Thursday, September 30, 2010

Looking at 2010 — 3

This should just about wrap of this year's position players. We'll put off to another post any speculation regarding how many, if any, we think might be coming back.

Alvin Colina (28). 2010 was his fourth year as a AAA catcher. Last year he was with Gwinnett.

  • Played in 51 (201 plate appearances) games with the Bulls before blowing out a knee on July 22nd. 7 HR, 28 RBI, .231/.279/.390, wOBA .274, bRAA -7.3. Postions played: C-37, DH-13.
  • As with Jose Lobaton, we find it hard to evaluate a catcher from the stands. Nevertheless, we find a lot to like about Mr. Colina. He appears to handle pitchers well and he appears to handle younger catchers well. We haven’t had an update on his condition since July, but we would not mind seeing him back with the Bulls next year.
  • Stats

Ryan Shealy (30) played 48 games at first base and as a DH for the Bulls before opting out in June. Decent numbers, wOBA .373, bRAA 6.5. He helped the Bulls get off to a good start. He went to the Pawtucket Red Sox, got in a few games with Boston, went back to Pawtucket, and was released in early August. Stats.

Dioner Navarro (26) showed up in Durham in late June and left the beginning of September. Apparently struggling as the Tampa Bay Rays starting catcher, he came to the Bulls for the opportunity to sort things out. And pretty much did.

  • Played in 43 games (169 plate appearances) during his stay. 2 HR, 21 RBI, .284/.387/.390, wOBA .369, bRAA 4.6. Positions played: C-35, DH-7. We don’t expect to see Dioner back any time soon. Good catcher. Certainly an asset to the Bulls while he was with us. The best numbers of any of the Bulls’ catchers.
  • He is likely to be remembered for his first game as a Bull when he took a 102 mph fastball from the then Louisville Bat (now Cincinnati Red) reliever Aroldis Chapman.
  • Stats

Omar Luna (23) joined the Bulls (from Montgomery) in mid-June and stayed until the end of the year

  • 40 games (149 plate appearances). 1 HR, 9 RBI, .291/.306/.369, wOBA .315, bRAA -2.7. Positions played: SS-26, 2B-12, P-1.
  • Luna played at three levels this year, the Stone Crabs, Biscuits, and Bulls. As much as he was around this year, he didn’t make much of an impression until the end of the season. Then he was terrific. He’s young and looks pretty good on the field. Not much of a bat, however. Would imagine he’s got a good shot to start either in Montgomery or with the Bulls next year.
  • Stats

Rashad Eldridge (28). As in 2009, outfielder Rashad Eldridge spent time with the Bulls and Biscuits.

  • 34 games (124 plate appearances). 1 HR, 3 RBI, 20 runs scored. .215/.309/.308, wOBA .297, bRAA -4.2. Positions played: RF-17, CF-2, LF-17, DH-1.
  • Montgomery’s center fielder has, I think, run out of time. He is a very good outfielder and has decent speed. He seems to be pretty much stuck at the AA level, with an occasional callup.
  • Stats

Leslie Anderson (28) joined the Bulls in August after stints with the Stone Crabs and the Montgomery Biscuits.

  • 30 games (129 plate appearances). 2 HR, 12 RBI, .328/.359/.418, w0BA .338, bRAA 0.2. Positions played: LF-16, 1B-9, RF-1, DH-4.
  • Cuban defector Leslie Anderson was being touted as a candidate for the Rays Carlos Pena’s job when he was signed. We don’t think so. He does bat for average, and, so far, doing pretty well. The question would be, at his age, is he on his way up or down?
  • Stats

Hank Blalock (29) played 26 games, went up to the Rays, and went on his way.

Matt Joyce (25) played 25 games with the Bulls and it now looks like he is finally sticking with the Rays. About time, we’d say.

Rocco Baldelli (28) was in 11 games, Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach (30) visited for 4 games while rehabbing, as did shortstop Jason Bartlett (30) for 1 game. Another outlier was pitcher Bobby Livingston who DH’d twice.

Catcher John Jaso (26) started the year with the Bulls, but went up to the Rays in April and stuck there. Good for him.

That brings us to four interesting guys from whom we are going to have to pick this year’s Moonlight Graham Award.

  • Catcher Nevin Ashley (25) came up from Montgomery for 7 games in the regular season and 5 more in the postseason. There is a lot of potential in this guy even if his hitting was not stellar while with the Bulls. Stats.
  • Catcher Craig Albernaz (27) only had one regular season game, but 4 in the postseason. We have always like Albernaz. Maybe he’ll spend a year with us next season. Stats.
  • Catcher Kyle Holloway (22) in his first professional season had 4 games with the Bulls at the end of the year. Not much of a chance of seeing him again for a year or two. Stats.
  • Outfielder Emeel Salem (25) had three games with the Bulls when they were playing Gwinnett. We speculated at the time that his visit might have had as much to do with proximity to Montgomery as the fitness of the Bulls outfield crew. Stats.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Voting Opportunity

A careful reader has let us know about a local sports blog — Capital Sports Report — that has put up a poll asking for Favorite North Carolina-Based Professional Sports team.

The Charlotte Knights, Asheville Tourists, Greensboro Grasshoppers, Hickory Crawdads, Kinston Indians, Winston-Salem Dash, and the Burlington Royals aren't on the list, but the Durham Bulls are. So, if you're interested, click on the link and let them know that there's lots of Bulls fans around here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Looking at 2010 — 2

Continuing on with our look back on 2010 with summaries of five more of the Durham Bulls position players. In order of number of games played.

Desmond Jennings (23). Came to the Durham Bulls in late 2009 (32 games). Called up to Rays 1 Sep 2010.

  • Played in 109 games (458 plate appearances). 3 HR, 36 RBI, 37 SB (team best), 82 runs scored. .278/.362/.393. wOBA .354. bRAA 6.7. Positions played: CF-90, RF-8, LF-8.
  • Jennings has been a top prospect from the day he joined the Rays system and he really is a good ballplayer. Batting leadoff, he does a decent job of getting on base (although a lower number of Ks would be nice). Obviously not a power hitter, most of his extra bases (25 2B and 6 3B came from speed). He is fast, and he was only caught stealing 4 times in 41 tries. He covers center field very nicely.
  • Seems unlikely that he will return to the Bulls next year, even if he does not make the Rays postseason roster.
  • Stats

Dan Johnson, Joe Dillon, Jose Lobaton
strolling to dugout after a Lobaton home run July 5, 2010

Dan Johnson (30). Played almost all of 2008 as a Bull. Spent the 2009 season in Japan. Called up to the Rays in early August.
  • Played in 98 games (426 plate appearances). 30 HR, 95 RBI, .303/.430/.624, wOBA .421, bRAA 30.3 (!). Positions played: 3B-36, DH-30, LF-22, 1B-14.
  • Dan Johnson was our superstar this year. His home run and RBI pace was extraordinary and he collected a whole bunch of AAA awards even though he didn’t even play the last month of the season. It is a bit puzzling that the Rays did not notice that for the last two years he was mostly a third baseman, not a first baseman. This year he only made one error in 36 games at third. We were also more that a little surprised that he wasn’t traded off during the year, but that could easily just mean that we don’t really understand the business of baseball very well. We are having great fun watching him play for the Rays and have high hopes he will go to the postseason with them.
  • Stats

Joe Dillon (34). With the Bulls at the end of 2009 (35 games) and all of 2010. Numbers slight up from 2009, but below his AAA career (8 seasons) averages.

  • Played in 96 games (400 plate appearances). 9 HR, 57 RBI, .262/.334/.405, wOBA .321, bRAA -5.3. Positions played: 2B-75, 1B-12, 3B-5, DH-3, C-1.
  • I already liked Joe Dillon a lot before his heroic crawl to the plate on May 27th, but after that he was one of my favorite Bulls on the year. He was not quite a regular player after that injury and in the last games of the playoffs it was reported that 2010 would be his last year. If so, here’s to him. I grew to enjoy watching that rolling gait as he trotted onto the field, his steady presence, and his willingness to play any position, to do just about anything to win.
  • Stats

J.J. Furmaniak (30). Started the year on the Durham Bulls disabled list. Went to Montgomery for a while then came to Durham on May 28 when Joe Dillon when on the disabled list. Veteran minor leaguer playing at the AAA level since 2004 (with a year in Japan).

  • Played in 77 games (334 plate appearances). 1 HR, 22 RBI, .264/.366/.352, wOBA .342, bRAA 1.7. Positions played: 2B-42, SS-21, 3B-14, RF-2, DH-1.
  • J.J. is a very good infielder and was a real asset to the team all year. After the early tours of Ryan Shealy and Hank Blalock (which was part of why J.J. started the year in Montgomery), the Bulls had several players they could rotate around all the infield positions, giving Montoyo a lot of flexibility throughout the year. J.J. was also spectacular in the playoffs, playing in every game and accumulating terrific numbers over the nine games — .353/.463/.529 — with a home run, triple, and double. I’m pretty sure he was a non-roster invite to the Rays spring training this year. On his record, seems to me he has a good chance of that happening again in 2011.
  • Stats

Jose Lobaton (25). Jose Lobaton is part of the Rays confusing (to me) catcher situation. In his case, it started when he was claimed from the Padres in 2009. He began the 2010 season in Montgomery, but came up to the Bulls in early April when John Jaso went to the Rays. Jaso stayed with the Rays, Lobaton stayed with the Bulls. He is on the Rays’ 40-man roster.

  • Played in 72 games (271 plate appearances). 7 HR, 33 RBI, .261/.337/.394, wOBA .334, bRAA -0.7. Positions played: C-62, DH-8.
  • In some ways Lobaton is just now getting started as a professional ballplayer, even though he has eight years behind him. This was only is second season in AAA. In general, he looks pretty good from our place in the stands and we haven’t noticed him make any bad decisions on the field. He is more fit than his recored would indicate. In addition, we are unsure of our own ability to evaluate catchers, given the success of John Jaso with the Rays. When Dioner Navarro got sent down by the Rays, that cut into Lobaton’s playing time quite a bit. Assuming he’s back next year, we can expect him to be the Bulls “senior” catcher.
  • At the end of the Bulls’ season, he was subject to some Tampa Bay gamesmanship that limited his ability to help the Bulls in the playoffs.
  • Stats
Note: wOBA and bRAA stats are from StatCorner.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Looking At 2010 — 1

Time to finally getting around to wrapping up the season.

Let's start with the position players, listed in order of number of games played. This is going to take a number of postings to get through, but the look back is fun.

Justin Ruggiano (28). With Bulls since 2007 (4 seasons). Numbers up from 2009. Strikeouts down. On Rays 40-man roster.

  • Tied for most games (117), led in plate appearances (507). 15 HR, 70 RBI. 24 SB, BA/OBP/SLG: .287/.357/.453. wOBA .344. bRAA 3.4. Brief visit with Rays. Don’t think he had an AB while there. Post-season: 9 games, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 SB. Positions played, regular season: RF-63, CF-29, LF-26, DH-3, 3B-1 (2 errors on year).
  • Justin has been on the Rays’ 40-man for a couple of years and has yet to be given an honest shot at playing for the Rays. At a guess, assuming the Rays let him go, he will be looking for employment elsewhere. Defensively, he is among the best we saw this year on any team and he is very fast on the bases. 70 RBI are nothing to sneeze at. He’s got the tools to be attractive somewhere else. But maybe he likes the Rays system.
  • Stats

Chris Richard (36), also with the Bulls since 2007. Numbers in every category up from 2009.

  • Played 117 games in the regular season and accumulated some striking numbers. 20 HR, 79 RBI, 39 2B, .300/.390/.535, wOBA .395, bRAA 24.6 (!). Positions played: 1B-82, DH-25, LF-10, RF-1.
  • Chris is under-rated as a first baseman. He only had 4 errors on the year (down from 7 in 2009) with a fielding percentage of .995. I don’t know how to chase it down, but I suspect he has to be among the best, if not the best, first baseman in the International League. His only competition might be 20 year old Freddie Freeman with the Gwinnett Braves who had a fielding percentage of .994 in 111 games at first, but he’s 16 years younger than Chris!
  • What is Chris going to do? He seems to like it here in the Triangle. He sure is physically fit enough to play baseball with the youngsters. On the other hand, you’d think the local universities would be anxious to have him on their staff, or maybe a place somewhere in the Rays coaching system. Guess in this era you don’t have player/coaches. My hope is that he and the Rays can come to an agreement for another year.
  • Stats

Fernando Perez (27), with the Bulls almost all of 2008 (129 games), did not play most of 2009, numbers down in every category from 2008. On the Rays 40-man roster.

  • Played 116 games with 426 plate appearances. 4 HR, 32 RBI, 24 SB, .223/.280/.299, wOBA .269, bRAA -24.2. Positions played: RF-43, CF-33, LF-42.
  • By any measure, Fernando had an awful year. You have to think that he and the Rays will be coming to a new understanding over the winter. For those of us who enjoyed, actually thrilled, at watching him play in 2008 he is not the same player. A lot has changed, of course. He was working on his switch-hitting in 2008, but that has gone by the board. We can’t tell from the stands if his injuries of 2009 are still bothering him. What we can see is that his swing has been off all year and the sheer exuberance he seemed to show is not obvious to us in the stands. I’d guess that there’s a less than 50-50 chance that he’ll be back next year. But I sure would like to see the Fernando Perez of 2008 in a Bulls uniform again.
  • Stats

Angel Chavez (28), 2010 his first year with the Bulls. Numbers up in most categories.

  • Played in 113 games. 9 HR, 55 RBI (6th best on the team), .275/.329/.387, wOBA .317, bRAA -7.4. Positions played: 3B-73, SS-39, 2B-4, 1B-1, DH-1, P-1 (ERA-0.00!)
  • To oversimplify a bit, Angel started the year at shortstop and moved to third base after Hank Blalock moved on. He shared time at both positions with Elliot Johnson (SS), Dan Johnson (3B), and J.J. Furmaniak (SS). Chavez is a very good baseball player and he made major contributions to the team. About the only blemish on his record this year was his unfortunate tendency to hit into double plays. But that has to be something of a statistical anomaly or possibly a function of his place in the batting order. He doesn't seem to have great range and yet if the ball is near him he makes the play. An oddity was that he often didn’t seem to be playing all that hard and yet somehow the ball always got to the first baseman ahead of the runner. He doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s prospect list, which means that, if the Rays don’t have some hot shot infielder coming through the system, he might be back next year. If only for his fielding skills, we hope the Rays take a close look at Angel.
  • Stats

Elliot Johnson (26), with the Bulls since 2007 and on the Rays 40-man roster much of that time. Passed through waivers and signed minor league contract this year. By any measure, 2010 was his best season as a professional baseball player.

  • Played in 109 games with 481 plate appearances. 11 HR, 56 RBI (5th best), 30 SB (2nd best), .319/.375/.475, wOBA .373, bRAA 14.8. Positions played: SS-64, 2B-16, LF-21, RFK-14.
  • Back in 2008 we were unimpressed with Elliot’s play. In 2009 it seemed as if he spent a lot of time injured. But he sure blossomed this year. He won all sorts of awards, and deserved them. As a shortstop he seems to depend on his glove and his arm, and they serve him well. What was important to the Bulls this year was to have such a solid, dependable, and well above average player available to play so many positions. He hit with some power, got on base, and moved around the bases. His 72 runs scored was 3rd best on the team. My guess is that this was his last year as a Bull, and I regret that. Elliot’s off to play winter ball in Mexico and, I’d bet, to eventually sign a contract with an invitation to spring training with a very solid shot of playing in the majors next year. The oddity is that he’s a better ballplayer that some currently with the Rays (Jason Bartlett and Willy Aybar come to mind), but he’s not going to get a chance to prove it. We’ll try to keep an eye on him this winter.
  • Stats

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It Wuz the Hats

Durham Bulls 2, Columbus Clippers 13
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week,Columbus Dispatch,

I think we'll leave the serious analysis to the folks at the links. We were there. It wasn't exactly fun, but a bad day at the DBAP — no mistake about it, it was a bad day — is still a good day. And there won't be any more this year.

Should we have been annoyed at the announcement that blared out just before the teams took the field?

  • Durham Bull Dan Johnson named Tampa Bay Rays Minor League Player of the Year.
  • Durham Bull Jeremy Hellickson named Tampa Bay Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
  • Durham Bull Desmond Jennings named Tampa Bay Rays Minor League Defensive Player of the Year
  • Durham Bull Elliot Johnson named Tampa Bay Rays Triple A Player of the year.

What's that? Only three one of those guys was actually playing for the Durham Bulls last night. Really?

OK, we know the whole point of AAA is to send guys to the majors, but sometimes, especially when you're in the process of getting your head handed to you, it hurts.

So, why did it happen? It wuz the hats.

I mean, have you ever seen an uglier hat? Can you imagine having to go out and play in front of discerning fans such as we have at the DBAP wearing that critter on your head?

I rest my case.

In the meantime, WDBB is working on a year-end summary, preparing for the Moonlight Graham Awards ceremony, and getting ready for another trip to the mountains tomorrow.

One area needs your help. I'm pretty sure the Bulls front office reads our posts, so if you've got some DBAP gripes and praise, let me know and I'll pass them on.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bulls Win Game 3; Stay in the Hunt

Durham Bulls 3; Columbus Clippers 2
Wrap, Box

If the idea was to break the hearts of the Columbus Clippers, then the Bulls gave it their best shot. Clippers’ pitcher Yohan Pino was was brilliant. With the exception of the 5th inning, Bulls hitters were being set down on three or four pitches. In eight full innings he faced only 28 batters and threw only 81 pitches.

And in almost every inning Columbus was threatening. They got runners to third base in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd innings, but could not push across a run against Alex Cobb.

Nevertheless, even though Bulls hitters were swinging at everything, it wasn’t until the 5th that they were able to score. Angel Chavez got a double. Rashad Eldridge singled Chavez home (and got to third base on a fielding error) and Eldridge came home on a sacrifice fly by Fernando Perez. That put the Bulls up 2-0. R.J. Swindle baffled the Clippers in the 5th and 6th, all except Wes Hodges who smacked a homer over the bull. But Joe Bateman struck out the side in the 7th and all seemed well.

Perhaps just to extend the agony, Joe let a run sneak in in the 8th for his first blown save of the year. The game was tied 2-2, setting the stage for Winston Abreu to get his first win of the year. Winston struck out the side in the top of the 9th.

Bring on bottom-of-the-9th heroics. Josh Judy came in for the Clippers. Elliot Johnson worked a walk. Justin Ruggiano hit a single to right that was deep enough for Johnson to get to third. That led to an intentional walk of Chris Richard, loading the bases with none out. Infield and outfield were drawn in, but Leslie Anderson’s fly out to center was just far enough to let Elliot get home.

The Bulls live to see another day.

Odds and ends:

When Xavier Hernandez strolled out to the mound in the 6th inning just to stall a bit while Joe Bateman warmed up I had this thought. "This could be the last time he does that." But with the win, X will get another chance to make that stroll at the DBAP.

Sure seems like Columbus thoroughly scouted the middle of the Bulls lineup. Elliot Johnson, Justin Ruggiano, Chris Richard, and Joe Dillon are not doing well. Maybe the fun they had in 9th will be a turn around moment.

Paul Phillips, who got a win for the Bulls in Game 4 of the Bats-Bulls series is reported to be starting tomorrow.

We were surprised to see that Stacy Long, a writer for the Montgomery Advertiser, and who does a terrific job covering the Biscuits, was in town. His blog has several notes from the game and some post-game clubhouse commentary.

Bulls Lose Game Two; Headed Home

Durham Bulls 0; Columbus Clippers 4
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun,

... momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitching.

Charlie Montoyo in the Herald-Sun

Sounds good to me, Charlie, 'cause things are beginning to look a bit worrisome.

As a crew, Bulls pitchers usually don't give up many home runs, but they've given up 7 in the last two days. Down in Montgomery, Alex Cobb (tonight's starting pitcher) only gave up 7 in 119 innings. So perhaps that aspect of the game might be under control.

And then there's the fact that only once in this entire season have the Bulls lost three games in a row to the same team (Toledo, May 15-18).

So all isn't lost. But worried? You bet. The Bulls need to win three in a row. The Bulls have done that 8 times this season, most recently against Norfolk August 22-24 (actually that was the last three of a six in a row run, but who's counting?).

We'll be there tonight. This could be the last game of the season for Bulls fans and no matter what happens it has been a lot of fun. Great baseball. Great fans.

Speaking of great baseball, Dan Johnson finally showed the Tampa Bay folks what he could do last night when he hit two two-run homers to score all the runs in a 4-3 win over the Yankees.

And lastly, in an absolutely unrelated to baseball bit of trivia: If you have been wondering 1) Who the heck Miranda Lambert is and/or 2) what those songs playing in every game delay on the video board were actually about, then these two links will more or less explain.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bulls Lose Game 1 of G'cup Finals

Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, News & Observer,Columbus Dispatch,

How bad was it? Here's a clue — Omar Luna pitched the 9th 8th inning.

How bad was it? Another clue — Four out of five Bulls pitchers gave up home runs.

How bad was it? Final clue — For the first time this season, the Raleigh News & Observer put a Bulls game on the front page.

I'm not enough of a sadist to give any masochists out there any more pleasure. Instead, I think we will mention the three double plays, Justin Ruggiano's grand slam, and our wonderment at umpire Chris Conroy throwing Richard De Los Santos out of the game. Deliberate? Really? What game were you watching?

Meanwhile, down in St. Pete the always mysterious manager of the Rays, Joe Maddon, gave Jake McGee his introduction the the major leagues in the 5th inning with runners on first and second and two outs. Not a good start. McGee walked the bases full and walked a runner across before striking out Derek Jeter. He walked the first batter he faced in the 6th and was taken out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Governors' Cup Finals

The Bulls pulled in to Columbus some time yesterday. Less a starting pitcher, but possibly with Mike Ekstrom on the way to take Jake McGee's place.

I posted early yesterday, so in case you missed them, here are a couple of end-of-first-round stories.

Taking a look at the Clippers:

The Bulls had a tough four-game set back in July. Stories are here, here, and here. We remarked then that the Clippers were a very young team. A somber note from that matchup, the last game of that series was the game Alvin Colina tore his knee up. We haven't seen Mr. Colina since.

Because of all the turmoil, post-season stats are hard to make sense of, but what the heck? Here are a few tables to look at:

Over at Rays Prospects Jim Donton has put together an interesting table that looks at the seasonal stats for the two teams.

Steve Wiseman at the Herald-Sun has some getting on the bus quotes as the Bulls left for Columbus.

Up in Columbus, Jim Massie of the Columbus Dispatch takes a look at the upcoming series. He notes the considerable turmoil in the Clippers' ranks.

Closer to home, Adam Sobsey at Indy Week takes an in depth look at the lineups and makes the case that starting pitching and veteran at bats will make the difference.

The International League has a six-page preview that can be downloaded from its site. I'm guessing it will also be available from the Bulls site in a few minutes as well. Nice piece of work.

Not to be outdone, here at WDBB we have done some number-crunching on just the playoff games.

This table shows just team wOBA for the Bulls and Clippers, and the team wOBA of their opponents for the Bulls 5-game series with the Bats and the Clippers 4-game series with the Yankees. Unfortunately, about all these numbers tell you is that the teams match up pretty well. I like the fact that the Bulls difference in the wOBA is larger and I like the fact that the Bulls FIP is smaller. Here's hoping those differences translate into runs across the plate.

One last point. The game starts at 6:35. Air time is 6:20 and the game is on FM 99.9 The Fan, not the usual AM 620 (But I could be wrong on that. If you don't find it on one, try the other).

Monday, September 13, 2010

McGee to Tampa Bay?

Marc Tompkin of the St. Petersburg Times is reporting this morning that Jake McGee might be called up today. Unfortunately, I have to admit that the call-up makes sense. The Rays are starting an important series against the Yankees tonight in that bandbox between the beach and the bay.

Could be a tough introduction for Mr. McGee, but from what we've seen here he's up to it. Fits with Indy Week's Adam Sobsey's speculation noted yesterday.

Is that why McGee sat back down last night? Sure thought I saw him get up just after Abreu went in. If we hear more, we'll just update this post.


For more commentary on why the Rays might want to bring McGee up, see Jason Collette at Dock of the Rays. Or Steve Slowinski at DRaysBay.

Neither mention that the Bulls are playing for the Governors' Cup!!! (sigh...)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bulls Win Game 5 — On To Columbus!

Durham Bulls 4, Louisville Bats 2

Wrap, Box

We are sure that there is not an official MVP award for the first round of the playoffs. So we are starting one. Here it is:

Watching Durham Bulls Baseball
Most Valuable Player Award
First Round
International League Governors' Cup

J. J. Furmaniak

Let's first talk about tonight. JJ's 5th inning home run was just crucial. It broke a tie and broke the Bats' hearts. The running grab of Griffin's looper into right, a very nice play, was the final out of the game.

And then there was Saturday night — 3 walks and a triple with two runs scored. And Friday night — three singles, a walk, and a run scored. We could not have asked more of a lead off batter and second baseman. Thank you! (And, if you don't mind, please let me know if you prefer J.J. or JJ as a first name.)

The rest of the game was simply first rate baseball.

Bobby Livingston was terrific through his first four innings. He got in a bit of trouble in the 5th. He almost got out of it, but ended up giving up a couple of runs and left with the game tied. Furmaniak's homer in the bottom of the 5th gave him the win.

Prior to that, in the 2nd, the Bats Jeremy Horst gave up two walks to Joe Dillon and Nevin Ashley and lived to regret it as they both scored on a Fernando Perez single that got by the left fielder.

Livingston left in the 6th for Joe Bateman who did a brilliant job into the 8th when Charlie Montoyo went for Winston Abreu to pitch to the Bats's Daniel Dorn with two outs and a runner on second. We "experts" in the stands were second-guessing Montoyo on this choice since Dorn is left handed and Jake McGee or R.J. Swindle were available. Charlie knew something we didn't (I sure hope so), because Winston struck out Dorn to finish the 8th.

Meanwhile the Bulls picked up a 4th run on a Leslie Anderson double that was followed by an Angel Chavez double.

Overall, this series was a close run thing. We stand by our original analysis that the bullpen and veteran ballplayers would make the difference, and they did.

Most of all, it was great was it to be in the stands when the Bulls won this one. In previous years the wins have been on the road. This time we got to whistle and clap and cheer and boy that was nice.

Coming to the game I promised myself that tomorrow night I would watch either Major League (Cleveland Indians, parent club of the Clippers) or Bull Durham. It will be Major League.

Numbers and analysis regarding the Clippers some time tomorrow. In the meantime, let's just revel in the win.

Go Bulls!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bulls Win Game 4

Durham Bulls 8, Louisville Bats 1
Series (best of five): 2-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Triangle Offense, Louisville Courier-Journal

The first thing to say about last night is the huge thrill we all felt when Chris Richard hit his grand slam in the 4th inning. Seeing all those white uniforms running around the bases, Chris' huge grin as he came across the plate, that was one of the best moments of the year. Thanks, Bulls!

The moment where the Bulls offense won the game, however, came an inning earlier when it sure looked like Bats manager Rick Sweet outsmarted himself. JJ Furmaniak led off the 3rd with a triple. JJ by the way had a quite a night: on base four out of five times with three walks, a triple, and two runs scored. With Furmaniak on third with no outs and the score 1-0 Bulls, Johnson grounded out third to first. When Justin Ruggiano came to bat the Bats infield stayed at normal depth; however, when the count reached two strikes Sweet called the infield in. Just why he would do that on two strikes and not at the beginning of the at bat, I've no idea. But it didn't work. Instead, Ruggiano got a single right past the pitcher that brought JJ home. Two more runs were to score in that inning and Richards' grand slam in the next inning put the game away.

In the meantime, other things were afoot. We saw some terrific pitching by Paul Phillips, Jake McGee and Dale Thayer.

When the rains came the 2,800 folks didn't budge from the DBAP, although a few joined us up under the eaves.

The "veterans" (Johnson, Ruggiano, Richard, Dillon, and Chavez), who had been somewhat quiet so far in the series, had a great night. Well, may not Joe Dillon, but the rest did just fine.

Elsewhere, the Columbus Clippers won their first-round matchup with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. So the winner of today's game will go into the Governors' Cup finals in Columbus on Tuesday evening.

Adam Sobsey has an interesting speculation near the end of his Triangle Offense piece. He notes that Biscuits infielder Drew Anderson and Biscuits reliever Dane De La Rosa have been leaning against the dugout rail for the last week. He speculates that the Rays are considering calling up both Jake McGee and Elliot Johnson. Not sure I agree. McGee, maybe. Johnson, don't think so. If for no other reason than they'd have to push someone off the 40-man.

This is a big deal! Today! Note the time — 5:00 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Bulls vs. Bats for this round of the playoffs. Otherwise, as great as it has been, the season is over.

Bulls Lose Game 3

Durham Bulls 1; Louisville Bats 2
Series (best of five): 1-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Triangle Offense, Louisville Courier-Journal, Bats

Excitement! Great fans really getting into the game, understanding the game. Terrific pitching. Impeccable fielding (with one exception). What more could you ask for on a September evening?

Well, that’s what I’m thinking this morning. Last night I was thinking, “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, how could you leave that kid in for the 7th?” As were we all, I’d say.

This was a game that would drive a true baseball numerologist nuts. Every number says the Bulls ought to have won it. Hits, 8-3; total bases, 9-6; team OBP, .236 to .125; strikeouts, 14 to 8. And so on through just about any metric you’d like to put up there, except for one — runs scored.

I’m going to leave all the analysis to the links above. The Bulls had their chances. Did not happen.

So, let’s celebrate this terrific young pitcher we got to see — Alex Cobb. Way back in February RaysProspects had him pretty high on their list. With his year in Montgomery and what he showed last night, his future looks bright. Here’s hoping he’s with the Bulls next year. He very effectively controlled the Bats until the unfortunate 7th when he let one pitch get away from him.

That wouldn’t have mattered if the Bulls could get a run across, but they couldn’t. My heart soared with that shot of Angel Chavez in the 8th. A couple of feet to the left and it would have been off the wall, Richard would have scored, and all would have been right with the world.

Tonight’s another night. These Bats are good. They are well-managed. The Bulls are starting Paul Phillips, we saw him in the last game of the year when he pitched six terrific innings in relief of Bobby Livingston. Seems a good choice among the limited options available to Charlie Montoyo.

Tonight is, as we know, a critical game. A Bulls’ loss and the season is over. This is a terrific team. Pretty sure we can do it.

A last point: What a great baseball town/region this is! The fans last night knew exactly what was going on and let the team know it. Think we could have done just fine on our own without the PA system’s encouragement (but that’s another rant for another day). What we want to say here is how much fun it is to be at the park for a night when folks are actually watching the game and getting behind the Bulls.


Up in Pennsylvania, the Columbus Clippers shut out the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees and lead them 2-1 in their series.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Free Tickets for Saturday

The Bulls are giving away free tickets to Saturday’s playoff game to soldiers, fire, police, medical personnel and other public service folks. Nice gesture.

Yeah, the cynic in me says they’re just trying to get a crowd. But, you know, so what? It’s 9/11 and those guys and gals are out there working for us. A free ticket to Saturday evening's baseball game is a good thing to do.

So why not pass on this link to anyone you know out there who could benefit?

Bulls Win Game 2; Coming Home

Durham Bulls 6; Louisville Bats 2
Series (best of five): 1-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Louisville Courier-Journal, Bats Website

By now the Bulls have finished their trek across the Appalachians. Here’s hoping that all of them (excepting the drivers) got a sound sleep before reaching Durham this morning.

Aneury Rodriguez certainly was not on his game last night. Very quickly the contest became very like one of those “committee” starts we had during the regular season, with each pitcher taking a couple of innings. Darin Downs was certainly the hero as he came on in the 3rd with the bases loaded and got the fly out to deep right field.

The Bulls had jumped out to a 3-0 lead in their first two at bats. Five singles in the 1st inning got two runs in. Two walks and a single got another run across in the 2nd. The Bats did get a run in the troublesome 3rd. When the Bulls made two egregious base running mistakes in the top of the 4th (by Fernando Perez and J. J. Furmaniak) and the Bats scored another run in the bottom of the 4th (bringing the game to 3-2 Bulls), the game was in the balance.

The top of the 5th sounded just like the Bulls we know and love. Justin Ruggiano led off with a double. A Chris Richard single sent him to third. Joe Dillon singled Ruggiano home and sent Richard to second base. Leslie Anderson did hit into a double play, but Richard got to third base and he scored on a wild pitch while Angel Chavez was at bat. The Bulls were ahead 5-2.

After that, the Durham relief corp really hit their stride. Downs had a clean bottom of the 5th. Jake McGee came on in the 6th and faced just seven batters in the next two innings, striking out three. Joe Bateman struck out the side in the 8th. Winston Abreu had a 1-2-3 9th. Meanwhile in the 8th Angel Chavez got his first hit of the series, a double, and drove home Leslie Anderson, making it 6-2.

Tonight we get to see Biscuit starter Alex Cobb. He’s got some very good numbers (ERA of 2.71 in 119 innings). Looking forward to seeing him.

A bit of catch-up here. Neil Solondz has had some very good interviews leading into his broadcasts on recent nights. First is Xavier Hernandez reflecting on his time with the Bulls and his career. Then Charlie Montoyo talks a bit about the playoffs. Finally, Bats manager Rick Sweet talks about his team.

Speaking of the playoffs. The Yankees evened up their series with the Clippers, so they and the Clippers motored over to Pennsylvania to continue their end of the playoffs.

The rest of today’s post is a brief exploration of the incentives to become a major league baseball player. One big, big reason is that, compared to the minors, life is easy. Let’s take a look at our three guys who went “up” to Tampa Bay on the first of September, Desmond Jennings, Dioner Navarro, and Rocco Baldelli. (I know, Baldelli was hardly a Durham Bull since he was only here for a few games and we knew he wasn’t going to stay, but that just helps make my point.)

Since their arrival "up there" the Rays have played a grand total of seven games and have had two days off. They had a home game on September 1 and then flew to Baltimore for three games, to Boston for three games, then on to Toronto for a game to be played tonight. During that same stretch the Bulls have played eight games and made the trek to and from Louisville by bus.

And the new guys haven’t had to work very hard, appearing in only three games each. Not only that, it isn’t as if they had to do much running of the bases. Gotta admit, pretty good life.

But that’s OK. What we are interested in is tonight’s game at the DBAP. Here’s hoping that we get a better turnout than the 3,000 who showed up at Louisville Slugger Park last night.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bulls Lose Game 1

Durham Bulls 4; Louisville Bats 8
Series (best of five): 0-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Bats Website, Louisville Courier-Journal

Maybe, just maybe, if Montoyo had gone to the bullpen at the beginning of the 6th the Bulls could have stayed in the game. But he didn’t and they didn’t. After Richard De Los Santos’ had a really rough 2nd inning (four runs scored), he had three pretty good ones. But the three run homer in the 6th finished it off.

In the meantime, a couple of good things happened.
  • Angle Chavez was back on the field, playing third. Unfortunately, he was 0-4 at bat and we are hoping that it wasn’t because of problems gripping the bat with his injured hand.
  • Dale Thayer had a solid relief appearance.
  • Leslie Anderson hit a home run, only his third as a Bull.
The big story of the game, however, was a that a bunch of Carolina Mudcats (the photos had not even been updated) who had just been called up got lots of hits and scored lots of runs off Durham Bulls. Here’s hoping those kids settle down and get a few lessons from their elders tonight.

Looking for a difference between the Major Leagues and AAA? Look no further than the fact that Bulls are taking a bus (busses?) back to Durham for Friday's game. They'll get on a bus as soon as tonight's game is over and drive through the night. Small comfort that Louisville will be doing the same thing. (As will all the teams in the Governors' Cup playoffs).

Over in Columbus, the Clippers took the lead in their series with the Yankee with a walk-off home run in the 10th. Stories here and here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Playoffs Begin

Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky

Update: Bull broadcast is set to begin at 5:50 pm.

One way to look at WDBB’s late entry into the preview/prognostication arena today is that we were waiting for everyone else to have their say. And there’s a bit of truth to that. On the other hand, the main reason is that we weren’t able to get to the keyboard as early as we would have liked to. That means that we were just late.

Let’s see what everyone else has to say.

To our surprise, the Raleigh News & Observer has noticed that the Bulls are in the playoffs. However, for some reason they devoted much more ink to an article on all the Tampa Bay Rays who have played in Durham.

In Durham, Joe Johnson of the Herald-Sun has a good piece on the playoffs (Even has the time of tonight’s game, 6:05, right, not sure exactly when they will start broadcasting). As do all the rest of the write-ups, Johnson notes that the Bulls are once again opening up the playoffs against the Reds franchise the Louisville Bats.

Up in Louisville, Courier-Journal writer Michael Grant gets some quotes from Bats Manager Rich Sweet, who does a bit of poor-mouthing. That worries me a bit.

Also up in Louisville is this item off the Bats website.

The IL’s website has a Governors’ Cup overview that does a nice job of looking at how the series will work and has summaries of the four teams in the playoffs.

Jim Donten, at RaysProspects, has put together a very nifty table comparing the two teams. He, along with others, seems to think that Alex Cobb is going to get the call for the third game start the day the Bulls get back to Durham. We’ll see about that.

Finally, Adam Sobsey at Triangle Offense does a detailed position-by-position analysis that looks very closely at both teams.

So, with all that background, you’d think WDBB could look down from Olympus and simply lay down the Truth. Can’t do that. What seems clear, however, is this:

  • The Bulls have adequate starting pitching and, on good days, a terrific bullpen. If the pen doesn’t get stretched too far our overall pitching should be just fine.
  • The fundamental defensive skills of our infield and outfield are superb, especially if Chavez is back. The Bulls have speed in the outfield and good hands in the infield. We haven’t noticed any particular problems with either Nevin Ashley or Craig Albernaz, so we can hope we’re OK behind the plate.
  • While the Bulls certainly don’t have the pop at bat that we were seeing earlier in the season, they can get on base and they can, mostly, run very well.
  • Veteran presence counts for a lot. We mentioned earlier that with a crew like Johnson, Richard, Ruggiano, Perez, Dillon, Chavez we can expect a lot.
  • Lastly, we don’t know, for sure, that Charlie Montoyo is a better, smarter manager than his opponent. But so far it sure looks that way.

OK. Predictions out of the way. This last is for those few who may not be quite sure about how to listen/watch the Bulls while they are on the road. Here's my approach. Other techniques welcome.

No computer? Turn on the radio and tune to AM 620 (also works if computer connection drops out).

On the Bulls website in the upper right hand corner is the “scoreboard” and buttons for “listen live” and “watch live”. I’ve had bad luck with’s TV, but could be my browser/provider combination. So I click on “Listen Live” to get WDNC.

After the game starts you can sometimes find a “Gameday” link on the scoreboard as well.
I really like Gameday, and I prefer to get that link working early. Here’s a way to chase that down before the game starts.
(This gets convoluted. If you know a better way, let me know.)
Click on Team>Scoreboard
That takes you to the last game the Bulls played on the MiLB site.
Click Scoreboard>International League
That takes you to a page with the two games scheduled for tonight.
A few minutes prior to the game a small graphic will appear under grid that looks like a baseball diamond. That’s the “gameday” link. Gameday is a graphic representation of the game on a pitch-by-pitch basis.

I usually listen to the audio feed while watching gameday.

If someone out there does look at TV and has had a good experience, jump in and tell us about it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Roster Moves: Ekstrom & Holloway & Baker

Mike Ekstrom is off to join the Rays. Guessing he went to join them in Boston.

Kyle Holloway is reported to be going to Princeton. Not sure if it's a paper move or not. In any case, thank you Kyle, you came in and helped the Bulls through a couple of tough moments and played some terrific baseball. Here's hoping you're back someday (and sooner than later).

Brian Baker has been put on the disabled list. I'm guessing that is to open up a roster spot.

Awards & Accolades

Several items I didn’t want to get by without comment before we start obsessing about the playoffs.

Before last night’s game started several Bulls were called out for the Goodman Awards and it was a fine and apt selection indeed.
  • Most Valuable Player — Elliot Johnson
  • Pitcher of the Year — Richard De Los Santos
  • Team Spirit — Chris Richard
  • Community Involvement — Joe Bateman
  • “Good Guy” — Charlie Montoyo
Congratulations to all. Well-deserved.

Chris Richard’s recent fine play was noticed by the International League and he was named Player of the Week for the final week of the season. In that regard, Chris’ final batting average of .300 on the year helps explain why he left the game a bit early last night. He was at exactly .300. Why take a chance? (Even better, from a stat geek's perspective, was his wOBA of .396 and bRAA of 24.6, the best on the team).

Elliot Johnson, by the way, will be playing ball for the Mazatlan Venados this winter. For those who would like to keep track, Nicole Johnson will be blogging here, and the Venados website is here. Note that Elliot’s signing was a headline event (wearing a Rays hat instead of a Bulls hat, darn it). If it works like last year, the Venados offer streaming video of the games on their website, but your Spanish had better be a whole lot better than mine to follow what’s going on. In that regard, Google Translate rendered the headline on the Elliot Johnson press release as “Elliot Johnson Dress Deer.”

And last, but certainly not least, thanks to RaysIndex we noticed that Baseball America has named Jeremy Hellickson as Minor League Player of the Year (note, not pitcher of the year, player of the year). The Baseball America article by J.J. Cooper is terrific. Congrats to Jeremy.

Season Ends Well

Game 143: Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays) 6; Norfolk Tides (Baltimore Orioles) 5 (12 Innings)
Season: 88-55
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Triangle Offense

Another great day for baseball at the DBAP and appropriately a nail-biter to end the season. The Bulls attendance pushed over 500,000 on the year which surely makes the front office happy (locally, both teams had good years, and a good Labor Day turnout).

In the stands we were expecting a swift-moving, swing-away sort of game. That’s pretty much what it was — only two walks were awarded on the day. It just went on much longer than we expected.

We were treated to a couple of very nice plays, especially in the rough 4th inning. Bases were loaded on Bulls pitcher Bobby Livingston when he awkwardly flipped a comebacker to catcher Kyle Holloway at home plate. Holloway made the play, saving a run. The bases were still loaded when the next batter singled home a run, but a perfect throw from Leslie Anderson in left to home caught the next runner and ended the inning.

As on the day prior, Omar Luna was a vacuum cleaner, this time at second base. Best of all, Mr. Luna got his first home run of the year (he only has four in his three-year professional career). A fitting exclamation point to a very fine year by this young ball player.

And then there was Paul Phillips. Most of the crowd would not have known that he was just arriving from Jacksonville, Florida where the Biscuits finished their season. And surely Phillips himself would not have expected to go out and spend six innings on the mound. But that’s what happened. His first inning, the 7th, was a bit (well, to be honest, a lot) shaky. And at the top of the 8th Tide (and former Bull) Ryan Hughes tied the game with a home run. After that Phillips did not let another man on base until the top of the 12th, and that guy got stranded. Very impressive performance.

Out in the West Division, Louisville won their last game and Columbus lost theirs, putting the Bats into the championship slot. That means that the Bulls will be playing the Bats in the first round of the playoffs in what has become a routine matchup of the best managers in Triple A baseball.

This should be an interesting series. The Bulls are actually in pretty good shape. We don’t know all that much about the reinforcements from Montgomery, but neither will the Bats. We’ve got some solid veterans — Chris Richard, Elliot Johnson, Justin Ruggiano, Joe Dillon, Angel Chavez, Fernando Perez. Just looking at that list gives me great confidence.

Biscuits Bump Bulls Up

Before getting to yesterday’s game we noticed that this info is out there, so I thought I’d pass it along.

Stacy Long, reporter/blogger for the Montgomery Advertiser is reporting that six more (!) Biscuits are headed for Durham/Louisville. I plead ignorance on just how these players would manage to appear on the Bulls active roster, but the Rays front office is nothing if not creative on manipulating those rules to their various teams’ benefit. The guy/gal you have to feel sorry for is the person who has to get six more Bulls uniforms ready.

We have seen catcher Craig Albernaz and outfielder Rashad Eldridge (Eldridge scored the winning run in last year's championship game) before. Welcome back!

Catcher Matt Spring and infielder Drew Anderson add two position players. Then two more pitchers, right-handed reliever Dane De La Rosa and starter Alexander Cobb are on the way (already here?). Stats for this year’s Biscuits are here.

Update/Correction: It is right-hander Alexander Cobb, not as I originally had in this post, Alexander Torres. My error. Cobb is also a starter, but not on the 40-man.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Roster Moves: Phillips & Albernaz

Paul Phillips is coming to the Bulls from the Montgomery Biscuits. A right-handed reliever, he had a couple of innings with the Bulls in early August (in Gwinnett and Charlotte, did not pitch in Durham). He also was with the Bulls for the playoffs last year. Stats.

Also reported to be on his way is catcher Craig Albernaz. Albernaz was with the Bulls off and on all last year, but has only had one game with us so far this year. Very quick hands. Knows most of our pitchers. So-so bat (wOBA .317)

Ramon Ortiz is reported to be on the “restricted list”. I have no idea what that means.

Elliot Got Some Hits

Game 142: Durham Bulls 6; Norfolk Tides 5
Season: 87-55; Home Games Remaining: 1
Wrap, Box, Triangle Offense

The last regular season game of the year is at one o’clock today. Look for a few unusual moments. But before that, let’s savor last night’s win. Wasn’t that game fun? Great weather. Decent (not great) baseball. And a win.

Who were the offensive heroes? Who other than Elliot Johnson, Chris Richard, and Joe Dillon? Who was the pitching hero? Joe Bateman, of course.

In the not-great category was Brian Baker’s pitching. He just looked like he had run out of gas before he got on the mound. And that may be the case. Over at Triangle Offense Adam Sobsey is reporting that Baker may be done for the year. Since it looks like Ramon Ortiz is also out for the year, I may go back and delete my post about the playoff starting rotation. Brian let five runs in on 7 hits and 4 walks. The Bulls were down 5-3 when he left.

Also in the not-great category was Brian Shouse’s appearance. But he didn’t let any runs in. We are finding it hard to believe that he is still on Maddon’s short list for a lefty specialist.

Jake McGee looked terrific.

In the great fun category was watching Omar Luna play shortstop. He wasn’t going to let anything by him last night, and he didn’t. Our opinion is that, after pitching, defense will be the key to the playoffs. Feeling good about having Mr. Luna around.

And then Elliot Johnson came to the plate in the 8th with Fernando Perez and J. J. Furmaniak on base (he and Chris Richard had hit back-to-back homers in the 1st). Elliot whacked a triple and the game was tied. Joe Dillon hit a sac fly and the Bulls were ahead. Joe Bateman stayed in for one...more...inning (his 76th on the year) and the Bulls had a win.

Game note: Justin Ruggiano and Angel Chavez were out for another game although Justin came in on defense in the 9th, and Angel was warming up to pitch the 9th until Elliot’s heroics changed the equation.

Looking back to last year’s last game is interesting. Note that last year the Bulls played 144 games but this year a rainout on the road meant that one game simply didn’t get played. The Bulls started the game using the same bat. Don’t remember when or if it finally broke. They were using Jon Weber’s bat, which gives me a bit of a twinge. Checking out the lineups a couple of familiar names jump out. Elliot Johnson was at shortstop, Michel Hernandez (now with the Tides) was the DH. Joe Dillon and Justin Ruggiano were getting a day off. Chris Richard had just been called up to the Rays. Joe Bateman appeared in relief. Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, and Sean Rodriguez from the last year’s starting lineup are now with Rays.

The Bulls still don’t know who will be their opponent on Wednesday. So let’s have some fun today and then wait and see.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Perfect Night For Baseball; Too Bad We ...

Game 141: Durham Bulls 6; Norfolk Tides 7 (10 innings)
Season: 86-55; Home Games Remaining: 2
Wrap, Box

You know things are going to be a bit odd when you come through the gate, take a look at the lineup cards, and see Bobby Livingston batting DH. Livingston? A pitcher? How come?

Probably a couple of reasons. The Bulls are short of position players (usually have 12, now have 11 on the list). Then Angel Chavez and Justin Ruggiano got banged up on Friday night. That meant the Bulls were down to a choice between catcher Kyle Holloway or a pitcher. Which leaves me with this image in my head (probably not fair, but it’s there) of Bobby Livingston jumping up and down on the bench, waving his hand and saying, “Send me in coach! Send me in!” I’m guessing he likes to hit and he’s spent some time with National League teams so he isn’t a complete stranger to the craft.

But that was before the game started. The oddness continued into the first inning when with just one out the Bulls were down 4-0, Ramon Ortiz had left the game, and Dale Thayer was taking warmup pitches. (Note: no word on Ortiz’ problem/condition).

After that it was a glass half-full/half-empty kind of game. I’ll take a mostly half-full look.

The Bulls went through five relief pitchers and they mostly did just fine. Notable was R. J. Swindle’s two innings. He looked a lot like the guy we were seeing until recently. Here’s hoping he keeps it up. Dale Thayer didn’t look all that good, but not bad either. Winston Abreu can’t go two innings. Charlie knows it. Winston knows it. But what else was he going to do for the 10th, put Angel Chavez in?

Well, that apparently was what he was going to do before the Bulls got within a run in the bottom of the 8th. Chavez was warming up to come in for the 9th, but then sat down and Winston Abreu started warming up.

New guy Kyle Holloway had his moment when he came in for Bobby Livingston (0 for 3, by the way), hit a double, then score the tying run in the 9th.

On the half-empty side of things, Leslie Anderson doesn’t seem comfortable at the plate or in the field. Did he really think he’d be playing for the Rays in September? Is that what’s going on? Hard to tell.

Nevin Ashley gets to be the goat since he was the catcher of record for the wild pitch that allowed the winning run, and got the last out with a runner in scoring position in the 10th.

Nevertheless, the Bulls did well to just get back into the game after that awful first inning.

Now, what are the Rays going to do about our lineup? Even if Ortiz and Shouse are moved off the current roster, there’s still only room for one pitcher, and that will need to be a starter.
The Biscuits’ loss last night put them out of the Southern League playoffs, but not sure who down there will be a help. But if there’s a choice, my vote is for defensive skills (let’s not give away a playoff game) among the position players and craftiness among the pitchers.

If you haven’t noticed, broadcasts of the games seem to have been switched to 99.9 FM for the last couple of days. And today’s game is at 5:00.

A final note about last night’s game:

Wasn’t that a wonderful night for baseball? Great crowd. Perfect weather.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Playoff Pitching — 1

If any reader of this blog ever had any doubt that baseball is a demanding sport, consider this:

Of the five starting pitchers who began the 2010 for the Bulls, four are on the disabled list — Heath Phillips, Virgil Vasquez, Carlos Hernandez, and Jeff Bennett (who ended up in Nashville in the PCL league where he is on the DL). The exception, of course, is Jeremy Hellickson. And we will mention in passing our favorite guy, Jason Cromer, who never really showed up this year.

Meanwhile, according to Adam Sobsey over at Triangle Offense, this is the rotation that Charlie Montoyo is looking at for the playoffs:

Richard De Los Santos, Ramon Ortiz, Brian Baker, Aneury Rodriguez, Bobby Livingston.

We’ve got decent numbers on three of those guys, so here are their charts. Once they get a few more innings in, I’ll put up what we’ve got on Ortiz and Livingston.

A bit of apples and oranges here in terms of how each player got to where he is statistically. De Los Santos has, by far, the most innings and the most starts. But they all have been relievers and starters this year. The curves show what a steady performer De Los Santos has been all year, while Baker has been much more erratic (sometimes in a good way). At the moment, Baker certainly appears to be on a slight improvement trend while Rodriguez is on a very slight downward trend.

Bye Braves, See Ya’ Next Year

Game 140: Durham Bulls 4; Gwinnett Braves 6
Season: 86-54; Home Games Remaining: 3
Wrap, Box

To be specific, on April 7, 2011. The first game of the 2011 season is at Gwinnett.

Over the years the Bulls have had a very competitive relationship with Gwinnett (née Richmond) Braves. This year has been no exception as the Bulls/Braves matchup ended very much in favor of the Braves at 9 games to 12. Here at WDBB we haven’t followed the Braves closely enough to make a guess as to why the rest of the season was not more successful for them. Certainly when they’ve been in Durham they have been a very good team (much like the Louisville Bats). Maybe it’s the Blue Monster.

Last night the numbers tell most of the story.

Bulls pitching gave up 15 hits (including 2 doubles and one home run), 4 walks, and only managed 6 Ks.

Braves pitching gave up 11 hits (all singles), no walks, and had 11 Ks.

Hard to win games with those kinds of differences. The Bulls did stay close, however, until the law of averages caught up with Jake McGee. (But for his first ever Triple-A run to be walked in? And for that run to be the difference in the game? That’s gotta hurt.) And then, of course, Brian Shouse gave up the insurance run.

Adam Sobsey's lengthy essay has some interesting thoughts on the season, with comparisons to 2009, and a look at AAA management, near the end of his piece. Also, he reports that Angel Chavez is OK. Very good news.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Their New Guy, Our New Guy

Game 139: Durham Bulls 6; Gwinnett Braves 7
Season: 86-53; Home Games Remaining: 4
Wrap, Box, Triangle Offense

I know that the differences between Bulls new guy, catcher Kyle Holloway and Braves new guy, third baseman Dan Nelson are probably greater than their similarities. But otherwise I’d have to spend time on how three members of the Bulls relief corps (R. J. Swindle, Dale Thayer, and Brian Shoushe) have put together six (two each) crummy appearances over the last couple of games. So let’s talk about the new guys.

Kyle Holloway is the ninth (!) catcher to put on the gear for the Durham Bulls this year. Although it is true that several of those put in very brief appearances (Albernaz - 1, Dillon - 1, Jaso - 3, Shoppach -2), the fact is that the Bulls have had problems at the position in 2010. Four or five is the norm. In addition, Mr. Holloway is ridiculously new to the game. His career began on June 20th. He had 73 plate appearances in professional baseball before last night, all in A or Rookie League. He teams up with Nevin Ashley who is the senior member of the Bulls catching corps with three games in AAA baseball.

So, how’d he do? Pretty good. At first it looked as if pitches were being called from the dugout. I’m not sure whether or not that continued since I got caught up in the game, but that makes sense to me. Two bases were stolen, but by the best base stealer in the International League, Gwinnett’s Matt Young. And Holloway threw Young out on his third try. At the plate he got a key double and scored a run in the Bulls four-run 5th inning. He worked five pitchers he’d never seen before, including catching 41 year old Shouse. Holloway is 22. Sort of like playing catch with your dad. Field of Dreams role reversal?

Darn good Triple A debut. More about Mr. Holloway at the Triangle Offense link at top (scroll to the end).

Gwinnett’s third baseman Dan Nelson was also having his Triple A debut, but his path was a bit different. He is 26 years old and has been banging around A ball since 2004, making it to AA just this year. So what did he do last night? In his second AAA at bat he hit a key three-run homer. He also made a couple of critical and very pretty plays at third base. He sort of won the game for the Braves.

As worried as I am about the Bulls catching situation, I looking forward to watching Ashley and Holloway over the next couple of weeks (as if I had a choice) and, as a fan of seeing guys get their chance, here’s hoping that Mr. Nelson keeps it up (just not in such a timely manner if he doesn’t mind).

  • The issue of who the Bulls will play next Wednesday is not yet settled, but I’m happy to pass on the word that if it’s the Louisville Bats, Aroldis Chapman will probably not be in the bullpen. Bulls fans will remember Mr. Chapman as the guy who plonked Dioner Navarro with a 102 mph fastball and hit Dan Johnson with one that came in at only 99 mph. Chapman is up with Cincinnati and seems to have gotten a little better handle on his pitches — two appearances, two innings, six batters, three K’s, not bad.
  • RaysIndex has a link to a Desmond Jennings interview. Happy looking/sounding young man. Brings up the point that, due to the lack of local media coverage, we really don’t get to see the Bulls up close very often.
  • When the players move, so do their wives/girlfriends.
  • Her Rays visualizes the Rays “new toys”.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Different Kind of Call Up

Here’s a question: When is Charlie Montoyo going to get called up?

The unthinkable is thinkable, as Xavier Hernandez’ departure demonstrates. Charlie Montoyo is probably going to depart some day. Why not try to get some thoughts out there for us all to worry about?

As readers will quickly notice, there’s a lot that I don’t know about how the process might work. So let’s see if we can make this something of a “plug and play” item. That is, I’ll put down some thoughts, leave some obvious holes, and folks can plug them for me — either by making a comment or by direct email, either way works. Just pick out one of the many “don’t know” statements below and jump in.

We know about players going to the majors, often enough for the first time in September. But when does a championship-quality manager go to the majors? Probably not in September, but he does eventually leave.

The basic circumstance is this: There really isn’t anything to be done in Triple A that Mr. Montoyo hasn’t done and done superbly.
  • He has gotten the Bulls into the International League playoffs by winning the South Division Championship four years in a row.
  • He has gotten them into the finals of the Governors’ Cup three years in a row and we are about to see how the fourth try goes.
  • His team won the Governors’ Cup last year.
  • He was just named International League Manager of the Year.
  • The Bulls also won the “National Championship” last year. (Careful readers know I don’t think much of that title. Nevertheless, the Bulls did win the game and as much by good managing as much as by good play.)
  • His won-loss record with the Bulls is 569 - 223 for a .568 winning percentage.
In addition to getting his teams into championships, Charlie has managed or coached several international teams, all-star teams, futures teams, etc.

That’s the teams, but minor league management has a lot to do with developing players. From the distance of where we sit in the stands, this also seems to have worked very well. Many of the Rays on the 2008 championship team and this year’s team worked for Montoyo before heading to St. Pete.

So you have to think that some day Montoyo is going to be packing his bag to leave Durham for greater challenges.

Just how does that work? The basic answer is that I don’t know. It does seem like the front line major league managers come from among the manager/coach ranks of other major league teams. So the obvious first step is for Charlie to get “called up” to a coaching (e.g., bench coach, third base coach) position.

Would that be with the Rays? Again, I don’t know how that works. I suppose that, like most folks in professional sports, Charlie is on a year-to-year contract. So I’d guess it to be unlikely he would jump ship in the middle of a year, but after the year is over, no idea.

He’s been managing in the minors for 14 years, and, I think, has been with the Rays for his whole managing/coaching career. So it would make sense that if he’s going to move up, it would be within the Rays system. What happened in Seattle this year is very unlikely to happen in the Rays’ system. Is there a process for moving up in the Rays system? Again, I don’t know.

I suppose the argument could be made, from the Rays’ point of view, that Charlie is making more of a contribution to the Rays by being in Durham that he would be able to make in St. Pete. And there’s quite of bit of merit to that argument, assuming that the compensation goes along with that view. If I were Charlie, however, I would suspect that that line of thinking comes mostly from folks trying to protect their jobs in St. Petersburg, not necessarily from those with his best interests at heart.

And you’ve got to think that money has something to do with it. Does Charlie make more running the Bulls than he would coaching the Rays? Again, don’t know.

Do coaches have agents? Don’t know.

Do coaches/managers shop around with different teams? Seems that way, but not sure about that.

One thing for sure: Charlie Montoyo is too young and too successful to stay with the Durham Bulls much longer without some really good reasons.

There you are. Of course, very unlikely we’ll see a September call-up. But will Charlie Montoyo be back for next spring?

Jump in, especially if you’ve got a good link that explains how this sort of thing works.

Finally, let me add this disclaimer:

I've never even met Mr. Montoyo. All I really know about him is what I see from the stands. And I like that a lot. If it were up to me, I'd like to see him stay for years to come. Who else develops great players and wins championships the way he does?