Saturday, May 31, 2014

Yates! Yates! Yates!

Season: 33-23; Home Stand: 1-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

For thrilling baseball, last night’s 8th and 9th innings were hard to beat. So let’s look at the game back-to-front.

Adam Liberatore came on in the 8th with a 5-3 lead. He’s been terrific this year and we expected a quiet inning. Kirby Yates was starting to warm up for the 9th. The Bulls had the game in hand. In fact, I was thinking about getting out of the parking deck ahead of the DPAC crowd. Two singles and a walk later, the bases were loaded on just 14 pitches and nobody was out as the heart of the IronPigs batting order was coming up. Cue the hook and Kirby Yates came in seeking a two-inning, 6-out save. I don’t think he has faced quite so perilous a situation this year.

Mr. Yates K’d the first batter, but the second reached on a error by Hak-Ju Lee that scored a run. Bases still loaded. Still one out. Score now 5-4. Next batter: K. Next batter: fly ball to Mahtook in center field. Out of the inning. Breath.

The 9th was almost anti-climatic, although Yates did return having already thrown 18 pitches. That gave me something to worry about. But the first batter hit a fly ball to Mahtook; the next watched the third strike go by; the next also flew out to Mahtook. Save #14 for Yates, best in the IL. Game trivia: 3 out of six Yates’ outs were fly balls to Mikie Mahtook.

Otherwise, Mike Montgomery had a brilliant no-hit five innings, then unravelled in the 6th. His pitch count wasn’t all that high, still, looking back, would not have hurt to come out after the single and the BB that started the inning. The three runs that scored tied the game and he left with a no-decision. For his one out that ended the 6th Jake Thompson got another win, because Curt Casali showed why the Rays like him with a booming home run over the bull that brought in the two runs that made all the difference.

Outside the game —
  • Alex Colome is back from his 50 game suspension and will start tonight. Apparently Merrill Kelly will go back into a long relief role. The Bulls will need him there since Enny Romero and/or Colome are likely to be in need of a long reliever.
  • I missed the fact that Mikie Mahtook leads the International League in doubles with 19 (he got another one last night). He’s also tied for the league lead in triples with 5. Impressive.
  • Cole Figueroa was in the dugout. I’d guess we will see him tonight. 
  • Terrific story over at DNA of Sports on Ali Solis, the Bulls catcher recently called up to warm up Rays pitchers. (That’s not quite fair, but he has still not had an AB and he’s been there 3 or 4 days). He did get in last night’s game as a pinch runner (!) and stayed to catch the bottom of the 10th.

Friday, May 30, 2014

IronPigs Preview for Durham Bulls Baseball Fans

WDBB is one of only three active fan blogs (that I can find, anyhow) following International League baseball. One of those is the "Voice of the Noise Nation: The Horn and Bell". We asked them to tell us about the IronPigs and writer Kram responded. Thank you!

Hey Bulls' Fans! Here's what you need to know about the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA - Phillies) in advance of the forthcoming “wraparound” weekend series, coming to you from the “Horn and Bell” Blog, The Voice of the Noise Nation in the Lehigh Valley, PA.

The Team

The 2014 IronPigs have been a better road team than home team. They've hit for power much more than anticipated, especially on the road. They are managed by former Richmond/Gwinnett Braves manager Dave Brundage. His management style is more similar to our most recent previous manager, Ryne Sandberg, than our first one, Dave Huppert. Former Phillie Mickey Morandini is a bench coach-new this year. Expect to see Brundage manage to win — he'll set the lineup and change the pitchers in a manner conducive to winning, all while getting guys playing time. The roster is a nice mix of young guys and veterans. We've lost a couple to the Phillies, and a couple to injury, though. The team comes in with 24 players on the active roster and only two position player reserves. Gillies, Rupp and Franco are the guys in the starting lineup who could be considered position-player “prospects.” The 'Pigs arrive from Norfolk after taking 4 of 5 from the Tides (one was a makeup from Allentown).

  • Record: 29-25, Third Place IL North, 0.5 games back
  • Home/Away: 12-15 Home; 17-10 Away 
  • Day/Night: Day 14-6; Night 15-19
  • One-Run: 12-6
  • Weekends: 5-10 Friday and Saturday; 9-5 Sunday and Monday
  • Righty/Lefty: vs RHP Starter: 24-17; vs LHP Starter: 5-8

Phillies’ Top Prospect, Maikel Franco.  Photo: Cheryl Pursell, NoiseNation’s Horn and Bell

Typical Lineup
(with player notes)

#13 Tyson Gillies CF (nickname: “Herc-Gillies” or “Greased Lightning”). A series of mishaps and injuries has dropped Gillies out of favor among prospect-watchers. However, he does still have a 40-man roster position. He was a key piece from the Cliff Lee trade to Seattle. He's fast. Very fast. And he'll run out everything from a routine grounder to a base on balls to a home run. He'll bunt for a hit periodically. He'll make a highlight reel play or two in center field as well. He is hearing impaired.

#9 Tyler Henson RF (nickname: “Henny” or “Hen-Dog”): The former Orioles 3B prospect remade himself as a utility player in the offseason. He lost weight and gained speed and can now be found in both corner-outfield positions as well as 3B and 2B. He's been one of the IronPigs most consistent players this season.

#10 Maikel Franco 3B (pronounced: MY-kell FRAHN-co): The 21-year old is one of the top three prospects in the Phillies' system. With Cody Asche's recent injury in Philadelphia there has been some call to get him to the big club early. However, most IronPigs observers know that he just isn't quite ready yet. He started very slowly in April, but came on strong in May as the weather began to warm up. Recently, allergies and an upper respiratory infection have set him back a bit. He's not fast, but is very quick in the field. His play at 3B has been superb. He'll also play 1B at times.

#44 Jim Murphy 1B (nickname: “Big Jim” or “Jimmy”): The big first baseman earned a promotion to AAA for 2014 by virtue of his outstanding year last season in Reading. The right-hander has hit most of his home runs on the road, as Coca Cola Park in Allentown is not conducive to big right-hand power hitters. He leads the team in extra-base hits and home runs, among other offensive categories.

#35 Cameron Rupp C (nickname: “Ruppy”): The catcher made it to the Majors late last season before highly regarded Phillies system prospects Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle. He can hit for power from the right side, and has a better-than-average arm behind the plate. He's well-regarded by his pitching staff.

#4 Steve Susdorf OF/DH: Steve Susdorf is a professional hitter. He has one of the purest swings in the Phillies system. However, he doesn't really hit for power and doesn't play a premium defensive position. He did get his first call-up last season. He's an outstanding individual.

#18 Leandro Castro LF: The sometimes flamboyant outfielder is a free-swinger. He's worked this year to improve his walk rate and his approach at the plate. He can play center field if needed and has an outstanding arm.

#3 Andres Blanco SS (nickname: “Let's Go, Blanc-o”): The slick fielder has Major League experience with the Rangers and Cubs. He's a streaky hitter with sneaky power from both sides of the plate.

#5 Ronny Cedeno 2B/INF: Ronny spent most of last season with the Padres. He has a wealth of Major League experience and acts as a reserve infielder should the Phillies need a utility guy. He can play short or third without difficulty.


You will see the reserves play, as we mix the lineup pretty well on a night to night basis.

Koyie Hill C (pronounced: “Koy”): A veteran of multiple seasons with the Cubs and Marlins, he's a switch hitter who started the year fast and can hit for both power and average on this level.

Addison Maruszak INF: He came up through the Yankees system and played last season with the RailRiders. He was a late cut out of camp and only recently joined us as a replacement following the Mother's Day injury to Freddy Galvis. He reports that he's seeing the ball well, but still getting his timing down.

Probable Starters

Youngsters on our staff are either injured (Jon Pettibone) or with the Phillies (David Buchanan). The starters are, for the most part, veteran guys with MLB experience.

Friday: LHP Greg Smith (4-2, 3.74): Has MLB time with Colorado and Oakland. He's been a solid part of our rotation since last season. He's had a couple hiccups recently-and does pitch better at home-but can be difficult to score against and can go deep into games. Smart competitor.

Saturday: RHP Barry Enright (3-2, 4.06): Came up with Arizona and had a good year in the majors in 2010. Had less success with the Angels. A fly-ball pitcher who lives on the corners, he'll give up the occasional HR. Has pitched very well recently, and has lost a couple games to no-decision by virtue of the bull pen. This is his first season in the IL, he's been a PCL guy in the minors previously. Will pitch deep into games.

Sunday: RHP Sean O'Sullivan (2-4, 4.19): Has MLB starts with the Angels, Royals and Padres. His brother pitches for our AA affiliate, Reading. He rebounded quite well in Norfolk following a tough outing at home against Toledo his last two times out.

Monday: RHP Brad Lincoln (1-3, 5.90): Started the season in the Phillies' pen-was used sparingly. Was sent down to get innings and work some things out in a more stretched manner. Pressed into the starting rotation due to Pettibone's injury. Has been a reliever and a starter for Pittsburgh and Toronto. Has struggled in his last two starts.


Pitching has been a strength of this team, but some hiccups, some young players getting looks, and some misfortune have cost some games. Here's a quick look at the relievers, Giles and Martin are the “prospects,” but all of them could see time in Philadelphia before we're done in 2014:

Phillippe Aumont (phil-LEAP oh-MONT): A giant of a man, he came with Gillies in the Lee deal to Seattle. He's been really solid his last couple times out, but can struggle mightily with control sometimes. Clear the area near the backstop for safety, please.

Kenny Giles (Jiles): (nickname: “100 Miles”): He will touch 100 on the gun with his heater, but the slider is what's going to get him to The Show, once he gets full command of it. Started the season in Reading. Has a great ERA, but weak peripherals right now. Still figuring it out, he'll be in Philly before the end of June, most likely.

Jeremy Horst: A lefty, he's spent time in Philly in previous seasons. Solid, but got beat up in the one bad game in Norfolk.

Cesar Jimenez: Another lefty, he's our de facto closer, along with Giles. He's seen time in the Majors with Seattle and Philadelphia.

Ethan Martin: A starter and IL All-Star last season, he's been re-made into a reliever following his first stint in the majors and some shoulder difficulty in Spring Training. Still regaining his speed, he's looked really solid so far in relief. Should return to Philly soon.

Hector Neris: Pitched a gem as part of a doubleheader in April and was sent to AA for his trouble. Just made it back and got touched up a bit in Norfolk. One of the youngsters--could be unpredictable.

BJ Rosenberg: Just returned from a concussion he received on a line drive. His stuff can be absolutely filthy at times. I think it plays up as a reliever; he does have starting experience, though.

Seth Rosin (pronounced: row-ZEEN): A Rule-5 pickup by the Dodgers, he was then claimed on waivers by Texas this Spring, thus making the Opening Day Roster for TWO MLB teams! (Use that in your trivia contest!) He had a nice turn as a spot starter in Norfolk, but has been mighty shaky at times for the IronPigs. Could be still working through some things following a whirlwind Spring.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Post brought to you by Lehigh Valley NoiseNation's Horn and Bell Blog:
Editor: Dan: @NoiseNation
Reporter: Jason: @JasonDiPro
Features and PodCasts: Kram: @Kram209
Photography: Cheryl: @CherylPursell
Historian: Decal: @Decal200

Bulls Got Shut Out, But Coming Home

Season: 32-23; Trip: 6-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The Bulls shut out the Mud Hens on Wednesday. The Hens returned the favor last night, shutting out the Bulls for just the second time this season. (The Bulls have five shutouts on the season.) The major downside of the loss has to be that a terrific 2-hit six inning performance by Nate Karns did not get rewarded with a win. Meanwhile, the Mud Hens won on a Mike Hessman double. Hessman is the same guy who hit two home runs against Bulls pitching on the 6th.

Outside the game —
  • All in all a good road trip. The Bulls return leading the South Division of the International League 1½ games ahead of the Gwinnett Braves. Considerable roster turmoil. 
  • I have subscribed to MiLB TV this year, but I usually mute the sound and listen to Patrick Kinas' stream. But this trip I did check in on the other broadcasters. That reminded me that we are lucky to have Patrick calling the Bulls' games. He's clearly interested in the game; doesn't go off on odd tangents (at least not too often); very smooth dealing with commercial necessities; and he gives the opposing teams and players their due. He often discovers a story to track through the game that is just fascinating. As an example, a couple of games ago Toledo catcher Luis Exposito could not do anything right, committing three errors (and there was a wild pitch that could have been called a passed ball). Patrick noticed it early and kept us interested in the story as the game progressed (which was otherwise a 7-0 blowout by the Bulls).
  • The Bulls are making room on their roster for Alex Colome by moving Doug Mathis off to extended spring training.
  • Cole Figueroa is coming back after an exciting time with the Rays. []My guess is that Robbie Price will be the one who goes to extended spring training to make room.

The IronPigs are the Triple A franchise for the Philadelphia Phillies. Watch this space later on today for a guest blog post from our colleague in the Allentown area.

They are tied for second place in the very tight North Division race. [Standings]

 The anomaly in the table here is the Pythagorean Expectation projection since they have given up more runs than they have scored. As noted before, this implies an unusually effective relief corps. Maybe so.

One of the relievers starters is former Bull Chris Bootcheck. No other former Bulls jump out at me on the roster, although infielder Reid Brignac was with them earlier in the season. He is now with the Phillies.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

6-1 Trip So Far, Pretty Darn Good

Two more home runs. These to the same guy. Bulls lead the IL in home runs given up.

Two more home runs.  Bulls firm up their lead in home runs given up. Tigers GM in the stands. Enny Romero really got hammered.

Season: 32-22; Trip: 6-1

Mikie Mahtook and Curt Casali looking terrific. Both of them simply owned Toledo pitching. Meanwhile Matt Andriese makes up for yesterday’s loss in a big way. 

I watched a few innings on MiLB TV (Much better this year, by the way, but still not great unless at DBAP. Other teams simply aren’t investing in equipment or people the way the Bulls have.) They were having one of those kids day at the park and it was just seething (10,300) for a game that started before noon. Hope that they had fun.

I am very impressed with Adam Liberatore this year. From a purely selfish Bulls fan’s perspective, nice to have a quality pitcher who is not on the 40-man. Not that that would keep the Rays from calling him up if they really need him. 

Outside the game —
  • As far as I know, we only have two other fan blogs in International League baseball that are active this year. One of them writes about the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Noise Nation. The Iron Pigs will be in town on Friday, so you might want to start taking a look at their blog just to see what they are saying about their guys. The Iron Pigs are playing in Norfolk and then will drive over for the Friday game in Durham.
  • The other writes about the Pawtucket Red Sox (Pawsox Heavy), but I haven't been following that quite so closely this year.

Rosterification (I can’t pronounce it either and yes, I know it isn’t a word — 
  • Kevin Kiermaier has been sent to Toronto to join the Rays
  • Catcher Ali Solis has been put on the 40-man and called up to the Rays
  • Catcher Mayo Acosta has magically arrived from either extended spring training or Hudson Valley, I forget what the official euphemism is for guys who are traveling with the Bulls but aren’t on the Bulls roster. Thank goodness that they are with the Bulls, things would be even worse. Acosta was 0-4 on Wednesday night
  • Robby Price also back from extended spring training. He played today in left field. For a part time player, his slash line over 23 games of .299/.413/.418 with 10 RBI is pretty darned good. Nice to have that depth.
  • Pitcher Alex Colome may have finally arrived in the Bulls dugout.  Not sure. But he has not been added to the roster … yet.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bull City Summer Reviewed

Bull City Summer is here. I have a copy on my coffee table. I’ve read it once and gone through the photos a lot more times than once.

(Actually I am not absolutely certain it’s on the shelves of any bookstores or at the DBAP store yet, if anyone knows, jump in. I got mine through pre-order. It may be in the Durham Bulls store or at Quail Ridge Books. Add other locations in the comments, please.)

I am having trouble trying to figure out who my audience for this review is, or should be. Should I take off my Durham Bulls hat and try to find my book reviewer hat? The one not worn with any seriousness since the late 1970’s. Or should I take another angle, such as trying to write something with a couple of good “pulls” for the BCS folks, but also reach out to the typical readership of WDBB? That’s what I think I’ll try to do.

"Bull City Summer" was/is a deeply serious effort to bring artists — particularly photographers and writers — into a ballpark just to see what might happen. The book is just one expression of what they did in 2013. There’s more. They had a blog that gave us hints and substantive work through the year of what they were up to. The North Carolina Museum of Art has had an exhibit of many of the photographs. The Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh is currently hosting an exhibit. And I think that there is, or will be, exhibits on the American Tobacco Campus. Many of these photos are even more stunning in larger formats. Take a trip downtown.

This is an important book that should to be judged on its artistic merits. It succeeds on many levels. You don’t need to know much, or hardly anything, about baseball to be struck by any number of the images here. On a personal level I was particularly touched by Hiroshi Watanabe’s Zero (p. 117) and his Baseball (p. 106), Alex Harris’ pensive Outside the Ballpark #3, all of Jeff Whetstone’s brilliant interpretations of a collection of scoresheets, Leah Sobsey’s tintype of Shelley Duncan and his sons (p. 125), and by several of Frank Hunter’s stormy night shots. But the next time through I’d pick other photographs I am sure.

My point is that, like much good art, we didn’t know we needed it until it was given to us. Now we know and we are very happy about to have it in our hands.

Do I need to say again that you don’t need to be a baseball fan to appreciate these images?

The writing? We are fortunate to have two books written about Triple A baseball this year: John Feinstein’s Nobody Knows Your Name (reviewed here) and now Bull City Summer. Interesting for a Durham Bulls fan that Feinstein, who was writing about the 2012 season also spent some time in Durham with the Bulls. But I have to say that the BCS guys took on the task of trying to reach a wider audience than just baseball fans. You will have to judge if they succeeded. I think they did, magnificently.

Adam Sobsey takes on the bulk of the writing tasks and does more than a fine job at trying to capture not just baseball, our peculiar sub-species, Triple A baseball. His essay, “Orphan,” captures the very human interaction of talent and the business of baseball. I commend it to anyone who wants to get a handle not just on one of the finest Triple A ballplayers of recent years, but also on how very different Triple A baseball is.

Sobsey is not alone. To mention just a couple, there’s a fine piece by Michael Croley that shows us a bit about how hitter Shelley Duncan approaches his craft. Sam Stephenson takes on telling us about the Bulls manager, Charlie Montoyo.

Probably the greatest challenge of all in creating this book was editing the thousands of words at hand from the blog and choosing from certainly a vast quantity of photographs. As someone who followed the Bull City Summer blog I regret that a photo by Alex Harris did not make the cut (so I’ll just stick it in here and suggest that folks check out the blog, some interesting stuff there). As a baseball fan, I think it's too bad that Adam Sobsey’s two-part interview with catcher Chris Gimenez and pitcher J.D. Martin (here and here) didn’t make the cut. Together those are as nice as you will find on the craft of pitching baseball. My point is that the editorial challenge must have been tough. Judging by the final product, they did just fine.

The book is well-produced with a close attention to detail. I have not noticed any color or registration issues, and the paper and binding seem of as high a quality as you can expect for the price.

I have a few quibbles (gotta have a quibble, otherwise you won't know I actually read the book). The introductory blurb: “In 2013, a team ... to document the 72-game season….” is incorrect. The season is 144 games — 72 homes games, though. In my opinion the photo of Wil Myers (p.44) by Alec Soth is awkwardly posed and a bit deceptive (he never played in left field). But those are quibbles. I wouldn’t have noticed them if I had not been enthralled by the book as a whole.

Bottom line: Any Bulls fan absolutely needs to have this book on her/his coffee table. If any photography enthusiasts read this blog, take a look at Bull City Summer and see what happens when artists take cameras to a ballpark and just look around. Triangle residents? You need it too. You’ve been to the DBAP. Take home a serious memory. Everyone else — if you’re reading this blog, you, too, probably should have this book.

Alex Harris, from Bull City Summer blog

Monday, May 26, 2014


I'm sure that all will be made clear, perhaps by Patrick Kinas, but here's a list of the transactions since the Bulls left town a couple of days ago:

  • RHP Brandon Gomes: Assigned to Durham Bulls from Tampa Bay
  • RHP Jim Patterson: Assigned from Durham Bulls to Montgomery Biscuits
  • RHP Doug Mathis: Assigned to extended spring training
  • RHP Juan Sandoval: Released (Note: I liked Sandoval. I hope he finds work. From the stands, he looked to be a better pitcher than Mathis and he had slightly better stats.)
  • RHP Alex Colome: Finished suspension, assigned to Durham Bulls, scheduled to start 5/26
  • RHP Alex Colome: Called up to Tampa Bay (hope he has passport with him, the Rays are in Toronto)
  • RHP Doug Mathis: Called back from extended spring training.

What's really, really weird about this is that if you follow the Rays/Bulls closely this sort of makes sense, but only if Colome was showing some impressive stuff while in his "rehab". On the other hand, it's got to work on the heads of these guys, at least a little bit.

Oh, tonight's starting pitcher is now listed as Merrill Kelly. It was his turn in the rotation when Colome was first listed.

Update: Turns out that Rays outfielder Brandon Guyer broke his thumb yesterday and is going on the 15-day DL. That made room for Colome, but have to think that the Rays will eventually reach out for a position player. But Kiermaier is the only outfielder on the Rays 40-man. Gonna be interesting.

Sweep, On to Toledo, Colome Back

Nate Karns pitched very well; Vince Belnome hit a home run; Kirby Yates got his 13th save; 12,000 fans. Great day at the park.

Season: 30-21; Trip: 4-0

Mike Montgomery continued to show the world how much he is developing. In this case a solid 7 inning, 2 hit, 94 pitch win. Meanwhile Jeff Beliveau is becoming a closer-in-waiting with his 4th save when the Clippers showed some life in the 9th. His ERA remains at 0.00.

On the other hand, inept fielding by the Clippers themselves killed any chance they could stay in the game. Note that there were only 2 earned runs. Mikie Mahtook did not wait for any gifts. His single, double, and home run accounted for all but one of the runs (Jerry Sands’ single was the other.

Outside the game —
  • Alex Colome comes off his 50-game suspension today and will start against Toledo. He had three “rehab” starts with the Charlotte (Port Charlotte, Florida) Stone Crabs: 11 innings, ERA-1.64; WHIP-1.091. No word (that I’ve heard yet) on what the Bulls will do to the rotation. If anyone heard anything, please chime in.
  • I noticed that Kevin Kiermaier was pulled late in the game on Saturday evening and did not play yesterday. Unlikely to be anything significant, and probably mentioned on radio. If someone did hear an explanation, please pass it on.


The Toledo Mud Hens are just down the road from their parent club, the Detroit Tigers. The second-most famous club in minor league baseball, they have not done all that well in recent years. Is that because they are so close to parent club and it's just easy to move folks around?

For those who are into those things, note that the Mud Hens' Pythagorean Expectation won-loss is quite different (and much better) than their actual won-loss. That is, they should be a .500 team based on their runs scored and runs allowed record, but they are not. The most typical explanation for that is: relief pitching and bad luck leading to losses in close games. But the PE observation is based on thousands of games over decades of baseball. For our purposes, let's just say that it looks like the Mud Hens are a better ball club than their record indicates.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Durham Bulls Back in First Place

Season: 28-21; Trip: 2-0

Last week, last Saturday to be exact, the Bulls lost to Indianapolis and fell out of first place in the International League South Division. They’re back. With last night’s win (and Gwinnett’s loss) they are ½ game in front. [IL Standings] Good news.

Back at the beginning of the season I had the opportunity for a short chat with a couple of Bulls players. I asked them which pitcher should I watch this year. Who had an “arm”. One of them just shrugged, but the other thought for a moment and then said, “Andriese.” After these last three starts of his, it may be that he was on to something. Last night Matt Andriese went 7 innings (100 pitches) and it sounded like he was in control almost all of the way. That let Adam Liberatore come on in the 8th and strike out the side and Jeff Beliveau, he of the astounding ERA after 14 appearances (0.00) came on and added his 3 Ks to the total.

Nice to see Kevin Kiermaier back in center field (he delivered the winning hit as a pinch hitter the previous night). Vince Belnome continued his return to form with a 1 for 2 and 2BB night. Nice to see everyone on the roster above the Mendoza line (.200). That’s a recent, and very welcome, development.

Outside the game —
  • Not sure we’ve mentioned all these roster changes: Pitcher Jim Patterson has been sent back to the Montgomery Biscuits. Pitcher Doug Mathis has been assigned to extended spring training. Brandon Gomes is with the Bulls and pitching in relief. Kevin Kiermaier is back.
  • Long time WDBB favorite Elliot Johnson is playing for the Columbus Clippers. He started the season with the Cleveland Indians, was designated for assignment, passed through waivers, and accepted assignment to the Clippers early in the month. Mr. Johnson put in most of three years with the Durham Bulls and stands very high on WDBB’s Greatest Bulls Hitters leaderboard. [WDBB] Since leaving the Bulls he has played in the majors for the Rays, the Royals, Atlanta and Cleveland. [Baseball Ref]
  • Speaking of former Bulls, Shelley Duncan, a important part of last year’s championship team [WDBB], is back in the game and playing in the International League. He just signed with the Reds and is now playing for the Louisville Bats, joining with Jason Bourgeois on that team, also of the 2013 Durham Bulls championship team. [MLB Rumors]
  • Cole Figueroa had a spectacular moment last night playing for the Rays. Just check out the game video and you’ll see. [] He came on in the bottom of the 9th as a pinch-hitter and hit a game-winning RBI double.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Durham Bulls Charts at the 30% (or so) Point

The last time the Durham Bulls hit the road (game 31) and we put together our charts, they were riding fairly high at 9 games above .500 and with a nice spread between themselves and the Gwinnett Braves. Sixteen games later they have slipped to 5 games above .500 and, after a remarkable run, the Gwinnett Braves are a ½ game ahead in the IL South.

All charts can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The runs scored - runs allowed chart is trending slightly upward. That could be an indicator of good things coming, but it's been almost flat for a while.


I’ve got three newish ways to look at Bulls pitching. They are comparisons of the game-by-game Earned Run Averages (ERA), Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP) of the Bulls’s starters and relievers.

For the stats-minded among you let me concede up front that looking at any of these measures for just one game or even 15 games doesn’t tell you much. What needs to be noticed is the trend line, even if it’s just for the sample games, because we are looking at recent history.

And what do they say? Well, they pretty much say that by all three measures the starters have been doing OK, but the relief crew has not been doing well at all. FIP is heavily influenced by home runs and we’ve talked about that a lot. It shows. Still, these are not bad numbers. On the other hand, only winning six of those 15 games implies that they were not good enough.


More than that, if you look at the hitting stats as displayed by a game-by-game plot of On-base Percentage plus Slugging (OPS), overall the Bulls trend is upwards even though the Bulls lost 9 of those 15 games. Which implies that the shortfall on the pitching side was even more important. Still, you would like the OPS to be up around .800 for a championship team and the trendline is mostly below that.

All of these data are heavily influenced by the last awful road trip, but the whole point of these charts is to take a look at how the Bulls have been doing lately.  And the answer is: not as well as they would like.

Matchup: Durham Bulls vs. Columbus Clippers

The Bulls fly into Columbus, Ohio today for four games against Cleveland’s AAA franchise, the Columbus Clippers. The Clippers are dead even in the won-loss column, but holding on to second place in the IL West Division. The Bulls split a four game series against them at the DBAP just a couple of weeks ago. Since then the Bulls have won just 6 games out of 15, slipping to second place in the IL. During that time the Clippers have won 8 games out of 15.

The Bulls still hold an advantage in most statistical categories. They will be adding Brandon Gomes to relief crew and Kevin Kiermaier is due back soon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Break-Even Home Stand

Season: 26-21; Home Stand: 4-4
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Durham Bulls pitching leads the International League in giving up home runs, 41 so far this season. That’s not the only reason that the Bulls had a lackluster home stand, but they did give up 9 home runs over the 8 games. The two yesterday didn’t help. Add to it that they had a starter-by-committee/bullpen day and we had a game that just wasn’t all that much fun.

We did get to see a lot of pitchers, though: five Bulls and six Bats.

There was a big thrill, of course, when Hak-Ju Lee got his first home run of the year, in the 7th, that brought the Bulls within a run. And then there was the huge opportunity in the 8th when the Bulls got runners in scoring position but could not push one across.

The Bulls are off today and then fly to Columbus, Ohio Thursday morning. They are ½ game back of Gwinnett in the South Division and continue to be a very strong team. Let’s hope this 1-3 series with Louisville is just a blip.

Outside the game —
  • Day games at the DBAP can be a real hassle and yesterday was worse than most. Traffic getting off the Durham Freeway was scary. Then it took almost a half-hour and three tries to get into a parking lot were full. Unfortunately, it was worse, much worse, on departure. As much as I like day games once I get inside the park, I’m beginning to wonder if they are worth the extra ½ hour you have to tack on coming and going.
  • We have no way to judge how much what happens inside the lines is influenced by the current and pending turmoil in the team’s composition. So far this year the Bulls have had more than 40 roster transactions and you’d think it would have some effect.
  • More change is coming as Brandon Gomes arrives, Kevin Kiermaier gets sent back, Cole Figueroa gets sent back, someone gets bumped when Alex Cobb starts pitching for the Rays, and a decision is made about the Rays catcher. Likely yet another trip where the team that comes back is different from the team that left.
  • Note to the Bulls web page designer: Isn’t it time to take Chris Archer and Wil Myers off? I know they are famous ex-Bulls, but neither is likely to be coming back. Or, as an alternative,  maybe add others like David Price, Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, Grant Balfour, Brandon Guyer, and all the other pitchers (7 more by my count) who have played in Durham?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tough Loss

Season: 26-20; Home Stand: 4-3

Well that was a disappointing loss. The links have most of the info. Note that Merrill Kelly left the game with a cramp in his hand. Hope that is not serious.

Most of the time we don’t second guess Montoyo and Allen. That’s because they are almost always right. But from the stands it sure seems that with 14 pitchers on the roster that it didn’t make sense for Adam Liberatore to go back out in the 10th. Of course, it perhaps didn’t make all that much sense for him to go out at all.

Jim Patterson hasn’t pitched since his committee start back on May 12th in Scranton. Others who might have been available were Lara, Mathis, and Sandoval. But we’ll never know and maybe that’s a good thing.

Overall, lots of ifs in this one, including the four runners left in scoring position and the two caught stealing.

Because of the oversupply of pitchers, the Bulls only had two position players in the dugout near the end of the game.

Outside the game — 
  • For reasons known only to the Bulls (and probably the Rays) Doug Mathis is starting today instead of Enny Romero. We’ll probably hear something about that eventually.
  • We have read that Rays reliever Brandon Gomes is on his way to Durham. That will mean 15 pitchers in the bullpen (usual number is 13). Gomes spent much of 2011 and 2012 with the Bulls and was back with the team last year for a while. Not entirely clear why he’s back again.
  • Robby Price has already been moved to Hudson Valley in a paper transaction.
  • Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan still isn’t playing. Rays may go out and buy someone, or Ali Solis may end up packing his gear. Mayo Acosta is, I think, still around the Bulls dugout.
  • Kevin Kiermaier is still with the Rays, implying that Desmond Jennings not yet back from his bereavement leave.
Update: The reason Romero isn't pitching is that it's only been three days since his last time out, when he pitched the first game of a double-header. That messed up my spreadsheet. Apologies to anyone who noticed and was wondering.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Is Vince Belnome Back?

Could not get to the game. One of the rare instances this year when the bullpen really let it get away from them.

Season: 26-19; Home Stand: 4-2

Although Mike Montgomery did not look all that strong from the stands last night, he nevertheless was never in serious trouble. He was helped a lot by the 3 double plays behind him, but he reached 98 pitches by 6⅓ innings as he got the win (and was named IL Pitcher of the Week) so congrats to him.

The guy I noticed, however, was Vince Belnome. Is he coming out of it at last? Sure looks like it. A home run last night and his slash line (Average/OBP/Slugging) for the last 10 games is a very nice .394/.512/.576. Meanwhile, Wilson Betemit hit another of his very pretty line drives into the right field stands and Mike Mahtook got his first Triple A home run to finish off the Bats.

This was new guy Jayson Nix’s second game, this time playing 3B. Nix came to the Bulls from the Phillies, where he had very limited playing time this year, only in 18 games. He will be an asset to the Bulls, but things are going to get crowded down there on the infield when Cole Figueroa gets back and Tim Beckham gets off the disabled list. Of course, just having this kind of talent: Price, Olmedo, Lee, Fontenot, Figueroa, Nix and Beckham is a pleasant challenge for the management, even if it’s tough on fans who want to see a particular player get his chance to do well.

Speaking of doing well, Hak-Ju Lee made a very, very smooth play running hard to his right in the 5th inning last night. If he could just get his batting eye back.

Outside the game —
  • Kevin Kiermaier got his first big league home run out in California last night. And he did his thing in the outfield as well. Check out the the clip of his up-against-the-wall catch and video here and here.
  • Cole Figueroa is getting some playing time in, but is still after his first hit.
  • In these last two games we’ve had a chance to see former Bull Jason Bourgeois. He was an essential part of last year’s championship team. Hope he gets a chance to go up to the Reds this year.
  • More on the Craig Albernaz ring presentation here.
  • If you get to the game you will find a well-done profile of reliever Kirby Yates in the program. Worth a look. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Double Header Split; Bats in Town

Season: 24-28; Home Stand: 3-1
Wrap, Box 1, Box 2, Herald-Sun,

The prominent story in the first game was the dominance of rehabbing White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, and we was very, very good. He struck out 11 Bulls in just 4 innings. The Bulls were really swinging, by the way. They had 15 K’s in the 7-inning game, a season high.

But Enny Romero only gave up one run, a bases-empty homer, in his 4 innings. And he struck out 7. So it really wasn’t as if Sale won the game. In fact, he didn’t, the win went to reliever Donnie Veal. The loss went to the Bulls Doug Mathis. I have to point out that his last three appearances have all resulted in losses. Worrisome.

The second game was more fun for the Bulls and their fans, although watching a good pitcher at work is always interesting, even if he’s your opponent. After the Knights got back in the game with two runs in the 5th, the Bulls took advantage of the tiring Knights starter and then exploited former Bull Frank De Los Santos’ bad night. De Los Santos let both of his inherited runners score on a hit and three walks, allowed another. Pretty terrible night for him.

Robby Price and Jerry Sands hit home runs in the second game. That put the Knights pitching in first place in the International League for home runs allowed (37). Don’t look too closely, though, because the Bulls are in second place with 36 home runs allowed.

Outside the game —
  • Missing from the lineup was outfielder Kevin Kiermaier. He is off to join the Rays to stand in for their outfielder Desmond Jennings for a couple of days.
  • By the way, Cole Figueroa got in last night’s Rays game out in California. One at-bat, popped out. Two innings at second base. Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan left that game with an injury, but no word on if he will need someone to fill in for him.
  • MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Rays have signed an infielder, Jayson Nix and will send him to Durham. Nix was at spring training this year with the Rays.

Up until just a few years ago, the Louisville Bats, the Triple A franchise of the Cincinnatti Reds, were the team to beat in the West Division. Recently, however, the Columbus Clippers and Indianapolis Indians seem to be the Bulls key competition. Nevertheless, the Bats just won 3 out of four off of Norfolk, so they may be getting back into it. We’ll have to see.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Craig Albernaz Gets His Ring

Thanks to superfan Ken Childs, Craig Albernaz got his 2013 Governors' Cup championship ring. Hoorah!

Durham Bulls Hitters at 40

The rainout gave me some time to update the Durham Bulls hitters tables to the 40 (actually 41) game point.

This table keys to two relatively new stats that we like a lot. The first is Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) and the second is Weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA). Think of them as two measures of overall offensive contribution to the team. The table is sorted by wOBA, the chart is sorted by wRAA. Players with * are on the Rays 40-man roster (I'm assuming that Cole Figueroa has been/will be added)

What’s changed since our last look?

First of all, new guy Curt Casali is at the top, but the sample size is really small, so let’s wait a while. Eddy Rodriguez, who was at the bottom last time, has been released. Cole Figueroa, who just went up to the Rays, moved from second place to first. Kevin Kiermaier’s wRAA improved from 3.0 to 6.1. Jerry Sands slipped slightly off his very hot start from 10.5 to 7.1.

Curt Casali
*Cole Figueroa
*Kevin Kiermaier
Jerry Sands
Wilson Betemit
Mikie Mahtook
Mike Fontenot
Justin Christian
Robby Price
*Vince Belnome
*Hak-Ju Lee
Ray Olmedo
Ali Solis
Source: FanGraphs

Another important change over the last 20 games is Vince Belnome’s growth from .237 to .310. Hak-Ju Lee is new to the team and we are going to have to just wait and see how he goes. Ray Olmedo has slipped some, but he (and Ali Solis) remain keys to the defensive strength of the team.

As a help for understand what these numbers mean, take a look at this table adapted from FanGraphs that characterizes wOBA numbers. You can see that almost all the hitters are in the “Above Average” category.

Above Average
Below Average

Lastly, a picture. Can't have a bunch of numbers on WDBB without a picture! In this case it is a simple chart of the wRAAs from the table above. Click on it for a larger view.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Durham Bulls Get Freebie(s)

Season: 24-17; Home Stand: 2-0

On occasion the more you know the less it helps you understand events. Durham Bulls (and Charlotte Knights) fans could be forgiven it they thought that with IL pitcher of the week, Charlie Leesman, on the mound the Bulls were probably going to have a hard time of it. He does, after all, have some stellar stats.

And so it seemed into the bottom of the 3rd inning with the Knights leading 3-1, and the Bulls’ first batter, Hak-Ju Lee grounding out. But then things started to come undone for Leesman. 

He walked Justin Christian.

 Kevin Kiermaier singled. 

Jerry Sands singled. And the bases were loaded.

Mikie Mahtook doubled in two runs. Runners on 2B and 3B.

And then things really came unraveled.

Mike Fontenot was hit by a pitch. Bases loaded.

Curt Casali walked. Run scored.

Ray Olmedo walked. Run scored.

Roman Ali Solis K’d.

But then Hak-Ju Lee walked. Run scored.

Leesman was pulled from game and from then on things were mostly quiet (Justin Christian lined out to right to end inning). But two singles, a double, a hbp, and four walks makes for a simply awful inning and more than enough for a Bulls win.

Outside the game —
  • As noted earlier, WDBB favorite Cole Figueroa called up by the Rays.
  • Wondering about all those shifting infielders (mostly in the majors, but we’re seeing it here too a bit)? Nice piece in today’s News & Observer. Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon featured prominently. 

Cole Figueroa Called Up

As hinted in today’s Herald-Sun, several sources are reporting that Durham Bulls infielder Cole Figueroa is on his way to California to put on a Rays uniform. Good for him.

We really like Mr. Figueroa and hope that he gets some time on the field while he’s there.

The callup is the result of super-utility man Ben Zobrist hurting his thumb sliding into base last night. See semi-gruesome video here. And it isn’t entirely clear that Figueroa will actually be going on the Rays roster. But they don’t have to make an official move until the last moment.

Likely that he’s being called up as much for his defensive prowess as his great year at bat. We should note that he is carrying, by far, the best wOBA of any infielder on the Bulls (.391). Other stats here.

For the Durham Bulls, Figueroa’s departure probably means that Robby Price will return from “extended spring training.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Nice Homecoming Win

Season: 23-17; Home Stand: 1-0

Mike Montgomery’s two starts following his no-hitter were pretty awful. But last night he was definitely back on form. After a two-run homer in the 1st inning, he only allowed one more hit through a full 8 innings. He gave up only one walk, and then picked off that runner to end the 6th inning.

We also got to see Kevin Kiermaier do his thing in center field with two very nice running catches at the bottom of the 5th and top of the 6th. 

At bat, Jerry Sands and Wilson Betemit teamed up for the first two runs, Betemit singled and Sands homered. In the 6th an early error and a Kiermaier double gave Sands the opportunity to get his third RBI of the night. He’s up to 31 now and stands second in the International League.

The oddity of the night was that only two umpires were on the field. Typically at Triple A level we see three and sometimes four. I don’t recall just two in any games that I’ve seen. No close plays, fortunately. 

Outside the game —
  • Kudos to the new layout of the video board! I’ve laid off commenting, thinking that they would figure a better configuration, and they did. Even for my old eyes it works. The previous display had type sizes for the very, very young. This one is very nice. And I also like the info that started showing up about mid-game on the right field video board. Yeah, the new ballpark is a bit like being inside a pinball machine, but I'm beginning to like this. It's coming along.
  • As is the turf. 
  • And Food Trucks tonight! We can’t be there, which I sincerely regret. Enjoy it folks!
  • And were you curious about walk-up tunes? Check this.
  • The mystery of Enny Romero’s scratch on Monday night was solved. He was held out so that he could get on a plane, fly to Seattle, and then fly back to Durham. Does that make sense? I guess it does to the Rays.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Matchup: Durham Bulls v. Charlotte Knights

If it seems like the Durham Bulls just finished a series with the Charlotte Knights, that’s because they did just play 4 games against them, in Charlotte, the 22nd thru the 25th of April. The Bulls did not do well, losing 3 out of 4.

Since then the Bulls have won 7 and lost 9 games. The Knights won only 4 games and lost 11, sliding to a tie with Norfolk for last place in the South Division. See our chart from yesterday.

The White Sox affiliate is, so far, a pretty weak-hitting crowd. Still, this is AAA, a lot depends on how the White Sox are treating them these days.

Meanwhile here's the last I've seen about Enny Romero. From the Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin on Twitter:
#Rays Maddon knows why Romero was scratched but won't say, isn't on way yet, has nothing to do with Price starting Tuesday.
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) May 13, 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

Bulls Come Home; Tough Trip; New Faces

Season: 22-17; Trip: 2-6

This has to have been a thoroughly disappointing road trip for the Bulls. Possibly one of the worst in their history. And yet even though they lost 6 games, on the whole they were only outscored 33 runs to 30. They lost 2 extra innings games by walk offs.

At the start of the road trip the starters combined ERA was 4.45 and at the end it was 4.43, but there were some pretty awful games in there. The relievers had a tiny improvement from 2.28 to 2.27 while the team ERA ended the trip exactly as it had begun at 3.51.

So maybe just roster turmoil and bad luck.

Speaking of roster turmoil here’s a summary of what’s happened since the Bulls left town.
  • RHP Nathan Karns was called to the Rays, sat on the bench, and was back in time to start a game on May 6.
  • The Bulls got a catcher from the Montgomery Biscuits, Curt Casali. He played in  5 of the eight games and is looking very good.
  • On the same day the Bulls released catcher Enny Rodriguez.
  • The that day, RHRP Brad Boxberger was called to the Rays and may have done a first in baseball history performance on May 8th. He came into a game with the bases loaded and no outs, then struck out the side in 9 pitches! Don’t think the Bulls will see him back.
  • One of the “ghosts” on the roster, an outfielder named Jeremy Moore was moved to the Montgomery roster.
  • RHP Steve Geltz got a 50-game suspension for drug use.
  • And then The Bulls got two pitchers from the Biscuits, right-hander Jake Thompson and left-hander Braulio Lara. They both have already seen service and are look pretty good.
  • Lastly, infielder Robby Price was moved off the roster.
  • Note: LHP Jim Patterson, another new guy, actually joined the team just before they left town.
  • To summarize, since the Bulls left town, 2 pitchers have left the team, three pitchers have been added, a catcher had been added, a catcher released, and an infielder moved off the roster.
I’m glad I’m not the guy trying to print the programs for Tuesday’s game!

Meanwhile, Gwinnett lost today, so the Bulls are coming home in first place in the South.

The roster turmoil is far from over. Folks who follow the Rays know that three key pitchers and one prospect fell off the team at the very beginning of the year. One of them, Matt Moore, will not be back this year. But we are starting to hear stirring from the other three and that will have an effect on the Bulls roster, eventually. Alex Cobb may be showing up on a rehab assignment. Jeremy Hellickson is reported to be coming along. Alex Colome is nearing the end of his 50-game suspension and will likely be assigned to the Bulls as soon as he is finished. Also out there is shortstop Tim Beckham. 

Did anyone hear why Enny Romero was scratched today? Pass it on and I’ll post it.