Thursday, July 20, 2017

IronPigs Come to Town

The Bulls did a fine job against the leading team in the IL West, the Indianapolis Indians, taking 2 out of 3 games. And they stayed well on top of the IL South.

But today they come up against a rarity for 2017 — a team with a better won-loss record than themselves. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs are the Phillies' AAA franchise and they have been having a great year. They come to town having won 6 of their last 7 games, and firmly back in contention for the IL North leadership. About the only area where there's much of a gap between the two teams is in defensive performance.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Bulls at the All-Star Break

The All-Star break ends for the Bull over in Norfolk tonight. By the way, the PCL won the All-Star game 6-4. Bulls players did pretty well. Box. Patrick Leonard at 3B drew two walks; Willy Adames, at short, was 2 for 3, with a home run; and Mike Marjama started at catcher, but was 0 for 2.

Bulls at the break.


They are solidly in first place in the IL, 21 games over .500 and 10.5 games ahead of second place Gwinnett.

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The Bulls ERA ranks third in the IL, but they are much better than the league average and the relievers have simply been doing a superb job. Note the blip among the relievers is entirely the result of one very bad inning a couple of days ago.

Hitting - Team

Overall, the Bulls rank 6th in the IL in OPS, well behind Scranton/WB's .787. But they are doing OK.

Hitting - Individual

The interesting feature of this table is how much Willy Adames has improved his numbers as the year has gone by. Another player worth point ing out is Mike Marjama. Have the Rays finally produced a hitting catcher?

Source: FanGraphs


Here's our home-grown measure of defensive play — the Unearned Run Average. That is, how many unearned runs per 9 innings. As can be seen, letting in an unearned run is a pretty rare event this year for the Bulls, a very good thing.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Matchup: Bulls v Mud Hens

The Toledo Mud Hens are back for the second time this season. That's a very rare event, unprecendented in my experience, for an out-of-division team to visit twice in one year. At any rate, the Bulls and Mud Hens are 3 and 3 on the season.

The Mud Hens are in 3rd place in the IL West and their weakness certain appears to be their hitting. Otherwise, their base numbers are bad at all.

The Bulls, of course, are coming off a hitting gem, but pitching disaster yesterday.


Durham Bulls: 7
Charlotte Knights: 11

Box, Herald-Sun, Play-by-Play

We haven't been writing much about individual games this year. Last night's spectacular one-inning blow-up is going to be an exception.

The convenience-store (7-11) outcome was driven by the two-pitcher, 9-run, no-out beginning to the 8th inning that followed a brilliant start by Austin Pruitt in his new role as a starting pitcher (perfect through 4 innings).

Pruitt was followed by two clean innings by Neal Wagner, and one by Danny Farquar in his first appearance back with the Bulls. Meanwhile the Bulls had put up 4 runs and were cruising toward yet another shutout and win over the Charlotte Knights.

But then in the 8th Danny Farqhuar hit a batter with his first pitch and gave up a single. He left the game with runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. Diego Castillo came in and, without a single out being recorded, let 8 runs score. His relief, Andrew Kittridge, let one more in.

How bad was it? Well, it was bad enough to move the ERA for all the relievers on the Bulls team from 2.93 to 3.16 — in one game! This is on a season where the relievers have pitched 325 innings so far. To say nothing of Diego Castillo's ERA, which went from 2.12 to 5.29. Of course, that came from allowing 6 runs without recording an out (plus two inherited from Farquhar). Farquhar, by the way, begins his season with the Bulls with an ERA of 18.00.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Home for the 4th

The Bulls are home to celebrate the 4th with a game against the Charlotte Knights.

They come home firmly in first place in the International League South Division.

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Four Bulls were picked as All-Stars and to participate in the July 12 All-Star game between the International League and the Pacific Coast League All-Stars out in Tacoma, Washington. That's the best showing of Durham Bulls players in my memory. They are shortstop Willy Adames, third baseman Patrick Leonard, catcher Mike Marjama and relief pitcher Andrew Kittredge. Congratulations!

The road trip went pretty well, 5 wins and 3 losses: 2-2 against the Indianapolis Indians and 3-1 against the Norfolk Tides.

The Hitters

I wanted to put this up to show the impressive improvement at the plate by shortstop Willy Adames. He's breaking out.

Roster changes included:
  • Blake Snell and Adam Kolarek went up to Tampa Bay. 
  • Wilson Ramos and Brad Boxberger finished their rehab assignments.
  • Pitchers José Alvarado and Austin Pruitt were optioned down to the Bulls. Oddly, Pruitt has gone into the starting rotation.
  • Pitcher Jeff Ames went on the temporarily inactive list, but I didn't hear the reason.
  • And reliever Drew Smith came up all the way from the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
Note: WDBB favorite Dayron Varona has caught on with the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League. He's playing alongside former Bulls (and WDBB favorites) Joel Guzman (Joel is 32 now) and Alexi Casilla. Dayron is doing pretty well with an OPS of .822 over 12 games.

Matchup: Bulls v Knights

What jumps out from these numbers is that the Knights are hitting pretty well, but their pitching and fielding (as measured by unearned runs given up) aren't helping them at all.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Bulls Bats Bludgeon Opponents

Well, that was one heck of a homestand. the Bulls split four games with Norfolk and then blew Charlotte out of the ballpark the last three games. About the only dark smudge on the series was Yonny Chirinos' tough start on the 22nd. The hitters were exceptional. Just compare today's OPS chart with the one from just three days ago.

The Bulls are in Indianapolis tonight for the second time this season. I don't think that I've ever seen two visits to an out-of-division team in a season before. Not sure why that would be. By the way, the Bulls went to Indy via an overnight bus ride and they are coming back to Norfolk by another overnighter later in the week (why go outside the division for just one series? Don't know). At any rate, the Bulls and Indians are well-matched. Should be a good set of games.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Durham Bulls at Mid-Season

Hard to believe that the Bulls are halfway through their season, but they are. In AAA only 142 games are played in a season and yesterday afternoon was game 71. Let's take a look at where they are.

Most importantly, they are in first place in the South Division of the International League. Standings. And they are 7 games ahead of Gwinnett.

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Run Differential

The Bulls' run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed) reflects the team's performance. Nothing like the 2010 or 2013 teams, but still pretty darn good.


Overall, the Bulls team ERA of 3.50 is 2nd best in the IL and much better than the league average of 4.02. However, the starting pitcher performance is worrisome.

That gets a bit more worrisome if you look at the starting pitchers' Game Scores. Game score is one of those newish stats (it's in the box scores of every game these days) that crunches together innings pitched, hits, walks, runs and strikeouts into a single number. A score of 50 is average. As this chart shows, 7 out of the last 15 games have been below average.


The hitters are doing a good job. By the way, we use OPS simply because it's better known and we are looking for trends. Although wOBA is probably a better stat, the trends are about the same. Bulls' OPS ranks 5th in the International League.

Recently we started tracking the OPS of individual Bulls and some interesting patterns have shown up. Note that .700 is considered "average" and .800 "above average". Willy Adames, for example, has seen a nice improvement up to the .763 point. Shane Peterson is having a terrific impact, staying very close to the .850 level. Johnny Field, Mike Marjama, Jake Bauers, and Patrick Leonard make up a very impressive 5-player cluster.

The second cluster of Curt Casali, Kean Wong, Michael McKenry, and Casey Gillaspie are players we want to see doing much better. Not shown is infielder Alec Sole, whose OPS is .310.


Recently, we invented a "back of the envelope" measure of fielding effectiveness, the "Unearned Run Average". The idea is that if the pitcher is responsible for the earned runs, then the rest of the team is responsible for the unearned runs. And it turns out that there are differences among IL teams. This chart shows the IL average and shows that the Bulls have been doing very well this year. In the last month, only two unearned runs have been scored, even though 14 errors were recorded.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Back From the West

Over the last several days, the teams of the International League South Division all played teams from the IL West. They did not do well.

The Bulls were 2 and 4 (1-2 against Columbus; 1-2 against Toledo). Gwinnett was also on the road and did a bit better going 3-3 (3-0 against Toledo; 0-3 against Louisville). Norfolk, at home, were 2-4 (0-3 against Indianapolis; 2-1 against Louisville). Over in Charlotte, the Knights went 3-3 (2-1 against Louisville; 1-2 against Indianapolis).

The result? Not much change over the last week. Today the Bulls start a home stand against South Division opponents (Norfolk and Charlotte).

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Meanwhile, to our surprise, the Rays aren't doing too bad this year. They're being helped immensely by young Jacob Faria, who is 3-0 since being called up a few days ago.

Matchup: Bull v Tides
Looks at bit like it did a few days ago.

Friday, June 16, 2017

On the Road in Ohio

Lots of very odd things going on up in Columbus, Ohio.

But let's start with the greatest loss to Bulls fans: Craig Albernaz is gone from the roster. Now, that happens to be a very good thing for Mr. Albernaz — he's off to be the manager of the Hudson Valley Renegades. That's a big deal. And we wish him the very best.

Replacing him as a coach is Rafael Valenzuela, about whom we know very little.

About those three games in Columbus ...

The first point to be made is that we sure hope the Bulls don't meet the Clippers in the playoffs, in seven games this year, the Bulls have lost six. In these recent three games, the Bulls lost two, but had their best hitting night of the year in the third.

For weirdness, it was hard to beat the first game that the Bulls lost 3-2. The starting pitcher (Yoel Espinal in a spot start) had a no-hitter for his entire 2 1/3 innings pitched, but also walked 7 batters and left the game with 2 runs scored and took the loss. The third run scored was unearned (in the 8th against Jeff Ames).

As mentioned, in game 2 the Bulls hitters had one of their best days of the year and shut out the Clippers 11-0, the biggest run differential this year. Unfortunately, last night the Bulls turned around and got shut out 8-0.

They are off to Toledo for three games against the Mud Hens (and the Rays are just down the road in Detroit). The Mud Hens have lost their last three games and don't match up well against the Bulls. In Durham last month the Bulls took two out of three games.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Bulls Hitters So Far

Overall, the Bulls hitting crew is tied with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs for batting average, and is 4th in the IL in OPS. This list is limited to those players with more than 50 plate appearances and is sorted by wOBA (weighted on-base average). Another stat in the table isn't very typical either, wRAA, which purports to measure a player's contribution.

What jumps out at me is how miserable a year Casey Gillaspie is having, so far. Undoubtedly he will improve, but it has to be extremely frustrating for him this year. Another prospect who is not having a good year at bat is Willy Adames, but not as bad as Gillaspie.

Of course, I have to point out that Dayron Varona was making a significant contribution to the team before getting released.

Update: I failed to credit the source of these data. My apologies to Fangraphs

Bulls Sweep Charlotte; Home Tonight

In addition to winning three games in a row (and improving their record to 8 of last 9 games), a couple of interesting things happened while in Charlotte.

Starting pitcher Jacob Faria, who was doing a fine job for the Bulls got called up to Tampa Bay and had a very successful debut last night down in St. Petersburg. Looks like he will come right back, though.

Reliever Yoel Espinal provided some thrills with an ugly start to the 9th inning last night — a walk, a home run, another walk — and then he struck out the side.

In the same game, Blake Honeywell had his best start of the year and Shane Peterson's two home run game was a big deal.

Overall, the Bulls return for four games against the Norfolk Tides before heading off to Columbus, Ohio.


The Tides are not having a good year, and the issue looks to be pitching, although their fielding is nothing special.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Nice Time at Home; Off to Charlotte

That was a very successful home stand. The Bulls won 5 out of 7 in mostly well-played games. As a result, they are 13 games above .500 and well ahead of the Gwinnett Braves, who are 6 games back.

Notable for the homestand was the appearance yesterday of the 26th (!) pitcher to appear on the mound in a Durham Bulls uniform this year. He was young Mr. Diego Castillo who came up from Montgomery for his first AAA appearance.

Also of note was the arrival of Alec Sole, winner of last year's WDBB Moonlight Graham Award. He got his first AAA hit! Congrats!

On a sad note, Dayron Varona was released. I really liked watching him play this year and last year, but time and competition with youngsters coming up were not in his favor. Here's hoping he finds another team.


The Bulls are off for a short visit to Charlotte. The Knights are just back from a not-very-successful trek up North. They lost five games in a row. Their defense isn't helping. .66 unearned runs per 9 innings is not a good number.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Well, that was a disaster of a road trip. The Bulls lost five and won just one game. And the Bulls come back to play seven games against the very same teams (double header tonight!). Here's hoping they can do better at home.

What went wrong? Let's start with ...


Starting pitching has not been the Bulls strong point this season, but they're still a pretty good crew. Also, they've stayed below the league average in ERA. Nevertheless, over the six-game trip, their combined ERA went from 3.47 to 3.78 and they took the blame for two of the five losses. The relief crew, a great bunch by any measure, went from 2.63 to 2.73 and took the blame for three of the losses.

Particularly noticeable was the starting pitchers giving up 6 home runs (the relievers gave up 2) and the poor road performance of Blake Snell and Brent Honeywell.

Overall, Rochester and Pawtucket scored 30 runs (all earned, so you can't blame the defense) and the Bulls scored just 14. The team ERA went from 3.09 to 3.30.

Click on chart for larger image

Which brings me to ...

The hitters did particularly poorly over the duration of the trip. The team OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging) dropped from .759 to .728.

Meanwhile, the Gwinnett Braves were at home winning 6 of 7 games and climbing back to within 2½ games of the Bulls.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Matchup: Bulls vs PawSox

Seems like the entire Northeast got rained out yesterday, so the Bulls moved on to Pawtucket, Rhode Island for four games against the Boston Red Sox AAA team.

The Bulls split their two games with the Rochester Red Wings, with a very dramatic comeback win in the second game. The rained out game, by the way, will be played as part of a double-header the day the Bulls come back to Durham.


Most years Bulls/PawSox games are terrific contests, especially when the Red Sox Nation turns out in force at the DPAC. This year the PawSox aren't doing so well. We'll have to see. The Bulls lead them in every category except fielding.

Thanks to Hank chasing down Taylor Guerrieri's status. Doesn't sound good.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Great Homestand; To Rochester

Well, you can't ask for a better home stand than a 4-0 sweep of the Bulls' main competitor in the South Division (although I sure am tired of watching them play Gwinnett and they are probably tired of playing Gwinnett).

The Bulls outscored the Braves 25 runs to 9. They left town 14 games above .500 and 6 games ahead of Charlotte, who has moved into second place.

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Game Score is one of those relatively new stats that is showing up on the box scores. The idea was to come up with a number that shows how well the starting pitcher did that made more sense than the "quality start" idea.

What this chart shows is the starting pitcher game scores of the last 15 games. Circled are a couple of instances where the starting pitcher did a decent job and the Bulls still lost the game. But the Bulls crew can be very proud that everyone in the last round through the rotation was well above the 50 mark (and the Bulls won all five games).


Similarly, Bulls hitting has been terrific from game to game. That makes for an overwhelming combination.


The Bulls play in Rochester, New York tonight. The Red Wings are the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins and have been having a decent year. The Bulls have a substantial lead in every category. The Red Wings are coming off of two losses at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Tonight's game will be the debut of RHP José De León, a member of the Rays' 40-man roster who has been rehabbing from a spring training injury for this year. How is he going to fit in? Your guess is as good as mine. Seems like feast or famine in the Bulls starting pitcher world this year. Kyle Winkler was put on the inactive roster to make room.

Miracle League

Bulls fans can be very proud of the leadership that is being shown by Capital Broadcasting as they sponsor building a Miracle League field over on the other side of the freeway. The Miracle League is an amazing organization that provides a venue for everyone to play baseball and could not be more fun to watch (and participate in).

Monday, May 15, 2017

Home Stand Ends Well; To Charlotte; Charts

Well, this wasn't all that great a home stand for the Bulls, but it did end well. The four-game losing streak was disturbing; however, things seemed to sort themselves out the last two games, even if yesterday was touch and go.

Sunday was the 4th "bullpen day" since April 27. The Bulls have won three of those games, which says a lot about this year's relief crew. Without Yonny Chirinos' complete game shutout on Saturday, I doubt that it would have worked yesterday, though. Statistical trivia. Don't think I've seen two blown saves in one game before.

Sunday was also the seventh extra-inning game the Bulls have played. They won 3 of those games.

The Bulls are four games ahead of Gwinnett in the South, but note that Charlotte's on a streak.

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Runs Scored Chart

Net runs scored is one of those interesting stats that we like to track. If you run it through the Pythagorean Expectation formula, it will tell you what the team's won-lost record "should" be. In the Bulls case, this year the PE formula says that the Bulls "should" be at 23-12, exactly where they are. The Knights, who are at 18-17, "should" be at 19-16. The sabermetrics guys seem to think that discrepancies tend to indicate strengths (weaknesses) in relief pitching.

What this chart shows is just how well this year's team is doing compared to previous years, the best since 2013.

  • RHP Yoel Espinal came back from Montgomery and did a fine job last night.
  • RHP Ryan Stanek got called up to Tampa Bay and had his big league debut against the Red Sox last night. He faced two batters. One hit. One K.
  • RHP Blake Snell is coming back. In my end of year comments last year I said that after Snell's callup in June he would not be back. I was wrong (imagine that!). He hasn't been having a very good year with the Rays (4-0, 8 games, 4.71 ERA, 25 BB in 42 innings). Expect him to be working on very specific tasks, which may or may not help the Bulls when he shows up.

Charlotte's on a roll lately. And they are hitting very well. And they are at home. This could be an interesting series.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Stumbling at Home; Mud Hens Arrive

Missing from the accounts of the last four games is the fact that a former Bull played a key role in two of the Bulls' losses. Richie Shaffer, who spent part of 2015 and most of 2016 with the Bulls, is now in the Cleveland system. He got key hits in games 2 and 3 of this series.

Nevertheless, even after losing three games in a row, the Bulls remain firmly in first place.


Just to try to keep things up to date ...
  • LHP Justin Marks went up to the Rays. Got DFA'd and then claimed by the LA Dodgers. I'm just a blogger, but sure looks like a dumb move by the Rays.
  • RHP Chih We Hu is back, but not as a starting pitcher. So that hole remains unfilled.
  • RHP Yoel Espinal went back to Montgomery
  • RHP Kyle Winkler is back from "extended spring training"
  • Outfielder Johnny Field came off the disabled list
  • Outfielder Shane Peterson, who started the year with the Bulls, is back from TB.
  • Outfielder Granden Goetzman, surely one of the more exciting Durham Bulls in a while, has gone back to Montgomery.
  • Outfielder Dayron Varona has been "assigned" to the Hudson Valley Renegades. 
  • RHP Austin Pruitt, who has been with the Rays all year, but spent last year in Durham, is headed to the Bulls
  • RHP Diego Mareno got called up.
Matchup - Toledo Mud Hens

In most years visits by the second-most famous team in minor league baseball, the Toledo Mud Hens, are fun. Probably will be fun this year as well. The Mud Hens are leading the West Division, but their numbers are not good. On paper, the Bulls should be in good shape. On the other hand ... Tampa Bay, where's a starting pitcher? The Bulls have been without a 5th starter for a long time and it's starting to show. They used three (3!) position players as pitchers the other night. They gave up 10 runs on 7 hits and 6 walks in 2 innings, putting a severe kink in the team's pitching stats.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Rain in Georgia; Off to Norfolk

The Durham Bulls won two games in Gwinnett to near-empty stadiums, but things were looking up this morning for an education day. Then the clouds opened up and the game was postponed. The Bulls headed off to Norfolk.

They Bulls are doing very well. Ryne Stanek's performance in game two last night was particularly impressive. After the Bulls had come from behind to get ahead by one run, Stanek came on for the 9th. The first two batters got hits and ended up on 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Stanek struck out the next three batters. That could have been a turning point for this young man.

The Bulls are now four games ahead of Gwinnett in the IL South and have the best won-loss record in minor league baseball.


Bulls hitters are doing a great job. Their On-Base plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) is well above the IL average and ranks 3rd in the IL.


The Norfolk Tides (Baltimore's Triple-A) are not having a good start this year. This will be the first of 11 games against the Tides, so we will get to know them well before the year is out.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Great Durham Bulls Home Stand; Off to Georgia

Everything to like about the 5 and 1 home stand by the Bulls. They stay in first place in the South Division and are at the top or near the top in most statistical categories.

Patrick Leonard was named International League player of the month.

Biggest worry is lack of starting pitching. The Bulls had to make do with two bullpen games (but won them both).

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The Bulls are getting reliever Ryan Garton back from Tampa Bay. No word on who will be leaving the bus .

Dr. Miraculous is reporting that Yonny Chirinos (RHSP) is coming to the Bulls. This would be his AAA debut.


Gwinnett, at this point in the season, is the Bulls' competition in the South Division. They are coming off a 7-game road trip to Rochester and Pawtucket where they lost 4 and won 3 games.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Durham Bulls Sweep Chiefs; Bisons in Town; Charts!

Syracuse came to Durham on a six-game winning streak. They left town on a three-game losing streak. Last night the Bulls' bats simply got very, very hot — especially Patrick Leonard who is now at .413 on the season!

Disturbingly, the Bulls pitching roster is short two starters and one of the fill-ins, newcomer Edwin Fierro left the game with an injury last night.

Time for some charts. All can be expanded by clicking on the image.

The Bulls lead the IL South and have the best won-loss record in the league.

Pitching is better than the league average, with the relief crew doing a simply superb job.

As are the hitters, with last night's game being their best effort of the year.

Tonight the Bisons are in town. The Blue Jays' Triple-A team leads the International League North and is arriving after splitting a series with Norfolk (and putting up with much of the same weather we've seen this last week).

Familiar faces on the Bisons include pitcher Jeff Beliveau from 2013 and 2014, catcher Luke Maile who was with the Bulls for much of 2015 and 2016; and infielder Jake Elmore, who had 57 games with the Bulls (and 51 with the Rays) in 2015.