Monday, July 23, 2018

The NEW Durham Bulls Are Back

This season's post-All-Star rosterizing by Tampa Bay seems to be even more frantic than usual. The break ended on July 12. Since then the Bulls have seen 26 transactions (and this list could miss a couple).
  • 7/12 INF Willy Adames optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/12 INF Christian Arroyo had his MLB rehab assignment transferred to Durham from Charlotte 
  • 7/12 OF Johnny Field optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/12 OF Jeremy Hazelbaker cleared waivers and was outrighted to Durham
  • 7/12 RHP Ryan Weber optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/12 RHP Jacob Faria had his MLB rehab assignment transferred to Durham from Charlotte 
  • 7/12 RHP Chih-Wei Hu recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/12 INF/OF Ji-Man Choi recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/13 C Adam Moore activated from disabled list
  • 7/13 C Roberto Pena transferred to Princeton
  • 7/15 RHP Ryan Weber designated for assignment by Tampa Bay
  • 7/16 INF Christian Arroyo completes MLB rehab assignment and optioned to Durham
  • 7/17 RHP Chih-Wei Hu optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/17 INF Michael Russell transferred to Double-A Montgomery
  • 7/19 RHP Andrew Kittredge optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/19 OF Jeremy Hazelbaker traded to Minnesota for cash considerations
  • 7/20 C Adam Moore had contract selected by Tampa Bay
  • 7/20 OF Johnny Field designated for assignment by Tampa Bay
  • 7/20 C Roberto Pena assigned to Durham from Princeton
  • 7/21 C Mac James assigned to Durham from Double-A Montgomery
  • 7/21 INF/OF Micah Johnson activated from disabled list
  • 7/21 RHP Ryan Weber outrighted and assigned to Durham from Tampa Bay
  • 7/21 C Roberto Pena placed on disabled list
  • 7/21 OF Justin Williams recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/22 INF Willy Adames recalled by Tampa Bay
  • 7/22 OF Justin Williams optioned to Durham from Tampa Bay
Not to put too fine a point on it, this seems a bit nuts. By the way, Hazelbaker now playing for the Rochester Red Wings.

With this kind of turmoil, no surprise that since the break the Bulls are 5-6. It says something about the coaching/managing crew that it has not been worse. Note that Norfolk's on a run.



Query: Last night Weber started, pitched 2 innings, and gave up 1 earned run. Jake Faria came in, pitched 3⅓, gave up 4 runs. The Bulls lost 3-5. Weber took the loss. Why?


The Toledo Mud Hens come to town on Tuesday. They lead in the IL West Division and match up well against the Bulls, except for their pitching. But then who knows who will be pitching for the Bulls by the time the game starts.



Speaking of pitching, Bulls starting pitching has been slipping. In the last 8 games, not one starter has achieved an "average" Game Score. That is not good. ERAs have been ticking upwards as well.



Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Importance of Pitching; Matchup Bulls v Bisons

These last two games up in Syracuse (Box Game 94, Box Game 95) provide great examples of the importance of pitching. In the first game, rehabbing Jake Faria and struggling Chih-Wei Hu combined to give up 11 hits, 5 walks, and 11 runs (8 earned) over 6 innings. In the second game, Andrew Moore's five hits (2 home runs) and 2 walks resulted in 4 runs, enough to lose the game. This is continuing an unfortunate trend that started back on Game 91 that has seen the team ERA rise from 3.21 to 3.34. Not the end of the earth, but worrisome.

Today the Bulls are over in Buffalo playing against Toronto's AAA team, the Buffalo Bisons. They can surely expect a few more fans in the seats (one of the Syracuse games only had a paid attendance of 2,600 fans).

The Bisons are in 3rd place in the IL North, but their stats indicate they should be doing a bit better.



Monday, July 16, 2018

Hazelbaker!

Jeremy Hazelbaker
Photo Credit

July 15, 2018
Durham Bulls 7; Charlotte Knights 6
Wrap, Box

We have noted, if only indirectly, that Jeremy Hazelbaker was not having a good year. At the All-Star break, he was carrying a poor .189 batting average and a .647 OPS. He had just been Designated for Assignment by the Rays and it wasn't clear if he'd be back after his July 5 game in Charlotte.

He did make it back and if the two games he played since his return are any indication, he may have turned a corner. Including his walk-off double last night, he has 6 hits in 9 at-bats (3 doubles last night). He's pushed his batting average above the Mendoza Line to .210 and his OPS up 42 points to .689.

Good for him. Good for the Bulls.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The NEW Durham Bulls

What else can you call a team that had 8 (count 'em 8!) transactions over the All-Star break? All but one of them had spent at least some time with the Bulls this year. But even the best need to have a bit of playing time with each other.

In the starting lineup was:
  • Jacob Faria on a rehab assignment as starting pitcher
  • Christian Arroyo on a rehab assignment at 3B (he did have some time as a Bull earlier this year)
  • Willy Adames back at shortstop (commentary about that event here and here)
  • Johnny Field batting leadoff and playing right field.
Not playing, but back on the roster were
  • Pitcher Ryan Weber
  • Outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker who cleared waivers and has been outrighted.
Missing were:
  • Pitcher Chi-Wei Hu went to the Rays and came on in relief of Blake Snell last night and did OK
  • Infielder Ji-Man Choi, who DH'd for the Rays last night and was 0-fer with 2 Ks.
The latest roster is here.

Also missing was broadcaster Patrick Kinas, who was "called up" doing pre- and post-game shows for the Rays.

Oh, the Bulls lost 4-2 to Charlotte. Box. Wrap.

Fortunately, I was watching on TV at home. I'm guessing that if I were at the game (unless listening on the radio) I'd have to wait for the video board to tell me who the players were because they were yet again wearing my least favorite jersey without nameplates.

Congratulations are due Kean Wong who earned IL-MVP honors at the All-Star game. About the game: The IL lost to the PCL 7-12. WrapBox.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Durham Bulls at the All-Star Break; Charts!

The All-Star Break for the International League is not at mid-season. That happened quite a few games ago, but 88 games into the season is not a bad time to take a look at how the team is doing. Only 52 games to left!

Overall, the Durham Bulls have been doing very well this year and at the break are 4½ games ahead of Norfolk in the South Division.

click on chart for larger view

Pitching

Twenty-six different pitchers have stepped up on the mound for the Durham Bulls this year. Ranging from infielder Brandon Snyder (1 inning) to Forrest Snow (88 innings).

As a team, they have the best ERA in the International League. In previous seasons, the comparison of starters and relievers provided some mild insights to the team. In this season, the Tampa Bay style of using "openers" and the Bulls' need to have occasional bullpen days are messing with those comparisons.



The team's WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) is, by a few hundredths of a point, second to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in the IL. Pretty good.



Runs

Another way to look at team performance is to track run differentials. That is, how many runs are scored compared to runs allowed. In that race, the Bulls are also doing very well this year.



And not only this year. This chart shows run differentials for the last five years at this point in the season. Looking pretty good.



Hitters

Although I am not a big fan of the OPS stat, it does seem to be a decent measure of overall team performance. This chart shows the cumulative team OPS over the last 20 games. The Bulls rank second in the IL, just behind the Indianapolis Indians.



Twenty-three players have come to bat for the Bulls this year. Their plate appearances range from the visiting Tampa Bay rehabber Adeiny Hechavarria (4) to Justin Williams (327). This table is sorted by wOBA, weighted on-base average, and includes another newish stat called RC+, weighted runs created plus. Important to all is just how truly spectacular those numbers of Rob Refsnyder and Brandon Lowe are, but also to note the very small sample size. Neither has been with the team very long at all.



NameAgePAAVGOPSwOBAwRC+
Brandon Lowe
23
128
.330
1.084
.470
203
Rob Refsnyder
27
57
.373
1.007
.447
187
Joe McCarthy ˆ
24
143
.265
.863
.386
145
Brandon Snyder
31
252
.251
.839
.376
138
Kean Wong
23
310
.316
.843
.376
138
Ji-Man Choi †
27
86
.270
.766
.348
119
Andrew Velazquez
23
280
.262
.725
.328
105
Jason Coats
28
276
.245
.736
.327
104
Justin Williams †
22
327
.266
.711
.323
101
Jeremy Hazelbaker
30
226
.189
.647
.295
82
Nick Ciuffo
23
107
.257
.646
.291
79
Roberto Pena
26
36
.265
.600
.278
70
Michael Russell
25
106
.260
.602
.275
68
Adam Moore ˆ 
34
151
.225
.595
.271
66
Micah Johnson ˆ
27
137
.197
.572
.259
57
Source: https://www.fangraphs.com
†=on 40 Man; ˆ= on DL; Hazelbaker has been DFA'd

Defense

Lastly, here's my homebrewed measure of team defense. For much of the year, the Bulls were giving up a lot of runs as measured by unearned runs per game. Lately, they've been doing better. Let's hope that keeps up.



Nameplates!

One more kvetch about the uniforms. Names! Names! Names! I really don't like digging into my program to find out who's on first.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Bulls Return With a Solid Lead in IL South

You really can't have a better outcome when you visit your closest rival and take four games from them in their home park. That's what the Durham Bulls just did over in Norfolk and opened up their lead in the International League South to 5½ games.

The buzz, as it should be, is the continued stunning performance of young (23) Brandon Lowe. His OPS has soared to 1.147 and he has contributed 23 RBI in his 22 games as a Bull. Not far behind is another new guy, Ji-Man Choi who is carrying an OPS of .990. Not to mention All-Star Kean Wong whose batting average of .317 is 2nd in the International League. Choi and Lowe do not have enough ABs to get on the list.





Meanwhile, down in that great bandbox-near-the-sea in St Petersburg, Florida, the Bulls parent club, had a homestand nothing short of amazing. They took 8 out of 9 games against the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and Houston Astros! And with only a couple of legitimate starting pitchers. They seem to be having fun.



Monday, June 25, 2018

Good Trip; Coming Home

The Bulls had another good road trip, winning four of six games against the Louisville Bats and the Indianapolis Indians. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was the breakout hitting of young Brandon Lowe. His OPS soared from a pretty dismal .448 to a very solid .929 and included 5 home runs and 9 RBI. His batting average went from .196 to .263 over the six games.

Ji-Man Choi also had a good trip, but left the game yesterday after getting hit in the face by an elbow as a runner passed by. His OPS is a stunning 1.056 over his first 10 games with the Bulls.

Overall, the Bulls seemed to have survived the departure of Willy Adames and Jake Bauers. Now if they could just win some games at home.



Outside the Game

Jake Bauers had a game-winning, 12th inning home run yesterday to beat the Yankees and complete a three-game sweep of the Yankees at home ... and they even had some fans watching the game!

Matchup

The Charlotte Knights were just here and they are back. They are not having a good year, which doesn't mean they don't do well against the Bulls. Just last week they were also in town and swept the Bulls.



Those 2018 Uniforms

OK, is it time to talk about the uniforms? Just for the record, I don't like them. First, I like nameplates on jerseys. What happens if I don't have a program? Or it's a new player? Second, I'm no fan of the new Bull City logo. I get it, Durham paid millions for the stadium upgrade, they get to call some shots. But it's ugly.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Boom!

Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 13; Louisville Bats (Cincinnati) 3
Wrap, Box

Last night's performance by Bulls hitters was simply stunning. Seven out of nine hitters improved their OPS, some by substantial margins, in just one game. One, Ji-Man Choi, albeit from a very small sample so far, jumped up 300 points with 2 home runs! Lowe and Hazelbaker had good nights.

Name
6/20
6/21
Diff
Ji-Man Choi*†
.791
1.109
.318
Nick Ciuffo*
.652
.666
.014
Jeremy Hazelbaker*†
.579
.628
.049
Brandon Lowe*
.500
.556
.056
Michael Russell
.711
.739
.028
Brandon Snyder
.815
.822
.007
Andrew Velazquez#
.744
.741
-.003
Justin Williams*†
.698
.690
-.008
Kean Wong*
.872
.879
.007
Team
.731
.739
.008
*=Left-handed bat; †=on 40-man

The Bulls head up the road to second-place Indianapolis where they face a team that is a very close match to the Bulls in most categories. The Indians are a formidable hitting team, a decent ERA, but their team WHIP is not good at all. That may help explain their similar won-loss record, but much lower run differential. Should be a good series.




Monday, June 18, 2018

Another Dismal Home Stand

Well, this home stand was a disaster. The Bulls lost 5 out of six, with a run differential of -10 over the six games. And of the total of 21 runs given up, 7 were unearned (see chart below). About the only nice thing that could be said of the week was that it was great to see Kevin Kiermaier in a Bulls uniform. On the other hand, it was painful to see the difference between a major leaguer and what we saw on the mound, at bat, and on the  field.

Why? Well, part of it stems from the four hitters who are below .600 OPS: Brandon Lowe, Ji-Man Choi, Jeremy Hazelbaker, and Micah Johnson (although Johnson just went on the disabled list). Of those, three are below the Mendoza Line (batting average of less than .200). Only one hitter  on the Bulls is over .800 OPS, Kean Wong.

Pitching isn't all that bad. The team ERA and other metrics are among the best in the IL. But the fielding has been awful.

Nevertheless, even though they can't seem to win at home, the Bulls remain, just barely, in the IL South lead as they head off to Louisville and Indianapolis.


The Bulls are a half game ahead of Norfolk.



This is just plain ugly. Bulls mistakes have cost them 41 runs on the year.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Bulls Dis Durham

What's wrong with this picture? The last homestand the Durham Bulls lost 4 and won 2 against lightweight competition. Then they went on the road, also against sub-.500 teams, and won 5 and just lost 1. Now they are back home and have dropped the first three games to the worst teams in the South Division.

Not to oversimplify, but there's a good chance that it has something to do with lineups like last night's. Two batters were below the Mendoza Line (.200): Hazelbaker and Lowe. As much as aggressive baserunning is fun to watch, watching a pickoff and caught stealing (Lowe) was tough. New guy Ji-Man Choi is probably going to turn out OK, but he's had several opportunities to knock runners in and he hasn't in these early days.

Of course, missing Adames and Bauer, as well as Anthony Banda for the season, makes a difference. And it's just June. But it's also coming up on mid-season and playing at home should be more fun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bulls Back, Bauers and Adames Are Not

The Bulls are back after taking 5 of 6 on an exceptionally productive road trip to Pennsylvania and New York to play the Phillies and Twins franchises. I have to note that it seems only fair that after the Rochester Red Wings swept the Bulls at their home at the end of May, that the Bulls went up to the Red Wings’ home and swept them.

The biggest problem with the Bulls being back is that they are back without two key players, Willy Adames and Jake Bauers. Adames got called up yesterday and Bauer has been up there for a couple of days where he has been the starting first baseman and doing very, very well. See reports in the Tampa Bay Times. We here at WDBB also wish them well.

Other news is that outfielder extraordinaire and former Durham Bull Keven Kiermaier may be coming through on a rehab stint this weekend.

Meanwhile, the Rays have acquired first baseman Ji-Man Choi in a trade with the Brewers and sent him to the Bulls. Choi is carrying a stunning .924 OPS in 40 games with Milwaukee's AAA franchise, the Colorado Sky Sox and has had 12 games with the Brewers this year where he hit .781 including a recent grand slam.

Hard as it is to believe, but the Bulls are only 9 games away from mid-season! And only 35 more home games.

Oh yeah, they are in still in first place, 3 games ahead of Norfolk and 9½ games ahead of Charlotte.


Matchup

The White Sox franchise, the Charlotte Knights are having a surprisingly poor year at the plate, particularly given their hitter-friendly ballpark. Former Bulls Casey Gillaspie (OPS .627) and Patrick Leonard (OPS .664) are not having strong years. Too bad. Now, of course, it not the time to get their games back.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Bulls Hit the Road; and More...

Not the best of home stands. Four losses and two wins. And then comes the news that Anthony Banda is out until 2020 as he goes through Tommy John surgery and rehab. We wish only the best for Mr. Banda. We really liked watching him pitch this year.

Nevertheless, the Bulls stayed in first place, a full game ahead of Norfolk. Standings.

The team is off to Pennsylvania for their first trip to the North Division. Three games against the Yankees franchise, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, then three games against the Minnesota team, the Rochester Red Wings who just swept the Bulls here at home.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders do not play in either Scranton or Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a bit of trivia that's always fun to share. Their actual zip code is Moosic. They are just off of a 6-day trip to the West Division where they split with Louisville and Indianapolis. At the moment they are in last place in their usually very competitive division.

Matchup

The Bulls lead the RailRiders in all categories except defense.



We note that Curt Casali hit a home run in his first game as a Cincinnati Red. We also noted that in that game he caught reliever Dylan Floro who appeared in 32 games as a Bull in 2016 (and 22 in 2015) and now is pitching for the Reds.

Meanwhile (drumroll please), the Stetson Hatters are in the NCAA Super Regionals and will be playing UNC. The Hatters are on an impressive 18-game winning streak. Here's hoping they keep it up! Have I ever mentioned that I am a Stetson alumni and a huge fan of Doc Johnson's leadership of the Hatters team back in the 60's?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Bulls Back in First Place

May 28, Game 49
Durham Bulls 5; Louisville Bats 1
Wrap/Box

New guy, righthander Andrew Moore, in trade from the Seattle system, pitched his first game as a Bull and did just fine. He only allowed one run over his 5+ innings. He is on the Rays' 40-man roster. Catcher Adam Moore, the second half of the Moore/Moore battery contributed 3 hits and 2 RBI.

Meanwhile, Norfolk's winning streak got broken and the Bulls are back in first place as they come home to play Rochester. Here's hoping the field is dry and has survived the ACC's depredations.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Durham Bulls Drop Out of First Place

May 27, Game 48
Durham Bulls 0; Louisville Bats 5
Wrap/Box

The Norfolk Tides have run off 6 wins in a row as the Bulls have lost 5 of 7 on this 8-game road trip. Time to come home.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Boom!

May 25, Game 26
Durham Bulls 8; Louisville Bats 1
Box, Wrap

Four home runs (2 by Jason Coats, 1 each by Kean Wong and Andrew Valazquez) and 3 doubles (Wong, Hazelbaker, & Johnson) were enough to add a substantial tick upwards in the Durham Bulls' Team OPS, break a losing streak, and help Chih-Wei Hu get his first win.



Friday, May 25, 2018

Snakebit!

May 24, Game 45: Durham Bulls 1; Gwinnett Stripers 7, Box

Bulls coaches should be concerned with the dramatic rise in mistakes by their position players. In the last two games Gwinnett scored 7 unearned runs, running up the Bulls' very respectable uERA (unearned run average) of .385 to .533. Yes, the roster has been chaotic, but this is very worrisome.



On a side note, changing their name hasn't made a difference for the "Stripers" down at Coolray Field. The stands were essentially empty for all four games (paid attendance around 1,300 each game).

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Minor League Blues; Pitching Efficiency

Game 43: Durham Bulls 3; Gwinnett Stripers 9; Box
Game 44: Durham Bulls 4; Gwinnett Stripers 5; Box

So here we see some of the perils of being a minor league fan, even when your team is doing well. In the first game, a highly-regarding major leaguer comes to town on a rehab start in place of this year's most productive young pitcher. The pitcher, Nathan Eovaldi gives up 10 hits and 8 runs over his 4 innings.

In the second game, a completely reconfigured infield (Pena catching his first game, Kean Wong at 3B, Andrew Valazquez at SS, Micah Johnson at 2B, Joe McCarthy at 1B) allows in 3 unearned runs.

Chart of the Day

Here's a home-grown stat: Pitches per out. It sort of tells you how hard a pitcher has to work. Small sample size warning.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Durham Bulls at Game 41; Charts!

This was a very successful homestand. The Bulls won 5 out of 6 games (and they've won 10 of their last 13). They are off to Gwinnett for four games and then go from there to Louisville for four more. That's 8 games on the road just to keep them out of the DBAP while the ACC tournament is going on.

They are 3½ games ahead of Norfolk in the South Division.

click on chat for larger image
Runs

Net runs scored is a pretty good indicator of them performance. By that indicator, at 41 games into the season, this is a very good Bulls team.


Pitching

The Bulls have the second-best team ERA in the International League. The starters and relievers are holding about even, which is a change from previous years. Typically, the Durham Bulls relief crew does much better than the starters. But this is getting harder to sort out with the number of bullpen days, and the erratic performance on a couple of the starters.



For example, if we look at the WHIP numbers for all of the pitchers we see that three of the starters simply aren't putting up very good numbers. One of them, Chih-Wei Hu, is enduring another year where the Rays don't seem to know how they want to use him.



The biggest concern among the pitching crew is reliever Jaimie Schultz. He's had 8 appearances in May, but has just completed 6⅓ innings giving up 16 hits (2 homers), 9 walks, and 14 earned runs. We remember him as a decent starting pitcher back in 2016, but we have to admit that we're worried now.

On the positive side: the Bulls have a bunch of pitchers near the golden number of "1". Please also note that pitchers on the 40-man (marked by an *) are very often "working" on something which can mean that their stats don't necessarily reflect their value to the Rays. Also, this is very early in the season. Small sample size cautions apply.

Hitters

In most years Bulls hitters are in the middle of the pack. Not this year. A team OPS of .756 is very good and rates at 4th in the International League.



Durham Bulls hitters, sorted by OPS.


NameAgeGBAOBPSLGOPS
Kean Wong*2327.327.397.515.911
Curt Casali2923.316.369.500.869
Joe McCarthy*2432.259.379.481.860
Jake Bauers*2237.289.361.486.847
Willy Adames2239.308.387.448.834
Andrew Velazquez#2328.301.350.462.812
Jason Coats2832.227.287.429.715
Justin Williams*2235.244.309.394.703
Jeremy Hazelbaker*3023.182.292.403.695
Adam Moore3421.250.299.375.674
Brandon Snyder3128.189.316.358.674
Christian Arroyo2317.200.235.308.543
Micah Johnson*2725.175.224.288.511

Individually, Kean Wong stands out. Curt Casali is only playing in half the games, yet has impressive numbers. Andrew Velazquez's 11 stolen bases have been really fun to watch.

Defense

Lastly, here's our home-grown defensive measure, Unearned Run Average (unearned runs per 9 innings), which is the mirror-image of ERA. Looking good!





Friday, May 11, 2018

Bulls Win Home Stand

This was a very good home stand for the Bulls. They won 6 of 8 games, and only one of those was truly forgettable. Plus the games were against Toledo, the best team in the International League West, and Norfolk, the second-best team in the International League South.

The outcome was that the Bulls are 1½ games ahead in the IL south. Standings.


Matchup

They went down the road to Charlotte last night. The Knights are not off to a good start. On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Bulls parent club, is facing a very difficult road trip and we can expect quite a bit of roster turmoil over the next few days.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Bulls and the Tides Back and Forth

This is just an interesting chart. For the last 11 games the Bulls and the Tides have been within a half game of each other. The Bulls are a half game in front today. After tonight's game either the Tides will be back in first place or the Bulls will open up to a game and a half.

These are fun teams to watch.


For a conventional view of the standings, click here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Durham Bulls in First Place

April 30, Game 22
Durham Bulls 4; Norfolk Tides 2
Wrap, Box

For the first time in 2018, the Durham Bulls are in first place in the South Division of the International League. Congratulations to the Bulls!

They did it with solid pitching from Jose Mujica, who now holds the best won-loss record and best ERA of the Bulls' starting crew; alert baserunning from Andrew Velazquez, who stole two bases and came home to score on a throwing error; and timely hitting by catcher Adam Moore and outfielder Justin Williams.

This is a good team. Nice to see them in first place.


Monday, April 30, 2018

Georgia to Virginia

The Bulls swept the Gwinnett Stripers and now go head-to-head with the South Division leader the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles AAA franchise. The Bulls are only 1/2 game back and are on something of a roll. The Tides just finished a losing series with Charlotte.

click for larger image
Matchup

The matchup is pretty close. Durham certainly has the overall edge in pitching, but otherwise, it looks as if the teams (and fans) are going to have some fun.


Friday, April 27, 2018

Bulls Off to Georgia After Great Week

The Durham Bulls did a fine job in this 6-game home stand, winning 4 games against decent North Division teams. They ended up two games below .500 and in second place in the South Division, 2 1/2 games behind Norfolk. Standings

Team ERA showed a modest improvement, going from 2.72 down to 2.63. Team OPS improvement was impressive, from .642 to .692 in just six games.

The individual player story-of-the-week was, of course, Willy Adames, who hit a grand slam on Sunday, then hit for the cycle on Monday. Those heroics were still not enough to get noticed by the Durham Herald-Sun, but did merit a mention several days later in the Raleigh News & Observer. In addition to Adames' 2 homers, we saw 5 other home runs by Jason Coats (2), Adam Moore (1), Brandon Snyder (1), and Jake Bauers (1).

Matchup

The Bulls are off to Lawrenceville, Georgia to play three games against Atlanta's AAA affiliate, the Gwinnett Stripers. They then take the bus and drive past Durham to get to Norfolk for three games against the Tides.

I failed to mention that one of our favorite guys from 2016 is now with the Stripers, Jaff Decker. I liked the way he played the game in his time with the Bulls.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Slamer Shutout

April 23, Game 15
Durham Bulls 10; Lehigh Valley IronPigs 0
Wrap, Box

A grand slam off the Bull is very cool. Congrats to Willy Adames (and to Jason Coats for his homer). And the first shutout of the year is also nice. Are the Bulls getting on track? Maybe.

Meanwhile, young Andrew Velazquez at second base is a serious talent and fun to watch. Nice to know that the Bulls can deal with Kean Wong's trip to the DL without great harm.

More Press Grumbles

We didn't write all that much about Danny Farquhar while he was a Bull in 2016 (although we did misspell his name a lot — three times in one post). Still, if we had a decent sports press corps in the area we'd at least know a little bit about what now seems to be a really interesting guy. See today's USA Today.

Matchup

The Buffalo Bisons suffer from playing in Buffalo — they've played four fewer games than the Bulls this year (rain, sleet, snow, etc). At that, however, they outmatch the Bulls in hitting by a quite a bit. On the other hand, the Bulls have the best ERA in the league. On the Bisons' pitching staff is young Taylor Guerrieri, a first-round pick of the Rays with 5 productive years in the system, who had two starts with the Bulls last year, and then ended up in the Blue Jays system. Looks like they are using him as a reliever.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pitcher Worries

April 22, Game 14
Durham Bulls 4; Lehigh Valley IronPigs 8
Wrap, Box

Anthony Banda has only had four appearances, but his game score trend is disturbing (50 is "average"). Last night it was either strike 'em out or give up a solid hit. I only recall one easy infield ground ball. No doubt he's a talented guy, but here's hoping he gets into a rhythm.



Otherwise, Lehigh Valley's 22-year-old Enyel De Los Santos was an uncomfortable pleasure to watch. Assuming he doesn't blow out his arm along the way, he's going to be a star.

Grumble of the day:

The Bulls hometown newspaper, the Durham Herald-Sun, has not run a single game story since opening day. Must be awfully lonely up there in the press box. Has anyone else seen any stories that were not re-writes of the Bulls' own press releases?

You'd think they'd at least mention the hospitalization of Danny Farquhar who pitched in 32 games for the Bulls. The Tampa Bay Times had a nice piece.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Back From the Cold

I'm struggling to find something good to say about the Bulls' trip to Ohio. The weather was awful with one rainout and one game shortened by snow. Most games were played with temperatures in the 30's and low 40's. And, as might be expected, played to essentially empty stadiums in Columbus and Toledo.

The Bulls lost 5 of the 6 games played.

They arrived back in Durham in last place in the International League South Division.

click on image for larger view

The team taking the field tonight changed quite a bit during its trek through the frozen north:
  • RHRP Ryan Weber came down from Tampa Bay (he had one appearance as a Ray). So far he has 1 inning with a blown save as a Bull.
  • RHSP/RP Chih-We Hu went to Tampa Bay, put in 2 2/3 innings in relief, and has come back.
  • Switch-hitting infielder Andrew Velazquez came up from Montgomery and has stolen 4 bases in two games so far.
  • Infielder Christian Arroyo went on the DL
  • RHRP Hunter Wood was called up to Tampa Bay 
  • Infielder Brandon Snyder was called up to Tampa Bay
  • Infielder Jake Cronenworth came up from Montgomery and has played in two games.
  • Outfielder Johnny Field was called up to the Rays.
Matchup

The Phillies AAA franchise the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are having a decent start to the year. They are in the middle of the pack in the IL North (standings). Plus they are the only other team in AAA baseball with a fan blog (although they, like us, have not been all that busy this year).

They are obviously hitting and fielding very well (only 1 unearned run).


Monday, April 16, 2018

Matchup: Bulls v Mud Hens

Ugly, ugly weather up in Ohio. Supposed to be around 38˚ at game time.

The big, big deal for WDBB is that Mikie Mahtook will be playing with the Mud Hens. Mikie came to the Bulls back in 2014 and played some terrific ball for the Bulls. He went back and forth with the Rays until going off to the Detroit Tigers for the 2017 season, when he had a good year. He appears to be caught in some roster turmoil, is off to a slow start, and had options left. I'm skeptical. I always like watching him play, so I hope my MiLB connection is working over the next couple of days.

Matchup

The Mud Hens are off to a good start. Most notable is their defense. They've only given up 2 unearned runs this year (the Bulls have given up 6).


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Bulls Split Homestand, Off to Columbus

The Bulls started the season with a 3-3 homestand. And looked OK.

On Twitter we're hearing that Johnny Field has been called up and the Bulls roster shows outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker coming down from Tampa Bay. Very pleased to see Field get his chance.

The Bulls are off for their first out-of-Division games this year with a trip to Columbus to play Cleveland franchise, the Clippers, then off to Toledo to play the Detroit franchise, the Mud Hens. The Clippers are the frequent power in the West Division. So far this year their pitching isn't helping them much. But it's very, very early days.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Even Up

Game 3
Durham Bulls 0; Charlotte Knights 5
Wrap, Box

Game 4
Durham Bulls 4; Gwinnett Stripers 2
Wrap, Box

Season: 2-2

Ugly weather day at the DBAP. I never made it out there.  I watched via MiLB. I have to point out that the two Bulls wins so far have been gifts from the opposing pitchers. But it's early days.

Who Are These Guys? - The Pitchers
(In order of appearance this year)
  • Chih-Wei Hu, RHSP, got the first start. This will be the third year that he's spent time with the Bulls. Last year he began as a starter and finished as a reliever. Now he's back as a starter. His first appearance this year was not very impressive.
  • Cody Hall, RHRP,  is coming to the Bulls out of indy ball, but has a fair amount of AAA time with Pacific Coast League teams. He's appeared in relief in Games 1 and 4 (getting a win)
  • Adam Kolarek, LHRP, is a back-and-forth to the Rays reliever from the last two years and we like him a lot. He did give up some hits in his first appearance, but did fine his second time out.
  • Ryne Stanek, RHRP, had 36 appearances with the Bulls and 19 with the Rays last year. He's already made three this year. Not sure why he didn't stay with Rays out of spring training, but likely to go back any day now.
  • Anthony Banda, LHSP, started game 2 and he looked very good. Banda was part of a complicated trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and is considered a top prospect. He is on the Rays 40-man.
  • Ian Gibault, RHRP, is coming up through the Rays system. His relief appearance in game 2 was his AAA debut. 
  • Hunter Wood, RHRP,  was a really interesting guy to watch last year and extremely important in the playoffs. He's made two appearances and picked up his first save yesterday.
  • Jose Mujica, RHSP, got the start (his AAA debut) and the loss for game 3. He is the youngest pitcher on the team, coming up through the Rays system. My guess is that he will be either stick around and be thoroughly tested or go back to AA for more work.
  • Jonny Venters, LHRP, made his first appearance in game 3. He was helpful in the playoffs last year, but mostly he's been battling injuries for the last several years as he recovers from Tommy John surgeries. He could be a real asset if he continues on his healing track.
  • Jamie Schultz, RHRP, is back and we're happy about that. He's running out of time, but we love seeing him on the mound. Good luck. 
  • Diego Castillo, RHRP, opened his 2018 season with one inning's work and 3K's. We would expect no less. He had 3 saves in the playoffs, following a terrific post-All-Star break season with the Bulls.
  • Vidal Nuno, LHSP,  started game 4. He's bounced around a lot in his career over several years and a good bit of major league time. He looked just fine yesterday, just giving up the one home run. 
  • Forrest Snow, RHRP, made his first appearance in game 4. He's got AAA time over 8 seasons. He took free agency at the end of last season and was signed by the Rays.
Note: RHP Ryan Weber never made it to the mound. He was called up by the Rays during the Bulls game 3

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Taking the 5th

Game 2
Durham Bulls: 11; Charlotte Knights: 1
Wrap, Box, Play-by-Play, Video (Banda strike 'im out, Moore throw 'im out)

Charlotte's Chris Volstad gave up a couple of runs in the 5th, so reliever Robbie Ross came in and threw a couple of wild pitches moving runners around, then a walk, then two singles, and then another walk. Rose left the game with 4 earned runs and an essentially infinite ERA on the year. By the time Ross' replacement, Tyler Danish, finished the inning the Bulls had scored 8 of their 11 runs. A big inning on a big night.

Bulls starting pitcher Anthony Banda, out of the Arizona system, was impressive.

Who are these guys? (continued)
  • Brandon Snyder started at 3B and batted 5th in the order last night. If he looks familiar, that might be because he's played with almost every team in the International League including Norfolk, Pawtucket, Gwinnett, and Syracuse. He brings a wealth of experience to this young team. Last night he was 1 for 4.
  • Micah Johnson started in center field and batted 6th. He is out of the Atlanta system with time with both the Charlotte Knights in 2015 and Gwinnett last year. He was 2 for 4 last night with 2 RBI.
  • Adam Moore started at catcher and batted 9th. Moore is the "old man" on the team at 34. He spent the last two years with Columbus and can be seen at work in the video above with a nice strike 'im out, throw 'im out sequence. He was 2 for 5 last night with 3 RBI.
I'll get around to the pitchers eventually.

Weather for tonight does not look good. Let me refer you to my advice on dealing with rain up to the right, or you can click here.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The 2018 Season Begins

Game 1
Durham Bulls: 2; Charlotte Knights: 6
Wrap, Box

Who are these guys?
  • Christian Arroyo played 3B and led off. He went 0-4. He was a key part of the Rays' Evan Longoria trade. On 40-man. 
  • Jake Bauers played 1B and batted second. He went 2-4 with two doubles. He was a star last year and we're happy to see him back, if only for a little while. 
  • Willy Adames started at SS and batted third. He went 1-4 and got on base with a HBP. He looked good last year (with the most starts of any Bull). Also on the 40-man, it's guesswork to determine how long he will be here.
  • Joe McCarthy, in left field, is new to the Bulls and he started as the cleanup batter. He went 1-4 with a double. He's been coming up through the Rays system for the last three years (all of last year with Montgomery). Staring his first AAA game batting cleanup says something about him.
  • Jason Coats, the designated hitter, is out of the White Sox system. He missed all of 2017 with an injury. He was 1 for 4 last night.
  • Justin Williams, batting 6th, was in right field. He spent all last season in Montgomery, but came to the Bulls in the post-season and played well. He's on the 40-man.
  • Johnny Field, in center field, batted 7th. Last year he was our favorite leadoff batter. Maybe he'll get back to it. 1 for 4 last night.
  • Kean Wong, 2B. Hero of the postseason with his grand slam in the championship game, he is a fun-to-watch infielder. And, here's a fun bit of trivia, at 23 the oldest of this game's infielders. It's a young team this year.
  • Curt Casali, catcher, has spent a lot of time in Durham over the last several years. He is essentially the Tampa Bay Rays backup catcher (although this year they'll have to do some roster manipulation to call him up). In our view, he's very important to this year's team. Hope he sticks with the Bulls for a while.
Pitchers? We'll get to them later.

Opening Day Comments

The video board did not get into full operation until about the 5th inning and I was surprised at how much I missed not having the lineup right in front of me. By the end of the game, however, things appeared to be on track.

Very pleased to hear broadcaster Patrick Kenas and his sometime partner Scott Pose back on the job. They are clearly the best broadcast crew in AAA baseball (and I have listened to all of the broadcasters in the International League). That said, however, the feed dropped out last night for an annoying 15 or 20 minutes. Listen on various apps, or 620 AM, 96.5 and 99.3 FM. Note: All games are streamed via MiLB.com and later in the season most games are on broadcast TV.

Monday, April 2, 2018

2018 Roster Announced

We'll have comments later, but first here's a link to the


A quick glance here shows 7 pitchers and 4 position players on the Rays' 40-man roster (about average). Several familiar names.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Durham Bulls Basics - 2018 - Part 3

The Players

Each of the 30 major league teams has 25 players = 750 major league baseball players(!). Out of those 25, usually 13 are pitchers and 12 are position players = 390 pitchers (usually 5 starters - 150; and 8 relievers - 240); 360 position players. Of those 12 position players, most teams have 2 catchers, 5 infielders, and 5 outfielders.

For those 750 guys who are on a major league roster, we have another 750 players divided into 25 man teams who are in Triple-A and, trust me, every one of them could be playing in the major leagues today.

How do the Durham Bulls fit into that?

Well, now, sigh, we need to talk about the Tampa Bay Rays, who own the players wearing the Durham Bulls uniform. To oversimplify just a bit, the Tampa Bay Rays have a contract to provide the Durham Bulls a baseball team. In turn, the Durham Bulls provide a place to play and folks to cheer them on (that would be us).

To clear up some possible confusion, the Tampa Bay Rays play baseball in St. Petersburg, Florida, not Tampa, in a much-maligned, but actually not too bad, domed stadium. That may come as a bit of a surprise to those not familiar with Florida geography (or modern marketing strategies).

As mentioned above, major league team consists of 25 players on the “active” roster. Those are the guys in the games and in the box scores, traveling in chartered airplanes, and making decent, sometimes obscene, amounts of money.

The 40-man Roster

An additional 15 players are added the 25 to make up a 40-man roster. In general, once a player makes it to the 25-man "active" roster he stays there (unless traded, sold, released, or designated for assignment). For players who have been around for a while, there are all sorts of byzantine rules regarding how this works. To complicate matters, the rules were recently changed to allow major league teams to expand their roster to 26 on days that they have a double-header. What matters to Bulls fans, however, is that a Bull cannot be called up to play in a Rays game (even to temporarily replace an injured player) unless he is first on the 40-man roster.

Here in Durham, we are not much interested in the active roster. What matters to Bulls fans are those 15 ballplayers who are on the Rays 40-man but not on the active roster. Members of that 15 man group usually make up the heart of the Durham Bulls.

If previous years are typical, we can expect that 11 to 12 of the players on the 40-man will be assigned to Durham and they will probably be split about 6 or 7 pitchers and 4 or 5 position players. Of the pitchers, one or two will be prospective starting pitchers, the other potential relievers. Fairly often when WDBB writes about a Bull we will mention whether or not he’s on the 40-man.

What about the rest of the team? Without exception — and this is part of what makes AAA baseball so much fun — they are ballplayers who have played, or are judged capable of playing, at the major league level. The precise reason why they are not playing there is also part of the fun — too young, too old, no room at the top, needs to work on a specific skill — sometimes all of the above.

The odds of a player called up are pretty good. There are enough injuries and trades in a given year that almost all of the players on the 40-man who start the year with the Bulls will at least get a few days with the Rays. Some will go there and stay.

However, unless Tampa Bay takes someone off the 40-man, a non-40 man player cannot be called up. Adjustment to the 40-man roster can, and does, happen — just not very often. On the other hand, the Rays are nothing if not creative in gaming the system.

The 40-man roster also has an effect on how the players who are with the Bulls are used. For example, pitchers may be on limited pitch counts and/or working on specific pitches that the Rays have decided the pitcher needs to develop. Relievers may be tested to see if they can do two days in a row, or “tried out” as a closer. We will see infielders playing the outfield (and vice versa).

My point is that sometimes what we see on the field is decided in St. Petersburg, not in the Bulls’ clubhouse. The Rays really aren’t particularly interested in the Bulls’ won-loss record. So, we will inevitably see some unfortunate (for Bulls fans) decisions, such as a player being called up, sitting on the Rays’ bench for a couple of weeks, then coming back to Durham with his timing shot and struggling at bat. And with this new 26 man roster for doubleheader rule, Bulls’ pitching rotations can get really screwed up with a pitcher being called up for a spot start and then coming back.

Nevertheless, we cannot avoid the fact that the Durham Bulls live and die at the whim of the Tampa Bay Rays' front office. What’s fortunate for Bulls fans is that the Rays have invested a ton of effort into building a steady stream of talent to feed into the big team. More than that, in the Rays system very few upcoming prospects just “pass through” AAA-level ball. Time with the Bulls is a real and very serious testing ground for pitchers and hitters. That means we will get to see some very talented ballplayers with first-rate managing/coaching crew. Lastly, without the Rays, we wouldn’t have AAA ball here at all.

All of which is not going to keep me from complaining about the Rays. Hey, it’s baseball!

More Stuff

For  more background on the 114 years of Durham Bulls history, check out the Bulls’ History link page and their Wikipedia page.

For a terrific book about Triple-A baseball, the Durham Bulls, and sheer great writing and photography, you cannot go wrong by picking up a copy of Bull City Summer. Available at local bookstores,  or online shops. We reviewed the book here.

See also Durham Bulls Basics - Part 1 and Part 2

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Durham Bulls Basics - 2018 - Part 2

The Schedule

The International League schedules 140 games for each of its teams (down from 144 in 2016). Half of those games are played at home. So, unless you are truly a Durham Bulls fanatic, you will only have 70 chances to see your Bulls during the regular season. Although, Charlotte or Norfolk isn’t all that far away so you could hope on the highway and visit ...

The Bulls season starts at home against the Charlotte Knights on April 5th. The last game of the season is a Monday day game against the Norfolk Tides on September 3.

An important feature of the IL schedule is that the Bulls only play a few home games against teams outside the South Division.  That means that if you are a Boston fan the only chance you’ll get to see Red Sox prospects will be the three games the first weekend of June (1, 2, 3). That’s it. They won’t be back unless both teams are in the playoffs in September. The same is true if you’re a Yankees fan (three games against the RailRiders, August 11-13). Said another way, the Bulls only play 37 games at home against the teams from outside the South Division.

On the other hand, if you’re a Braves, White Sox, or Orioles fan, you’re in luck. (Well, it’s a bit difficult to call an Orioles fan as being in any sort of luck, but you get the idea.) Those teams will be here a lot this year.

Triple-A ballplayers have a much more relentless schedule than major leaguers. They play more games with fewer days off, at least until September.

The Triple-A All-Star game pitting the International League All-Stars against the Pacific Coast League All-Stars is set for July 11, well past mid-season, and will be played Columbus, Ohio at the home field of the Columbus RailRiders (Cleveland AAA affiliate). Exactly how the players are selected for the game is something of a mystery. Fans do get a vote; however, usually the IL doesn’t bother to tell us how the fan voting went.

The International League Championship (The Governors’ Cup) is decided with two rounds of best of five playoffs in September. A one-game “AAA Championship” game is to be played on September 18 also at the RailRider's Huntington Park.

The Durham Bulls, as all readers of this blog must know, has won five Governors' Cups, two AAA  National Championships, and has won the Southern Division championship eight of the last eleven years.

See also Durham Bulls Basics - 2018 - Part 1 and Part 3

Friday, March 30, 2018

Durham Bulls Basics - 2018 - Part 1


For the last couple of years WDBB has made a stab at presenting the basics of this terrific baseball team. Here’s Part 1 of our 2018 version. As has been obvious, I haven't been paying too much attention lately; however, this is mostly stuff I did not know before my first Bulls game some years ago. I hope it doesn’t come off as being too basic.

Opening day is very close.

If you see a mistake, let me know. I’ll fix it as soon as I can.

AAA Baseball

The Durham Bulls are the Triple-A franchise of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Triple-A baseball is one step below major league baseball. How do we know that? Because Major League Baseball says Triple-A baseball is one step below Major League Baseball.

Major League Baseball has 30 teams: 15 in the American League and 15 in the National League. Each major league team has a AAA team in their farm system. Thus, there are 30 AAA minor league baseball teams — who said I couldn’t do basic arithmetic? Except, of course, that there’s a AAA Mexican League with 16 teams and recognized by Major League Baseball as being AAA, but I’ve never been able to figure that one out. (This is the last mention of the Mexican League for another year.)

The 30 Triple-A teams are divided into two leagues: The International League with 14 teams and the Pacific Coast League with 16 teams. So that sort of makes sense, so far.

What also makes sense is that, mostly, the International League is made up of teams who have their major league affiliates in the eastern and midwestern part of the country, while the Pacific Coast League’s parent clubs are, mostly, in the southwest and west.

But, hey, it’s baseball, so there will inevitably be a few quirks in the system. The Marlins, Brewers, and Cubs affiliates, for example, are all in the Pacific Coast League not in the International League.

The Durham Bulls are in the International League.

The International League

The 14 teams in the International League are matched up with major league teams without regard to whether the parent club is in the National League or the American League. The IL has teams affiliated with Boston, New York (Yankees), Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago (White Sox), Toronto, and Minnesota. That gives the IL 9 American League and 5 National League affiliates.

Logic would say that since AAA is the next step down from the majors, the teams would prefer to be in close proximity to each other. Sometimes that’s true. Toledo is linked to Detroit, Pawtucket is the AAA team of Boston, and the Atlanta Braves’ AAA club is just a long taxi ride away from Atlanta over in Lawrenceville, Georgia. On the other hand, Charlotte is pretty far from Chicago and the Durham-to-St. Petersburg distance is a good bit more than average.

Obviously, all the teams in the “International” League are in the US, but a while back there was a team in Ottawa. That gave us the chance to sing along to “O, Canada” four times a year.

With the re-opening of relations with Cuba, my bet is that we will see a International League team back in Cuba as soon as a major league team can make a deal. Note that the Tampa Bay Rays played the Cuban National Team in Havana last spring. Maybe a new team could be named the Sugar Kings, after the last International League AAA team that played in Havana. Why not move the Atlanta Braves affiliate since they only drew 3,000 fans per game last year? Only problem I see with a team in Cuba is learning the words to La Bayamesa, the Cuban National Anthem, much less singing it.

With teams from both the National and American Leagues, what about the designated hitter rule? The DH rule is in effect in all games except when both clubs are National League affiliates. That means that no Durham Bull pitchers will go to the plate this year (except in the very weird circumstance where a pitcher could go to the plate as a pinch-hitter — not likely, but possible).

The big change in the International League has been the re-naming of the  Atlanta Braves affiliate from the Gwinnett Braves to the Gwinnett Stripers. I think I'll leave my snarky comments regarding their new name to the first time the Bulls and the Stripers play. That would be April 8th.

The International League has three divisions: North, West, and South

Divisions and Affiliations

North Division

Buffalo Bisons - Toronto Blue Jays
Lehigh Valley IronPigs - Philadelphia Phillies
Pawtucket Red Sox - Boston Red Sox
Rochester Red Wings - Minnesota Twins
Syracuse Chiefs - Washington Nationals

West Division

Columbus Clippers - Cleveland Indians
Indianapolis Indians - Pittsburgh Pirates
Louisville Bats - Cincinnati Reds
Toledo Mud Hens - Detroit Tigers

South Division

Charlotte Knights - Chicago White Sox
Gwinnett Stripers - Atlanta Braves
Norfolk Tides - Baltimore Orioles
Durham Bulls - Tampa Bay Rays


See also Durham Bulls Basics 2018 Part 2 and Part 3.