Friday, September 22, 2017

The Durham Bulls in 2017 — Part 1

The Durham Bulls started the season winning three games in a row and never looked back. There was a moment back on April 22nd when the Gwinnett Braves were in a tie, but that was the last time the Bulls did not lead in the South Division of the International League.

click on chart for larger image
Tracking their net runs scored over the year was equally impressive, if not as much as a couple of other years.


Pitching

What stood out in 2017 was the Bulls' pitching staff. This chart shows the running ERA of the starters and relievers over the last half of the season. The Bulls ended the regular season with a team ERA of 3.37, just behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's 3.36. And a good bit better than the league average on 3.97. And just look at the relievers! Their ERA at the end of the year was just 3.13. That explains the observation that of the 15 "bullpen days" (games that were started by relief pitchers instead of starters), the Bulls won 12.


Hitting

Hitting was not a strength of this year's Bulls team. They had a hitting streak going at mid-season, but they "regressed to the mean" by the end of the year. The team OPS of .719 matched the league average for the year. That goes a long way toward explaining the Runs Scored chart above.


Defense

We invented a stat this year to try to get a grip on team defense, calling it the "Unearned Run Average". It's simply a running average of unearned runs per 9 innings and fairly easy to calculate. The Bulls were a standout this year. Errant glove work and wild pitching did not have too much of an impact on games lost this year.


How about that post-season?

These stats do not reflect a post-season where the Bulls took three out of four in the first round, took three out of four in the second round to win the Governors' Cup, and then won the AAA National Championship. They outscored their opponents 39 to 22 and pitched two shut-outs. And who could forget a grand slam to win the AAA game!

2017 is a fine addition to the Durham Bulls history.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tampa Bay Rays in the Postseason

I keep reading elaborate explications of how the Rays could get into the post-season.

Check out their performance since  September 1.

Not likely ...



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Best in AAA Baseball — The Durham Bulls

Scranton Times-Tribune


Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay): 5; Memphis Redbirds (St Louis): 3
Wrap, MiLB, Scranton Times-Tribune, WRAL, Herald-Sun, Box, Play-by-Play

By now you will have heard about Kean Wong's heroics and his well-deserved accolades.

But there's more ...

For example, Jeff Ames came on in the 2nd inning with the bases loaded and just one out. An Adames-Wong-Bauers double play ended the threat. Ames stayed for another inning, recorded a five-out appearance, and a season as the Bulls best middle reliever.

Kean Wong could just as easily been the games' goat. He got a single in the 1st inning and then got thrown out trying to go first to third on a Willy Adames single. However, in the bottom of the 4th all was forgiven with that very pretty grand slam. Then there were two nice bits of defense as the game went on.

Rehabbing Xavier Cedeno was the Bulls fourth pitcher and I was already composing a full-blown rant in my head if he had not done well. But he did a fine job inducing ground balls and stranding a runner on 2B after an error.

Brent Honeywell did a fine job and got credit for the win. I'm not sure why that would be since Chi We Hu pitched the top of the 4th, Cedeno pitched the top of the 5th, and the winning run was scored in the bottom of the 4th. Maybe someone would enlighten me on that rule.

Pretty day. Nice game. Wonderful end to a great year for our Bulls.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Bulls v Redbirds Matchup

The St Louis Cardinals AAA team, the Memphis Redbirds won the Pacific Coast League championship (story here). So they are going to show up for tomorrow's AAA championship game up in Moosic, Pennsylvania at the home field of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the place where the Bulls just won the International League Governors' Cup.

Just to establish a modest amount of credibility up front — the idea of a one-game "national championship" makes no sense at all. That said, if the Bulls win, I'll wear the T-shirt.

These numbers are the end-of-season stats for the Bulls and the Redbirds. The teams are pretty close, but the Memphis crew has a substantial edge in hitting, while the Bulls pitching looks pretty good.



But that's at the end of the season. Now both teams have two rounds of playoffs behind them and they both won their championship in hostile territory.

So intangibles will rule.
  • Which starting pitcher will do best after the longest rest period either of them will have had all year? Same goes for the relievers. 
  • Are any of the players looking for a call-up? The Cardinals are 4½ back in the NL wild card; the Rays are 5½ back. Maybe not.
  • The Bulls have been hanging out in Scranton for several days; perhaps taking bp and working out every day. The Redbirds possibly went back to Memphis enroute to Moosic.
  • Which manager will make the best calls and the best moments? 
For us, we all need to hope that the TV broadcast crew is better than the last time. For that game, they went off into off-topic story-telling and completely ignored events on the field. Have not heard if Patrick Kinas will be broadcasting on the radio. Hope so. If he does, that will be the place to find out how these teams match up.

By the way, back in 2009 the Bulls played this same team for the AAA National Championship.
And we wrote about it. The Bulls won. In the 11th inning. Check out the box score for a trip down memory lane. Elliot Johnson, Justin Ruggiano, Ray Olmedo, Joe Dillon, Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson, Joe Bateman, Mitch Talbot. Quite a crew.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Durham Bulls Win Governors' Cup



Durham Bulls: 6; Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders: 4
Box, Wrap (Durham), Wrap (SWB), Wrap (MiLB), Scranton Times-Tribune, Durham Herald-Sun

At the beginning it looked like the Bulls were going to run away with this game, but the RailRiders kept coming back. In the end, however, the Bulls prevailed.

This is a very good team and I want to thank them for all the thrills they've given us this year. It's been a lot of fun.

I would be remiss if, in WDBB tradition, if I didn't point out a few oddities of this last game.

The pitching crew was not (mostly) the crew that got the Bulls into the playoffs.
  • Starting pitcher, Burch Smith, only had three regular season appearances for the Bulls and had pitched just 16⅓ innings. 
  • He was followed by Adam Kolarek, who was an exception. Kolarek had 41 regular season appearances with the Bulls for 43⅔ innings. He had three post-season appearances.
  • Hunter Wood was also an exception. Wood made 19 regular season appearances (including 6 starts) for 53⅓ innings. In post-season he had 3 appearances and got the win last night.
  • Jonny Venters had 1 appearance for 1 inning in the regular season, but 3 in the post-season.
  • Mike Broadway had 6 appearances for 15 innings in the regular season and 3 post-season appearances. 
  • Diego Casillo, who got the save, came up in June and was a stalwart of the regular season with 30 appearances for 42⅔ innings. He had three appearances with 2 saves in the post-season.
On the other hand, the offense were mostly team regulars.
  • Daniel Robertson, who got the big hits of the night (4 RBI) was an exception since he only had 11 regular season games (but he had 116 in 2016).
  • Kean Wong, Jake Bauers (who got the Governors' Cup MVP award), Shane Peterson, and Justin O'Conner all got hits and scored runs.
My understanding is that the Bulls are going to hang out in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area until Tuesday, waiting for the winner of the Pacific Coast League Championship to show up for the Triple-A National Championship game to show up.

Regarding that:

El Paso Chihuahuas: 2; Memphis Redbirds: 0
Box, Wrap
Redbirds lead series 2-1.

Note: 2017 Governors' Cup T-Shirts are in the Ballpark store.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bulls Win; Lead Series 2-1

Durham Bulls: 6; Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders: 2
Wrap(D), Wrap (SWB), MiLB.com, Scranton Times-Tribune, Box

Brent Honeywell looked really, really good (even when his infield got sloppy), Shane Peterson crushed one over the center field wall, Patrick Leonard made a perfect throw from left field to home (video at the MiLB link), and the Bulls are one game away from the Governors' Cup.

Meanwhile ...

Memphis Redbirds: 2; El Paso Chihuahuas: 0
Wrap, Box

Memphis won in extra innings and is heading to El Paso with a 2-0 lead in the PCL Championship.

Notes:
  • Whoever plays in the "Triple-A National Championship" to be held in Moosic next week can only hope that the TV crew gets a serious upgrade. Guess we are spoiled by the quality of the setup at the DBAP, but the folks up there need some help to improve the shot angles, on-screen graphics, and more.
  • I think I heard Patrick Kinas say that if the Bulls win, they are just going to stay up in  Pennsylvania until Tuesday's game.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bulls-RailRiders Split Shutouts; Off to Moosic

Durham Bulls: 6; Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders: 0
Wrap (D), Wrap (SWB),  Box

Ryan Yarborough's shaky start redeemed by double play and the Bulls never looked back.

Durham Bulls: 0; Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders: 4
Wrap (D), Wrap (MiLB), Box

I suppose you could complain about the Rays dumping two (count 'em, TWO!) rehabbing pitchers into the Bulls lineup in a playoff game. But Nathan Eovaldi and Xavier Cedeno weren't why the Bulls lost the second game. The Bulls lost to an exceptional pitching performance by the RailRiders Domingo German who only allowed one hit of seven innings.

I've made a bit of fun about how the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders do not play in either Scranton or Wilkes-Barre. They play in Moosic. Here's why and it actually makes a bit of sense (even if the name of the team does not). Click "view larger map" for context.



Meanwhile, over in Memphis the Redbirds won against the Chihuahuas 6 to 4. That would be the St Louis Cardinals AAA team the Memphis Redbirds and the San Diego Padres AAA team the El Paso Chihuahuas. Weather is giving the PCL championships fits, so they play at noon today and head off to El Paso.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bulls v RailRiders in Governors' Cup Finals

This is the matchup that seemed to be coming all year. The RailRiders went through the season with an exceptional won-loss record, although they stumbled just a little bit near the end. Nevertheless, they ended the year leading the entire International League in almost every statistical category.

The Bulls played the RailRiders seven times this year, all in August. In the four games at the DPAC, the Bulls split 2-2. Up in Moosic (the Scranton/Wilks-Barre team plays in neither Scranton nor Wilkes-Barre), the Bulls won 2 of 3. In other words, they are 4-3 on the season. The RailRiders are the defending Governors' Cup champions, which might give them a slight edge.

The biggest intangibles are the impact of September transactions, management skills, sheer luck ... and IRMA, whose impact may delay things tomorrow.



Bulls are working out today. Game time tomorrow is 6:35.

Here's the hit that won Saturday's game.



Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bulls Win Game #4; First Round of Governors' Cup

Durham Bulls: 4; Indianapolis Indians: 3
Wrap, Indianapolis Wrap, Box

The Bulls won game 4 to win the first round of the International League Governors' Cup series. Now they come home to face either the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders or the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (SWB leads 2-1).

Durham relievers made all the difference after Justin O'Conner's single drove in two runs in the 8th. Hunter Wood got the first out of the 8th; Adam Kolarek got the second; Diego Castillo got the third. Then Castillo went on to get the save in the 9th.

Up in Moosic ...

Lehigh Valley IronPigs: 1; Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders: 6
Wrap, Box, Scranton Times

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Bulls Shut Out in Game #3

Durham Bulls: 0; Indianapolis Indians: 5
Indy Wrap, IL WrapBox

We haven't seen a "wrap" from the Bulls this morning, but listening to parts of the game it was clear that the Indian's pitching was dominant. I have to say that I was a bit puzzled by Sandberg's use of two pitchers in the 6th inning, followed by letting newcomer Brandon Lawson twist in the wind through the 7th and 8th. Another difference last night was some  minor roster shuffling with Jake Hager playing at 2B and Michael McKenry catching.

Brent Honeywell is scheduled to start tonight. He has not pitched since Sep 3 when he put in a fine outing down at Gwinnett. So he should be rested.

In the North:

Lehigh Valley IronPigs: 2; Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders: 4
Wrap, Box, Times-Leader

They are tied 1-1 now and move to Moosic, PA to wind up their series.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Beautiful Game #2

Durham Bulls: 2; Indianapolis Indians: 0
Wrap, Indy Wrap, Box, Play-by-Play

If you're a baseball fan, especially if you're a Bulls' fan, and you missed last night's game, too bad. It was a terrific one.

We saw two very good young pitchers. One of them, Indianapolis' Tyler Glasnow, was in top form. When Willy Adames came to bat in the 1st inning Glaznow threw four pitches: 97, 97, 98, and 99 mph. Adames rolled a grounder to 1B for an out.

The other pitcher, Durham's Yonny Chirinos, wasn't quite as sharp and he gave up 7 hits over his 7 innings. However, almost every ball hit off him was a ground ball, and the infield backed him up with three very pretty double plays.

Then we got to watch Jake Bauers at bat and on the field. He took Glasnow's first pitch of the 2nd inning and put it over the centerfield wall. His 8th inning single drove in Durham's second run. And his glove work was amazing, especially his inning-ending grab and toss to the pitcher to end the 8th.

Plus I have to mention how great it is to be at a game where the stands are filled with nothing but baseball fans (OK, maybe a couple came for the all-you-can-eat come on and fireworks). I've not been to a game this year where the fans were more into the game than this one. And knowledgable. Boy, was it fun. I watched the 9th from the right field stands and even those few folks were jumping and cheering as Diego Castillo struck out the side to get the save.

Meanwhile:
  • Lehigh Valley came from behind to win the first game of their series against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the 12th inning. Box, Morning Call
  • Here's a rant about roster expansion that doesn't mention my concern: ripping off players when AAA teams are in a playoff. USA Today
  • And a fascinating piece on sign-stealing. Slate


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Bulls Win Game One

Durham Bulls 10; Indianapolis Indians 3
Wrap, Box, Play-by-Play

The team on the field mostly resembled the team that played in Durham all year. Notably
  • Johnny Field (111 games) playing center field and leading off: 2 hits, 1 RBI, and scored 3 runs
  • Willy Adames (130 games) playing short and batting third: 2 hits, 1 RBI, 2 runs
  • Jake Bauers (132 games) playing 1B and batting cleanup (Casey Gillaspie having been traded a few weeks ago): 2 hits, 1 RBI, 2 runs
  • Patrick Leonard (131 games) playing in right field and batting 5th: 2 hits, 1 RBI, 1 run (3 k's, though)
  • Kean Wong (105 games) playing 2B, batted 8th: drew a walk and scored a run
The rest of the lineup had seen a good bit of playing time with the Bulls this year. One of them, Daniel Robertson, we saw a lot of last year.
  • Daniel Robertson at 3B, 11 games, batting second: 1 BB 
  • Shane Peterson the DH, 76 games, batting 6th: 1 hit, 1 RBI, 1 run
  • Taylor Featherston in left field, 31 games, batting 7th: 1 hit, 2 RBI
  • Justin O'Conner catching, 20 games: 1 RBI
Even though Indy's pitcher looked awful in the first inning, the game was tight with the Indians coming back with solo home runs in 3rd and 4th. But in the 5th the Bulls started off with two singles and a 2-RBI double. Four runs and seven batters later the Bulls had put up a total of 6 runs and had the game in hand.

Other than the two dingers, 2017 stalwart Ryan Yarborough was terrific. Here's hoping he gets a call-up — after the playoffs are done. I'd like to see him pitch one more game.

The game started with a 1-hour delay and the 9th was played in an absolute deluge.

Meanwhile, up Allentown the RailRiders-IronPigs game was postponed due to rain. Good article on roster turmoil on both teams in the Morning Call.

Can't close without noting that none of the local media appear to have covered the game. Not one TV station or newspaper that I've come across. Shame on them!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Starting Rotation for Playoffs



On to the Playoffs!

The Bulls wrapped up a great season down at Gwinnett yesterday and have a day off before their first round playoff game against the Indianapolis Indians tomorrow. First pitch: 6:35.

Statistically, these two teams are a wash in essentially everything but the won-loss column and, probably, the performance of their bullpens. We'd expect the Bulls to have a better bullpen. On the other hand, the Bulls offensive performance since mid-season has been nothing special.

Recent days: The Bulls are 9-6 over the last 15 games; the Indians are 9-6 over the last 15 games.

It may come down to call-ups and in that regard, the Bulls' relief pitching may be at a slight disadvantage. On the other hand, the first couple of starters are awfully good (Yarborough, Chirinos, & Honeywell).

The Bulls have an edge on the season against the Indians, 6-4, and just recently won 2 out of 3 at the DBAP.



Meanwhile, a shout-out to the IronPigs who put together a 6-game winning streak to grab the wild card slot on the last day of the regular season!  They get to play Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the first round, the same team they've played for their last four regular season games (and they won them all).

Friday, August 25, 2017

Bulls Win the South

Well, they did it. The Bulls won the South Division in a very odd fashion, but it was won last night about as early in the season as I can recall.

The oddity was that not one of the runs was scored on a hit. In the 8th Johnny Field drew a walk and went to 2B on a wild pitch. Kean Wong walked. Pinch-hitting Shane Peterson faced a new pitcher and grounded out, but Wong and Field moved up a base. Justin O'Conner was hit by a pitch (bases now loaded). Mallex Smith walked (Field scored), Jake Bauers walked (Wong scored). Patrick Leonard walked (O'Conner scored). And that was enough.

The Bulls celebrated on the field, and that was a grand and good departure from past practice. I can't tell you how annoyed I was the when the Bulls won a championship at home a while back and then disappeared into the dugout to celebrate in the locker room. This time we got to cheer with them and watch on TV. Thanks!

The Bulls are a good team this year. The South Division is not as strong as it has been in the past, but clearly the Bulls could have held their own in any of the IL's divisions.

How big a deal is this? Very. I contend that for Triple-A baseball it's the division win that matters. Very often by the time a team gets to the play-offs the September call-ups have occurred and very often the Governors' Cup is decided on two factors: the management/coaching crew and the quality of players the Double-A franchise. That is, the guys who play in the championships aren't necessarily the guys that got you there.

So, again, this is a big deal. Congrats to the Bulls!

Note: the Herald-Sun is reporting that Michael Roth's finger was broken on that come-backer in the 4th. Here's hoping that's not correct and he makes it back to the mound this year.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Bulls Return; Playing for September

The Bulls are back after a fine 4 win/2 loss road trip with a couple of those wins against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders. (Note to folks who name teams. Doesn't "Rail Riders" read better than the marketers version "RailRiders"?)

The Bulls come back 13½ games ahead of Gwinnett and only a few games away from clinching a South Division championship.



What's left to play for in these last seven home games against Gwinnett and Norfolk and the seven away games against Charlotte and Gwinnett? Well, there's September.

September is the month that players on the major league 40-man roster have a shot at getting called up. Only four Bulls position players are on the 40-man — Curt Casali, Willy Adames, Taylor Featherston, and the recently returned Mallex Smith. So those guys have at least have a shot at a call-up. As do the six pitchers on the 40-man. The unknown piece of the equation is what the Rays need or want. Hard to tell. Believe me, if they see a need, they can do some pretty tricky stuff with rosters. Mostly, I think they'd just like to win a game or two after their awful performance these last few weeks.

The other event closely watched by only a couple thousand Bulls fans will be the Governors Cup. We'll write a bit more about that as it happens, meanwhile here's a chart on who might be playing whom.



The first round is between the West Champion and the South Champion, and between the North Champion and the Wild Card. Just now it looks like Indianapolis in the West, but Columbus can't be counted out. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has a lock on the North and Lehigh Valley's long slide may have taken them out of contention for the wild card, but they remain in reach of Rochester. Standings.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

RailRiders Come to Town

The first three games of this home series left a lot to be desired. Three unearned runs last night pretty much doomed the Bulls (and there was another unearned run in the first game). One out of three to the worst team in the west isn't good. On the other hand, the Bats pitching was pretty good.

But the Bulls are still cruising toward the IL South championship.



Today sees the best team in the International League visit the DBAP. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (isn't that a name?), the Triple-A team of the New York Yankees, just swept the Gwinnett Braves (thank you very much), but now the Bulls have to think to the future and the Governors' Cup. As can be seen, the RailRiders lead the Bulls in every category except defense. And the Bulls starting rotation is in a bit of turmoil for these four games.



How are the races looking? Well, Columbus obviously has a shot at winning in the West and Rochester is chasing Lehigh Valley for the wild card. August is interesting.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Marjama and Garton Gone; and More

Mike Marjama is (was), from this fan's perspective, the best catcher the Bulls have seen in a long while. His available stats are far better than either Curt Casali or Michael McKenry. So what have the Rays done? Traded him to the Mariners. What about the Bulls 4th best relief pitcher, Ryan Garton? Sigh. Traded to the Mariners. For what? or Whom? See limited discussion here and here.

Speaking of the Rays, they sent former Bull, but not a particular fan favorite, Tim Beckham to Baltimore. That means that the only former Bulls on the Rays active roster (position player) are Evan Longoria—who played in just 31 games on his way up 10 years ago and has been back for a couple of rehab stints and Daniel Robertson, who put in 118 games as a Bull last year. On the DL is Kevin Kiermaier who had brief stints with Durham in 2012, 2013, and 2014 before getting his call-up.

Odd set of games over in Norfolk. Two losses and a one-run win. One of the losses was yet another bullpen day. Perhaps with Blake Snell back for a while, we won't see so many of those.

Matchup

The Cincinnati Reds AAA team, the Louisville Bats are not having any better year than their parent club. The hitting for average isn't so bad, but the pitching is not good and the fielding is awful.



The big deal comes later in the week when the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders come to town.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Thinking About September

The Bulls swept the Charlotte Knights in three well-played, well-pitched games. Meanwhile, we're thinking about the playoffs.

Here's how it works: The West plays the South and the North plays the Wild Card in the first round. Columbus jumped into the lead over Indianapolis yesterday. And the wild card will obviously go to whomever comes in 2nd place in the North.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Back from the Nawth; Home for Three Days

The Bulls start a very short, 3-game, home stand tonight after a successful 5 win, 2 loss road trip. They return solidly in first place in the South Division, 14 games ahead of the 2nd place Gwinnett Braves.



Two of the road games were "bullpen games". That is, the Bulls used only relievers in the games. That's something of a pattern for 2017. This year the Bulls have had 9 bullpen games, and won 7 of them.

On the field, the biggest change was the result of the Rays trading Casey Gillaspie to the White Sox. That's meant that Jake Bauers has been playing a lot of first base (the last five games). It also means that we might be seeing Gillaspie on the field in a Knights uniform tonight.

To fill the Gillaspie spot a young infielder, 24-year-old Grant Kay, was called up from Montgomery for his AAA debut. He's done very well, hitting .455 in 11 ABs, stolen 4 bases, and committed no errors in 3 games at 3B.

Overall, the Bulls' bats are not particularly hot since the All-Star break, but they are doing OK.



Matchup

Charlotte, currently in last place, is in town for the next three games. As can be seen, their problem is pitching and fielding. Their hitting is pretty good.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Wins, Trades, & Matchups

The Bulls took 3 of 4 up in Buffalo and are moving on to a re-match with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Four decent games, including a solid outing by new guy Michael Roth. That's going to be important since roster turmoil is surely going to get worse before it gets better (if it ever gets better).

The big news is that Casey Gillaspie has been traded to the White Sox for a pitcher who has gone on the Rays 25-man. Gillaspie was assigned to Charlotte by the White Sox, so the Bulls will be seeing him in the Knights' dugout next Tuesday. I'm guessing that the change in uniform will help him regain his stroke and that could mean trouble for Bulls' pitchers next week. After a tough 2017, we can only wish Mr. Gillaspie well. We've enjoyed watching him at 1B.

In other news, Jamie Schultz, last seen in a Bulls uniform for one inning in the second game of the year, April 7th, is back from the disabled list.

Matchup

Meanwhile, the IronPigs split a four-game series with the Gwinnett Braves since last the Bulls saw them. They are just 1-1/2  games back in the North Division and hold a 3-1/2 game lead in the IL wild card race. The Phillies have been shuffling the IronPigs roster at least as much as the Rays have been shuffling the Bulls roster.



Monday, July 24, 2017

Buffalo and Then Allentown

Not a bad home stand, 4 wins and 3 losses against very good teams. Since one pitcher, new guy Michael Roth accounted for 2 of the 3 losses, we can (as is our wont) blame the quality of the Tampa Bay scouting team for some of the Bulls' troubles. And it really does seem as if starting pitching tells a lot of the story for this stand as the starting crew got 4 above average Game Scores in all four wins, and the below average scores for all three losses.



But, there was the oddity last night of the Iron Pigs breaking the tie of a Bulls wild pitch that let a batter get on base after a strike out (and eventually score) and a walk-off after an IronPigs wild pitch let a runner get to third base and then score on an infield single.

Nevertheless, the Bulls still have a big lead in the South Division.


Matchup

The Bulls are off to Buffalo for four games, then to the IronPigs home for three games. The Bisons are having a tough year, but, as we've seen, the IronPigs are a very, very good team.


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.

Overall

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


click on chart for larger image

Pitching

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

Fielding

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.


Ouch!

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.

click on chart for larger image
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.

click on chart to enlarge

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.


Pitching

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.



Hitting

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.


Fielding

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).

click for larger image
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.