Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Trade Deadline Bothers Bulls

Ray Olmedo slides into third, safe, 29 July 2014.
Photo by Robert Lahser, Charlotte Observer

Season: 58-51; Trip: 0-1

We missed the broadcast intro last night. But it sure looks like the Tampa Bay Rays’ indecision/secretiveness as they approach the trading deadline cost the Bulls a game last night. How was that? Well, Merrill Kelly started the game and, while we think the world of Mr. Kelly, it hardly seems fair to put him up against the best hitting team in the IL in a hitter-friendly park when he has not started game since 28 June. Since then he’s has only thrown 90 pitches over 4⅓ innings in five relief appearances. 

Nevertheless, Kelly did just fine if it weren’t for the two home runs. He was followed by his colleague Doug Mathis who did not let another run in, although he did provide some thrills with his 3 Ks.

The larger question is why the Bulls, who are already short a reliever in the bullpen (Jeff Beliveau was never replaced) had to use one of them to start a game? A plausible answer is that the Rays may be about to do some trading and want maximum flexibility. So who’s up tonight? 

Yes, the Bulls did have their chances, but the Rays made it tough on them.

Outside the game —
  • WDBB got 15 seconds of fame the other day when one of our charts got posted on the Rays Index. Big deal in the blogging world.
  • The Process Report, another Rays blog, has taken a look at WDBB favorites Kirby Yates and Jeff Beliveau, who are now with the Rays. 
  • Isn’t that a nice shot of Ray Olmedo?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Karns emerging; Knights Matchup

Season: 58-50; Home Stand: 3-4; Standings
Wrap, Box

The first several starts of Nathan Karns were not very impressive, but July has been terrific, with four wins and a no-decision. Notable last night was the sheer efficiency of his pitching. WDBB’s back-of-the-envelope measure of efficiency, pitches per out, was a spectacular 4.29 last night. Add to that his 7 K’s and it was all good.

As were Brandon Gomes, after he gave up of leadoff triple, and Adam Liberatore. A puzzle to us was why, after striking out the first two batters of the 9th, Liberatore was pulled for Josh Lueke. Lueke did finish out with a K after allowing a Joe Bateman-ish double, but we couldn’t figure out why he was out there at all.

At the plate, a very good night. Notably Justin Christian’s two doubles and single; Ali Solis' (!) and Wilson Betemit's (opposite field) home runs; and Mikie Mahtook’s breaking of mini-slump with a couple of singles.

The Mud Hens seem overstocked with left-handed pitching, with all four starters this series being lefties. Overall, the Bulls have not been doing so well against lefties the year, but the last two games’s 28 hits holds out some hope.

Outside the game —
  • Sometimes it takes us a while to notice things, but it finally sunk in that Mikie Mahtook has been playing right field and Justin Christian playing center field the last three games. Right field was Mahtook's spot early in the season when Kevin Kiermaier held center field, and this might be some sort of Montoyo matching up going on. On the other hand, the Rays are more likely to need a corner outfielder before they need a center fielder, so could be they want to keep Mahtook working out there. Of course, the DBAP's left field doesn’t prepare anyone for anywhere, except maybe Fenway.
  • The Rays have DFA’d starting pitcher Erik Bedard. That puts two of their players in DFA Limbo, Bedard and Juan Carlos Oviedo. Even though Bedard did pitch a game at the beginning of the season for the Durham Bulls (4 innings, no decision, 7 April), it’s hard to imagine that he would return. As for Oviedo, maybe.
  • After a long, long trial, the turf at the DBAP seems to have finally established itself. Beautiful. This has been a tough slog for Scott Strickland and his crew — over six months. But it looks great at last!

The Charlotte Knights are poster children for the importance of pitching. They lead the entire International League in OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging) and have a pretty good 4th place batting average. On the other hand, their team ERA is the league-worst and their won-lost percentage puts them a decimal point from the bottom in the league. Lately, however, they have been doing quite well.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bats Come Alive, Joe Bateman in the House?

Season: 57-50; Home Stand: 2-4; Standings
Wrap, Box

Where to start? With the problems with home plate umpire A. J. Johnson who blew a call at the plate in the 3rd inning and then threw Charlie Montoyo out of the game for the first time in 4 years? And who then shrunk the strike zone on Josh Lueke that led to two BBs, a three run homer, and a near disaster 9th inning?

Or the rules/statistical weirdness of Adam Liberatore coming in the game in the 6th inning with two outs and a runner on third base? Liberatore struck out the batter to end the inning and he then left the game. The Bulls scored four runs in the bottom of the 6th to go ahead. For his 4 pitch, ⅓ inning appearance, Liberatore got the win.

Why not at the beginning?

After Matt Andriese served up a walk and three home runs in the very first inning, I was ready to pack up and go home, especially since the Bulls hitting has been awful in recent games. (See the chart from a couple of days ago.) The Bulls were down by four runs and then left runners on second and third in their part of the 1st. But then came a hint, just a hint, the 2nd when catcher Ali Solis nailed the best base stealer in the International League, Toledo’s Ezequiel Carrera (42! so far this year), for the third out of the inning. The Bulls then put four runs across in the bottom of the inning, most notably Justin Christian with a three-run home run, and the Bulls were back in the game.

More than just back in the game, by the end of the night the Bulls had 16 hits for 27 total bases for the 11 runs. And there should be have at least one more but for the blown call at home when Jeremy Moore scored from second base on a Vince Belnome single. As noted above, umpire A.J. Johnson was the only one in the park who didn’t see it that way. Every Bull hitter had a multi-hit game except for Mikie Mahtook and Mike Fontenot. Justin Christian had a spectacular night with 4 RBI off of two singles and a home run. Vince Belnome went for a single, double, and homer. Wilson Betemit had two hits, notable for the fact that the switch hitter was batting right-handed and he’s had trouble with that this year. Watching Ali Solis trundle around for a triple was simply great fun.

Do not want to overlook the performance of Steve Geltz. He came on in the 7th inning and absolutely handcuffed the Mud Hens. He did allow a single, but struck out 2 in the 7th, and everyone in the 8th. Leaving a 4 run lead for Josh Lueke in the 9th.

Lueke promptly put himself and the fans through the wringer. The ghost of Joe Bateman (see below) must have drifted into the house. Lueke walked the first batter, got fly outs for the next two, but then walked batter number four and then gave up a home run to, who else, Mike Hessman. That brought the Mud Hens to within a run. But Lueke K’d the next batter to finish it off.

Outside the game —

  • Joe Bateman was with the Bulls in 2009, 2010, and for a couple of games 2011. In 2010 he appeared in 54 games and seemed to get our hearts pumping every appearance with narrow escapes from disaster. Chasing down his stats I see that at 34 he’s still in baseball and pitching for the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Bluefish of the Atlantic League. 
  • If you want to take a real walk down memory lane, a colleague of his on the Bluefish is none other than Winston Abreu, also a closer of some renown from the same era. And also a favorite of WDBB. Abreu is now 37 and appears to be having a decent year with the Bluefish.
  • We have nothing but fond memories of their time with the Durham Bulls.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

7th Inning, Again?

Season: 56-50; Home Stand: 1-4; Home Game Remaining: 18
Wrap, Box

What is it about the 7th inning? Déjà vu. And not as if it should have been unexpected. Enny Romero has only gone past 6 innings once this year, back on 1 June. Going into the 7th his pitch count was low at 79 pitches, so that must have been why he went out to face famous home run hitter Mike Hessman. Bad decision. Hessman hit a home run. Two more hits and one more run later the Bulls were three runs behind and had even less of a prayer of winning than before.

Because the Bulls simply have not been hitting lately, as yesterday’s chart showed. Last night Toledo’s pitchers tied them in knots. Only 5 hits, all singles, a walk, and a hit batsman. That’s just seven base runners. Plus the one time they did get a runner to second base (Mike Fontenot in the 4th), he was thrown out trying to steal third base. And the Mud Hens were able to pull off three double plays, which did away with three of those guys who got as far as first.

Outside the game —
  • The Norfolk Tides have won six in a row and are coming on strong as the Gwinnett Braves fall off the edge of the cliff (see chart below and the standings) The Bulls’ lead in the South Division of the IL looks much less comfortable.
  • Juan Carlos Oviedo is a Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher who started the season with the Durham Bulls. Technically he was on a rehab assignment and never counted against the roster. He made 7 appearances for the Bulls, pitching one inning in each appearance.[ Bulls stats]  A short reliever for the Rays, he made 32 appearances for 31.2 innings down there. Stats. I mention him because he has been designated for assignment by the Rays. That means that he could show up in Durham. The Bulls are short one man and the Rays did not send Jeff Beliveau back. Could be Beliveau is going to stay for a while. 
  • Dan Johnson’s still up with the Blue Jays and “blasted” a 70-foot infield hit for a go-ahead RBI. He followed that with a 3-run, 9th inning homer to win a game against the Yankees. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tough 7th

Season: 56-49; Home Stand: 1-3; Home Games Remaining: 19
Wrap, Box

Beautiful night for baseball at the DBAP. Not too hot, not too steamy. Well-matched teams.

Seems like the 7th inning made all the difference. Mike Montgomery was looking much better than in his awful start down in Gwinnett on the 20th. However, the Mud Hens’ Robbie Ray was looking pretty good himself. Jeremy Moore had muscled an opposite-field home run over the Monster in the 6th to tie the game and Montgomery was up with just 86 pitches thrown. Too many? Hard to say. As a practical matter, no one was warming up. Montgomery walked the first batter, who stole second base and came home as the go-ahead run on a solid single to centerfield. That brought in Adam Liberatore, who had only allowed one of his 17 previous inherited runners to score — by far the best on the team. So although the Mud Hens were ahead by one with no outs it didn’t look impossible to catch up. But a bizarre bunt single that went out into right field put runners on first and third and the runner on third scored before Liberatore could put out the fire with two ground outs and a K. Should Montgomery have started the 7th? Probably not. Ain’t hindsight wonderful? Vince Belnome's pretty shot, also opposite field over the Monster, would not be enough.

Let’s celebrate the Bulls homers though, by Vince Belnome and Jeremy Moore. Let’s continue to worry about Hak-Ju Lee, who does not seem to be improving this last month either at bat or in the field.

Outside the game —
  • Terrific essay on Charlie Montoyo’s record-setting career as Bulls manager in the program notes for this series. Worth coming to the game to get a copy.
  • Nice ceremony after the game honoring Charlie. Nice to see wife and children out there with him.
  • Don’t look now, but there’s been a complete turnover in the IL South Division. Norfolk and Charlotte have both put together winning streaks, Norfolk rising to 2nd place and Gwinnett dropping into last place in just the last few days.
  • Looking back to a game a year ago, July 25, 2013, some interesting names pop up in a Bulls-Braves game.
  • Notice the surprising number at the beginning of this post. Only 19 home games left! Where did the season go?
More Geek Stuff

In spite of a couple of homers, Bulls hitters have not been doing well lately. This is the game-by-game team wOBA (weighted on-base-average) of the last 20 games. It’s the trend that matters. As for what it means, let’s just say that the descriptors for wOBA include terms such as “average” for .320 to “awful” for .290, which is where the trend is below after last night’s game. In other words, it ain’t looking good these days.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Rain Came Down; Mud Hens in Town

We should have known that it was a doomed effort from the start. After all, that’s what all the weather predictors were saying. Nevertheless, the tarp was pulled in time for the game and we drove through thunderstorms to the DBAP, getting there one inning late. That meant we only saw a couple of innings of baseball before the tarp came back on. At that, though, the Red Wings were hitting Alex Colome pretty well. Worrisome.

The Bulls are going to try to finish the game while they are up at Rochester next month.


The Toledo Mud Hens seemed to have sorted themselves out until they arrived in Norfolk four days ago. But then they lost four in a row and are coming in to  Durham in 3rd place in the West. [standings] Statistically, the Mud Hens and Bulls are not that far apart in any department.

Possible Bulls starters for the four game series are: Mike Montgomery, Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, and Nathan Karns.

Geek Stuff

The Pythagorean Expectation computation attempts to translate runs scored for and against into win and losses. So if you were to run the PE equation as we went along this season, here’s what you would get.

click on chart for expanded view

Now, the question is, how come the Bulls are doing better than their expectation? The most likely answer is the bullpen. The Bulls overall ERA is nothing special. At 3.57 they are 4th in the IL. But the relievers’ ERA is 2.86, pretty special. Otherwise, something of a mystery, and something to worry about if the Bulls cannot score runs to push their expectation up. It takes runs to win a game, and the Bulls are not as good at that as some of their competitors.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ugly, Ugly, Ugly

Wrap, Box, Rochester

Season: 56-48; Home Stand: 1-2; Standings
Wrap, Box, Rochester

The Rochester Red Wings did not score one earned run last night.

And that just about says it all. Plenty of blame to go around, but this was the worst, by far, game of the year for Durham Bulls defense. Prior to last night, the most errors in one game had been two. This set a new record. Another new record was strikeouts, 16, but in an 11-inning game that’s bad, but not the worst of the year. That would be 15 K’s in a 7-inning game on May 16 against Charlotte. Buy, hey, the Bulls won that game 6-2. So it wasn’t the K’s, it was the E’s.

Outside the game —
  • You have to think that Neil Allen must have puffed up with pride when he looked at the Rays/Cardinals box score yesterday morning. All the pitchers were former Durham Bulls and 3 out of 4 from this year. 
  • Jeff Beliveau was among them. He’s been called up for the 4th time this year. He’s only made three game appearances, though.
  • No replacement for Beliveau has been named. The Bulls are operating one relief pitcher short in the bullpen and used three last night.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Red Wings Arrive

Season: 55-46; Home Stand: 1-0; Standings
Wrap, Box, Rochester

Enny Romero is not my favorite Bulls pitcher, so you will forgive me if I point out that last night he started out the first three innings with a runner on base, and did it again in the 5th. But only the walk he gave up to start the 5th scored. Meanwhile, his opponent, Rochester’s Sean Gilmartin, didn’t let a Bull on base for the first three innings, striking out five of them. Finally Jayson Nix singled and, who else, Jeremy Moore doubled him in in the 4th. Another run in the 5th, and then things really unraveled for Gilmartin in the 7th with the Bulls scoring one run while he was still in the game and then pushing across the two guys he left on base when he left.

This was the first game at the DBAP for the Bulls since July 7th, two weeks ago. Of course, several played in the All-Star Game, but it was still something of a homecoming for them. They showed at least some of that in their aggressiveness on the base paths, although that didn’t exactly pay off for them. Two runners going from 2nd to 3rd got put out, Jeremy Moore stretching out a double and Hak-Ju Lee in an awkward steal attempt.

Has Romero turned it around? Hard to say. On paper last night he was much, much better than his last six starts (5 losses and one no-decision). Certainly the Rays think a lot of him. So, maybe.

The Big Deal was, of course, Charlie Montoyo’s win # 614. Lots of well-deserved accolades, including ours.

Outside the game —
  • Tim Beckham, a regular presence on the infield for the 2012 and 2013 Durham Bulls, played in a game down in Florida yesterday. He messed up his knee working out in the off-season. As far as we can tell, this was his first official appearance this year. Good news for him and very likely for the Durham Bulls if he’s ready to progress.

Montoyo at 614

Photo courtesy Durham Bulls
The 2006 Durham Bulls finished the season 15½ games behind the Charlotte Knights. The year served as a pause following the Bill Evers years (1998-2005, 613 wins). John Tamargo was the manager of a team that struggled to deal with some very difficult personalities including B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, and Elijah Dukes. It was my first year watching the Durham Bulls. I wasn’t sure I’d be coming back. And I didn’t have a clue about how important the manager is to a Triple-A team.

Tamargo moved on and Charlie Montoyo was promoted up from the Montgomery Biscuits. In 2007 he began his extraordinary run as the manager of the Durham Bulls that reached 614 wins last night.

Just a short list of some of the ballplayers he’s managed is a testimony to a man doing his job — getting players to, or back to, the major leagues. Among them would be: Elliot Johnson, Evan Longoria, Justin Ruggiano, Ben Zobrist, Jeff Niemann, Andy Sonnanstine, Mitch Talbot, Dale Thayer, Ried Brignac, Jonny Gomes, John Jaso, Dan Johnson, Grant Balfour, Wade Davis, Scott Kazmir, David Price, Desmond Jennings, Joe Bateman, Jose Lobaton, Dioner Navarro, Jeremy Hellickson, Tim Beckham, Brandon Guyer, Stephen Vogt, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Dane De La Rosa, Brandon Gomes, Dirk Hayhurst, Jake McGee, Matt Moore, Ryan Reid, Cory Wade, Matt Joyce, Hideki Matsui, and many, many more who pitched or got at bats in the majors after passing through Durham.

That’s quite a list and one he should be proud of, along with all the South Division titles. Manager of the Year awards, and more. As we’ve written elsewhere, as wonderful as the Governors’ Cup championship is, the true measure of an International League team is the Division championship. And he's won it almost every year he's been managing the Bulls.

For a closer look, see Bull City Summer or John Feinstein’s Where Nobody Knows Your Name for insights into the challenges of Triple-A management.

In the meantime, let me just add my congratulations and thanks. Every time Charlie makes his run down the third base line to take up his position in the coach’s box I think we’re ready to win another game. Last night we did.

For more, check out this and this.

Photo courtesy Durham Bulls

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gettin' Outa' Laurenceville; Red Wings in Town

Season: 55-46; Road Trip: 2-2; Standings
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

That 2nd inning was just ugly. Doug Mathis came on after Mike Montgomery had managed only four outs, let 6 runs in, and had 2 runners on base.

Mr. Mathis has become this year’s sacrificial goat. He goes off to “extended spring training” or “Hudson Valley” when roster room is required. He comes back after the Rays have raided the Bulls. He usually comes in for long, very long, relief situations, often when the game is already out of hand. Is he any good? Hard to tell. All things considered, his line of 18 appearances, 49 innings, with an ERA of 4.22 isn’t bad at all.

After Mathis’ 3 innings, a couple of pitchers who haven’t thrown in a game since before the All-Star break got some time in: Riefenhauser and Kelly. Adam Liberatore wrapped up a lost cause.

Not a game for the Bulls to be proud of, though.


Tonight is the first time that the Durham Bulls have seen the Minnesota Twins’ Triple A team, the Rochester Red Wings, this year. After this four-game home series, the Bulls will play them again in the middle of August for their last out-of-division games before the end of the season. The Red Wings are doing very well in the tough North Division of the International League. In fact, if the season ended today, they’d be the Wild Card team for the International League playoffs.

The Red Wings lead the Bulls in every key statistical category listed, so the Bulls will have their work cut out for them over the next couple of days. And there’s the very distinct statistical oddity of their Pythagorean Expectation being so far off from their actual. That implies a lot of games lost by low scores, and games won by very big scores. Let’s hope that they don’t start balancing that out tonight.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Durham Bulls Hitters — 100 Games

We last looked at the Bulls hitters when the team was 60 games into the season. We’ve seen a few changes since then.

This table is sorted by Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) a stat we really like. A second not-usual stat is Weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA), which compares the player to the rest of the league in terms of runs contributed. The table is sorted by wOBA.

Players marked by an asterisk are on the Tampa Bay Rays 40-man roster. Those marked with a strike-through are players who have played with the Bulls this season, but are playing with the Rays right now. Two of them (Curt Casali and Cole Figueroa) we expect back. The other, Kiermaier, we’re not so sure about. He’s now had more games with the Rays (50) than he did with the Bulls.

Jeremy Moore
Mikie Mahtook
*Kevin Kiermaier
*Cole Figueroa
Justin Christian
*Vince Belnome
Mike Fontenot
Wilson Betemit
Jayson Nix
*Curt Casali
Robby Price
*Hak-Ju Lee
Ray Olmedo
*Ali Solis
Mayo Acosta

Source: FanGraphs

What’s changed? The big change is the addition of Jeremy Moore to the roster. He’s right at the top and he’s made an obvious difference. Mikie Mahtook continues doing very well. Justin Christian’s wOBA has improved from .355 to .362. Vince Belnome’s wRAA has come up a couple of points. Hak-Ju Lee, however, has seen his wOBA drop from .285 to .256, although Ray Olmedo’s drop has been a bit worse, .290 to .256.

This year’s Durham Bulls are not a great hitting team, but they aren’t bad. .320 is considered an “average” wOBA and most of this year’s Bulls are above that line.

Above Average
Below Average

Consider, for example, this year’s Tampa Bay Rays. Yes, it’s the major leagues, and yes, it’s a bit of a stretch. But several of them, notably Evan Longoria and Wil Myers, are not having good years. Note who’s at the top of the list.

Kevin Kiermaier175.313.921.39711.5
David DeJesus210.269.806.3587.4
Sean Rodriguez165.240.808.3484.6
Ben Zobrist376.267.763.3387.6
Matt Joyce308.270.773.3365.7
Desmond Jennings400.244.723.3254
James Loney407.283.717.3181.9
Evan Longoria431.260.723.3161.3
Brandon Guyer158.275.686.307-0.7
Wil Myers224.227.666.299-2.2
Yunel Escobar317.249.657.295-4.2
Ryan Hanigan190.212.636.291-3.1
Logan Forsythe210.250.649.289-3.7
Jose Molina165.196.442.205-13.7

100 Games; 55 Wins; A Good Year

Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

Season: 55-45; Trip: 2-1; Standings
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

The Gwinnett Braves had not scored a run in 28 innings and had lost their last five games. But they got a run off Alex Colome in the 3rd inning last night and that would be enough.

Only Jayson Nix had a good night, and that was spectacular as he went 4 for 4 with two singles, a double, and a triple as well as the Bulls’ only RBI. But it wasn’t enough.

Outside the game —
  • If you look a the box score of Friday’s Rays-Twins game a Bulls fan will see something interesting at the bottom of the lineup. The last three players came to the Rays from the Bulls this year. One of them, Curt Casali, actually started the year in Montgomery and was the starting catcher. Cole Figueroa started at 2B,  and Kevin Kiermaier was in right field. Casali got several nice comments from Rays manager Joe Maddon and also got a hit in his first AB. 
  • We’ll have more later, but Charlie Montoyo has now led the Bulls to 613 wins, tied for the most wins in Durham Bulls Triple-A history. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Back From the Break, In Style

Season: 54-44; Trip: 1-0; Last 10: 7-3; Standings
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

It's well beyond the actual midpoint of the season for Triple-A (that was back on June 15, game 72) and yet a psychological midpoint and several days off for most of the Durham Bulls. The game started out with a wonderfully familiar sequence: runners on 1st and 2nd (Justin Christian and Vince Belnome), and Jeremy Moore doubled in two runs and the Bulls never looked back.

WDBB’s favorite starting pitcher of 2014, Matt Andriese, was on the mound and threw a stellar 7⅔ innings backed up by 5 (count ‘em, 5!) double plays. Everyone but Robby Price and Vince Belnome got hits and they both got on base with walks.

The quirky stat (other than all the double plays) is probably the fact that they scored 7 runs on only two extra base hits (doubles by Moore and Mahtook.

This was the first shutout by Bulls pitching since June 9th.

Outside the game —
  • Catcher Curt Casali has been called up to the Rays. This will be the young player’s first time in the major leagues and the Rays will be doing some razzle-dazzle with the 40-man to make it happen. The callup was because Rays' catcher Ryan Hanigan will go on the 15-day disabled list, but outfielder Wil Myers is going on the 60-day disabled list to make room.
  • Not sure that we’ve mentioned that Jerry Sands, a terrific hitter who started the season with the Bulls, is likely out for the rest of the season after being called up to the Rays and then being injured.
  • Along those lines, have not heard a thing about injured infielder Tim Beckham in a long time.
  • We’ve been waiting for ground ball inducing pitcher Matt Andriese to pitch before putting up this link. In it blogger Cork Gaines speculates that the Rays don’t particularly like ground ball pitchers in their stable because the artificial turf down at Tropicana Field makes turning double plays difficult. To be honest I’m not sure the analysis holds up, but if it does it looks like a terrific young pitcher for the Bulls might not have a future with the Rays.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Durham Bulls (and the Rays) at All-Star Break

The Bulls begin their post-All-Star season at 53-44, 9½ games ahead of Gwinnett in the South Division. [standings] If the playoffs were to begin today, the Bulls would face a first round playoff series against the Columbus Clippers or Indianapolis Indians (they are tied in the West) while Syracuse (North) and Rochester (Wild Card) would be playing each other. This upcoming series could be Gwinnett’s last, best chance to climb back into contention.
[Note: click on charts for larger views]

The net runs scored/runs allowed chart shows a bit more dramatically the problems in June and the stabilizing and modest recovery since then. The Bulls' Pythagorean Expectation is 51-46, that is, they are doing better than expected. Conventional wisdom attributes that to relief pitching. That certainly appears to be the case as far as the Bulls are concerned.

This cumulative ERA chart shows the huge slippage in starting and relief pitching in June and then shows how it stabilized a bit overall (and improved among the relievers) in recent days. See our recent post on individual pitchers here.

If you take the last 20 games, figure the team OPS for each game, and slap a trend line on it, it looks like this. Pretty good trend, even if the absolute numbers are nothing special.

The Tampa Bay Rays

Since we’ve got the numbers, how about our friends down in St. Petersburg? They are tied for last place in the American League East.

And have a pretty dismal net runs scored chart. But looking better in recent days. At 44-53 they are doing worse than their Pythagorean Expectation of 46-51. Again making their bullpen suspect. No surprise there.

On the other hand, when they reached their nadir for the season back in mid-June I commented that they would be doing well to reach .500 on the season. Here’s a chart that implies that if they stay on track they could reach that goal.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Durham Bulls in the All-Star Game
Mahtook, Betemit, Kelly, Montgomery
I’ve figured all along that folks who read this blog are well-aware of all the goings-on surrounding the International League All-Star Game this week. If not, here are some links to bring things up-to-date.

The overall schedule is here.

Today, Monday, is the Home Run Derby. In addition to the derby itself, a good bit of side entertainment is planned. The N&O had stories about the Derby here and here, but the big news of the moment is that Toledo's Mike Hessman will not be participating and that Mikie Mahtook is taking his place. [just announced 8:30 am Monday, via twitter, don't have a link]

Then there’s the game on Wednesday. How to listen/watch here. Bulls announcers will be sharing the broadcast booth with a Pacific Coast League broadcaster for a national radio show. Television will be through the MLB Network. Here’s hoping that the TV guys do a better job than last year when they seemed to ignore events on the field, especially near the end of the game.

The teams:

This is not as simple as National League against the American League. All the Triple-A teams are, obviously, linked to a major league team, but the Pacific Coast League and the International League are essentially built on major league teams east and west of the Mississippi River. There are a couple of notable exceptions to that way of thinking about the leagues, but that’s mostly true. Also, in general, the PCL is considered something of a hitters league because of several high-altitude parks. Lastly, and there are probably a couple of exceptions to this, the PCL towns have not shown the enthusiasm for new/renovated stadiums that the IL has.

The Bulls have four players on the list for the IL team, two hitters — Mikie Mahtook and Wilson Betemit — and two pitchers — Merrill Kelly and Mike Montgomery.

A really big deal is the manager of the IL team, the Bulls’ own Charlie Montoyo. He got a nice profile in the N&O the other day.

The rest of the IL team is here and the PCL team is here.

Note: judging from the headlines, the Durham Herald-Sun has some good coverage. Worth a look if you have a subscription.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Karns & Moore Team Up for Win

Season: 53-44; Trip: 2-1; Last 10: 7-3; Standings

Regular readers will know that we are not yet fans of young Nathan Karns. To see why, take a look at our charts from a couple of days ago. But give credit where it’s due. He had a fine night last night going 7 innings and only letting in 1 run. There’s hope.

On the other hand, how about Jeremy Moore? Yet another game-winning home run! Then, just for grins, his last at-bat featured three pitches that went inside, inside, and even further inside. Those pitches brought Charlie Montoyo down to the plate to get between Moore and the ump. As it turned out, Moore hit a very sharp grounder to first for an out. But seemed to me to be kind of pointless on the part of the Bison’s pitcher.

Outside the game — 
  • Reliever Jake Thompson has been put on the disabled list for an unspecified reason. Thompson has made 20 appearance since coming up from Montgomery and has done a good job over his 27 innings. Doug Mathis returned from Hudson Valley to take his spot on the roster. 
  • Former Bull Dan Johnson was called up to the Bisons’ parent club, the Toronto Blue Jays, and went immediately into the lineup against the Rays last night. He drew four walks and scored three runs (including the winning run). That’s what DJ does — draws walks or hits home runs.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Win in Buffalo

Season: 51-44; Trip: 1-1; Last 10: 6-4

The first thing to know about the Buffalo Bisons is that their first baseman is Dan Johnson. Johnson stands very high on the list off all-time great Durham Bulls hitters. He was a Bull in 2008, and was back for 2010 and 2011. He is #2 on the all-time list when the list is sorted by OPS. We should note that a hitter could not even get on the list without at least 1,000 plate appearances with the Bulls. He’s having more than a decent year with the Bisons. He leads the International League in home runs and is 4th in OBP and OPS. According to broadcaster Patrick Kinas there were persistent rumors last night that he was about to be called up to the Blue Jays. If so, that would really mess up the Triple-A Home Run Derby, where we were going to be able to see him and Mike Hessman square off for a championship (although doesn’t seem quite fair since Hessman bats right and Johnson is a lefty). DJ went 0-3 with a walk last night.

[Update: 12:30, Friday, twitter saying DJ has been called up and will appear in game against Rays tonight.]

The second is that the minor mystery of Mike Montgomery has not been cleared up, but he did have a decent outing. Mystery? Well, it’s this. Back on June 14 he pitched 5 innings in an 88-pitch no-decision. Then he did not pitch again until June 23, another 5 inning no-decision, where he threw 77 pitches. His next appearance was not until July 4, also 5 innings, throwing 76 pitches. Stated another way, he only made three starts after his June 9th win, and pitched only 15 innings for 3 no-decisions. Why? Unless I missed something, as usual, the Rays aren’t saying.

As Bulls fans, let’s just say that his win last night was welcome. Not that he was all that sharp, but he did reach 92 pitches even though they all came in just 5 1/3 innings. My guess? Rotation turmoil with Hellickson around and a desire to give him some rest. Is he back? Not sure. He did not look all that sharp on the TV last night.

Meanwhile the game was won by — who else? — Jeremy Moore, who smacked a 2-run homer that drove in Justin Christian. Christian had another great night as well with three hits and scoring two out of the three Bulls runs.

Outside the game — 

As we know, Wednesday’s game in Norfolk was rained out. So was yesterday’s against Gwinnett. Wonder why? Here’s what Harbor Park looked like yesterday.

Now, That's a Rainout!

Harbor Park, Norfolk, VA, July 10
Image courtesy Norfolk Tides

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Charts — Durham Bulls Pitchers

The Bulls have had lot of pitchers so far this year, including a couple who are with Tampa Bay at the moment. The charts include ones with them now, or ones who might be coming back.
  • Erik Bedard only pitched one game before being called up.
  • Kirby Yates put in 21appearances and I’m leaving him on the charts because he could be back.
  • Brad Boxberger is on his third visit to Tampa Bay and looks like he’s going to stick. 
  • Juan Carlos Oviedo’s seven 1-inning appearances with the Bulls were officially rehab status.
  • Jeff Beliveau has made three trips to join Tampa Bay (he’s pitched 2 innings for them).
  • Juan Sandoval was released back near the end of May.
  • C.J. Riefenhauser has made one trip to Tampa Bay and was on the disabled list for a couple of weeks in May.
  • Jim Patterson came up from Montgomery, made 5 reasonably successful appearances, and went back.
  • Braulio Lara came up from Montgomery, made 9 not very successful appearances, and went back.
  • Brandon Gomes was optioned down from the Rays near the end of May.
  • Josh Lueke came down in mid-June.
Add another rehab and a couple of position players thrown to the wolves and all together, 24 different ball players have been on the mound of the Durham Bulls this year. In 2013, 26 different guys pitched. The Bulls are on their way a new record? By the way, the Rays have had 20 different pitchers this year.

click on chart for larger image
I’m not a big fan of the Fielding Independent Pitching stat for minor leaguers for a couple of reasons, one of them being that I’m not sure I trust the constant value (in this case 3.2). Still, if FIP is an estimate of future performance then Adam Liberatore and Brandon Gomes are looking good. A couple of others, not so much. What jumps out is that two of the starters, Enny Romero and Nate Karns, simply aren’t doing very well no matter how you measure their performance. And the starters as a whole are a full 1.5 runs worse than the relievers as a group.

Walks/Hits per Inning Pitched is an interesting pitching stat and sometimes brings a different perspective. In this case, the bottom three (Mathis, Gomes, and Thompson) seemed to be doing better in terms of overall results. Not surprised to see Romero and Karns near the bottom though.

Lastly, in the just for fun category, is a chart of pitches made per out. Our home-brewed measure of efficiency. Sample size (Gomes and Geltz) may matter quite a bit here, but certainly Romero and Mathis are working awfully hard to get through their innings.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More by Moore

Season: 50-43; Home Stand: 2-0; Last 10: 5-5
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Outfielder Jeremy Moore made it happen for the Bulls last night, again. His single in the 1st brought Mike Fontenot home to tie the game. His home run in the 4th won the game. The Bulls needed those runs because Norfolk’s pitching was uncharacteristically sharp. The Bulls only had six hits, drew only two walks, and struck out 11 times.

Meanwhile Matt Andriese had another solid night. That’s nine out of his last ten appearances that have been very strong. If he stays healthy, the Rays have another prospect lining himself up for next year. Plus he did it against a strong Norfolk lineup with only one right-handed batter (who, by the way, got two of the 5 hits Andriese allowed).

Radioman Kinas pointed out that this was the first time this year that Montoyo had delivered exactly the same lineup to the umps twice in a row. That meant that Hak-Ju Lee has missed two games, perhaps a good thing for his knee.

We noticed that Ali Solis was used to warm up Adam Liberatore. I hope that means his hand is OK.

Sure is nice to have three real outfielders in the outfield. Fly balls are gathered in with confidence. The occasional spectacular play — for example, Justin Christian’s sliding grab to start the 8th — changes the dynamics of the game.

Outside the game —
  • Can’t let the howler by broadcaster Scott Pose go by. He expressed confidence in the Bulls’ upcoming stretch of 10 games away from home, noting that the Bulls were a good road team. I’m not sure where that thought came from. Probably from the first trips of the year and a look at their overall record (23-22). However, the Bulls have lost 10 of their last 16 games on the road, and 5 of their last 6. So forgive me if I’m a bit worried about the next two weeks as they go against Norfolk, Buffalo, and Gwinnett (who skunked them last week). 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Another Nice Sunday in the Park

Mike Fontenot chases Norfolk's Jamile Weeks out of the base path for an out (he then tossed to 1B for double play)
Photo by Christine T. Nguyen, Durham Herald-Sun

Season: 49-43; Home Stand: 1-0; Last 10: 4-6
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

After tonight the Bulls will not play another game in the DBAP until July 21. That’s 13 days without seeing the Bulls play at home. We will not be without baseball, of course, but it will only (only!) be the All-Star Game on July 16. This will be the longest stretch without a home Bulls game this entire season. What to do?

Well, we could go to a Mudcats game. The Cleveland Advanced A team will be home on July 11-14. Or drive over to Burlington to take a look at the Kansas City Royals Rookie League team the Burlington Royals, who will be home from July 9 to 14. Or combine a trip to the mountains with a couple of games in Asheville, watching the Asheville Tourists. The Single A team of the Colorado Rockies will be playing at home July 8-9 and 15-17. In between here and the mountains you’ve also got the Greensboro Grasshoppers and the Winston-Salem Dash (both Carolina League Teams). Lastly, if you’re headed to the beach, there’s the Wilmington Sharks (Coastal Plain League, wooden bat collegiate league), July 11-12 or the Wilmington Blue Rocks, Single A, Royals July 11 thru 14.

Meanwhile, last night’s game was yet another chance for Nathan Karns to show his stuff. He did OK, and made it through a rough spot in the 5th. However, as manager Charlie Montoyo was quoted in the Herald-Sun,
“Every time we scored, he didn’t stop them,” Montoyo said. “He went into the sixth, but I expect better from him. … Too many pitches up in the zone. At this level and the next, they’re going to make you pay.”
This has not been a year for big guns, but Wilson Betemit and new(ish) guy Jeremy Moore are making noise recently and they both got homers last night. The Bulls only have 65 home runs on the year (6th in the league), and even though that is hardly a good measure of a team (Charlotte with the worst won-loss numbers in the league has the most home runs) it is still nice to fun to see the ball sail out of the park.

Outside the game —
  • Jeremy Hellickson is to start a game Tuesday with the Tampa Bay Rays. Guess that means he won't be back in a Bulls jersey next week.
  • Vince Belnome and Jeff Beliveau are being sent back to the Durham Bulls. Belnome got in one game as a designated hitter and went 0 for 3. Beliveau did not throw a pitch during his visit this time.
  • Cole Figueroa remains with the Rays. He's been in 3 games this visit, 8 plate appearances, no hits.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hellickson Wins at the DBAP

Happy 4th of July!

Photo by Christine Nguyen, Durham Herald-Sun

Season: 48-41; Home Stand: 2-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

As Bulls fans what we want to see are pitchers who don’t lose control of the game. That’s what we saw last night. It wasn’t the champion we were seeing back in 2010, but Jeremy Hellickson seemed to have a grip on things. Of course, in the stands we are never quite sure what’s really going on in circumstances like this. For example, Hellickson seemed to be throwing a lot of off-speed stuff. Was that because that was his (and Solis’ and Acosta’s) read of the situation or was it because that was his goal for the game, to work on his curveball? We will never know. The important thing is that he stayed in the game and got his first win for the Bulls.

If I were a Rays fan I’d have to say that Hellickson does not look quite ready, although that does not necessarily mean that he won’t be showing up on the mound for the Rays on his next start. He is on the same schedule as Rays’ starter Bedard (who began season with Bulls) who had a really bad night last night.

Outside of watching Hellickson show off that he’s not really a Durham Bull by wearing his long trousers, it was a fun night with every Bull getting a hit except for Mike Fontenot and activated-for-the-day Mayo Acosta. But even Fontenot got into the act in the 7th. In what sure looked like a tactical error on the part of the Braves, Fontenot came to bat with runners on 2B and 3B and was given an intentional walk to get at Mikie Mahtook, one of the top hitters in the league. Yes, there was just one out, but Mahtook drove in a run as did Jeremy Moore who followed.

Gotta love Justin Christian’s work over these two games. Big hits, big plays in right field.

Catcher Ali Solis’ got a finger on his right hand mashed when he attempted a bunt in the 2nd inning. He tried again and ran out a bunt single. He ended the inning on 3rd base and put on the gear to start the 3rd, but apparently he could not hold a grip on the ball. Mayo Acosta, who had been activated when Vince Belnome went up to the Rays, was already in his gear and came into the game. Wonder what effect that has on a pitcher to have his catcher changed on him?

Outside the game —
  • Interesting piece in the New York Times on how dominant the pitchers are this year.
  • Sometimes we are slow to notice the obvious. This year for the first time we have beer vendors walking around at the DBAP — except they can’t say that they are selling beer! They are selling “ice colds” and they hold up the cans, and they announce “last call” near the end of the game, but apparently they can’t say the word, “beer.”
  • Then there’s a foghorn-voiced fellow selling peanuts who at least once a game somehow succeeds in evoking a call and response from youngsters in the crowd. Great fun to listen to. 
  • Herald-Sun’s paywall does not seem to be up (or maybe isn’t working). Nice summary of Jeremy Hellickson’s career as a Durham Bull by Harold Gutmann today.