Monday, January 7, 2013

Greatest Durham Bulls

The other day I called Hideki Matsui a great ballplayer, but not a great Durham Bull. That set me to wondering, who are the greatest Durham Bulls? How would I go about finding out?

Regular readers know that I consider myself exclusively a Durham Bulls fan, so to my way of thinking a great Durham Bull is not necessarily a player who achieves stardom at another place and time. My interest is in what the player did as a Durham Bull. Thus, for example, Carl Crawford, who only played 85 games for the Bulls back in 2002, or Evan Longoria, who played all of 31 games back in 2007, simply didn’t have much impact as Bulls.

Another consideration is, which Durham Bulls team? I’m lazy. I just don’t feel like trolling through the records for the last 100 years. So, I limited myself to just the AAA Durham Bulls, a franchise to the the Tampa Bay Rays (née Devil Rays), who started playing baseball in 1998.

How do you measure greatness? Especially at the AAA level? Well, one way is to simply take a look at how often a player showed up for work. That is, how many games he played. That may seem to be an odd measure, but think about it. In minor league ball if a player isn’t producing there really aren’t any serious financial penalties for sending him back down to AA or releasing him. So sheer numbers of games played tells you that the manager and the system thinks this guy should be on the field, a lot.

The Greatest Durham Bulls
The table shows the men who played more than 250 games with the Durham Bulls since 1998. What jumps out at me when I look at this table together was how few games the average Durham Bull ever plays for the team. For example, B.J. Upton played in 314 games for the Bulls, but as a major leaguer he’s played in well over 900 games as a Ray, and is about to be paid a truckload of money to play several hundred more games for the Braves.

You know, looking at this table,  I’m pretty comfortable with asserting that these are the “great” Durham Bulls. I never saw Steve Cox, Paul Hoover, or Scott McClain play, but I did see all the rest: Justin Ruggiano, Chris Richard, Brooks Badeaux (he was playing for Ottawa when I saw him), B.J. Upton, Dan Johnson, Reid Brignac, Elliot Johnson, Leslie Anderson, and Jon Weber. Sad to say, there’s a good chance that not one of these guys will be back with the Bulls next year and we’ll start having to look for some new “greats”. Candidates?

Finally, I am entirely comfortable with the idea that Justin Ruggiano and Chris Richard should share the honor of being named the “greatest” Durham Bull. Do you think we should start harassing the front office to do something about it?

The "Greatest" Durham Bulls?

Justin Ruggiano

Chris Richard

 What about the pitchers?  I’m working on ‘em.

Update: There are a couple of errors in the table, the most egregious being Elliot Johnson's. He played in 410 games, not 281. That puts him up there with Chris Richard. Sorry. I'll put in an update as soon as I get time to get all the rest of the data. 
... c

Update 2: See new table and new thoughts posted 15 January.


  1. What is your idea, Chris? A Bulls Hall of Fame? Management might just go for it. They could have the fans vote for them, like the All-star game.


  2. That wouldn't be a bad idea. I guess my larger point is that we seem to recognize players more for what they do after being a Bull than for what they did as Bulls. Would be nice to turn that around. Before that I'd like to see if I can figure out pitchers, and maybe figure a better way to value contributions to the Bulls other than games played.

  3. Longevity and games played is interesting, but honestly it's really hard to call someone like Brooks Badeaux a "great" Bull even though he was a dependable INF the whole time. It also leaves out the players that were here for a single super season.

    As an example, Earl Snyder hit 29 HRs and drove in 92 runs in 2005 while playing 130 games only to leave the year after. He was surely a great Bull during that season.

    Of course 2005 wasn't a championship year, so if you'd prefer to look at 2002 and 2003, then you'd have to talk about Jorge Cantu and Matt Diaz (both 2003) or perhaps one of the best catchers we've had with Pete LaForest. I realize none of these folks have #s that stand out for those years, but there wouldn't be championships without them and several went on to have good 2004/2005 seasons as well.

    More recently, the 2009 Bulls don't win it all without Matt Joyce and Reid Brignac.

  4. Also, Steve Cox was before my time, but anyone with more history would tell you he's a 1st ballot Bulls HOF player regardless of how those teams turned out.

    BTW, the 1999 team hit a whopping .295 with 186 HRs and a combined OPS of .861. As a comparison, the 2012 Bulls were .267/103/.722. The problem with 1999 was no pitching.

    Which is another issue here, you really have to include pitchers who will never fit your games played criteria.

  5. Chris,
    Great comments! Thank you. Was waiting to see if someone could come up with better/more reasonable criteria. Also, have had an "over the transom" comment regarding Steve Cox that reinforces your comment about his time with the Bulls. I haven't quite figured out how to get some better AAA Bulls-only stats to see what that might tell us. Working on it.
    In the meantime, should have a first cut at pitchers within a few more hours. Have done a bit more with the stats there.

  6. That list is a great start, I'd suggest taking a look at a couple other things. 1) League honors: Bulls that were named IL All Stars (especially post season All Stars, a 1 player per position list) or IL MVP's during their Durham tenure; 2) Players high on the Bulls career stats lists, such as home runs, total bases, total hits. The latter would dovetail nicely with your total games list, to pick players that were not only present but also well accounted for.

  7. This thread has inspired me to do some statistics analysis on AAA Bulls. I feel like putting together a database of yearly stats and running some reports, so stay tuned.

  8. Great. I should have my take on pitching stats up by tomorrow.

  9. Looks like your post got noticed... the following from twitter, between Elliot Johnson and Justin Ruggiano (cut and pasted in order):

    Elliot Johnson:
    @justinruggiano greatest Durham Bull of all time? Hard to argue that

    Justin Ruggiano:
    @ElliotJohnson9 Just a regular ole Crash Davis over here! Preciate that!

    Justin Ruggiano:
    @ElliotJohnson9 also doesn't hurt that I spent the better parts of 5 years there! #goodtimes

    Elliot Johnson:
    Doesn't hurt to rake either RT @justinruggiano: @ElliotJohnson9 also doesn't hurt that I spent the better parts of 5 years there! #goodtimes

    1. Guess that means I need to get on Twitter ...
      Sure hope that Elliot noticed the correction I made to his numbers. Missed an entire year's worth.