Saturday, July 30, 2011

Inside the Freezer

Game 106, July 29, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Gwinnett Braves 5, Durham Bulls 0
Season: 59-47; Home Stand: 4-4
Wrap, Box, Examiner, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Mike Potter over at has the best lead:
Anyone looking for relief from this oppressive heat might want to curl up beside the Durham Bulls’ bats.
You will find them just out of the freezer and they are cold, cold, cold. The top four hitters in the lineup last night went 2 for 16 with a walk. The player with the two hits (Steven Vogt) was playing in his first AAA game. Of course, a few days ago none except Dan Johnson were among the leadoff crew.

And then Andy Sonnanstine is quoted in the same Examiner article:
“I was pretty good,” Sonnanstine said. “I was happy with how deep I went. If you took back that fifth inning it would have been a great outing. I’ve always been trying to get as far into a game with the fewest amount of pitches, getting them out three or less. I’ve always tried to do that. The main thing I need to do is get innings under my belt.”

Really? If the 5th was bad, what about the 6th? Double, single, sac fly to the warning track scored a run, two outs to the warning track. Didn't look all that good to me. But an important talent in a professional ballplayer is the ability to put mistakes behind you (mistakes like throwing the ball over DJ's head and giving up the home run in the 5th).

So the Bulls are back into a tie with Gwinnett and Charlotte is coming to town. Game time temperature should be just a bit below 100°. Think I'll go spend some time with the bats. But this time maybe take them out of the freezer a couple of hours before the game.

A good time to update this chart.
click on chart for larger image

Friday, July 29, 2011

Loose Ends

Here are a few odds and ends that have been piling up around here.

  • The Bulls only had one position player on the bench last night, catcher Steven Vogt, who had just driven up from Montgomery the same day. He might be in the lineup tonight. If so, it will be his first AAA start.
  • He may be joined by Montgomery Biscuits outfielder John Shelby who is reported to be on his way up as well. If so, it will be Shelby's first AAA start.
  • Survivors: Last night's starting lineup had only three players who started for the Bulls back on April 7th, Ray Olmedo, J.J. Furmaniak, and Russ Canzler. You can look it up.
  • Old time Bulls fans will be interested to know that former Bull Jim Magrane in back in the states and pitching with broadcaster Neil Solondz's old buddies, the Somerset Patriots |stats| |story|
  • One member of the Patriots pitching crew is another former Bull and WDBB favorite Jason Cromer, who is doing OK: 10-8, ERA 3.38.
  • And back on July 26 Columbus Clipper pitcher Justin Germano pitched a perfect game! Against the Syracuse Chiefs, in Syracuse. 27 up, 27 down. Box Score, Story play-by-play, Columbus Dispatch, and Columbus Dispatch follow-up. Congrats to Justin Germano!

Beautiful Baseball At the DBAP

Game 105, July 28, DBAP
Gwinnett Braves 2, Durham Bulls 0
Season: 59-46; This Home Stand: 4-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Examiner, Indy Week

Sometimes I let myself get caught up in all this arcane roster folderol and I lose track of why I go to the park in the first place. I go because I have the opportunity to see talented athletes play a very interesting game.

The win-loss aspect of last night's game was pretty straight-forward: their relievers were just a little bit better than our relievers and one of their athletes got a big hit to score a run.

But what pretty plays I got to see on the field!

In the 2nd inning Ray Olmedo, playing second base, dashed to his right nearly behind the base, gloved the ball, jumped up and made a perfect throw to first. Beautiful.

In the next inning shortstop Reid Brignac went deep to his right well behind third baseman Daniel Mayora and made the long throw to first. Very smooth. Very pretty.

Olmedo went on to make three more very slick, if not as spectacular, plays. Brignac also made three more, including a very nice 4-6 play where he teamed up with Olmedo on a crucial fielder's choice.

Olmedo and Brignac were part of the terrific 2009 Bulls team and they make one heck of a combination out there. They look like they are having fun. I hope so, sure is fun watching them.

Sigh. Back to the more serious stuff.

Ray Olmedo is a switch hitter with very slick hands. What that means to fans is that it doesn't matter if you sit on the third base side or the first base side of the stands, he will throw his bat at you. Last night he threw two! One of them didn't make it over the low wall. Instead it hit the wall on the first base side and broke. On Wednesday he threw a bat into the third base stands. On the 25th, batting right, it went into the third base stands. There have been several more at home and on the road this year.

He's not the first Durham Bull to have this problem. Ray might recall that a teammate of his from 2009, Jon Weber, had a similar problem and was given the opportunity to leverage his bat-tossing proclivities into a business proposition. I have it on good authority that the law firm in question — Farfaleaux, Foghart, & Bloviate — is still in business over there in the Diamond View II building and that the Get-a-Grip pine tar product is still on the market. If this keeps up an offer is surely on its way.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lopez Gone

Interesting move that tells you how quickly things can change. A while back no team was interested enough to claim Felipe Lopez off waivers (twice). Now he's been traded to the Brewers. ||

Lopez has been an important bat in recent weeks for the Bulls. Here's hoping someone picks up for him.

And the next Bull going to the Rays is ...

Mike Ekstrom. |The Heater|

Too bad. I was hoping for Joe Bateman.

Ekstrom, by the way, gets to go on the Rays' 40-man. Rays bloggers are gonna love that, just love it.

That tootling and wheetling you're hearing up above the bullpen is a calliope. It's being installed as part of the spectacular new carousel the Rays have given to Durham Bulls fans. I've always loved calliope music ...

Matt Moore Is the Real Deal

Photo Kailey Farmer,
Game 103, July 25, DBAP
Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta) 9, Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 3
Wrap, Box, Examiner, Indy Week

Game 104, July 26, DBAP
Durham Bulls 4, Gwinnett Braves 0
Season: 59-45; Home Stand: 4-2
Wrap, Box, Examiner

Tuesday’s game wasn’t very interesting and besides the Bulls lost, so let’s just jump to Wednesday’s game.

Matt Moore is the best young pitcher I’ve seen at the DBAP. I am not famous for the accuracy of my judgements regarding ballplayers; however, I watched every current member of the Rays starting rotation as they came through Durham (Price, Shields, Niemann, Davis, Cobb, and Hellickson) and I think at comparable points in their careers he’s better than any of them. If you live nearby you want to make an effort to see him before he goes on up to the Rays.

Fortunately, the Rays are famously cautious with the development of their starting pitching, so you may have time this season and probably the first half of next season to see him work. I wish I could say the same about how the Rays handle their AAA relief pitching assets, but that’s for later.

The matchup was terrific. Matt Moore against the Braves’ Mike Minor, also a left-hander. Statistically, there really wasn’t that much separating the two pitchers in the game. The obvious difference was the home runs Minor gave up to John Matulia and Leslie Anderson. And the record-tying 13 K's of Moore. But as we watched the batters flail away at Moore’s stuff there wasn’t much doubt as to who was the better pitcher. Most impressive of all was the apparent effortlessness of his delivery. This is a fun guy to watch. Both pitchers worked quickly. Possibly the shortest 9-inning game this year at 1:55.

John Matulia’s home run was a thing of beauty, a line drive that just sailed over the center-right wall into the seats. Two home runs in two days.

Reid Brignac is back and playing just fine. He had three well-struck singles against a sharp left-handed pitcher (how many lefties was he allowed to bat against with the Rays?) and was in the middle of a 4-6-3 double play. Since he’s going to be getting a lot of at-bats with the Bulls, we can hope that he will continue to help the team.

Now, I’ve put it off long enough. Let’s talk about the pathological behavior of the Tampa Bay Rays. Alexander Torres gets called up, pitches one inning on July 18, gets sent back. Dane De La Rosa gets called up, pitches 1 inning on July 20, gets sent back. Jay Buente gets called up, pitches 2 innings on July 26, gets sent back. Rob Delaney gets called up and pitches 3 innings (!) on July 27. Not sent back ... yet ... but the day is young. [See update below]

This is nuts. Not helping the Rays and it has to be hurting the Bulls as a team, not to mention what it’s got to be doing to the pitchers. Take this story about Jay Buente’s day. Of course, Maddon, who hadn't even met Buente until after he'd pitched his first inning, sent him back to Durham after telling reporters he was going to keep him for a while.

By the way, right-handed reliever Adam Russell is reportedly ready to play. No word yet on left-handed reliever Cesar Ramos. Both were recently sent down from the Rays, along with Andy Sonnanstine. The difference, obviously, is that when a player goes from Durham to St. Pete he’s got maybe 30 minutes to get to the plane. When the reverse happens, the player gets 5-7 days to report.

Brandon Guyer has gone on the disabled list. We are going to miss his bat for what will be at least a week, probably more.

Temperature's going up. Let's take it easy out there tonight. Air.

Reports on Moore's game in Indy Week and Herald-Sun
Rob Delaney is coming back to the Bulls and how Buente was told he was coming back to Durham in Tampa Tribune and St. Pete Times.
Will Joe Bateman get his chance? Is there anyone left?
Rays Index kvetches about Indy Week kvetching about roster turmoil.]

Catcher Swap

Stacy Long is reporting that Bulls catcher Craig Albernaz is off to Montgomery  and Biscuits catcher Steven Vogt is on his way to Durham.

This must have happened after the game since we saw Albernaz deliver the line-up card to the umpires last night. 

We really like Albernaz. Here’s hoping he has fun playing ball in Montgomery and helps them to another championship.

Steven Vogt is a legitimate prospect who has been working his way up through the Rays system for a couple of years. This was his first year in AA, so maybe shouldn’t expect to much from him yet, but maybe ... he is the leading hitter on the Biscuits. Stats. If you’re wondering about his wear of the hockey-style mask, in his case the Rays told him to. His jaw was dislocated by a foul ball in the middle of July. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Great Summer Afternoon Read: The Lost Yankee

Over the last couple of years Durham Bulls fans have seen the famous Japanese pitcher Kei Igawa a number of times. Most recently, we saw him at the DBAP on June 26 when the Bulls touched him up for 3 runs in a six-inning start for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

Back in 2007 the Yankees paid $26 million just to bid for Igawa's services and then signed him to a $20 million contract. He pitched 16 games in the majors and has spent the years since pitching for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and AA Trenton in the minors.

Bill Pennington of the New York Times has written a fascinating story, The Lost Yankee, that is a terrific read. Igakawa still lives in New York City and, for home games, is driven to either Scranton or Trenton each morning by his chauffeur/interpreter. He seems to have a very, very strange life driven by some sense of obligation to fulfill his original contract with the Yankees.


[Thanks to Bill K. for putting me on to this story.]

Misty Loss

Game 102, July 25, DBAP
Toledo Mud Hens 6, Durham Bulls 2
Season: 58-44; Last 10: 8-2; Home Stand: 3-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Both the Herald-Sun and the Indy Week stories quote Charlie Montoyo commenting on Brian Baker's problems invoking the dread term "dead arm". That's scary, and we heard something like that near the end of the season last year. Certainly Baker did not look good last night. His fastball wasn't very fast. His change up wasn't fooling many batters. In our pursuit of the odd and probably irrelevant we have to point out something else about last night — almost all the damage was done by left-handed batters.

After a one hour rain delay (it stayed misty all night) the game finally got going. Until the 3rd inning Baker may not have looked all that good, but he was getting by. Then left-handed batting Toledo catcher Jeff Kunkel hit a home run. The next three batters, all lefties, got two singles and a double and a total of two runs were scored in the inning. The 5th inning started out with two lefties and they both got singles. They both subsequently scored. Later in the inning a lefty hit a single to score a third run. Of the Mud Hen's 12 hits, 10 were made by players batting left-handed.

Does this little statistical anomaly really matter all that much? Maybe not, but you can bet that the next time Baker's on the mound (possibly Charlotte on Saturday), the opposing team will be loading the lineup with lefties, if they can.

Offensively, the Bulls were pretty quiet. J.J. Furmaniak's homer got them on the board, but mostly quiet after that. Need to note that Ryan Reid really did well. Much better than his earlier efforts as a starter.
What Have You Done For the Bulls Lately?

Here's a look at just the last ten games. I chose OPS for the comparison for a couple of reasons, 1) the numbers were readily available and 2) I was too lazy to compute the wOBA, which may be a better stat. However, I was just looking for something that is a reasonable answer to the question in the headline. What jumps out are the two extremes, Felipe Lopez and Ray Olmedo. I had not noticed that Ray was doing so poorly, or that Felipe so well. We can hope that Dan Johnson's numbers stay up there and the Brandon Guyer gets back on track.

Bulls Hitting — OPS for last 10 Games

Today is very likely to see yet more roster turmoil for the Bulls. Rays relief pitcher Alan Russell has passed through waivers and should be available tonight. Infielder Reid Brignac is also expected to be available tonight. The way I read the roster, neither arrival requires a corresponding roster move by the Bulls, but I've been wrong before. Certainly the locker room chatter being reported in the papers doesn't sound promising as it regards Brian Baker. Still, it looks like the Bulls are currently at 12 pitchers and 12 position players. Much of this year they've been at 13 and 11, but it isn't clear if it has been a preference or a necessity.

Finally, Brandon Guyer came out of the game last night with some sort of muscle pull. That's worrisome.

This four-game series with the Braves is a big deal. We should be seeing some great baseball if the heat doesn't get to us. Air and smoke look OK, and current heat index prediction is only 94 and falling during the game.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bulls in the Fifth for Five in a Row

Game 101, July 24, DBAP
Durham Bulls 2, Toledo Mud Hens 1
Season: 58-43, Home Stand: 3-0; Streak: 5-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

The two guys you might think to be the most unhappy about being in Durham were the two guys who made the biggest difference last night — Andy Sonnanstine and Felipe Lopez. From a distance you'd think that neither could be happy about being in Triple-A and yet there they were, out there winning ball games. Part of what makes watching the Durham Bulls so much fun.

Mr. Sonnanstine went a solid seven innings, assisted by two double plays. Most write-ups noted his efficiency at just 83 pitches. Our little pitching efficiency metric, pitches per out, would agree. In his 17 innings so far he's at 4.08. The Bulls most efficient pitcher this year has been Alex Cobb who in his 65 innings with the Bulls was at 5.10. Cobb, by the way, won a game for Tampa Bay yesterday. He might not be coming back any time soon.

Felipe Lopez, at DH last night, hit the winning home run in the fifth, picked up his 37th RBI, had an additional double and single, and snuck past Brandon Guyer in batting average (.309 to .306).

It was good that the pitching was so effective last night, otherwise the story would have been leaving runners in scoring position. The Bulls were great at getting runners to third, but only once got the runner in (Furmaniak's single in the 4th). Speaking of J. J., is he coming out of his season-long troubles? We can hope so. Very likely that Reid Brignac's arrival will complicate the scheduling of infield duties, but the J.J.'s glove and now his bat are needed assets. Maybe some outfield time with the other infield/outfield players Anderson and Canzler.

Interesting interview with new guy John Matulia. |Durham Bulls Podcast|

Last night's win put the Bulls at 15 games over .500, the best this year. The five game winning streak ties the best for the year. The Gwinnett Braves lost both games of a double header to the Norfolk Tides and dropped to 2 1/2 games behind the Bulls in the IL South Division.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Blazing Bats

Game 100, July 23, DBAP
Durham Bulls 9, Toledo Mud Hens 2
Season: 57-43; Home Stand: 2-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week


I was unable to attend last night's game and I was not able to listen, so I really don't have much to offer beyond what is at the links above. One quirk — for the second night in a row the Bulls scored a run off a wild pitch. Some alert base running/base coaching going on.

Let's talk about recent hitting. Beginning just before, but accelerating after the All-Star break, the Bulls' run production has been extraordinary. Since July 14th, the Bulls have scored more than twice as many runs as their opponents, 72-35. They've hit 24 doubles, 2 triples, and 15 home runs. For the 10 games prior to the break the Bulls hit 14 doubles, 2 triples, and 9 homers. For the first time this year every player is over the Mendoza Line (.200), most of them comfortably so.

Then there's this striking chart of the Bulls cumulative runs scored/runs allowed on the year. Nice to see the line moving so firmly upward.

click chart for larger image

Tonight Andy Sonnanstine goes up against Toledo's ace, Tu-Te Fu-Te Ni. Bring your water bottles!

Air and Smoke.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bulls Win; Jennings Leaves; Brignac Back

Game 99, July 23, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC
Durham Bulls (Rays) 4, Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers) 3
Season: 56-43; Last 10: 7-3

Matt Moore had a terrific first day in AAA baseball, Desmond Jennings (finally) went to the Rays, Reid Brignac is coming back to the Bulls, a ballplayer we've never seen before gets the winning hit, and the Bulls go 13 games over .500 staying in first place in the South Division of the International League. 

But you know what struck me most about the game? The remarkable physical fitness of the players on both teams. The temperature down on the field was easily over 100°. And yet there they were playing their hearts out. 

Young Matt Moore did just fine. His fastball was routinely in the 95-96 range. He struck out 7 over 5 innings. His only shaky moments came after two outs in the 2nd inning when he walked two batters in 9 pitches, but he settled down for the next three innings — with the notable exception of a home run. 

The Mud Hens picked up two more runs when Jay Buente's very first pitch went over the fence in the 6th and in the 7th when a grounder bounced over a drawn-in infield.

Which brings me to the managerial choices that seemed to make all the difference in this game. Montoyo took his starter out after 5 innings and 89 pitches on a blazingly hot day. Toledo manager Phil Nevin left his starting pitcher in to start the 7th inning with a 3-1 lead, but at 96+ pitches. A single, double, run scored on a wild pitch, and a Nevin Ashley single bounced over a drawn-in infield scored another and the game was tied. A reliever was finally called in, but a wild pitch sent Ashley to second, he was sacrificed to third by Ray Olmedo, and came home on John Matulia double.

I'm no fan of Lance Cormier, but he did come in the game in the 7th with two runners on base and only one out. He first gave up a single and loaded the bases, but then got a K and a flyout to get out of the bases loaded situation. In the next inning a leadoff error put a runner on second, but a nifty pickoff got him out. He got through that inning and Rob Delaney got his first save.

How'd the new guys do? John Matulia was a last minute addition to the lineup playing center field and leading off. Two K's, ground out, game-winning double. He's fast. Nevin Ashley started at catcher, batting eighth in the order. He went 2-3 with a run scored and a RBI.

* * * * *

As has been widely reported, Desmond Jennings was pulled from the lineup and then sent to Kansas City to join the Rays. Shortstop Reid Brignac is being sent down. From the Bulls point of view what may matter most are Rays' manager John Maddon's comments. || The way I read that, Brignac arrives with some very specific instructions on how he's to be treated by Montoyo and hitting coach Dave Myers. 

The Bulls now have an abundance of infielders: Brignac, Daniel Mayora, Ray Olmedo, J.J. Furmaniak, Felipe Lopez, and (sort of) Russ Canzler. Assuming that Brignac takes over at shortstop (unless he's to be transitioned to second base) and is to get a bunch of at bats, it sure looks like someone is going to get kicked off the bus. 

* * * * *

Speaking of getting kicked off the bus, Indy Week's Adam Sobsey is reporting that reliever Marquis Fleming, whom we've never seen, is on his way back to Montgomery.

For Joe Bateman fans, here's an interview he did after his return to the Bulls. |Bulls Podcast|

Friday, July 22, 2011

Who's On First?

We have from time to time disagreed with Durham Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo's tactical choices. On the other hand, we have no doubt that he and his crew of Neil Allen and Dave Myers are world class at dealing with roster turmoil. These last two weeks are by far the most turbulent in my time watching the Bulls (even Montoyo missed two games) and yet the Bulls won 7 out of 10 games. Those are spectacular results given the challenge these changes presented.

Here's a list of the transactions since the Bulls left town (not sure of a couple of the dates). Players in bold ended the two weeks wearing a Bulls uniform (so far, the day is young).

  • Pitcher Brandon Gomes to Tampa Bay Rays
  • Outfielder Desmond Jennings on disabled list
  • Outfielder Brandon Guyer to Tampa Bay Rays
  • Outfielder John Matulia from Montgomery Biscuits
  • Outfielder Brandon Guyer from Tampa Bay Rays
  • Outfielder John Matulia to Montgomery Biscuits
  • Pitcher Andy Sonnanstine from Tampa Bay Rays
  • Pitcher Jake McGee to Tampa Bay Rays
  • Catcher Jose Lobaton to Tampa Bay Rays
  • Pitcher Ryan Reid from Montgomery Biscuits
  • Outfielder John Matulia from Montgomery Biscuits
  • Pitcher Alex Cobb to Tampa Bay Rays
  • Pitcher Dirk Hayhurst to disabled list
  • Pitcher R. J. Swindle released
  • Catcher Robinson Chirinos to Tampa Bay Rays
  • Catcher Nevin Ashley from Montgomery Biscuits
  • Pitcher Alexander Torres to Tampa Bay Rays
  • Pitcher Alexander Torres from Tampa Bay Rays
  • Pitcher Matt Moore from Montgomery Biscuits
  • Pitcher Dane De La Rosa to Tampa Bay Rays
  • Outfielder Desmond Jennings off disabled list
  • Pitcher Jim Paduch from Montgomery Biscuits
  • Pitcher Marquis Fleming from Montgomery Biscuits
  • Pitcher Joe Bateman signed and assigned to Durham Bulls
  • Pitcher Jim Paduch to Montgomery Biscuits
  • Pitcher Dane De La Rosa from Tampa Bay Rays

Pending/Lurking: Pitcher Adam Russell has been Designated for Assignment by the Rays. He could show up in Durham. Pitcher Dirk Hayhurst could come off the DL. At a guess, Pitcher Marquis Fleming likely to go back to Montgomery soon.

By the way, no first basemen involved. Dan Johnson and Leslie Anderson are still on first.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jim We Hardly Knew Ye

Actually, unless you paid for a MiLB TV subscription, you never saw him at all.

Jim Paduch, the winner of Thursday's blowout of the Rochester Red Wings, is on his way back to Montgomery. |Biscuit Crumbs|

Thanks, Jim. Wish we'd had a chance to see you pitch. Maybe later in the year.

Bulls Bludgeon Red Wings, Coming Home

Game 98, July 21, Frontier Field, Rochester, New York
Durham Bulls 18, Rochester Red Wings 3
Season: 55-43; This Trip: 7-3
Wrap, Box, Play-by-Play

What an amazing game! By the time the 2nd inning was over the Bulls had hit five home runs and scored ten runs. After a short breather in the 3rd, they hit another home run as part of a 3-run 4th. Then in the 5th they scored three more runs (no homers). They took a two-inning breather, then hit another home run in the 8th.

The box score is unlike any I've ever seen put together by a Bulls team. Every Bull got at least one hit. Every Bull scored at least one run. Six different Bulls hit home runs, and new guy John Matulia hit two. All but two Bulls had RBIs, one had 4, and 4 had 3.

Dan Johnson went 5 for 6 with 3 singles, a double, a homer, and 4 RBIs. He raised his batting average by 18 points. Johnson, Russ Canzler, and Daniel Mayora were all a triple shy of a cycle.

This was the most runs in a game this year and, by far, the most total bases (44). The Team wOBA for the game was an extraordinary .576.

The two new pitchers just up from Montgomery did just fine. In fact, Jim Paduch did an exeptional job in what may have been his AAA debut. Marquis Fleming, who had a tough inning last night, came on for two innings and only gave up one hit. They did, obviously, have slightly above average run support.

This was a great ending to possibly the best road trip the Bulls have had this year. Counting the two games from the before the All-Star break, the Bulls went 7-3, and all of their losses were by just one run. In fact, all of their losses were by the exact same score, 2-3.

The forecast for tomorrow looks brutal, as does the air quality, but at least the smoke from the fires down east seems to be diminishing. What the heck, put a couple of ice cubes in your beer...

Phenom lefty Matt Moore is supposed to start tomorrow night. That might be worth the trip. And the Mud Hens have been on a run. Should be fun, even if very, very hot.

Bulls Bash 'Em; Bateman Back

Joe Bateman in 2010
Game 97, July 20, Frontier Field, Rochester, New York
Durham Bulls 7, Rochester Red Wings 6 (10 innings)
Season: 54-43; This Trip: 6-3
Wrap, Box, Rochester D&C

Three timely home runs, an extra inning win, and Joe Bateman back in a Bulls uniform, what could be better than that?

To hear the Rochester newspaper tell it, last night was something of a meat market for rehabbing Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey. The stands were reportedly full of scouts checking him out. The Bulls came to win a ball game. In the fifth inning Felipe Lopez hit a grand slam and Leslie Anderson hit a solo homer and the Bulls were ahead 5-1. Bulls pitcher Matt Torra was cruising along just fine until giving up a home run in the 6th. The ball was handed to new guy Marquis Fleming with a runner on first. Things got really ugly, really quickly with a wild pitch, error, two triples and the Red Wings were ahead 6-5 before Joe Bateman came in to close out the inning.

Bateman and Rob Delaney kept the Red Wings in check while the Bulls tied it in the 8th on a Leslie Anderson single that scored pinch-runner John Matulia and then won it in the 10th on a Russ Canzler home run.

For the first time this year I was glad to have MiLBTV because I got to see Joe Bateman rejoin the Bulls. One of my all-time favorites, he did a great job for the team in 2009 and especially in 2010. Last year he pitched 76 innings in relief with a spectacular 1.66 ERA. If Brian Baker's interview yesterday is any indication, he brings a lot to the clubhouse as well. Not sure what happened out there on the left coast with the Oakland system. Maybe we'll get an interview and find out. More stats. Welcome back!

Oh, the Braves lost. The Bulls are in first place in the South!

Early game today. New guy Jim Paduch is starting at 11:05.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Durham Bulls Home Stand, July 22-31

The Durham Bulls baseball team, the Triple-A franchise of the Tampa Bay Rays returns Friday after 10 games on the road.

How are the Bulls doing this year?

Terrific. They are well above the .500 mark and a half game ahead the Atlanta Braves AAA team, the Gwinnett Braves, for the International League’s South Division championship.

On this trip the Bulls went 2-0 with the Baltimore franchise, the Norfolk (VA) Tides. They came home for the All-Star break. After that they hit the road and split a 4-game series with the Boston AAA team, the Pawtucket (RI) Red Sox. They then trekked over to Rochester, NY to play the Minnesota Twins AAA team, the Red Wings, where they went 3-1.

The Bulls have played 98 games so far out of a 142 game season that ends in early September.

For more details about the Bulls, take a look at Bulls Basics.

Who are they?

The Durham Bulls are a mix of major league veterans, prospects (young players moving up through the system), and AAA veterans. What’s the difference as far as the game you see at the DBAP goes? Very little. These are all professional ballplayers who have been in the game anywhere from 5 years (John Matulia) to 13 years (Felipe Lopez). They are managed by one of the most successful minor league managers in baseball, Charlie Montoyo.

Their Opponents

The Toledo Mud Hens (July 22-25) are the Detroit Tigers AAA team. The Mud Hens are having a tough year in the International League’s West Division. But they are on a really hot streak lately. Check the Bulls website for most recent standings. The Bulls played them in Toledo in late May and won 3 out of 4 games. In the International League teams only play out-of-division teams 8 games, 4 at home, 4 away. This will be the only visit by Toledo this season.

Update: The Bulls finished out the series with the Mud Hens winning 3 out of 4 games. 

The Gwinnett Braves (July 25-29). All this year the Bulls have been swapping the lead of the South Division with the Braves. This will be games 16 thru 20 for the teams and they will meet two more times (in Durham) before the end of the season.

Update: The Bulls start the series 2 games ahead of the Braves.

The Charlotte Knights (July 30-31). The Chicago White Sox affiliate is currently in third place in the South Division. The Bulls will play them 10 times before the end of the season (6 at home, 4 away).

Bulls players to watch


The starting pitcher situation this year for the Bulls has been beyond chaotic. As of this writing I’d say, “Come on out to the park and see what you see.” Two who are on the hot prospect list are Matt Moore and Alexander Torres.

Position players

Desmond Jennings and Brandon Guyer in the outfield are the most talked-about prospects. Either one could get called up this month. They both play terrific defense, and can hit and steal with the best of them.

Update: Desmond Jennings has been called up to the Rays. 

Dan Johnson at first base/DH has not gotten his 2010 eye back. If he does, watch out. He can really crush the ball.

Young Daniel Mayora on third base, catcher Nevin Ashley and outfielder John Matulia are just up from the Rays' AA team, the Montgomery Biscuits. We don’t really know much about them yet. In fact, neither Ashley nor Matulia has played a game in Durham this year.

The gloves of AAA veterans J.J. Furmaniak and Ray Olmedo are very solid. Russ Canzler is having a break-out year at bat. Major league veteran Felipe Lopez has been up to the Rays twice this year and is hitting well enough to make a trip back sometime soon. Cuban defector Leslie Anderson plays first base and the outfield and is putting up pretty good numbers at bat this year.

Durham Bulls Players on the Rays 40-man (see Bulls Basics for more on the topic)

Pitchers: Alex Torres (SP), Jay Buente (RP), and Andy Sonnanstine (RP). 

Position Players: Catcher Nevin Ashley, Outfielders Brandon Guyer and Desmond Jennings.

Yes, it's going to be blazingly hot for the beginning of the home stand.  In the Terrace Reserved sections you've got monster fans that keep the air moving though. Stay still, drink lots of liquids, have fun.

Yes, They Lost, But ...

Game 96, July 19, Frontier Field, Rochester, New York
Rochester Red Wings 3, Durham Bulls 2
Season: 53-43; This Trip: 5-3
Wrap, Box, Rochester D&C

Yes, the Bulls lost, but there were several good things happening in this game that made for interesting baseball.

For example, there was the tag team of Dan Johnson and Russ Canzler. In the 2nd inning Johnson led off with a single, went to third on a Russ Canzler double, and came home on a Nevin Ashley ground out. In the 7th inning Johnson led off with a double and came home on a Russ Canzler single. So hopes were high in the 9th when the score was 2-3 and Johnson got a one-out single. Russ Canzler drew a walk and they went to second and third on an Olmedo ground out, but never got home.

For another, after a terrible beginning (the first five batters reached base and two scored), Andy Sonnanstine did just fine in his first start in a very long while. Have the Bulls finally got another starting pitcher? Looks that way. He went six innings. When you don't really have any relievers available, that was a great effort. Solondz was talking position-player pitching before the game started.

Then there was the Rochester ball club. The young Australian, Liam Hendricks, looked pretty good in his AAA debut. He's worked hard to get to AAA. As the Rochester newspaper reported:
"I don't get nervous out there anymore,'' the newest Red Wings pitcher said.
Why should he? The Australia native has overcome knee surgeries in 2006 and '07, spinal surgery that forced him to miss the 2008 season and an emergency appendectomy that cost him a spot in the 2010 Futures All-Star Game.
"Other than that, I've been healthy," he joked.
So, yeah, they lost. But today's another game.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two More Biscuits Joining Moore

We may need to re-think the name of the Durham Bulls, maybe Bulls/Biscuits fits better. As much as we've whimpered about this year's Bulls roster, the Biscuits are no better off.

Two more pitchers are on their way:

Jim Paduch, a 28-year old starting pitcher coming out of independent baseball in June has had 9 games with the Biscuits, 1-4, 45 1/3 innings, 4.96 ERA. Stats. Background.

Marquis Fleming, a 24 year-old relief pitcher. He's appeared in 29 games, 56 1/3 innings, 2.56 ERA. Stats. Rays Prospects Analysis (click on table).

In addition to these two, the Bulls have recently acquired from the Biscuits third baseman Daniel Mayora, outfielder John Matulia, catcher Nevin Ashley, and pitchers Ryan Reid and Matt Moore. That's one -third of a baseball team.

De La Rosa to St. Pete

No sooner had I written a comment here wondering why the Rays hadn't called up Dane De La Rosa instead of Alexander Torres than this came up on the web. De La Rosa has been called up.

That keeps, I think, the Bulls pitching roster at 9 (instead of the usual 12). Still, Dane's been doing pretty well. Hard to begrudge him the opportunity.

All Hail the Bullpen

The Rochester Red Wing Photo courtesy Baseball Stadium Reviews

Game 95, July 18, Frontier Field, Rochester, New York
Durham Bulls (Rays) 4, Rochester Red Wings (Twins) 1
Season: 53-42; This Trip: 5-2
Wrap, Box, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Let's stop obsessing about the roster changes and talk about baseball. How about the Bulls bullpen crew?

Going into the game the fact that the Bulls only had 9 pitchers on the roster hinted that the Bulls best strategy would be to take advantage of the storm clouds out over Lake Ontario. That is, score some runs and pray for rain. Turned out that an even better strategy was to just let the bullpen pitch. Ryan Reid and Lance Cormier combined for six innings. Jay Buente, Rob Delaney, and Dane De La Rosa did one each. Only one run scored. Great job.

New guy catcher Nevin Ashley went 0-4, but his ground out RBI in the 4th started Durham's scoring. In the next inning Brandon Guyer got a rare triple (his second, only the Bulls 11th this year) and then came home on Felipe Lopez's single. The icing on the cake was Dan Johnson's homer in the 8th that brought home Felipe Lopez.

The win guarantees a successful road trip and put the Bulls 11 games above .500, the best level this year. Gwinnett, however, kept on with their winning ways are are still a half-game ahead in the South.

I know it's just listening to the radio, but this game had a team-like feel to it. I like that. Andy Sonnastine starts today. Lets see if he can keep it up.

  • Here's a bit more on the Lobaton injury. |St. Pete Times|
  • Fernando Perez is back in professional baseball with the New York Mets. Makes sense. Fernando is something of a New York lad. He has a minor league contract and will be with Buffalo Bisons. The Bulls play the Bisons next month in Buffalo. ||
  • Stacy Long over at Biscuit Crumbs keeps track of several players who've gone through the Rays system (scroll down). Note familiar Bulls names such as Jason Cromer, Chris Mason, and others. |Biscuit Crumbs|

Moore Coming Up; Torres Coming Back

Matt Moore, the top pitching prospect in all of the minor leagues, is coming to the Bulls. [Biscuit Crumbs| According to Stacey Long, Moore is schedule to start on the Bulls return this Friday.


Alexander Torres, after a disastrous 9th inning Monday night, is coming back to the Bulls.

Here at WDBB we really, really try to not comment too much on Rays management. But gee whiz, you gotta wonder what Maddon was thinking. Torres is 23 years old, has appeared in 105 games as a professional, all but 9 as a starter. He has not pitched a single inning of relief since he was in A ball the year before last. He pitched two innings (as a starter) on Friday. And what is he famous for? Walking batters. So his major league debut is in the 9th inning of a tie game with the New York Yankees (Alex walked in the winning run). Way to go Joe!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Torres to Tampa Bay with Cobb

Instead of just calling up Alex Cobb, the Rays added Alex Torres to the list. They dumped one of their relievers Adam Russell, who might be coming the Bulls way, and put another, Juan Cruz, on the DL to make room.

Boy am I tired of putting up these postings!

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, whatever are you going to do about this? Just keep on truckin' I suppose.

Now just where did I put that starting pitcher list? Wish I still smoked. I could use it to make a cigarrette. I know, running out of TP. I can use it there.

That's 16 roster moves since the 8th of July, but who's counting?

Update: Stacy Long down in Montgomery did a quick headcount of the Biscuits on the field. All present or accounted for at 3:00 PM

And I really do understand. After all those poor guys had to play 16 whole innings yesterday. They must be just all tuckered out. 

Sunny Sunday Afternoon

Game 94, July 17, McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Durham Bulls 13, Pawtucket Red Sox 3
Season: 52-42; This Trip: 4-2
Wrap, Box, Pawtucket Times

You're never quite sure what's going to happen this year when Brian Baker gets the start. On June 24 he gave up 7 runs in 4 innings. On July 3 he only gave up 1 run in 5 innings. Then on July 8 he gave up 7 runs in 4 1/3 innings. Yesterday afternoon, before the trek illustrated above, he gave up just 3 runs in 5 innings. Then the Bulls hitters just whomped on the Red Sox after their starter went just a little too long and their relievers never got on track.

It was a great day for the only relievers the Bulls had left, Mike Ekstrom and Jay Buente. Ekstrom went for 3 innings, his longest outing of the year, and only gave up one hit as the Bulls piled on the runs. Buente had a solid ninth inning.

J.J. Furmaniak had the big hit of the day when he broke it open in the 7th with a bases-loaded double. But every Bull in the lineup got at least one hit, included new guy John Matulia, as the Bulls scored the most runs in a game this year, went to 10 games above .500, and picked up a game on Gwinnett.

We've been overlooking Felipe Lopez' performance these last few games. Shouldn't do that. He's been doing well for the Bulls. He had 5 RBIs yesterday and has pushed his average over .300.

Pretty sure that I heard Neil Solondz say that Alexander Torres is pitching tonight. But given the turmoil in the roster (noted elsewhere) no telling just how it's going to shake out.

Lobaton Hurt; Chirinos to TB; Ashley to Bulls

Just be happy you're not the guy who has to set the type for the Durham Bulls programs this Thursday.

Jose Lobaton hurt his knee in last night's 16-inning marathon in Tampa St. Petersburg and has been put on the disabled list. | and St. Petersburg Times| This was his first start for the Rays and he'd gotten a lot of love from manager Joe Maddon.

The same articles tell us that Robinson Chirinos has been called up to take Lobaton's place.

The Rays reached down to Montgomery where Stacy Long is reporting that Biscuits catcher Nevin Ashley is on his way to join the Bulls in Rochester. Ashley spent some time with the Bulls last year in the regular season and into the playoffs (and a couple of games with the Rays). He's on the Rays 40-man. Looks like he'll be with us for at least a couple of weeks.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Swindle "Out"; Hayhurst Hurt

As has been noted before, WDBB is no friend of opt-out contracts and the secrecy that surrounds them. Turns out that R. J. Swindle had one and has opted out. As much as I enjoyed watching your slow curve, R. J., don't let the door hit you on the way out. You've done no favors to your team or Bulls fans.

Dirk Hayhurst has gone on the DL for the second time this year. Coming off surgery and a year away from baseball, that's not looking good. We like Dirk. Let's hope it's something minor.

Starting rotation for the next four days?

Possibly Torres, Sonnanstine, Reid, and Torra. How do you like them apples?

Bulls Beat Sox; Roster Roulette

Game 93, Jul 16, McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Durham Bulls 11, Pawtucket Red Sox 8
Season: 51-42; This Trip: 3-2
Wrap, Box, Pawtucket Times

The Bulls got their third short start in a row, only 3 1/3 from Matt Torra, and this time they couldn't blame it on the Rays. But the bats and gloves came through in a big way and they beat the Red Sox for just the second time this season.

The Bulls had a huge top of the 4th, scoring seven runs and going ahead 7-1. At a guess, however, Matt Torra had too much time on the bench. Only one out into the inning two runs had scored and two runners were on base. R.J. Swindle came in and got Carl Crawford to pop up, but walked a batter and gave up a grand slam. So the Red Sox were back in the game and it was all tied up for a couple of innings.

The Bulls picked up a run in the 6th on a Dan Johnson single and three runs in the 9th, two off a Leslie Anderson home run. That was enough.

It was a game that drives the numbers guys nuts. By every measure (hits, total bases, etc) the Red Sox should have won. They didn't. A key error on their part, two timely double plays on the Bulls part, explain much of the difference.

Given our starting pitching problems, nice to see two relievers able to go back to back. Rob Delaney did fine, Dane De La Rosa less so, but he did get out of a tough 9th inning intact.

Let's back up and see if we can sort out who's playing for the Durham Bulls these days.
  • Alex Cobb is not. He's off to St. Petersburg, reportedly to start against the New York Yankees on Monday. || Note: That same item states that the reason that Alexander Torres had a short start on Friday was that Cobb had been hit in the head in batting practice that morning and they weren't sure he would be able to come down to St. Pete.
  • Desmond Jennings is. He DH'd last night and went 3 for 4 with two doubles and scoring two runs.
  • Ryan Reid is back from Montgomery. He came into the game in the 5th inning and pitched a somewhat shaky two innings. A bases-loaded, nobody out situation was maybe a bit more than "somewhat shaky". Still, an out at home, a popup, and a ground out got him out of trouble. Reid got his first win in his 20 (!) appearances as a Bull.
  • John Matulia is also back from Montgomery. You may be forgiven for not knowing who outfielder John Matulia is since he has never played an inning in Durham. He came to the team for the two pre-All-Star break games in Norfolk and then went back to Montgomery. Now he's back. He's working on getting his first AAA hit.

By my count (probably off) the Bulls have had 11 roster transactions in the last ten days. Glad that I don't have to keep track of travel, uniform, and equipment logistics for the Rays, Bulls, and Biscuits.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

One for Six

Game 92, July 15, McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Pawtucket Red Sox 3, Durham Bulls 2
Season: 50-42; This Trip: 2-2
Wrap, Box, Pawtucket Times, Baseball Heavy

For the second game in a row the starting pitcher only went two innings. For the second game in a row, the first relief pitcher gave up the losing runs. For the fifth time this season the Bulls lost to the Pawtucket Red Sox (out of six tries). This is discouraging.

Back in early June the Red Sox were in Durham and they beat the Bulls fairly handily three out of four games (6-3, 7-1, and 11-3), assisted by former Bull Darnell McDonald. This time they are getting some help from another former Bull and possibly the best, certainly richest, Bull ever, Carl Crawford. The Bulls only win was a 5-4 game won by Ray Olmedo with a walk-off bases-loaded single. A full report that exposes my off-the-mark comments is here. On the other hand, it was after that game that we first noticed that the bullpen was carrying the Bulls. That, unfortunately, has not changed.

Unless I missed something, we've gotten no report on why Alex Torres left the game after only two innings. We know that Cobb was held out on Thursday at the behest of the Rays. If Torres has some kind of problem then the Bulls are really in trouble, especially since he was doing a much better job.  [see update below] 

Lance Cormier has now had eight appearances as a Bull. Things aren't looking good. He's already given up more home runs (7) that any Bull except for Brian Baker (11), who has had a lot more opportunities.

Pawtucket's a good team. We have to grant them that. We said it when they were in Durham and it's worth repeating. Another double play last night helped them a lot. A timely home run made a huge difference.

Here's an interesting interview with Charlie Montoyo where he discusses some Rays' prospects he coached at the Futures game, comments on Andy Sonnanstine, and tells us the key to this series with Pawtucket.

[Update: Cork Gaines over at Rays Index thinks that the reason Torres was pulled from last night's game is that the Rays can't make up their mind whether they want to start a righty (Cobb) or a lefty (Torres) to start against the Yankees later in the week. Sounds about right to me.]

Friday, July 15, 2011

This Could Be the Start of Something ...

Game 91, July 14, McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston) 3, Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 2
Season: 50-41; This Trip: 2-1
Wrap, Box, Pawtucket Times

The Bulls reconvened on the field after an All-Star break during which several members of the team became more than a little familiar with the nation's air terminals. Here's hoping they are well-rested, even those who went out to Salt Lake City.

Last night was the beginning of what could be a very rough road trip for the Durham Bulls. But in this case well-played baseball kept them in the game until the very end.

This is a week where the home office (that would be the Tampa Bay Rays) is monomaniacally-focused on their seven games at home against the Red Sox and the Yankees. To that end they have called up the Bulls’ two best relievers, a catcher, and reportedly intend to call up the Bulls’ best starting pitcher. (The Rays have been quite creative in managing their injuries in recent days.) That leaves the Bulls with 22 players on their 24 man roster and a coaching/management “challenge”.

Overall, you have to say they did OK last night. Alex Cobb was only allowed to pitch two innings in deference to the Rays’ apparent plan to use him down in St. Petersburg in a couple of days. Andy Sonnanstine, who last pitched sometime back in the 20th Century, was rusty. Still, we’ve seen pitcher do a lot worse than his 3-run 4th inning with shut out 3rd, 5th and 6th innings.

Three double plays by the Bulls infield kept the game in reach all the way into the 9th. On the other side, the Pawtucket Sox’s two double plays had a lot to do with keeping the Bulls in check.

I was wrong about Crawford in an earlier post. He’s playing tonight and tomorrow night. Blame the PawSox web site.

The Gwinnett Braves won down in Jawja, which put them 1/2 game ahead of the Bulls in the International League South Division.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

McGee Also to Rays?

OK, this is getting a bit confusing. Topkin is now reporting that Jose Lobaton and Jake McGee have been called up. |St. Pete Times| Also, he's reporting that Rays catcher John Jaso has gone on the DL.

That puts three Bulls pitchers in play — McGee, Gomes, and Cobb — in play in the sense that the average fan doesn't know what uniform they will be wearing tonight or tomorrow night.

Tell you what, I'm just going to try and catch Neil Solondz's update before tonight's broadcast. I know that the Rays are playing the Red Sox, but, hey, the Bulls are playing the Red Sox, too.

Lobaton to the Rays?

Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times, sourcing Spanish-language websites, is reporting that Jose Lobaton has been called up to the Rays. |St. Pete Times|

Topkin goes on to lay out a scenarios with an impact on the Bulls, such as Alex Cobb being called up.

Good to see Jose get a chance, but the cynic in me just sees the Rays keeping their bench full. This is price the Rays pay for having so few position players on their non-active 40-man roster (3 catchers, two outfielders). Guyer can't go back up. Jennings is on the DL. That leaves only Robinson Chirinos and Jose Lobaton to choose from, unless they want to call up Nevin Ashley from Montgomery or go through some roster razzmatazz with a non-40-man guy (read Lopez)

Good luck, Mr. Lobaton. Here's hoping that, unlike last year, you get at least a couple of at-bats.

Bulls to RI; Carl Crawford in Left

This could be fun tonight ... or not. If you were a Bulls pitcher who'd made it to the Rays at any time in the last couple of years, the guy who would have had your back was Carl Crawford. Now he will a re-habbing with the Pawtucket Red Sox and he'll be trying to ruin your night for the next couple of games. Wouldn't it be weird if Andy Sonnanstine gets up on the mound?
All-Star Game

Durham Bulls representatives to the Triple-A All-Star team did just fine. If fact, Russ Canzler won the game for the International League.
Wrap 1, Wrap 2, Box, Video

Brandon Guyer started in center field and was 0-3. Ray Olmedo started at shortstop and was 1 for 2. Russ Canzler started at third base and was 1-4 with 3 RBI.

Web World

Rays Prospects has another of its terrific tables analyzing pitchers in the Rays' minor league system. Matt Moore and Chris Archer down in Montgomery are doing just fine.

Speaking of Matt Moore, he's really getting a lot of attention these days.

One of my favorite sites, Craig Robison's FlipFlopFlyBall had an interesting graphic on All-Star players that I missed putting up before the game. And he's got a book of his work coming out.

One of the better Rays blogs, The Process Report, is shutting down. Too bad. They did some thoughtful work over there.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

All-Star Break Charts — 3

The Team

A look at various team measures is cause for some concern. In fact, the mid-season indicators hint that the Bulls are not quite as good a team as their record shows them to be. That is, while they are 50-40 on the year, they could easily be 45-45.

The first clue was in the chart from the other day showing the runs scored-runs allowed situation. The “expectation” formula came up with 46-44 on the season, instead of the actual 50-40.

Let’s look at team pitching first.

This chart shows the trend of Bulls team ERA, which is now 4.06 and 6th in the IL. Obviously, the starting crew is quite a bit worse than the relievers. With an ERA of 3.17, Gwinnett is almost a full run better than the Bulls.

The look below at overall offense and defense shows the offensive trend (the green line) slipping below the defense/pitching trend line (the red line). But they are so close that a shift in either direction is possible. The chart is one more indicator that, so far, the Bulls are approaching being a .500 ball club. More than that, since this is a weighted measure, extra base hits could have pushed things up. The Bulls rank 8th in home run production, dead last in triples, and tied for fourth hitting doubles.

The last chart is a bit tricky to understand, but stick with me. It’s the most worrisome of all. If after every game you take the Bulls cumulative wOBA and subtract the cumulative Opponent’s wOBA you get this series of data points. That downward trend is not good. If it crosses zero the Bulls are surely in losing territory.

Nevertheless, the Bulls are in first place and in the only numbers that really matter, have won 10 more games than they have lost. They could stay there and go on into the playoffs.

What would make me less worried? Better starting pitching and a few more extra base hits would make a huge difference in these charts and, I'd bet, a much more robust won-loss record.

We should not forget that the Bulls have a couple of other things going for them. First is terrific management by Charlie Montoyo and crew. Second is that a couple of good young pitchers are lurking down in Montgomery and we may get to see them this year. Hitters down there? Not sure, but maybe Dan Johnson will shift gear for us before we lose Guyer and Jennings.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

All-Star Break Charts — 2

The Pitchers

Here we have four charts laying out the stats on the current Bulls pitching staff, with the exception of new guy Matt Torra. Torra has only had one appearance and it didn't seem fair to include him in this compilation.

Bulls pitching is a moving target. Brandon Gomes, who figures prominently in these charts is at the moment with the Bulls parent team, the Tampa Bay Rays. Andy Sonnanstine, a member of the Rays' relief cadre is on his way to the Bulls, but has not pitched with the Bulls and is not on the charts. A few pitchers have seen time as both starters and relievers (Cormier, Buente, Baker). We have no way to judge whether or not they will stay in their current roles.

Three of these metrics are fairly well-known: ERA — Earned Run Average; FIP — Fielding Independent Percentage; and WHIP — Walks, Hits per Inning Pitched. The fourth is one that we've been playing with here at WDBB, Pitching Efficiency. Pitching Efficiency is simply number of pitches divided by outs recorded.

Click on a chart for a larger image.

What do the numbers tell us?

Alex Cobb is the Bulls best starting pitcher. He leads all of the other starting pitchers on the team by any metric you'd like to choose. Somewhat to my surprise, Alex Torres is the runner-up starter in ERA and FIP, although (no surprise) pretty awful in WHIP and PE. Dirk Hayhurst is a good bit further back in ERA and FIP even though he has a better winning percentage and better WHIP and PE numbers.

Among the relievers, Brandon Gomes, Rob Delaney, and Jake McGee are the standouts.

At the other end of the spectrum we have to worry about starter/reliever Brian Baker. Recent appearances have not been promising. The sample sizes for Lance Cormier and Jay Buente are small, and they both would probably like to stay on the books as relievers. They have shown promise in the bullpen, so maybe their numbers will get better.

In the middle are Dane De La Rosa, Mike Ekstrom, and R.J. Swindle.

What happens after the break? Here are my guesses:

Starting rotation: Cobb, Torres, and Hayhurst, with new guys Sonnanstine and Torra filling it out.

Bullpen (Gomes stays with Rays): Delaney, McGee, Baker, Ekstrom, Swindle, Cormier, Buente and De La Rosa.

All-Star Break Charts — 1

The Bulls midseason passed by quite a while ago (midseason is 71 games and they are at 90 now). Nevertheless, by tradition the All-Star break is still a good time to take a look.

Note: For all charts you can get a larger version by clicking on the image.

The Bulls are 10 games above .500 (50-40) in the South and a half game ahead of Gwinnett. For the last couple of weeks they have been playing tag with the Braves and that is likely to continue to the end of the season. The Bulls only have 52 games left in their schedule.

A look at the Bulls runs scored-runs allowed chart is much more worrisome. If you crank the Bulls numbers through the "Pythagorean Expectation" formula the team "should" be at 46-44 instead of 50-40. That is, the Bulls are doing much better than would be expected. The sabermetrics guys attribute variance from the expectation to two key factors, luck and the bullpen. From numbers that we will be looking at soon, that makes sense. Our bullpen has been doing a very good job overall. Otherwise, the Bulls could easily be well out of first place.

What about our friends playing down South, the Tampa Bay Rays? They are also 90 games into the season. How could that be? Especially since the Bulls started their season more than a week after the Rays? Simple. The answer is that in Triple-A the players work harder. In the majors the players have a union. In the minors things are much, much tougher.

As you can see, the Rays are actually doing quite well. Eight games above .500 (49-41) is a pretty good year anywhere but the East Division of the American League. Interesting similarity between the curve for Baltimore and their AAA team, Norfolk.

The Rays runs scored/runs allowed chart shows them (as with the Bulls) well below previous years. When you crank their numbers through the expectation formula they come out exactly as the actual, 49-41. To be honest, I find that a bit creepy.

I'll take a look at pitching in my next post.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Take a Break

Game 90, July 10, Harbor Park, Norfolk Virginia
Durham Bulls 3, Norfolk Tides 1
Season: 50-40; Last 10: 6-4
Wrap, Box, Virginia-Pilot

Am I going to have to start saying nice things about pitchers I’ve been criticizing? Beginning to look that way. At least for today. Alex Torres and Jay Buente took the Bulls into the All-Star break with solid performances. Torres got the win and Buente got the save.

Torres has actually done quite well recently, winning four out of his last five games and getting his tendency to give up bases on balls under control. He's only had 12 walks over those five games. Trust me, for Torres that's great. He (and Buente) were helped a lot by the Bulls defense yesterday when they pulled off 4 double plays. Torres needed them since he gave up 10 hits, but just one double. Buente has made four appearances as a reliever now, 4 2/3 innings, 1 win, 1 save, no runs. Much better.

Meanwhile in the 6th Russ Canzler got on base with a single and Jose Lobaton walked. Robinson Chirinos' double brought them home. In the 7th JJ Furmaniak doubled, stole third, and came home on Felipe Lopez' sac fly.

The Bulls go into the break 10 games above .500 and a half game ahead of Gwinnett. Note that for the Bulls, the break is well past the midpoint of the season. They only have 52 games left in their 142 game season. Half of those will be at the DBAP, the other half on the road. If you haven't seen a game yet, you're running out of time.

Outfielder John Matulia is on his way back to Montgomery and Brandon Guyer is on his way back to the Bulls.

Mr. Matulia didn’t get a hit in his two games with the Bulls, but he did do a fine job in center field, making at least one nice catch that I happened to catch on MiLB.TV. Also managed to not be distracted by the seagulls, who appear to be a problem in Harbor Park. His sacrifice bunt attempt, mishandled by the Tides' pitcher, was the event that opened the door to the Bulls' win late Saturday night. So he did make a difference even if he didn't get credit for an RBI.

I'm guessing that Guyer will go through Salt Lake City for the AAA All-Star game on his way back to Durham.

* * * * * 

Ready for some weirdness (thanks to DRR for the tip)?

Last Saturday the Yuma Scorpions played the Lake County Fielders at the Fielders home field in Zion, Illinois (north of Chicago). They won the game 8-3. Nothing special about that, until you take a look at the box score and check out the battery. The pitcher was former Ray Jose Canseco and the catcher was former Bull Joey Gathright! And Canseco got the win. Gotta admit that's some kind of weird.

But wait! There's more! Why was he pitching in the first place? As reported in the Chicago Sun-Times the Fielders manager and several players had walked out in protest over a pay dispute prior to the game and the Fielders team for the day were mostly pitchers. Player/Manager of the Scorpions, Jose Canseco, decided to make things more even by putting himself in the game to pitch. More details in the Yuma Sun

And there's more! An owner of the Fielders is none other than Bull Durham star Kevin Costner.

In addition to the sheer fun of just chasing this one down, I had been wanting to do an update on Joey Gathright. He created a lot of excitement as a Bull several years ago. Good to know that he's still in baseball.