Yesterday I wrote that when the starting pitching situation sorts itself out, James Houser was the leading candidate to move elsewhere. So what does he do? He throws 6 shutout innings, allowing only 3 hits, 2 walks, and he hit one batter. A good night, and much, much better than his last three starts.

I guess relievers respond to pitching with only a day off differently. Calvin Medlock pitched two innings and only let one guy on base. Dewon Day pitched one inning and got hammered: 3 hits, 2 walks, 5 runs (3 earned).

  • Thanks to a hint from Stacy Long over at the Montgomery Advertiser, I’ve found Elliot Johnson. He’s playing on the Rays’ Gulf Coast League team. Four games so far. All at 2nd base or as DH. 12 AB, 3 hits (2 doubles), 2 walks.
  • Rays Prospects has catcher stats for all in the Rays system. Can’t say that our guys look all that good in comparison. But no worse, either.
  • We all saw Chad Bradford pitch while he was with Durham. The Rays Party has an interesting chart of how his ball loops toward the plate.
  • Marc Tompkin with the St. Petersburg Times has some thoughts on why Andy Sonnanstine was picked to come to the Bulls.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

5 + 2 = 7 - 2 = 5

(click on chart for larger image)

Who you gonna tell to go away?

Here’s a puzzle for fans of the Durham Bulls. I mean puzzle in the sense of something curious going on, not puzzle in the sense that we will have anything to do with solving it. Nor, for that matter, will the Bulls. This one’s for the Rays.

At this moment we’ve got five starting pitchers: DeSalvo, Davis, Hernandez, Houser, and Cromer. Sometime soon we’ll have seven starting pitchers: Talbot off the DL (no idea when) and Sonnanstine arriving from Tampa Bay. So, who goes?

Talbot, Sonnanstine, Davis and Houser are on the Rays 40-man roster. Doesn’t mean they can’t move elsewhere (Jake McGee, a pitcher who had Tommy John surgery and recently pitched his first game down in the Gulf Coast League is on the 40-man and, believe it or not, on the Bulls roster as a sort of permanent 7-day DL). As an aside, the Gulf Coast League is where Elliot Johnson is playing according to Stacy Long.

The chart shows the numbers that interest me. Not necessarily the numbers that interest the Rays.

From my view Talbot, Sonnanstine, and Davis are a lock. So who’s the other two?

Looks like a no-brainer to me. First off the bus is Houser, second is DeSalvo.

Bulls Win 15 Inning Ordeal

Game 74: Bulls 2, Mud Hens 4
Wrap, Box, Indy Week Story

Game 75: Bulls 5, Mud Hens 3 (15 Innings)
Season: 41-34
Wrap, Box, Indy Week Story

My plan, once I heard that Jason Cromer was getting the start, was to focus my story on him — no matter what the outcome of the game. That was especially so since I’d heard that the President of his fan club was going to be interviewed over on The Rays Party. For the first 6 innings things went true to form for Jason, with the notable exception of him getting some run support by way of a home run from Chris Richard in his first at bat since coming off the DL, and a bit of small ball in the 3rd inning. At that point Jason had only allowed two hits, no walks, and eight strikeouts. My story was good to go. Then something of an oops in the 7th. A single, then a home run and he was out of there with a no-decision.

Eight innings and five pitchers later, the Bulls won. It wasn’t easy. My guess is that Toledo fans will not be marveling over some of the oddities of the game. One would be Dale Thayer with a blown save in the 10th that tied things up after Ray Sadler’s homer in the top of the inning and extended the extra inning ordeal. Or seeing, unique in my experience, an umpire calling interference on himself in what I think was the bottom of the 12th inning, which kept a Toledo runner from reaching third base. [It was the bottom of the 10th, and the umpire interfered with a throw to third on a steal attempt, causing the throw to go past third. Without the call, runner scores. Game over. Thanks, N.]

But in the 15th Jon Weber drew a walk. Henry Mateo hit a double, moving Weber to third. Ray Olmedo was intentionally walked (lots of those last night) to load the bases (two outs by this time). And Justin Ruggiano, after going 0 for 6, hit a single, scoring Weber and Mateo. Julio DePaula, in his third inning in relief and after only two days rest, finished it off.

Have to mention the bottom of the 14th heroics of Jon Weber. Toledo’s Scott Sizemore doubled. Clete Thomas followed with a single to Weber in right field. Sizemore, of course, tried to score, but was out at home on a perfect throw by Weber, otherwise the game would have been lost right there.

Odds and Ends
  • For a good overview of this game and the sheer hard work of this whole series in Toledo, check out the Indy Week story.
  • Charlie Montoyo leaves the team today to be with his son.
  • Matt Joyce was benched last night for getting thrown out of the game Thursday arguing a third strike call.
  • Andy Sonnanstine, last seen in Durham in 2007 when he appeared in 11 games before going up to the Rays, is coming back. Andy’s had a decent, but not stellar year with the Rays and apparently they had to choose between him and David Price once Kazmir came off the disabled list.
  • With Chad Bradford coming off the Rays DL, Winston Abreu was designated for assignment. There’s a remote chance he’ll show back up here, but not likely. More likely is that he’ll end up with another team.
  • Did I mention the interview with the President of the Jason Cromer Fan Club over on The Rays Party?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sonnanstine Coming to the Bulls

Incredible 15-inning game tonight, but need time to think/write about it. In the meantime Marc Tompkin is reporting that Andy Sonnanstine is being sent to the Bulls from the Rays and that Winston Abreu has been "designated for assignment."

Richard Back; Eldridge Gone

Per a note from Bulls front office, Chris Richard is off the disabled list and Rashad Eldridge has been sent to Montgomery.

Good news!

The Durham Bulls at Midseason

Seventy-two games (last Tuesday) is the midpoint of the International League season. So here’s a modest effort to put things in perspective for first half of the year.

Where are we this so far this year? The answer is, and this may surprise you, better than last year. Last year at mid-season (72 games) we were 4 games above .500. At no time during the year did we get more than 9 games above .500. This year (except for the first 3 games) at no point have we been below 4 games above .500. At 72 games we were 6 games above, and we've been as high as 16 above twice. Last year we moved into first place in the South Division in early June and never looked back. At the end of the season we were 6 games above .500 and 9 games ahead of our nearest competitor in the Division (Norfolk).

Our offensive performance (OPS) this year is .011 better. Our pitching performance (Opponent’s OPS) is .031 better, compared to end of year numbers for 2008.

When you look at it from a fan’s perspective, the only problem this year was the last home stand. That was really painful to lose 7 out of 8 in mostly crappy weather before huge crowds — and we had to bring in a ringer from Tampa Bay to do it.

So what needs to be done to make things even better?

Top of my list is seeing the guy who contributed so much to last year’s team come back up to the plate. Justin Ruggiano is not the same player. I’m not sure what’s happened this year, whether it’s physical (he had eye surgery in the off-season) or mental. The power’s obviously there, but from the far distance I watch him from he just doesn’t look comfortable. I had a brief chat last year with the Bulls hitting coach, Gary Gaetti. I asked him just what does he do? His answer was interesting. He said, “I wait for the batters to come to me.” So here’s hoping that if that is Dave Myers’ approach to the job, Justin asks for help. This season seems to me to be more than a slump.

Last year Justin was part of lineup that had some real horses in the middle of it that could blow a game apart (Guzman, Ruggiano, Richard, Johnson, et al). This year the middle of the batting order is nothing like the threat last year’s was. But we win more games.

Other tweaks:
  • Wish we had more speed. It makes the game more exciting to see guys stealing bases and stretching singles into doubles.
  • I’d like to see fewer base running blunders. I’m gonna blame Montoyo for that. This is AAA and he calls the shots out there at 3rd base.
  • I’d like to see Mitch Talbot back on the mound and back in last year’s form. AAA has the interesting luxury of not having the press constantly pressing for answers. But I’d sure like to know more about our guys on the disabled list.

Otherwise, you gotta go with the numbers. This is one hell of a team this year. Clearly we are a Governor’s Cup contender.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On the Mound — Wade Davis

Game 73: Bulls 4, Mud Hens 2
Season: 40-33
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

His won-loss record (6-4) doesn’t jump out at you, but Wade Davis has established himself as the premier starting pitcher of the Durham Bulls. Today was a good example. Davis went 6 innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) on 6 hits and 2 walks. He had six strikeouts. I won’t get into some of the more arcane stats, but his ERA is 2.89 (the team’s ERA is almost 4) and his OBA (opposing batters on base percentage) is .293 (the team’s is .329). Among the starters, Jason Cromer has better numbers, but he’s only been in 6 games and Davis has been in 15. Of Davis’ five no-decisions the Bulls won 3 (including today) and lost 2.

Although I am sure that he’s being watched very closely within the Rays system, to be honest I’m happy that he hasn’t undergone the media scrutiny that David Price has. In fact, the comet-like rise of Price last year and this seems to have kept Davis out of the light. A good thing, in my opinion. And good for the Bulls. I think that there’s every hope that we will be able to keep this young man with us all year and that he’ll be with us on into the playoffs.

Without Davis, today could have been a disaster. We used six of our relievers in last night’s 13 inning marathon. We had a grand total of two relievers left, Calvin Medlock and closer Dale Thayer. As it turned out, however, Davis got through 6 innings and Chad Bradford’s rehab schedule called for him to pitch back-to-back games. So, even though Bradford had a crappy outing last night, he got in an inning (and, thanks to Justin Ruggiano’s homer in the 8th) a win. Then Dale Thayer did a two-inning save (his 10th). So Medlock’s available tomorrow, along with anyone else who can work on one day’s rest.

Defense was not good in the early part of today’s game. Ray Olmedo needs a new glove, I think. Or maybe he has a new glove and needs to go back to the old one. At any rate, he’s been snakebit the last couple of weeks.

Matt Joyce finally got a hit, a 2-run homer in the first inning. Justin Ruggiano collected two more strikeouts before his game-winning home run. Bulls stole 3 bases: Eldridge, Joyce, and Ruggiano. And no pickoffs or other baserunning problems today. Good news.

Really nice to see us win a close game. Really, really nice. Good way to start the second half of the season.

Down on the Bay:

The newspapers and webworld are abuzz with speculation regarding the return of Scott Kazmir to the starting rotation. To summarize: David Price went to the Rays when Kazmir went on the DL. With Kazmir back (maybe) the Rays have six starters, so one needs to go. Before Price got his head handed to him last night the general consensus was that either Andy Sonnanstine or Jeff Neimann would be sent to the bullpen and work there. Now Price has been added to the mix. What does it mean to the Bulls? Here’s a few possibilities.
  • David Price could come back. Not very likely, but possible.
  • Sonnanstine could come down for a visit. Also not very likely.
  • Either Niemann or Sonnanstine sent to bullpen and one of the Rays’ current relievers (Choate or Abreu) could come back. Although I'm sure they would not agree, I'd be happy to see Winston or Randy back.

A Long Road

View Larger Map

Game 72: Bulls 10, Mud Hens 11
Season: 39-33
Wrap, Box

Where where you Monday night? Like me, probably driving home from the DBAP. Where were the Bulls? On a couple of buses trekking across the Appalachians, watching the sun rise over their right shoulders, and on to Toledo. Eleven hour trip. Then a 13 inning baseball game that went on and on and on (4-1/2 hours).

Like Adam Sobsey I didn’t check in until very late in the evening. Even then I didn’t have the will to stick with it. But Adam did, so if you’d like to get a run down on the good and the not-so-good of the game, take a look. Suffice to say, in spite of the heroics of Rhyne Hughes (two homers) and Ray Sadler (grand slam) we couldn’t push a winning run across.

Today’s game is on the air as I write. So after their 11-hour trip and 13 inning game, they are back on the field.

I was going to do a longer piece since last night's game was the midpoint of the season (72 games), but will be putting it off for a while.

Odds and Ends:

Winston Abreu watch:
  • Last appearance with the Bulls: June 12
  • First appearance with the Rays: June 16, 1 inning, 1 run, 2 hits, 1 walk
  • Second appearance with the Rays: June 23, 2 2/3 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts (came into the game when the Rays were losing 10-0).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Where We Stand

(click on chart for larger view)

The Bulls are off to Toledo, who we split a series with at the beginning of the month. The last time we took a look at this chart (Game 55), we were 15 games above .500. Now, after the awful slide of recent weeks, we’re at 7 above .500 (39-32), still leading in the wild card, still behind Norfolk, and just slightly ahead of Gwinnett. Scranton still leads in the North (41-27) and Louisville (38-32) leads in the West.

The Bulls team ERA has grown to 3.89 and we’ve slipped from 5th to 7th in the league. The team batting average (.258) is, oddly, unchanged and we’ve gone from 9th back up to 4th. Our team OPS dropped slightly to .732 from .752. Only one of our batters (Henry Mateo) is above .300. Mateo also leads the team in OBA and OPS. Odd for a second baseman.

On the trip we will also be playing Columbus, who we saw at the DBAP in April and split a series with. If they are anything like the Bulls, they will have had a lot of turnover in their roster as well.

I’m hoping that Chris Richard and Mitch Talbot get off the DL during the trip, but I haven’t heard anything about them recently.

If this trip goes true to form, a lot of roster changes will come down while they roam about the midwest. I’ll do my best to keep you informed.

Bulls Win; Thayer Gets 9th Save

Game 71: Bulls 3, Red Sox 1
Season: 39-32
Wrap, Box

Jason Cromer came on in the 6th inning and pitched a decent 2 plus innings, but with one out and two Pawsox on base, Dale Thayer came on in the 9th to shut things down and break the losing streak.

This has been was a long, hard slog through the home stand, something I never hope to have to witness again. We did get to see some good baseball last night. I was especially pleased to see our outfielders demonstrate their knowledge of the DBAP when Jon Weber played a carom of the left field corner and threw out a Pawsox trying to stretch a single into a double in the 1st and Justin Ruggiano took one off the Blue Monster and did the same thing in the 5th, both times keeping a leadoff batter from getting into scoring position.

Oh yeah, rehabbing Ray Scott Kazmir had the start against the Pawsox’s Clay Buchholz. Have to say that Kazmir really looked good. He only allowed one run, struck out five, and no walks. The press box was full and the game got the best coverage since David Price left town. See the News & Observer, the Herald-Sun, the St. Pete Times, and an interview with Kazmir on WRAL.

But for the game as a whole, take a look at what Adam Sobsey has to say over at Triangle Offense.

Charlie Montoyo will be leaving the Bulls to go be with his family while his son has surgery. Most of us are familiar with his son’s condition and we hope that he knows that our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.

About the crowds. Last night was the biggest Monday crowd I’ve ever seen at the DBAP. In fact, these last four days have been huge. Obviously, a large part of it was the region’s Red Sox fans. One of the crowd last night was, however, a fan who has Kazmir on a fantasy team. Hasn’t been a good year for him so far, but things are looking up.

I also have to point out that it was a nice crowd, even if the ones behind me didn’t stand up and cheer Jaso around the bases after his huge home run in the 6th. I understand.

I think living in the South must be rubbing off. All that I met were uniformly courteous, mostly sober, and fun to chat with. Did note a couple of Bulls fans wearing, respectively, Mantle and Jeter jerseys. All in good fun, I suppose. At least they were laughing when last I saw them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cranky Old Man Takes a Day Off

Game 70: Bulls 3, Red Sox 5
Season: 38-32
Wrap, Box, Indy Week Story

You know, it was a really nice day for baseball. It was warm, but a pleasant breeze came out of the northwest and through the stands. Coming into the game I had a wonderful chat with the man at the gate about Negro League baseball. Turns out he’d played down in Sanford, North Carolina in the early 50’s. Sometimes on a Saturday night he’d made $5.00 to play a game. Enough money to fill a car with gas, if he’d had a car.

Charlie Montoyo did not heed my advice to move Jon Weber to the front of the lineup. In fact, he didn’t even start Weber. So much for my baseball wisdom. James Houser was starting, a pitcher about whom I’ve had my doubts in the past. But that was OK. I bought a beer and a bag of peanuts and settled in with my scorecard. I saw Weber down near the dugout signing autographs. I shouted, “Hey Jon, how about another bat!” He gave me a thumbs up. I set myself a personal goal of obtaining a signed Jon Weber bat by the end of the season.

The game began. Nine pitches. Eight balls. Two men on base. By the end of the game, we’d walked nine batters and hit two. Eleven freebies! (OK, that’s enough of that. Remember, leave the cranky old man persona behind.) The sun was shining. In fact, as Adam Sobsey pointed out, it was up there more than any other day of the year, a cool breeze blowing, the beer tasted wonderful. We chatted with our friends in the stands about anything but baseball.

Out in left field another player about whom I’ve been skeptical, Rashad Eldridge had a heck of a day. In the first three innings he made five catches.

Good day. Drive home. Don’t think about the game. Don’t think about the game. Don’t think about the game. Don’t think about the game.

Tonight Scott Kazmir comes to town. Way more media types than usual likely to show up in the press box and ruminate over every pitch of the 85 he’s going to be allowed to throw. Scott Bucholz, past and potential future star of the Red Sox throwing as well. Rehabbing right-handed Rays reliever Chad Bradford may come out of the pen. Rehabbing Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie likely to play. So a sort of, “Lets get together somewhere outside of Boston or Tampa Bay,” kind of game. Seats behind home plate may be full of guys with radar guns and scorecards. Marketing effort in full cry.

Just wish that someone, outside of a couple of us in the stands, and probably a couple of guys down there in Bulls uniforms, were interested in the Bulls breaking this awful streak of bad pitching, bad base running, and poor hitting. (Darn, there goes that cranky old man again.) But that comes with being a fan of minor league baseball.

Odds and Ends

  • Doug Milhoan over at RaysProspects updates Pythagorean numbers.
  • [Cranky old man alert!] Winston Abreu left the Bulls on June 13th. He’s appeared on one game for the Rays, on June 16th.
  • If we complain about the Rays, the Biscuits are probably complaining about the Bulls. They’ve finished the the first half of the season near the bottom of their division. But right-hander Jeremy Hellickson is back from the disabled list (we saw him last year).
  • The Bulls are in third place in the South Division of the International League, a half game behind Gwinnett. Had to wait to the end to slip that in. I tried, I really tried, not to be a cranky old man today.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Baseball players are famously superstitious. I would be too if my livelihood depended on a spinning sphere and a cylinder of wood making contact. And then getting past/over eight guys that really don’t want that to happen.

Sometimes the fans are superstitious too.

So here’s something that changed several games ago. Jon Weber was taken out of his leadoff spot in the batting order. He’d been there all year.

I understand, I think, the logic in putting him further down: plenty of power, more likely to have men on base when he comes to bat, Henry Mateo perhaps a step quicker and hitting pretty well.

But, when he was batting first in the order we were winning most of the time.

Just a thought ...

Fireman Takes Bucket of Gasoline to the Fire (Again)

Game 69: Bulls 3, Red Sox 4
Season: 38-31
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun Story

It’s the 5th inning. Carlos Hernandez has been struggling all night. He simply doesn’t look like the pitcher who’s been doing such a good job all year. Earlier this week when he sat out his rotation spot with back troubles. Maybe that’s the problem. The score is 3-1 Bulls. Carlos starts the inning with his fifth walk. The next batter hits a single to left moving the runner to second base. The next batter grounds out to Olmedo at third. One out. Carlos gives up his sixth walk. Bases loaded. DePaula has been warming up since the first walk and the radio is saying that Hernandez is reaching his pitch count limit (Pitch count limit? Pitch count? We’re about to lose the game, Charlie.) Hernandez has really slowed the game down for the last two batters. I’m thinking he’s trying to give DePaula time to warm up and now’s the time to bring him in. But he stays for the next batter and I finally notice that the batter bats left-handed, Hernandez is left-handed, and maybe Montoyo wants a lefty on lefty situation. It works. Batter pops up. Infield fly rule. Two outs.

Now DePaula comes in. Batter hits a single, two runs score. Next batter hits a single. Another run scores. Pawtucket leads 4-3 and that’s the story of the game.

Sounds a little like the Joe Bateman the night before.

Not that we didn’t have a couple of small chances later on, but base running (or manager decisions, not sure which) stifled the chances for runs. (See video on Bulls home page, for base running problems.)

So lets talk about something else.

I got there early to see the Negro Leaguers honored. A privilege to see those gentlemen lined up along the first base line. One in a wheelchair. Several sporting canes. Squint a little and you can see young men with tiny little fat-fingered gloves on their hands chasing down fly balls or scooping up grounders. You can see elegantly dressed, straw-hatted fans in the stands cheering. Another time.

Jon Weber launched yet another bat in my direction last night. That’s three so far this year. Tell you what, if you really don’t like the writing let’s get together and talk about it. I’m no fearless journalist. I can be bought. Plus, you’re a lot younger and a lot more fit than I am (I do have more hair, though). I think it would be really cool to have one of your baseball bats as a souvenir. If only a more gentle form of delivery could be arranged. Not only that, I think I’ve been saying some really nice things about you this year. Even back in spring training I was saying nice things. What’s the grudge? You want more? How about this?

Jon Weber was the story for the Bulls last night. Very pretty home run into the right field stands in the 3rd inning.
(How’s that? OK? And, unlike some of my stuff, it’s even true.)

One of the oddities of the last two nights has been the reported record crowds. I guess I just don’t know how to count as well as the Bulls front office. They are reporting big numbers, I’m seeing a lot of empty seats. My only guess is that a lot of folks paid for seats and didn’t come.

Lastly, a comment on what seems to happen when a player only makes a visit to the big time. Reid Brignac and Matt Joyce are back from short stays with the Tampa Bay Rays. I’m guessing that it must do something to your head to strip off that Rays uniform and put your old Bulls gear back on. Reid is 4 for 17 (.235) since he came back, although his fielding actually appears to be improved. Matt is 3 for 23 (.130) since his return. You are both solid ballplayers. We like watching you play. Here’s hoping you get your grooves back. We need you.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Coming Home From the Dentist

Game 68: Bulls 6, Red Sox 8
Season: 38-30
Wrap, Box

Driving home from the game last night was like coming home from the dentist. As you drive along what just happened is something of a vague memory, dulled by the heat, the radio in the car, the conversation, the drugs still in your system. Then the drugs start wearing off... For appropriate imagery, think Lawrence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. You are Dustin Hoffman escaped from the dentist’s chair and running down the streets of New York.

For those of you reading this who weren’t at the game, sorry, I’m not going to relive it for you. I’m not that much of a masochist. For a short version, see Bryan Strickland in the Herald-Sun. For the long version, see Adam Sobsey in the Independent Weekly sport blogs.

Come to the park early tonight and get to honor some really, really important men. Durham is blessed with a number of gentleman who played in the Negro League era and the Bulls and Red Sox will be wearing uniforms emblematic of that time. Sure wish I could have seen these men play in their prime. Sure wish that their era had been kinder to them and that their talents were as widely recognized and respected then as they are now. But it wasn’t, and the best we can do is give them a cheer tonight. So let’s do that.

On Monday yet another rehabbing Ray is likely to be on the mound, Scott Kazmir. Looking forward seeing him. However, that means that Jason Cromer is likely to be pushed back in the rotation and we will not be seeing him again this home stand. Regular readers of this blog will understand what that may mean ...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bulls Attorney Responds

Game 67: Bulls 2, Iron Pigs 6
Season: 38-29
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun Story, Indy Week Story

Farfaleaux, Foghart, & Bloviate, L.L.C.
Attorneys-at-Law & Media Relations Consultants
Diamond View II
Durham, North Carolina

June 19, 2009

Dear sir/madam:

We have been retained by the Durham Bulls Baseball Club in the matter of your recent correspondence. By way of background, our firm are long-time advisors to the team, most recently in the matter of the bats Mr. Jon Weber has been inadvertently launching in the general direction of your seats. Please be assured that we have advised our client regarding appropriate measures to include such substances as “pine tar” and/or batting gloves in the hopes that those incidents will not be repeated. In the meantime, we should note that the ballpark store has on sale rather comfortable plastic helmets that should be considered in the event that Mr. Weber’s diligent efforts to remedy the problem should prove unsuccessful.

To the matter at hand, however. This morning I communicated your concerns to the relevant parties. To wit: Mr. Montoyo, Mr. Hernandez, and Mr. Myers. Far be it from me to repeat verbatim their responses, which were, I must say, rather scatological. Suffice it to say that they referred to odoriferous deposits occasionally left behind by Mr. Wool E. Bull in the subterranean passageways of the edifice our offices overlook.

There followed a rather intemperate exchange, which I at first took to be on the order of blaming the messenger, i.e., myself. Included were some quite personal and, if I may say so, rather rude remarks by the aforesaid and some of their younger colleagues in the dressing room of the arena.

As I was a witness to the performance of those same young men last evening (that is, June 18th, the day after the events outlined in your missive), I am ashamed to say that I felt compelled to respond to them in a like manner. I noted their repeated failures to bring to the home plate a great number of their fellow ballplayers, leaving them standing rather forlornly on second and third base. I believe the condition is referred to as RiSP, 2 out of 12 as I pointed out. I went on to include what I fear were regarded as somewhat unkind comments on the current value of the relief corps. Given the quite valiant efforts of your gentleman, Mr. Cromer, and last evening’s “starter”, Mr. DeSalvo, one would think that the gentlemen responsible for the late innings would be well-rested and ready to “close it out,” as it were. Unfortunately, they were not, as I pointed out somewhat forcefully, up to the mark.

Nevertheless, I feel quite certain that they will in due course respond to your concerns. Indeed, subsequent to not a few unkind remarks regarding my appearance and parentage I left somewhat hastily, but encouraged by the spirit and élan on display.

Yours most truly,

Armbruster Farfaleaux
Sr Partner, FF&B

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Open Letter From the Jason Cromer Fan Club

Game 66: Bulls 0, Iron Pigs 4
Season: 38-28
Wrap, Box, Indy Week Story, Herald-Sun Story

June 18, 2009

The Durham Bulls Baseball Club
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Durham, NC

Dear sirs:

With the recent exponential growth in the membership in the Jason Cromer Fan Club (100% growth in just the last day!) I feel that it is incumbent upon me to bring to your attention the woeful neglect of the object of our affection over his last few games.

Back in April we noted with only a small twinge of regret your decision to send Jason to Montgomery. After all, he’d started two games, pitched 5 innings each, and didn’t allow any runs at all (1-0, ERA: 0.00). But we understood. James Houser needed a spot on the roster, and he’s done a really good job since coming on.

We were pleased, however, to see him back this month. His first appearance was against Pawtucket on June 6th. He let one pitch get away from him in the first (a homer) and another in the second (another homer). Otherwise, he went 5 ⅔ innings and no more runs scored. On June 12th he pitched against Buffalo and went 6 innings. Buffalo scored 1 run in the second inning. Yesterday he went eight innings without giving up a single run. That’s 19 ⅔ innings since he’s been back. In those 19 ⅔ innings YOU have scored exactly ONE run.

Would it be too much to ask a favor of the team? We appreciate the recent difficulties you have endured, but is it really too much to ask you to SCORE AT LEAST ONE G...D… RUN? Is that asking too much? He’s not letting THEM score. Why can’t you? If not for Jason, how about for the team?

Respectfully yours,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


(click on image for larger view)

With last night’s game we are 13 times through the rotation, so time to take a look at the charts.

The performance chart shows games since the first of May and the last bars are overall numbers for the season. What’s worrisome is the trend line for the pitching. Not only are the individual games recently worse than the season totals, but the trend line is down as well. The hitting trend is ticking upwards, nice to see.

The pitching chart is deceptive since only the current pitchers are shown (Thayer has been on the DL for a while, but he’s still in town). As might be noted by the low number of appearances, a lot of these guys are essentially new to the team (Cromer, Medlock, Julio, and DeSalvo. I’m not a big fan of ERA as a measure of pitching performance, but I am a big believer in the basic idea that if a guy doesn’t get on base, he can’t score. Among the current relief corps, things are not looking all that good. I’m not worried about Medlock yet and I guess Orvella had to go. Day is just coming back after a while off. And they are all putting in more innings than they should. So here’s hoping that the core starters can put in some solid innings over the next round — DeSalvo, Davis, Hernadez, and Cromer look OK. Then Talbot comes back, Houser goes, and all’s right with the world.

Note: We’ve had 21 different pitchers take the mound for the Durham Bulls this season! If Bradford pitches soon, it will be 22. One way to look at that is that there’s been a new pitcher at some point in every third game this season.

If You Thought the Last Game Was Ugly …

Game 65: Bulls 8, Iron Pigs 16
Season: 38-27
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun Story, Indy Week Story

It’s the morning after and I’m trying to find something good to say about last night’s game. I was trying to do the same thing last night. Gave up. Went to bed.

I scribbled the headline above on the edge of my scorecard sometime in the 3rd inning. Along with a note, “Why is this guy (Houser) pitching for the Bulls?” But then in the bottom of the 6th I started trying to craft an alliterative headline with words like “comeback” and “cardiac”, especially when my man Jon Weber came to the plate with a couple of runners on base and four runs already scored. Didn’t happen. But we did get out of the inning with a bunch of runs and the game was within reach, only (only!) 7-9 at that point.

But the Pigs get 5 runs in the top of the 8th. Do you really want to know how that happened? Really? Darn, it’s only eight o’clock. Too early for a shot of Jack. OK. Here it is. Bateman’s on the mound. First batter (Furmaniak, what kind of name is that?) grounds out. Second batter (Spitale) infield single. He steals second base, but it doesn’t matter since Bateman walks the third batter, Ellison. Fourth batter pops up. Two outs, we’re OK. Bateman walks the fifth batter. Bases loaded. Note: not a ball hit out of the infield. Jorge Julio (see note about Houser above) comes in for Bateman and plunks his first batter. Run scores. 7-10. Newhan comes to bat and hits a grand slam. 7-14. Go back to my original headline.

Is there anything good to come out of this? Well, yes there is. First of all Justin Ruggiano showed some signs of life at the plate. Only one strikeout and a couple of hits. Maybe, just maybe. Henry Mateo is on a real tear at bat. Ray Sadler crushed one in the 2nd inning over the Bull. Rhyne Hughes had a single, double, and homer. So even if he doesn’t stay with us when Chris Richard comes back, he shows real promise. Pretty good glove at first base, too. So the hitting side of the equation, which has not been good lately, looks better.

On the other hand, things are grim on the pitching side and not just for us. The vaunted depth of the Rays system turns out to be not deep enough. From Tampa Bay to Durham to Montgomery the disabled lists have at least eight pitchers on them (my count could be off one or two).

Oh well, Reid Brignac is back. We might get to see another rehabbing right-handed Rays reliever, Chad Bradford, tonight. He’s at least fun to watch. Lord knows I sure wouldn’t want to be a batter facing what amounts to a fast-pitch soft baller throwing a hardball at me. Speaking of softball. Alex Jamieson got an inning in relief last night. Reminded me of my slow pitch days. Not quite enough arc on the ball, though.

  • Some interesting quotes in Indy Week story
  • An Iron Pigs blogger thinks the umps got fooled and thought they were calling a football game last night.
  • RaysIndex takes a look at the Pythagorean puzzle and coins the term, "clutchiness."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ugly Night

Game 64: Bulls 5, Iron Pigs 8
Season: 38-26
Box, Indy Week Story, Herald-Sun Story

Just a hint of how the night was going to go when I saw Julio DePaula go out to the mound. I didn’t have my radio earpiece in yet. So I leaned over and asked John what was going on. He told me that Hernandez had some sort of back problem and that Montoyo was going with a “starter by committee” approach. Hence, reliever DePaula on the mound. A broken-bat ground rule double (into the the visitors bullpen bench area), passed ball, walk, but fortunately a K to get out of the inning. No score, but things really weren’t looking all that good. The next inning started with a double, another double (one run in), another double (another run scores), a throwing error by DePaula to 2nd base (runner to 3rd), grounder to short (another run). Two of the doubles land in almost exactly the same place in front of and two the left of Matt Joyce in right field.

It doesn’t get better. John Jaso had a horrible night. Two passed balls and three wild pitches. What’s the difference? Hard to tell, sometimes I think the scorer just flips a coin.

Fourth inning. New guy Jorge Julio on the mound. Walk, stolen base (Jaso couldn’t seem to get the ball out of his glove), wild pitch, wild pitch (runner scores), walk, single, double play.

Fellow sitting next to me reminisces about Chris Richard’s two grand slam game. But I give up and watch the top of the 7th from the top of the Blue Monster. Driving home I get a huge twinge when the Bulls score three in the bottom of the 7th. Think about turning around and going back to the ball park, but the rally dies.

Odds and Ends
  • Noticed that we had the same umpiring crew for the entire eight-game road trip (different crew tonight). Is that the way it’s supposed to work? Do pitchers and catchers start adapting their game to the umpire?
  • Mike Potter, former Herald Sun sportswriter, is now blogging for The Independent Weekly and covering the Mudcats. Most recent story here. Interesting to see what happens when a pro gets let off the word count leash. Among other things, colorful adjectives go way up.
  • Remember, vote early, vote often for International League All-Star. Guess that since Reid Brignac is back (today, maybe), makes sense to push for him in the shortstop slot.
  • Speaking of Reid Brignac, some comments about him at DRaysbay.
  • For Durham folks who haven’t found it, I can recommend Bull City Rising, a great city blog, with a good list of blogs covering local concerns/activities (we’re on it, thanks).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back in Town

But just who is back in town?

If the Bulls would keep their web site up to date (they’ve got Rhyne Hughes as a pitcher!), then this would probably not be needed , but they don’t and it is.

This year it seems that every time the Bulls go on the road the team that leaves isn’t the same team that comes back. This last trip is no different. I think I’ve captured most of the changes, but don’t bet on it. Guess we’ll just have to keep a close eye on who’s on the field, who’s in the bull pen, and who’s just leaning against the rail tonight. In the meantime here’s my best shot at who’s here, who’s new, who’s gone, and who’s on the disabled list.


  • Mitch Talbot — on DL
  • Wade Davis
  • Matt DeSalvo
  • Carlos Hernandez
  • James Houser
  • Jason Childers
  • Julio DePaula
  • Dale Thayer
  • Dewon Day — off DL today
  • Joe Bateman
  • Jorge Julio
  • Calvin Medlock
  • Jason Cromer
  • Winston Abreu — To Tampa Bay
  • Chad Orvella — released
Position Players

  • Craig Albernaz
  • John Jaso
  • Henry Mateo
  • Ray Olmedo
  • Brandon Chaves
  • Chris Nowak
  • Chris Richard — on DL
  • Elliott Johnson — on DL
  • Justin Ruggiano
  • Jon Weber
  • Ray Sadler
  • Rashad Eldridge
  • Rhyne Hughes
  • Matt Joyce
  • Reid Brignac
  • Matt Hall
  • Alex Jamieson

I don’t know what the roster limit for the Durham Bulls is, but I’m pretty sure this is over it, especially with Brignac coming back and Richard and Day due to come off the DL. So this list is probably already wrong. Corrections welcomed. Please!

The Iron Pigs (26-36) are in town. Carlos Hernandez is scheduled to start. Weather forecast doesn’t look good for the week, but who cares?

See you there.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Good-Bye Buffalo

Game 63: Bulls 1, Bisons 8
Season: 38-25
Wrap, Box

Well, our tenure in first place was short-lived. We are back into a tie with Norfolk.

Not our best effort, but some of our low scoring was due to the superb pitching of the Bisons’ Brandon Knight. He managed that rare occurrence in modern baseball, a complete game: 6 hits, no walks, 7 strikeouts, a superb game. We don’t have to face him or the Bisons again this year, and that’s probably a good thing. Given what we’ve seen of the Bisons, I’m surprised at their poor record (20-40). They are a better team than that.

Wade Davis had 5 superb innings, unfortunately they were the 1st, and the 3rd thru 6th. The 2nd was a mess for him and for the team behind him. Jason Childers had his troubles as well. As for the hitters, 6 hits. One for 9 with runners in scoring position. Not a good day.

Come on home, guys. Get away from the seagulls.

Bulls in First Place; Abreu to Tampa Bay

Game 61: Bulls 0, Bisons 1
Wrap, Box, Indy Week Story

Game 62: Bulls 7, Bisons 2
Season: 38-24
Wrap, Box, Indy Week Story

Have to tell you how much fun it was to update my charts this morning and see the line bounce up above Norfolk in the Southern Division. We’re there! Good for the Durham Bulls.

Adam Sobsey’s account (see Indy Week link above) does a fine job depicting the challenges faced over the last weeks in keeping the Bulls in contention, and manages a 5-B headline to boot. More than in contention, we’re in first place with the best record in the league. This is gonna be a fun year.

I can’t add much except to note that both the last two starters are new (Cromer and DeSalvo) and they both did very credible jobs. And the bullpen, what can you say? After DeSalvo handed over the ball in the latter part of the 6th inning, only one Buffalo runner got on base (a walk by Bateman). And Dale Thayer seems to have gotten past his return from Tampa Bay problems, three up, three down in the 9th.

If there’s a guy on our roster who should be up there with the Rays, it’s Winston Abreu. He was called up yesterday. [Thanks for the heads up, DRR]. I wrote something about him a while back, but I certainly didn’t envisage this circumstance.

Coverage about Abreu’s callup down Tampa/St Pete way is here and here. Among the bloggers, DRaysBay is particularly happy about the move. A lengthier discussion is over at Rays Renegade, which has a link to a very scary video. I don’t care what anyone might think about Jason Isringhausen, this should never happen to any athlete. I can only hope that it isn’t as bad as it looks. However, Abreu was called up very shortly after this happened, so surely enough of a problem to put Abreu on the Rays’ 40-man roster.

Bulls have a day game today (I wonder how come they never play on Sunday afternoons in Durham?) so I have an excuse not to do anything at all today except listen to baseball.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pythagorean Puzzle

click on image for a larger view

Don’t worry about the charts. Read this first. If you don’t go to sleep, then came back and take a look at the charts.

A while ago I read a blog post that was worrying about the Tampa Bay Rays’ actual performance as compared to their “Pythagorean Expectation”. That led me to a more diligent (well, sort of) effort to understand just what the heck he was talking about. I don’t think I succeeded, but I did come up with a puzzle I’ll put out to my vast readership. Maybe you can figure it out.

The Pythagorean Expectation is based on the idea that there ought to be some kind of relationship between runs scored by opposing teams and their won-lost records (other than just “at least one more”). It is one of the many innovations that Bill James and his Sabermetricians have brought to the game and is described in a Wikipedia article here. If you really want to dive into it, try some of the links in that article.

As it happened, I had all the numbers for both Bulls and Rays since I use them for the occasional charts that I put up. So I ran “expectations” for the Bulls and the Rays and came up with what looks very weird to me.

In the first chart is the Bulls actual won-loss record and the expectation computation. You can see that the “actual” runs well above the “expectation” (.069 as of game 61). In the Rays chart the actual runs well below the expectation (-.086 as of game 63). What’s going on?

I’ve come up with a couple of possibilities.
  • I screwed up the numbers. Possible, but I am sure that at least the last datum in each is correct since it comes from the official records.
  • That it’s early in the season and that the curves will eventually meet. That’s the “in the long run” argument, as in, “In the long run life kills you.”
  • That the expectation formula doesn’t do a good job accounting for one-run wins and losses. That seems plausible since the Bulls have had 23 1-run games and won 15 of them, while the Rays have had 20 1-run games and won only 7 of them.
  • Blame the bullpen (for the Rays) or praise the bullpen (Bulls). I kind of like that, but not sure how to drill down into the numbers to test it. It is, when you think about it, just another way of expressing the 1-run game idea above.
  • Give the managers all the credit (blame). An interesting way to test this idea would be to swap Maddon for Montoyo for a couple of weeks (everyone else has been sent to Tampa Bay, why not the manager?). If the Rays started winning and the Bulls started losing then we’d know.
  • That the whole Pythagorean idea doesn’t pass the “so what?” test and get on with my life.

At any rate, here it is. What do you think? How come we’re doing so much better and the Rays are doing so much worse?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Matt Joyce is Coming Back

Tampa area newspapers ( and the Bulls Twitter) are reporting that Matt Joyce is coming back to the Durham Bulls (St Pete Times, Tampa Tribune). No surprise since one of the Rays many re-habbers, Pat Burrell, is back. Still, I thought there was a remote chance that the Rays would dump Gabe Kapler and keep Joyce up there.

Bloggers note that Matt got off to a great start, then faltered (RaysIndex) and that Joe Dillon is staying (Rays Revolutionary). Her Rays, of course, has her own take on it.

My count is probably off, but that's at least six roster changes since the Bulls left town (not counting Alex Jamieson's trips to/from Hudson Valley). The Rays have more coming off rehab (and we've got a couple of our own due back eventually), so little prospect that things will settle down any time soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tomorrow’s Another Day

Game 60: Bulls 5, Bisons 13
Season: 37-23
Wrap, Box

Guess I hadn’t been paying attention to the Durham Bulls schedule. Checked into the web site in the middle of the afternoon and discovered that the game had already started. Clicked on Gameday link and waited for it to load up. Bottom of the 5th, based loaded, 5 runs already scored in the inning! Bulls losing 4 to 9. What the heck is going on here? Clicked on the audio box and got Neil Solondz describing Julio DePaula trying to get out of some kind of mess. I couldn’t stand it. I clicked everything off and went back to working in the yard. This was not going to end well, I thought. It didn’t.

Look at that box score, five errors in the middle of the infield, four by shortstop (?) Ray Olmedo. We got five runs on 8 hits, well, that’s OK, I guess. Just doesn’t quite match up with their 13 runs on 15 hits and 7 walks. We used four pitchers including, ready for this, 2/3rds of an inning by Alex Jamieson, our ghost catcher last seen on the Hudson Valley roster. Aaaaaaaaargh!

Yesterday I sat down and write a long paean to the hard work that goes with the life of a ballplayer. Yesterday the the Bulls got a day off. And what happens? You get a day off and this? Spend the day off in a pool room? Sports bar? What happened? Did somebody on the Bulls actually read that drivel and start feeling sorry for himself? If so, then I take it all back. The life of a ballplayer is a piece of cake. How’s that? Better?

OK. Deep breath. Tomorrow’s another day.

Where the Bulls Are — Coca-Cola Field

View Larger Map

Tonight the Durham Bulls play the Bisons on their Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo, not to be confused with Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania where the Iron Pigs play. The field was apparently built to Major League standards/aspirations. It also seems to be hostage to the “naming rights” fad that has led so many cities and counties to pursue short-term financial gain instead of long-term resonance with a location’s history (does anyone else miss the Cotton, Sugar, and Gator Bowls? Or, for that matter, whatever the “RBC Center” was going to be before a bank grabbed the title?). Coca-Cola Field has had five names since 1988.

Brian Merzbach over at BallparkReviews likes the place a lot.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Relentless Pace of Baseball

Game 59: Bulls 1, Red Sox 2
Season: 37-22
Wrap, Box, Indy Week Story

I can’t really improve on Adam Sobsey’s story about last night’s game over in the Indy Week blog, so I’d like to talk about something that’s been rattling around in my head for quite a while — the sheer day-to-day relentlessness of professional baseball.

Last night was the Durham Bulls’ 59th game. They started the season on April 9th. That means that for all practical purposes they’ve played a ball game every day for two months. In that time they’ve had one rain out and two days off. They have 85 games to go.

Think about it. Every. Single. Day. Every day you go to the park, practice, change to a game uniform, warm up some more, and then stand out in front of the dugout to listen to the National Anthem. You play ball for at least a couple of hours, sometimes much more than that. Clean up. Go to your room/apartment/house. And the next day it’s the same thing all over again. And the next day. And the next day.

Then throw in the travel from place to place, the small and large differences in location, weather, playing position, etc.

Day after day after day.

For some reason the relentless nature of the game didn’t settle in for me until I first bought season tickets. In that first season, about six or seven days into an eight-day home stand I began to fill up on the game. Sure, a lot of little things changed every day, that’s what makes the game so interesting and beautiful. But still I sometimes wanted to take a break, and I could (and do). But not the players. For the players it is every single day.

Let’s not forget the manager, coaches, broadcasters, equipment folks, trainers, etc. The day-to-day has to be the same for them as well. In fact, looks like the only guys who don’t have quite the same grind are the starting pitchers. They are on a five-day rotation so once they pitch they can just “coast” for four days. But I bet they don’t. I bet they have almost as rigid a routine as the rest. Day one, do this; day two, do that, etc. until the next start.

On the surface it seems similar to a road production of a show. I’ve done that and this is very different. The biggest is simply once started no game is the same. After the National Anthem it really is a new ball game. My 40-man crew traveled the world. We’d set up in each location for about a week, do our thing, then go on to the next place. The difference was that my “show” was the same show, every time. Sure, a little variation in the audience, in the staging, but what we did was the same. With baseball, the general outlines are the same, “between the lines” as they say. Nevertheless, every moment is at least a little, and sometimes a lot, different. So your attention has to be that much more to the moment. In our little show I could be thinking several lines ahead as I spoke. In baseball if you’re thinking ahead more than a millisecond, you’re in trouble, because nothing is never exactly the same.

I have to respect that, a player’s ability to live inside each moment. Otherwise, I think the relentlessness of the season would take all the fun out of it, for the players and the fans.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Chad Orvella

The note from the Durham Bulls front office is a bit cryptic:
“Chad Orvella released”
Seems like Chad Orvella has been in the bullpen ever since I’ve been coming to Bulls games. Checking the stats pages I see that mostly true. He spent some time with us in 2006 (27 games), 2007 (42 games), and this year (19 games). When he wasn’t here, he was with the Rays, in 2005 (37 games), 2006 (22 games), and 2007 (10 games).

In May 2008 he had shoulder surgery and missed the entire season, so this year was to be his comeback year. I’m guessing (and it is pure guesswork) that he and/or the Rays have decided it isn’t going to work out.

If/when I learn more, I’ll pass it on.

[As DRR commented below Chad was let go to make room for reliever Jorge Julio, most recently with Milwaukee. Now being reported in several places including here]

New First Baseman

Left-handed first baseman Rhyne Hughes is coming to the Durham Bulls from the Montgomery Biscuits. Hughes’ rep is as a slugger. He has the most home runs in the Southern League at 15 and 46 RBIs this year. Has never played above the AA level. Hitting and fielding stats. He also strikes out a lot. So here's hoping he isn't next to Justin Ruggiano in the lineup.

I guess what worries me is whether this means that Chris Richard’s hamstring is going to put him off the field for a while and, if so, are we going to miss Richard's terrific glove at first?

Also, Matt Hall has been assigned back to the Charlotte Stone Crabs down in Florida.

Wade Davis Keeps Pawsox Off Base

Game 58: Bulls 3, Red Sox 2
Season: 37-21
Wrap, Box, Indy Week Story

Back on May 18th and 24th, Wade Davis had two stellar performances by the metric I like the most, how often opposing batters get on base (OBA), in those games .130 and .185 respectively. Then he had two games (May 29th and June 3rd) where it ballooned up to .414 and .346. Interestingly, he won the first two games and lost the second two games. Last night it was a respectable .280 and he won. I know there are a lot of other variables involved, but, on balance, Davis’ keeping runners off base is surely a large part of the Durham Bulls’ success this year, particularly when you note that his three no-decisions had low OBAs and the Bulls won the games.

Last year, when Tampa Bay was yo-yoing our players back and forth it seemed to me that after the guys came back they had a tough time getting into the groove. Dale Thayer may be an example of that. After last night, however, here’s hoping he’s back on track. He was in for two innings and got the save. From the sound of it, much better than previous two outings even if still a bit shaky.

Henry Mateo got his first home run as a Bull and our first homer in quite a while. We’re winning these games with small ball, but it’d be nice to see Ruggiano, Richard, Sadler & Co send a couple out of the park.

Justin Ruggiano got tossed for arguing a third strike. Justin is really having a hard time of it lately. Not sure what’s going on this year, but I can only hope that he pulls out of it. We need him back in form.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Let’s Talk About a Pitcher

Game 57: Bulls 4, Red Sox 4
Season: 36-21
Wrap, Box

A thriller. The Durham Bulls go 1 run up in the 4th, give up 4 runs in the 7th, score 4 in the top of the 9th, and Abreu (after a few thrills) slams the door in the bottom of the 9th.

The wrap discusses some of the batting heroics. As far as pitching goes, Matt DeSalvo had a fine day. Joe Bateman and Dale Thayer didn’t. Calvin Medlock had his first appearance, one inning, one win.

But I want to talk about Winston Abreu and what he’s meant to us this year.

Abreu has appeared in 22 games this season. He’s faced 114 batters over 31 innings: 12 hits, 10 walks, 47 strikeouts, ERA of 1.45. Fabulous numbers, but look at these: 3 wins, 10 saves, 7 holds. In fact, in the 22 games he’s appeared in, the Bulls have won 21 of them! The one game lost was back on May 12th. You all remember that one don’t you, when Louisville came up with 5 runs against Dale Thayer in the 9th and ruined his ERA for a long, long time? Abreu pitched a scoreless 8th.

Winston is the most dominant reliever I’ve seen in a Bulls uniform. Here’s hoping he stays here all year. If he does, and the Bulls keep up these late inning rushes — something my heart could do without; however, consider the alternative — then we are in very good shape.

Other notes:
  • Joe Bateman takes the lead among Durham pitchers in the hit batsman category with four. I’m too lazy to check if they were all right-handed batters too dumb to get out of the way of a sidearmer’s curveball.
  • Pawtucket, by the way, leads the league in pitchers who hit batters with 28, Durham is a distant seventh with 21, one of them in today’s game.
  • Norfolk lost! We’re tied for first place in the division (actually we’re a couple of percentage points back since they’ve played two less games than we have. Both of us are 15 games over .500).

AAA All-Star Voting

It doesn’t jump out at you (or at least me) on just how to get to the ballot. On the Durham Bulls home page at the upper left it cycles through various stories. In the teaser paragraph about All-Star voting there’s a “vote” link that takes you to the ballot.

Durham Bulls on the ballot (you weren’t going to vote for anyone else, were you?):

Starting Pitchers(vote for 2)
  • Carlos Hernandez
  • Mitch Talbot
  • Wade Davis
Relief Pitchers (vote for 2)
  • Winston Abreu
  • Dale Thayer
  • Julio DePaula
  • John Jaso
First Base
  • Chris Richard
Second Base
  • Ray Olmedo
  • Reid Brignac
Third Base
  • Chris Novak
Outfield (vote for up to 3)
  • Justin Ruggiano
  • Matt Joyce
  • Ray Sadler
Designated Hitter
  • Jon Weber

Far be it from me to suggest how you should vote, but here’s my choices, including write-ins. Note that you can vote up to 25 times and that fan votes only count for one-third of the votes. See here for more details.

Starting pitchers:
  • Carlos Hernandez and Wade Davis
  • Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer
  • No vote. John’s OK, but not All-Star caliber yet and I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for someone on another team.
First Base:
  • Chris Richard, of course
Second Base:
  • Ray Olmedo (realize that he’s played almost as much third base and second, but Ray’s meant a lot to our team this year wherever he’s played)
  • No vote (see write-in below). Reid hasn’t been with us for a couple of weeks. Don’t know when he’ll be back. And, to be honest, I’m not sure he’s the best in the IL.
Third Base:
  • No vote. I like Chris Nowak a lot, but is he really a third baseman? Or just learning how to be a hitter who’ll end up playing first base sometime, someplace.
  • Ray Sadler and Justin Ruggiano. Don’t see the point in voting for Matt Joyce, don’t think he’s coming back. See write-ins below.
Designated hitter:
  • Jon Weber, of course.
Write ins:
  • Jon Weber, outfield
  • Brandon Chaves, shortstop

It’s kind of tedious to make 25 votes, but probably worth it to our guys. Also, if you’re a fan of any players in the Pacific Coast League, you can vote for them as well.

Up In the Red Sox Nation

Game 56: Bulls 1, Red Sox 2
Season: 35-21
Wrap, Box

We spent much of yesterday evening helping with the country’s economic recovery. So we caught only snippets of the game on the radio as we drove to the restaurant to the mall and home. At least it was on the radio. That’s been a problem this season.

The story of the game was, of course, John Smoltz and obviously he did a good job. I was reminded of what a class act manager Charlie Montoyo can be when he said in his pre-game interview, “Hopefully, when he leaves the game he’s healthy, but losing.”

Not to be. In fact, it was the Durham Bulls worst game at the plate since a 0-4 loss at Gwinnett back on May 11. But that day our pitchers had problems. Last night our pitchers really didn’t. Returning Jason Cromer had a fine night, allowing only two hits. Unfortunately, they were both home runs and that was the difference.

Looking back just a bit, there’s an interesting interview with Jon Weber after that awful game in the rain last week. Worth listening to a veteran’s perspective on the game, every game. “This is what pays the bills. We just can’t give games away. We gotta go out there and try to win every game.”

I’ll be putting up a post about All-Star voting soon. Vote early, vote often!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Where the Bulls Are — McCoy Stadium

View Larger Map

Zoom down to find the stadium.

I like to tell the story of the time in my long-ago youth when I walked across the entire state of Rhode Island. Not exactly true, but a decent story. I was hitchhiking way back when that was a reasonable mode of travel and got dropped on the edge of Providence. Didn't catch another ride until the far edge of the city. Close enough.

Ballpark reviews likes McCoy Stadium. And the article in Wikipedia provides some of the lore.

Given the fanaticism of the Red Sox Nation, there are probably a bunch of blogs following the Pawsox. I found this one and it has links to others.

Where We Stand

(click on chart for larger view)

As the Durham Bulls arrive in Pawtucket, time to take a look at where we stand.

Charted are the teams in the International League Southern Division over the first 55 games. Since our last look, the Bulls have gone from 10 games above .500 to 15 games above .500 (35-20), one game behind Norfolk. Norfolk has been no slouch in the last couple of weeks, and Gwinnett’s on a bit of a run as well.

We’ve got the second-best record in the entire league and if the playoffs were to begin tomorrow, we’d be the wild card. Scranton (33-22) leads the North and Columbus (27-28!) leads the West.

The Bulls team ERA (3.69) is the 5th best in the league. Our team batting average (.258) has dropped from fourth to ninth since the last time we looked. However, the team OPS (.752) is still fourth. Other than Chris Richard’s 11 home runs, none of our hitters lead in offensive categories (although Justin Ruggiano is second in strikeouts). Nevertheless, all of our guys are above .200 (except for Craig Albernaz). Brandon Chaves’ remarkable .400 will surely drop a bit, as will Henry Mateo’s and Rashad Eldridge’s .292s, but we can hope.

We’ll be playing the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Buffalo Bisons. We haven’t seen the Pawsox this season and we just finished a series with the Bisons (3-1). Here’s hoping for decent weather up there in the Nawth.

At least one familiar face will be on the field tonight, rehabbing right-hander John Smoltz. A chance for our hitters to show their stuff.

Have fun guys!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Player Move — Calvin Medlock

According to Stacy Long over in Montgomery, Calvin Medlock is coming to the Durham Bulls.

Medlock started last season with the Bulls and stayed with us all season (he had 9 appearances with us in 2007). According to my numbers he appeared in 41 games (including two playoff games), 0-3, 63 innings, with a season ERA of 4.57. It looks like he’s been Montgomery’s closer this year, and has done an impressive job. He’s appeared in 23 games and has 13 (!) saves. Since Montgomery has won 26 games Medlock appears to have had a hand in half of those wins. Overall record 0-1, ERA 3.52. [Just found this article on Medlock's move, also in Montgomery Advertiser]

Don’t know why he started the year in Montgomery and not quite sure how he fits into a bullpen that already has two closers (Thayer and Abreu). And it sure looks like it punches a big hole in Montgomery’s pitching staff. On the other hand, maybe it’s his time. We need some depth among our relievers and we can hope he’s our man.

Could this mean that another one of our guys is on the way back to the Rays?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bulls on the Bay*

Game 53: Bulls 2, Mud Hens 5
Season: 34-19
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun Story, Indy Week Story

I don’t have anything particularly worthwhile to write about yesterday’s game, except to point out amid all the talk about Durham Bulls pitchers’ strikeouts (17, a season high) that the Mud Hen’s OPS was 1.018, implying one of the worst overall pitching performances this year.

Instead let’s take a look at the players who started the year with the Bulls and are now with the Rays.

  • Michel Hernandez, catcher. Michel’s last game with us was on April 13 (boy, that seems like a long time ago). He was called to the Rays to fill in for backup catcher Shawn Riggins, who remains on the disabled list. His first appearance with the Rays was April 15 and he’s played in a total of 13 games since then. At bat he’s hitting .289. Not a single passed ball. And he’s stolen 5 bases. Riggans seems to be a fragile guy. I’m not sure we’ll see Michel back here again.
  • Reid Brignac, infielder. Reid was essentially our starting shortstop and played in 36 games, his last being May 21. His first game for Tampa Bay was on May 22 where he came in the game for Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett. Since then he’s appeared in 11 games (2 at second base, 9 at short), but only started 6 games. He’s hitting .231 with 1 walk and 5 strikeouts. Not sure he’ll stay there once the Rays sort out the health of their infield crew.
  • David Price, pitcher. David started 8 games as a Bull. His record was 1-4 with an ERA of 3.93. He got his first start as a Ray on May 25, filling in for DL’d Kazmir. He has now started 2 games. His record is 1-0 and his ERA is 3.00. Assuming he stays as a starter, the Rays have to figure out who to send to the bullpen, trade, or send to us. Given the various complexities of how that works, I don’t figure to see him back in Durham.
  • Randy Choate, pitcher. Randy was doing a terrific job as a short reliever for the Bulls (21 appearances, usually only a few batters, 3-0, ERA of 3.72). His first appearance for the Rays was on May 25 and he’s had a total of 4. 3 innings pitched. 2 saves. The Rays have three relievers on the disabled list, one of whom (Chad Bradford) is likely to transit Durham on a rehab assignment soon. Can’t knock his performance with the Rays, but I’m betting we’ll see him back here.
  • Joe Dillon, infielder. Joe played 14 games for us (part of the Adam Kennedy deal, I think), and played every infield position (and dh’d) while he was here. His first game with the Rays was on May 27. He has not started in a single game, but has appeared in 5 and is hitting .182 in 11 at bats. He was hitting .262 with us. I don’t understand the business of baseball well enough to guess if he’ll be back, but he sure isn’t seeing much playing time with the Rays.
  • Matt Joyce, outfielder. Matt started the year in Tampa, then came to Durham where he was a regular (41 games), playing all the outfield positions and dh’ing a couple of times. Solid numbers with us, but clearly a young man on his way to a permanent spot with the Rays. His first game with Tampa Bay was May 31. He’s played in 3 games so far and is doing very, very well. Tampa Bay has been playing a very odd game all year with their right fielders, a “platoon” system that doesn’t seem to be working very well. I don’t think we’ll see Matt back here. Happy to have him, mind you, but the Rays are smarter than that (I think).
  • Dale Thayer, pitcher. Got to mention reliever Dale Thayer. He’s already back, but he had three appearances with the Rays in late May and picked up a save. Happy to have him back. With Dale and Winston Abreu in the bullpen, we’re not likely to lose a game that we’re ahead in the 8th or 9th.

So, here’s a trivia question: Who’s on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster who is still with the Durham Bulls? Just three players: Pitcher Mitch Talbot (on DL), outfielder Justin Ruggiano, and infielder Elliot Johnson (currently on DL). In other words, there ain’t hardly anyone left for them to take away from us. We can plan on going with what we’ve got for a least a few more days.

*As a former resident of the Tampa Bay area, in that time when the City of St Petersburg was in its “If we build it, they will come” phase (note: they did and they did), I am aware that Tropicana Field isn’t on the Bay. But what is on the Bay besides a port terminal whose major export is phosphates and whose major import is, get this, orange juice?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Faith Rewarded

Game 52: Bulls 6, Mud Hens 5 (11 innings)
Season: 34-18
Wrap, Box, Indy Week Story, Herald-Sun Story

To be honest, last night’s game was a bit dull through the first eight innings. Sure, Ray Sadler dove over the bullpen bench railing and was laid out for a while. But then he went back on the field and his next turn at bat messed up the Mud Hen’s Chris Lambert’s perfect game with a homer. But up until the 8th the most interesting thing that had happened was reliever Dale Thayer finding a new kind of “save”.

In the interregnum between the 2nd and 3rd innings a small child “races” Wool E. Bull around the bases, the child taking off towards first and Wool E. heading the reverse direction. This time the child reached first and kept on going. She was motoring down the foul line heading for the right field wall when Dale came out of the bullpen dugout and herded her back to the base path, to the great amusement of all.

We pretty much gave up at the top of the eighth. The Bulls were down 4-2. However, unlike in a previous game, we decided to watch it out from the terrace on top of the Blue Monster. That’s a really cool place to watch a game from, and an especially cool place to watch a Durham Bull (Chris Nowak) launch one right over the bull (that’s me standing under the bull in the video highlights). And a GREAT place to hear the THUMP of Ruggiano’s hit off the wall in the 11th for the win.

Cannot fail to mention the umpiring last night. I suppose it came out OK in the end, but that really wasn’t a homer in the 4th guys. And that really was a foul ball in Toledo’s 9th. And tossing two guys for arguing balls and strikes? What’s with that? They’ll rotate around today. Let’s hope they do better.

Good quotes in the Herald-Sun and Indy week stories.