Thursday, July 30, 2015

They're Back

Lurker at the Charlotte Stone Crabs' visiting team dugout. A prospect due for promotion from A to AAA? [story]

 Wrap, Box

Season: 52-53; Trip: 3-8
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

Well, maybe a gator in the visitor's dugout is what the Rays need to import up to Durham for the next few games. The Bulls are going to be in town now for quite a while — 10 straight games. Here’s hoping that they do better than the last 10 games.

Looks like newcomer Blake Snell is the real deal. So we will want to try to make the games he’s starting. He only gave up one hit last night. If not for a wild pitch and an error, likely not even the one run would have scored on him.

Nick Franklin is showing his talent and his performance is one of the few bright spots from this trip. New guy Grady Sizemore was in the last couple of games. Boog Powell has come down from the celestial heights he was at, but still leads the team in his On Base Percentage of .375. Taylor Motter is back in the lineup and had a decent night in Tuesday’s losing cause.

Outside the game —
  • We expect considerable roster turmoil over the next couple of days. We know that catcher Bobby Wilson is headed somewhere. And we have read that Jake Elmore, who played in 25 games before being called up late May, is coming back. Something will have to give to make room for him. 
  • Interesting, for stats geeks, look at Boog Powell, with mention of fondly remembered former  Bull Joey Gathright.
  • Good article in Grantland about the effect of the pace of game efforts
  • Also in Grantland a deep look at the company/team behind some of the advanced analytical efforts in baseball.
  • Lastly, some thoughts from the Tampa Bay Times on trading deadline concerns for the Rays. 
  • Note that the Rays have already traded off one outfielder.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Slide Continues

Season: 51-51; Trip: 2-6
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

The Bulls have now drifted on down to the bottom of the International League South Division. Standings. This was not a pretty game. This is not a pretty road trip.

Visiting Tampa Bay rehabber Drew Smyly  get off to a poor start and it went downhill from there. Apparently the idea was to simply let Scott Diamond, who had been the scheduled starter, come in after Smyly got his pitches in.

Not a bad idea, assuming that Smyly was ready to go. Smyly came up through the Detroit system and this was his first time in a Bulls uniform. After giving up 4 runs on 51 pitches in 2⅓ innings. José Dominguez finished out the 3rd and then Diamond came in for his “start”. He actually settled down after the 4th inning — and 6 runs — to finish out the game. That spared the bullpen for duty another day, or was perhaps simply an example of being left to twist in the breeze.

Note that former Bulls reliever Andy Oliver came on for the Tides in the 9th. He walked two batters but got out of the inning just fine.

The 2015 Durham Bulls team simply isn’t very good. Not quite as poor as 2012, but, as the chart shows, they are working their way down into that region. This computation of net runs scored actually tracks out to an even worse Pythagorean Expectation of a won-loss record of 48-54, so the Bulls are doing a good bit better than “expected” under that bit of math. For a while, back around early to mid-June, it seemed as if things were getting on track. But it looks are looking grim just now. Can it get better? Sure. But not without some real improvement in the pitching crew (and a few more runs per game wouldn’t hurt).

By this same metric, runs scored minus runs allowed, the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays just reached a five year low. That goes some way to helping explain why the Bulls are the team they are. But not all the way. We’ll save for another day a look at the platoon of pretty good baseball players the Rays dropped off the Bulls roster after a spate of panic buying this spring.

The Bulls are off to Lawrenceville, Georgia for a three game set before coming back to Durham. The Braves have been on a run lately and are a ½ game ahead of the Bulls in the standings.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Playing Catchup

Wrap, Box

Season: 50-48; Trip: 1-3
Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

A little bit of catch up on the line scores. We went off to the mountains for a few days and only occasionally checked in on the games. Not a particularly good set against the Knights.

Matt Andriese’s  Game Score of 80 last night was the best Durham Bulls starting pitcher performance this year, just two hits and no walks over 7 innings. He was followed by Andrew Bellatti in a two-inning save for a rare Durham Bulls shutout (the 10th this year). Congrats to both of them.

And the scoring was entirely through extremely small ball. The Bulls drew 7 walks and hit only singles, 6 of them. Luke Maile got above the Mendoza Line (.200) with his 9th inning RBI. Nice to see that.

Outside the game —
  • The first game tonight is a continuation of a rain-interrupted game from July 3. Box score here. The game will go for the usual 9 innings and then be followed by a 7 inning affair.
  • The second game will be the introduction of left-handed starting pitcher Blake Snell, who seems to be on a fast track to the top. Young (22) Mr. Snell was drafted out of high school and has pitched in 16 games this year at A and AA levels. Tonight will be his first AAA start. Stats.
  • The other significant roster change is the addition 32 year-old of big leaguer Grady Sizemore to the Bulls. I’ll confess my lack of understanding of exactly why the Rays hired him or how he happened to still have options so that he could be sent to the Bulls without going through waivers. Not sure I want to know. Let’s just wait and see what he brings to the team.
  • Richie Shaffer gets some love from a Rays blogger. 
  • Remember Hideki Matsui who wore a Durham Bulls uniform for a few weeks back in 2012? He’s back in the game, sort of. Here’s a terrific NYT  article about him playing in a rec league game recently both pitching and batting (right-handed). Thanks to Rays Index for the tip.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vince Belnome Released

Vince Belnome

In 2013 Vince Belnome came to the Bulls from San Diego system. Only 25 years old at the time he seemed to have everything going for him. Here’s what we said about him at the end of that year:

Vince Belnome was the all-around star of the 2013 Bulls. If his performance fell off a bit in the last few weeks of the season, he still had a career year and deserved the accolades he accumulated (All-Star, MVP). He led the team regulars in virtually every category and his importance shows through in his superb wOBA and wRAA stats. At the beginning of the year he played some 3B and even some 2B, but by the end he was essentially the Bulls regular first baseman, although he shared some time with Shelley Duncan. Belnome is only 25 years old, so going forward will certainly depend on his fit with the Rays, not the Bulls. He made a difference to the Bulls. Sure wouldn’t hurt to have him back.

For Bulls fans, he was joining a grand tradition of players like Chris Richard and Dan Johnson, although he was younger than those two. We thought he would likely not be back. But he did make it back for 2014.

The next year, 2014. wasn't nearly as good for him, although he did start the year with his one and only callup to the Rays. In addition his numbers, while down from 2013, were still strong and he played in a lot of games for a winning team.

Vince Belnome (118 games) had a very disappointing year, although things picked up near the end. He never looked very comfortable at the plate and was nothing like the star we watched in 2013, where his numbers eclipsed anyone’s on this year’s team by far. What the Rays (and the Bulls) are going to have to figure out is whether 2013 or 2014 should be the expectation. Mr. Belnome did get his first callup this year, appearing in 4 games with the Rays and picking up a double and an RBI. Will he stay on the 40-man? Hard to say. At a guess, the Rays are going to give the 26 year-old another year.

This year has not been good at all. He was DFA’d in the spring, has not played much at all, and has been stuck well below a .200 batting average most of the season. In some ways we have been waiting for this shoe to drop for several weeks.

Now he has been released to make room for a player the Rays want to keep in waiting, Grady Sizemore.

Where does he go from here? No way for an outsider to know. We have to think that there’s something not quite right physically, but the Rays are notoriously tight-lipped about that.

So let’s take a moment to simply appreciate what he did for the Bulls while he was with the team. The Bulls won a ton of ball games in 2013 and 2014. They brought Bulls fans a lot of pleasure. Vince Belnome was a part of those memories and we certainly want to thank him for them. Plus, he’s young. There’s every chance he’ll land with another team and return to his previous form. I certainly hope so. I’d like to see him stay in the game so we can all say that we saw him play as a Durham Bull.

Good luck, Vince. Thanks.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Relief Crew Implodes

 Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Season: 48-45; Record at Home: 22-23; This Home Stand: 2-4


The Herald-Sun has done a decent job summarizing these two games. I've got nothing to add except ...

Somewhere around the  4th of July the relief crew of the Durham Bulls came undone. They’ve gone from a not-all-that-impressive 3.30 ERA to an awful 4.03 in just a couple of weeks. Where once they were supporting a fairly weak group of starters, they are now worse. 

click on chart for larger view

Friday, July 17, 2015

Maile Makes Good

Season: 48-43; At Home: 22-21; This Home Stand: 2-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Home plate umpire Brian De Brauwere had his hands full last night. He was on the crew (at first base) back on May 1st when the Bulls played the PawSox up in Pawtucket. Veteran catcher for the PawSox, Humberto Quintero, chunked a full-strength throw into Bulls catcher Luke Maile’s gut and later in the game spiked Hak-Ju Lee. We summarized the aftermath at the end of a post back on May 3.

De Brauwere's first big challenge came in the 2nd inning. Cory Brown was attempting to score from second base and to everyone (except the one guy who mattered) it sure seemed like Brown made it past the tag. So we’d have to say he (De Brauwere) missed his first chance.

Corey Brown slides under Humberto Quinetero's tag
Photo by Sue Roth
If Quintero got a gift then, the Bulls Maile in the 5th did not. Again, folks in the stands figured that Boog Powell in left field made a perfect throw home to catch the runner. De Brauwere did not agree.

Maile tags Jamile Weeks
Photo by Sue Roth

However, as they say in some circles, payback …

Even after wearing out the grass between home and the pitcher's mound — Quintero must have gone out the mound 15 or 20 times last night trying to sort out the PawSox pitching crew; he was the main reason the game went on for 3½ hours — in the 8th the Bulls managed to load the bases. Luke Maile hit a very pretty double that cleared the bases putting three runs across and putting the Bulls ahead 8-7.

Even more fun in addition to Maile's 3 RBI ensued. Boog Powell singled and Maile moved to third base. Ryan Brett and Mikie Mahtook struck out and J.P. Arencibia came to bat. Boog Powell attempted a steal of second base. On the throw, Luke Maile headed for home. So we were seeing double steal in action. Powell beat the throw to second and the second baseman threw home. Quintero blocked the plate without the ball as he waited for the throw (remember he’s an old-school guy). Catcher’s interference was called and the run scored. Luke Maile, the young catcher Quintero had essentially slugged in the gut back in May had three RBI plus had stolen home for a fourth run (in the books it will go down as an error on the catcher)! So, in the eyes of WDBB, umpire Brian De Brauwere had redeemed himself.

It got better when he threw PawSox manager Kevin Boles out of the game a few minutes later. Boles was last seen flipping a bird at the ump. Here’s hoping he gets whacked with a serious fine for that bit of childishness.

Lots of other thrills in last night’s game as the Bulls seem refreshed from their break. Richie Shaffer showed a ton of plate discipline as he drew three walks and got a RBI on a bloop single. Corey Brown got two doubles. The team batted around twice and came from behind twice, something not typical in this year’s Bulls.

Roberto Zarate actually looked very good for 4⅔ innings, but that previously mentioned call at home and then an uncharacteristic error by Corey Brown messed things up for him. Similarly, C.J. Riefenhauser got some solid defense from catcher Luke Maile and almost got out of a bad start to the 8th. But then a 3-run homer had him with at least a blown save. He ended up, however, with the oddity of a blown save stat and a win stat.

Best of all from the pitching side is that, at least for this game, the Kirby Yates of 2014 came out of the bullpen and struck out the side. That is a very, very good sign for the Bulls.

Outside the game —
  • Scanning down the Pawtucket roster we see our old friend Ronald Belisario looking very odd in his brand new PawSox hat. Expect we’ll see him the next day or so.
  • Last night the paid attendance 10, 370 and it looked like almost all of them actually came to the game. Good vibe, even if some of them were members of the Red Sox Nation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Durham Bulls at the All-Star Break - Part 2 - Individuals


Unlike Part 1's look at team performance, looking at individual pitching performance for a minor league team is much more of a problem. As mentioned, the Bulls have had 30 players throw the ball this year, but 6 of those don’t really count. Several others have only made very brief appearances before going up to the Rays or back to Montgomery (Brandon Gomes, Jim Patterson, Kyle Winkler). A few others are simply gone from the Rays system (Andy Oliver, Grant Balfour, Preston Guilmet, Matt Buschmann, Ronald Belisario). And at least one will probably make his way back up (Bryce Stowell). That doesn’t count the back-and-forths. So, take all of these charts with a grain of salt and if there’s a number that seems odd, check out the innings pitched number, we could be dealing with a very small sample size. We’ve essentially pared this down to the folks who might at start out the post-All-Star Break with the Bulls. Very likely that at least one, probably two, will not be on the active roster next Thursday.

click on chart for larger image

I’m fairly agnostic on the ERA vs FIP (Fielding Independent Percentage), so here are both in one chart, sorted by ERA. Since some folks seem to think that FIP says more about the future, then a high FIP/low ERA seems weaker than the opposite. Overall, this is not a particularly impressive set of numbers. Only Scott Diamond among those left standing in the starting pitcher crew has particularly good numbers. Andrew Bellatti has been with Tampa Bay or on the DL most of the season. Jhan Mariñez looks awfully good, and Jim Miller has been something of an iron man keeping things alive. The best Bulls starter, Matt Buschmann, and the best reliever, Ronald Belisario, didn’t make it through the season in the Rays system. (Voice from back of head — “Get over it, Chris, they’re gone” Yeah, but… )

The Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP) stat shows some of the weak spots on the crew.

Lastly, our home-brewed measure of pitching efficiency, or pitches per out, also sorts out in an interesting way.


This table is sorted by wOBA, a newish hitting stat that has a great reputation. Mostly it tracks OPS, on-base percentage plus slugging, but the stats geeks think it works better. Also included is Weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA), a number that speaks to me as a way to judge how much a player is contributing to the team. What jumps out for 2015 is how much Taylor Motter has contributed to the Bulls this year. He has a terrific wOBA and a team-leading wRAA. Well-deserved All-Star, even if he didn’t play.

Tim Beckham was just called up, but I left him on the list just to show where he fit among the rest in his short time with the Bulls this year. We will have to see if Richie Shaffer's star continues to shine. No reason for it not to. Boog Powell’s numbers will likely drop just a bit (but that means he may stick with the Bulls the rest of the year rather than get called up). What’s a considerable worry for the Bulls, Tampa Bay (likely), and the individual players, are the young men on the 40-man roster who are not doing so well — Ryan Brett, Mikie Mahtook, and Hak-Ju Lee. No doubt they can turn things around. But time is running out for this year.

Richard Shaffer
Boog Powell
Taylor Motter
*Nick Franklin
*Tim Beckham
Corey Brown
J.P. Arencibia
*Hak-ju Lee
*Mikie Mahtook
Luke Maile
*Ryan Brett
Vince Belnome
Bobby Wilson
* = Players on 40-man roster of Tampa Bay Rays
Source: FanGraphs

The Durham Bulls at the All-Star Break - Part 1

The All-Star break comes well past mid-season for Triple A baseball. The Bulls schedule calls for144 games and they have played 90 so far. Still, with the time off we can take a look at the pictures of where they are so far this year.

They are in third place in the South Division of the International League, 4 games behind Charlotte, which has just gone into the lead. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Bulls would rank #3 in the wild card standings, behind the Norfolk Tides and the Columbus Clippers.

Winning and Losing

click on chart for larger image
Last year the Bulls had played 97 games at the All-Star break and the picture was dramatically different in the South Division.

Scoring Runs and Letting Runs Score

A look at the pattern of runs scored less runs allowed this year is not very encouraging. In fact, if you run these numbers through the Pythagorean Expectation formula it comes out showing an “expectation” of a won-loss of  a dead-even 45-45 instead of the actual 47-43. That is, the Bulls are doing 4 games over .500 better than “expected”. That sort of makes sense, since on the season the Bulls have scored 369 runs, but have allowed 372.

The general thinking is that if at team is doing better that its expectation then it can be attributed to a combination of luck (small sample size, which this is) and relief pitching.


This chart shows a running ERA measure of the Bulls pitching crew. Thirty different pitchers have climbed up on the mound in a Bulls uniform this year. Three of those were position players brought on in desperate situations. Three more were pitchers from the Tampa Bay Rays on a rehab assignment. We’ll discuss the rest in future charts. This one just shows ERA for the team, the starters, and the relievers. A FIP chart is essentially the same. At a team ERA of 3.84, the Bulls are 10th in a 14-team league and a full run/9 innings behind the Norfolk Tides who lead the league at 2.94. Furthermore, if the recent trend of the relief crew were to continue, the numbers imply that the Bulls won-loss record will worsen.


Looking at team hitting on a game-by-game basis over the last 20 games (the Bulls were 8-12) we see a slight upward trend. That’s encouraging. We used OPS as a measure, but other measures (e.g., wOBA) are similar. On the year, the Bulls' team OPS is .713 and they rank 4th in the International League.

In the next post we'll take a look at individual hitters and pitchers.

Monday, July 13, 2015

On to the All-Star Break

Season: 47-43; At Home: 21-21; This Home Stand: 1-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The Bulls don’t do well in extra innings this year and they didn’t do well yesterday. But it’s the All-Star break, as we were endlessly reminded over the radio. So let’s take a couple of days off and see what happens when Pawtucket comes to town on Thursday.

Boy do we like watching Boog Powell play baseball. It seems each season the Bulls get a player who is just a joy to watch — Kevin Kiermaier and Fernando Perez from previous seasons come to mind. This year that player has got to be Boog Powell who runs the bases with élan and yesterday dove into the stands after a foul ball. See the video below. Interviewed after the game he said that he didn’t even know he’d made the catch until he checked out his glove. Also, made a point of tossing the ball to the woman in whose lap he’d landed.

Nice to have a real starting pitcher back. Matt Adriese did just fine (GSc-69)

Outside the game —
  • Tim Beckham has been called up to the Rays. The Rays shortstop has pulled a hamstring. Beckham was to have started the season with the Rays before his own injury, so here’s his chance.
  • A couple of good articles in this morning’s N&O. The first is a profile of the official scorer of the Bulls home games, Brent Belvin. The second is a well above average profile of former Bull (and home town hero) Chris Archer.
  • The Bulls have had the same umpiring crew for the last nine games. I’d imagine they are getting tired of each other. 
  • Watch this space for All-Star break charts!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hitless Wonderfulness

Season: 47-42; Home Stand: 1-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The box score really doesn’t tell the tale of the wonderful quirkiness of the first 5 innings of last night’s game. We were almost, but not quite, sad for Gwinnett pitcher Alex White. We got over it.

Here’s the oddity: Not one of the first three Bulls runs of the game were “driven” in, that is, not one of the runs came home on a Durham Bulls hit. Here’s how it happened.

The first batter, Boog Powell, got on base when the catcher could not handle the strikeout pitch. Powell went to second base when Nick Franklin walked. When Taylor Motter grounded out, pitcher to first base, Powell and Franklin were in the midst of either a double steal or a hit-and-run. At any rate, Powell went full bore around third and came home with a very pretty plate-brushed slide. One run, no hits.

In the 4th inning Hak-Ju Lee drew a walk, stole second base, went to third base after a deep fly out to center field by catcher Bobby Wilson, and came home on a Vince Belnome sacrifice fly to left field.

In the 5th inning Taylor Motter walked, stole second, moved to third on a fly out to right by J.P. Arencibia, and came home on a sacrifice fly to right by Tim Beckham.

How cool is that? Three runs on no hits and the Bulls were ahead 3-2 going into the bottom of the 6th.

Then the Bulls did start hitting and the wheels really came off for the Braves. Hak-Ju Lee batted twice in the inning, doubling and scoring the first run on a Vince Belnome ground rule double, and striking out to end the inning. In the meantime the Bulls romped. The most exciting moment came from Tim Beckham’s bases-loaded single that cleared the bases and left him on third base when the throw from right field sailed into the Braves dugout.

Meanwhile, the Braves batters were taking shots at Bulls starting pitcher Scott Diamond. The first line drive hit him in the legs and he shook that off. A line drive in the last of the 3rd inning, however, went off his pitching arm and he left the game. More news today.

The recently maligned (by WDBB) bullpen came in for 6⅓ strong innings. Jeff Riefenhauser, led off and got the win. He was by WDBB favorite Jhan Mariñez for a 50 pitch, 2⅔ stretch. The game was closed out by Everett Teaford. Everett Teaford? What’s he doing in relief? That’s what he was doing for the Rays when he was up there and even though they’ve taken him off the 40-man, it looks like he’ll will be, at least for one night, a member of the relief crew.

Outside the game —
  • Matt Andriese, top rider of the Durham Bulls/Tampa Bay Rays carousel is starting tonight. I’m guess he’s become a personal friend of whomever schedules Tampa-RDU flights. I’m not entirely sure, but I think there are seven transactions involved Andriese this year, none of them injury related. 
  • Richie Shaffer was off to the futures game. Good luck today.
  • Game time today 1:05. Need to get your praying done early.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Oh Give Me a Home ... Win

Wool E. Bull Takes a Shot
photo courtesy Sue Roth

Season: 46-42; Home Stand: 0-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The Bulls have only won 20 games at home this year. Since June 10—that would be a month ago—they have won just two games in the DBAP. Last night wasn’t one of them.

Dylan Floro was back on early season form, giving up a lot of hits, but few runs. He was backed by some pretty good defense in a couple of double plays. However, Bulls hitters only got two singles until the 9th. So what we saw was a “pitchers’ duel” and a pretty good one until the 8th when usually very reliable Jim Miller walked a couple and gave up a three-run homer. Taylor Motter and J.P. Arencibia made the 9th noisy, but they could not begin to catch up.

Outside the game —
  • Preston Guilmet, last seen at the DBAP on July 5th, is gone. He was DFA’d by the Rays and then claimed by the LA Dodgers. Must be tough to be a player in his position. The Rays claimed him from Toronto earlier this year, so he gets to wear a lot of uniforms in 2015.
  • On the other hand, Everett Teaford, also DFA’d by the Rays, is on his way back. Nice to have a starting pitcher on the roster.
  • And Andrew Belatti is returning after a long stay with the Rays. He went up to fill a DL hole in late May and then went on the disabled list himself. He came off the DL and pitched two innings for the Rays on July 8. Pushed off the bus to make room up there for Jake Odorizzi. No telling if the Rays will want him to start or work in relief. He did both for the Bulls earlier this year.
  • The Bulls aren’t quite the draw on the road as they are at home. At home they are averaging 7,560 a game, on the road they are averaging 6,555. But, as the chart shows, crowds on the road are getting bigger as the summer goes on (April and May up north was really miserable).

click on chart

Friday, July 10, 2015

Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom

Season: 46-41; Trip: 2-1
Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

It was a quiet night in Charlotte last night … until the 6th inning. Up to then young Bradin Hagens had done a fine job and held the Knights to just one run. Hard to do in that new, but very hitter-friendly, park of theirs. Then it got interesting as the Bulls (and the Knights) started channeling the old John Lee Hooker song, “Boom, Boom”. (Don't know the song? You've missed something. Check out Mr. Hooker below.)

Richie Shaffer and Cory Brown hit back-to-back home runs in the 6th. In the 7th, after Taylor Motter double home Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham, the Bulls went back to back again when J.P Arencibia homered and Richie Shaffer (again) homered in three more runs.

The Knights brought in five runs on small ball (and ineffective Bulls relief pitching) in their part of the 8th and the Bulls answered with some small ball of their own in the 9th.

It got scary in the bottom of the 9th when you’d think things were well in hand with a 10-6 lead. But the Knights were listening to the same song, I guess, because they led off with back-to-back home runs before Kirby Yates got back in control.

All-in-all an impressive night for Bulls hitters and Mr. Hagens. Not so much for the Bulls relief crew, who had been stretched out on Tuesday. None of the three who followed Hagens were on their game, but José Dominguez in particular has not been on his game all year. Not sure why he remains on the Rays 40-man. He’s averaged less than an inning per outing as a Bull (14 appearances, 10 innings) and has little to show for it (ERA-7.20, WHIP-2.30, FIP-4.80). He had some good outings with the Rays back in mid-April, but he has not brought much to Durham.

Richie Shaffer wowed the home town crowd with a 4 for 4 outing (and an intentional walk in the 9th). Charlotte was where he spent the winter putting on a lot of muscle with obvious results. In his brief time in the IL so far he’s hit 14 home runs and is tied at #2 for the entire year (teammates J.P. Arencibia and Corey Brown are tied for first with 15).

Outside the game —
  • Dan Johnson is back in the bigs. Long time WDBB favorite, Dan Johnson is up in the majors as a first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. Durham writer Adam Sobsey has a nice piece on his return in yesterday’s Grantland. DJ  was high on our all-time hitters list for his performance over three seasons as a Bull (2008, 2010, and 2011). This year he started with the Louisville Bats in the Reds system then free-agented over to the the Cardinals system and the Memphis Redbirds. Good luck, Dan.

About those relievers —

Last time we looked it was the starters to had us worried. Now the bullpen trend is very worrisome.

click on chart

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bounce Back?

Season: 45-41; Trip: 1-1
Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

Incredible as it may sound, there were no roster moves yesterday.

New guy Robert Zarate had his third start and went 5+ innings, 102 pitches, for a no-decision. But what the Bulls needed was lots of innings with a low score and that's what they got. C.J. Riefenhauser put in his second appearance in two days and got the win. Jhan Mariñez, surely sharing with Jim Miller the honor of being the strong guy in this year’s bullpen, went for a 2-inning save.

Mariñez is having a terrific year and is one of the shining lights among those who are not on the St. Petersburg carousel (he isn't on the 40-man … yet). His numbers are superb, 4-1, FIP-2.89, ERA-2.09, WHIP-0.98, in 24 appearances. His only blemishes are two blown saves. At 26 he’s still young and someone who seems very dependable. Given the turmoil that Rays have gone through, it sure is nice to have someone to depend on.

Boog Powell is doing his job as leadoff man. His On Base Percentage of .405 leads the team (although he only has 38 plate appearances under his belt). He got on base by essentially out-running and out-dodging Charlotte’s first baseman last night, then came home on Corey Brown’s home run.

Is Nick Franklin coming into his own? It’s only 17 games so far, but his numbers are fine, .288/.339/.500. His triple last night in the 2nd led to the first Bulls run of the game and his single in the 6th brought in the tying run.

After Tuesday’s disaster, this was a fine, fine performance by all.

Outside the game —
  • Interesting summary of the recent home stand of the Montgomery Biscuits. Seems that managers are not happy with each other.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Chaos in Charlotte (and Durham and Kansas City and St Petersburg)

Season: 44-41; Trip: 0-1
Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

Did the chaos outside the  foul lines cross over into to being between the lines yesterday?

The Rays lost two games in Kansas City, 9-5 and 7-1, and the Bulls were crushed in Charlotte, 17-6. In their games the Rays used a couple of pitchers just arrived from Durham. But that’s just the visible signs of turmoil.

Since the first of July, just seven days ago, we’ve seen more than 13 transactions affecting Bulls (134+ on the year). And that doesn’t count Preston Guilmet who, after getting a save in the first Bulls home win in a looooong time, was DFA’d the next day. Or Everett Teaford, who was called up, pitched in both Rays games, and DFA’d immediately after. Or the first baseman who isn’t going to show up in Durham because he was claimed off waivers.

Every single one of the six, count ‘em, six(!) pitchers who threw for the Bulls last night (we won’t count the two position players), have been on the carousel back and forth from the Rays to the Bulls to the Rays this year. Of the 10 pitchers on the mound for the Rays in KC for those two games, six have a 2015 Durham Bulls jersey with their name on it.

That’s chaos.

The Rays have the reputation of being very smart at gaming the system. But the cracks are showing. Who is taking care of the players themselves or trying to create a sense of team solidarity? What must it be like to never know who’s going to be on the field with you? Or where you will be playing?

Last night the Bulls infield had seven errors, a record on the year. The shortstop (Tim Beckham's first time this year), third base, and catcher committed two errors each. Second base just one. The catcher, Luke Maile, also got thrown out of the game in the 7th, apparently for pointing out to the home plate ump that he was being a complete ass for calling a ball based on a time violation in a 12-2 (the score at the time) game.

Vince Belnome, who hasn’t played at all in a couple of weeks, played three positions — DH, pitcher (3 runs, 1 earned, 2/3 of the 8th inning), and then swapped off to play first base while starting first baseman J.P. Arencibia pitched for the last out, giving up two more runs. Why position players? Well, the Bulls didn't have a starter because the Rays needed one since for some mysterious reason a postponed game meant ... whatever that could have meant ... got me. So we got a parade of relievers doing an inning or so each. And not doing all that well, to include giving up two grand slams.

Yes, the game was a disaster all around. But the larger question is, why?

Would not the Bulls, and the Rays, be better served by just sucking it up a bit in the interest of reducing chaos? That 134+ transactions so far this year is chaos incarnate.

For example, when the Monday game in Kansas City got postponed for a double header on Tuesday, did that really call for a starting pitcher shuffle that blew a hole that will last more than a  week in the Bulls starting rotation to no apparent advantage to the Rays?

I want to like the Rays, I really do, because they have given us a terrific baseball team for most of the last several years. But this year I have this persistent image of some unshaven youngster sitting in a mildewed Florida “lanai” with the rulebook in one hand and a couple of computers (one just for airline schedules) nearby creating a “perfect” model of how to have 25 numbers on a roster. But those numbers are people, and even if each individual move makes sense in isolation, the chaotic pattern is hurting the whole idea of a team. It’s all tactics, no strategy.

The Rays can, and should, do better by their fans, by Durham Bulls fans, and, most of all, the players in their system. Sit back and think about it for a minute. When the chaos outside the lines starts showing up inside the lines you’re in trouble.  Give some thought to the value of at least attempting to create some stability instead of gaming the system just because you can.

Monday, July 6, 2015

In Another Universe Floro Gets Those First 11 Pitches Back

Hak-Ju Lee grabs grounder, touches bag, throws to first base for DP that ends a painful 1st inning. Tim Beckham watches. Bulls v Tides, 7/5/15. DBAP. Photo thanks to Sue Roth

Season: 43-40; Home Stand: 0-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

I found Cracker Jack on the way into the park (next-to-last concession on the third base side), got a cold drink, found my seat, and settled in. The Bulls were not doing well at home this year. At 19-18 at home on the season, they were doing a good bit better on the road (24-21). Another oddity for my blog, I thought.

Looking back now we hope that in another one of those universes the cosmologists pontificate about, the first six Norfolk at-bats were different. But not in this universe.

After Dylan Floro’s first two pitches a run had scored and a runner was on second base. Two pitches later the runner on second was driven in and a runner was on first base. Two more singles and a grand slam home run and the score, after six batters and 11 pitches, was 6-0. I hadn’t even opened up my Cracker Jack bag (Note: I preferred the old silver-wrapped boxes, to be honest).

Floro was quoted in the Herald-Sun this morning:
“I changed the game plan a little bit coming into the second inning.” 
I should hope so. He did have a decent additional six innings, giving up just 4 more hits over 6 innings as the Bulls chipped away at the lead. Not enough, obviously.

John Jaso, last seen in the DBAP as a regular in 2009, and on rehab visits in 2010 and 2011, has been off to Seattle and the Oakland A’s. He was back last night on a rehab visit sporting a lot more hair. At DH, 1 for 5.

Kirby Yates is back from Tampa Bay and struck out the side in the 8th.

The Bulls are now 19-19 at home and 1 for 8 in the last 9 home games.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Capacity Crowd; Relievers Ragged

A, Mostly, Fun Fourth
Our Heaven Born BannerPatriotic print based on Frederic Edwin Church's small oil painting "Our Banner in the Sky"

Season: 43-39; Home Stand: 0-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Yet another flurry of transactions led to right-hander Bradin Hagens starting the game in front of a record DBAP crowd. Hagins had a couple of starts at AAA last year in Reno for the Diamondback franchise. He was up from Montgomery a couple of weeks ago for a couple of innings in relief, then he went back. He did just fine (Game Score = 62). Plus he got home runs from Richie Shaffer, Taylor Motter, and J.P. Arencibia before he left the game after five innings.

After all our complaining about the starting pitching over the last few weeks it’s odd to be pointing out how poorly the bullpen did last night. After Hagens shut out the Tides for five innings, four relievers gave up five runs on 10 hits. In just one game the relievers’ ERA for the season went from 3.39 to 3.49, the worst it’s been since the very beginning of the year. Led off by José Dominguez, who gave up 2 runs in the 6th (and left two on base), each following pitcher gave up a run until in the 9th the winning run came across. Meanwhile the Bulls were baffled by a knuckleballer (Eddie Gamboa) and held runless for the rest of the game.

Too bad, because early in the game we were also treated to some wonderful defensive play including a 1B (Arencibia) to 3B (Shaffer) that cut down a lead runner in the 3rd; a perfect Maile to Franklin caught stealing; and near-perfect Boog Powell (left field) to Luke Maile at home. Unfortunately, the runner was in the way and he got nipped by the ball, so the throw ended up counting as an error (something not right about that, it seems).

Dylan Floro is up this afternoon. He has not done well in his last four games. Maybe today?

Rosterification —

The changes are just relentless. Just for the record
  • The aforementioned Bradin Hagens is up from Montgomery.
  • Pitcher Everett Teaford has gone to Tampa Bay
  • Reliever Andy Oliver has opted out of his contract and gone for free agency. Decent job for the Bulls. 25 games, 28 innings, 5 holds, 1 save. He got the win over in Norfolk Friday. Maybe he wanted to go out on a high note? More likely watching all those guys going back and forth to St. Petersburg started working on his head.
  • Jordan Norberto was moved to the “temporarily inactive” list. Have no idea what that means.
  • C.J. Riefenhauser is on his way back from Tampa Bay
  • Kirby Yates is back from Tampa Bay
  • Infielder (1B) Marc Krause’s status was changed from being optioned to Durham to a Designated for Assignment, meaning he will come off the 40-man (and could possibly by claimed). That was to make room for Teaford.
  • Reliever Ronald Belisario opted for free agency rather than come back to Durham.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Wet Late Night Win

Season: 43-38; Trip: 3-4
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

All-Star Taylor Motter led the Bulls to a late night victory over in Norfolk with all the Bulls’ RBI.

We have not written all that much about young Mr. Motter this year, but it has been fun to look around the field to see where he’s playing each evening. Mostly right field, but just about everywhere else over the course of this season. Last night was his chance to shine at bat (as he’s done several times). He got his first RBI with a ground out that scored Boog Powell from third.  He got two more in the 8th with a home run with Tim Beckham on first. And his last two in the 9th with a double that scored Ryan Brett and Boog Powell.

We are noticing, as the Bulls surely are, that young Boog Powell does his job as leadoff man. His On Base Percentage is a very nice .409 since coming up from Montgomery. He scored 2 of the runs last night. Also, Tim Beckham has been looking awfully good since joining the Bulls, 3 doubles out of his 5 hits, 2 walks, and an OPS of 1.266. That will drift downward over time, but still nice to see.

Matt Andriese is back with the Bulls and he had his 5th start. Here’s hoping he hangs around for a while.

By the way, in keeping with my skepticism regarding intentional walks, the Tides tried it last night and it didn’t work for them. You could say that it lost the game for them. In the 9th with one out, Ryan Brett had singled and stolen second base. The Tides gave an intentional walk to catcher Bobby Wilson (batting average .154) to set up a double play. Boog Powell obligingly hit a grounder, however not enough to set up the double play. Brett ended up on third base and Boog Powell was on first. Tim Beckham drew a walk (note: the Tim Beckham we used to know probably would have been swinging, no matter what), loading the bases and setting up Taylor Motter’s game-winning two out double that scored the runners from third and second.

Bulls hitting has been on the upswing. This chart shows the team Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) on a game-by-game basis for the last 15 games. Nice little upwards trend these last couple of days.

Today's Chart

click chart for larger image

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Not Too Soon, Bulls Leave Ohio

Wrap, Box

Season: 43-38; Trip: 2-4
Wrap, Box, Toledo Blade

The Bulls finished off their trip to Ohio with a bang, three home runs (Arencibia, Motter, and Shaffer), and a fine pitching effort by Scott Diamond.

Their travels and travails these last couple of weeks may not be over as more roster moves have happened and likely more are coming. We have to admire the skills of Jared Sandberg even keeping a halfway decent team on the field during this period. And we have to admire the players whose every day starts and ends with uncertainty about their future. You have to think that their only thought is just to get out between the lines and play some baseball.

Nice to see Luke Maile back in the lineup yesterday. He’d been missing for a couple of days.

The Bulls will play Norfolk in Norfolk for two games, then come to Durham for a couple of games. Norfolk is now in the lead in the International League South Division. Their run up pretty much matches the Bulls’ fall over the same time period. See chart below for a picture of this season.

Moves —
  • Pitchers C.J. Riefenhauser and Preston Guilmet to Tampa Bay
  • Pitcher Kirby Yates to Durham
  • First Baseman Marc Krause to Durham. Marc Krause played 4 games and got one hit for the Rays before getting sent to the Bulls . As a first baseman, he’s going to find a crowd over in that corner of the field — Shaffer, Arencibia, Belnome (and the recently departed Alan Dykstra) — unless the Rays make some room. July seems to be the month for dumping folks as the Rays invalid list seems to be improving. Stats.
  • Ronald Belisario who did so well for the Bulls this year, has been DFA’d by the Rays. Will he end up back with the Bulls? Who knows.

click on chart for larger image