Monday, June 17, 2019

The Importance of Run Differentials

Before we get to today's geek stuff, let's give a shoutout to the Bulls and DBAP crew that managed to host more than 30,000 fans this weekend. Very well done. Thank you! Let's not forget just how great the Bulls looked in the first two games of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders series. Let's try to look past the 13 (count'em, 13!) baserunners stranded in the last game.

About Run Differentials

This is a very simple statistic, the number of runs scored minus the number of runs allowed. But it's right up there with won-loss in importance. There's even a variant stat based on run differentials called Pythagorean Expectation, which we won't go into today, but is a lot of fun to track.

This first chart shows the cumulative game-by-game run differentials so far this year. As of today the Bulls have scored 402 runs and have allowed 330 for a run differential of 72, down slightly from Saturday's peak 0f 76. Nevertheless, pretty darn good at game 69 (they are just one game from mid-season).

Why Do They Matter

Look at the last several years. During those years the Bulls won four Governors' Cups (2011, 2013, 2017, and 2018) and won the IL South. Take a look at the run differentials for those years. All of them were positive — for the G'cup years, they were exceptional. Note: The Bulls also won the IL South in 2008, 9, and 10 with positive run differentials, but this chart was already cluttered enough.

Which brings me back to today. The Durham Bulls at midseason are looking very, very good. Their numbers are up there with those from 2017 and 2013, great years for Bulls (and Bulls' fans).

Friday, June 14, 2019

RailRiders Come to Durham

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders come to town today. They are the New York Yankee's AAA team and the buzz is that rehabbing Yankee's stars Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge could join the team in Durham.

But for a Bulls fan, the better story is that the two best teams in the International League are meeting for a 3-game matchup to be followed by a visit to the RailRiders' home field next week.

The Bulls are on a 6-game winning streak and have won 8 of their last 10. The RailRiders had a recent streak broken, but they have won 7 of their last 10. The Bulls are 3½ games up in the South, the RailRiders are 5½ games up in the North Division.

These are very well-matched teams and, with any luck, we could be seeing some of the most interesting baseball of the year this weekend and next week (assuming you've got MiLB TV).

Monday, June 3, 2019

Ugly Home Stand, So Far

This home stand is not going well. So far the Bulls have lost 5 games and won just two. Two key players were called up (congrats to Nate Lowe and Christian Arroyo) and catcher Nick Ciuffo, who was really improving at the plate, got hurt. Otherwise, it's a bit hard to peg just one reason.

Yes, the Bulls got shut out for just the second time this season. Yes, in one game they gave up 3 unearned runs. But the team ERA is virtually unchanged as is the team batting average. About the only metric that I watch that's been a problem is the opponents' Secondary Average. And that's grown quite a bit, reflecting on the 14 (count 'em, 14!) home runs hit by Louisville and Columbus. The Bulls hit 7 in the same period. Maybe that's what's made the difference.

At any rate, the Durham Bulls are out of first place in the South, with three more home games (against Norfolk) to go.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Back to the Bats

The Bulls split their 4-game Memorial Day series over in Charlotte. But the series featured extreme lows and highs in the last two games. In the first, on Sunday, Bulls pitchers had their worst outing of the year. They gave up 12 bases on balls! And 4 home runs. They lost 12 to 4. Then yesterday the pitching crew threw a shut out, only 3 hits and 4 walks. The hitters reversed the scoring by hitting four home runs and scoring 12 runs for the good guys.

Today is the big day for super-prospect Brendan McKay. So go to the game or watch his start on TV.


The Bulls swept the Louisville Bats at their home field last month, and they still match up well against them. The Bats are in third place in the IL West. They come in on a two-game win streak.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Remember — Memorial Day — 2019

Bald eagle on veteran's grave, Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Photo by Frank Gilk, Minneapolis Star Tribune. Stories by Jon Tevlin June 25 and August 10, 2011.
Memorial Day 2019

The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak

     Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them? 

     They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts. 

     They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us. 

     They say, We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done. 

     They say, We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave. 

     They say, Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them. 

     They say, Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say, it is you who must say this. 

     They say, We leave you our deaths: Give them their meaning: give them an end to the war and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning.
     We were young, they say. We have died; Remember us. 

— Archibald MacLeish

Matchup: Durham at Charlotte

The Durham Bulls took three games from the Norfolk Tides then drove past the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on the way to Charlotte.

The White Sox franchise is in third place, but banging the heck out of the new baseballs. They've hit 68 home runs this year, but their pitching record is the worst in the league.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Matchup: Durham vs Nofolk

The Durham Bulls are off to Norfolk for a 3-game series. Then they drive by Durham to a 4-game set with Charlotte. Then they return for a 9-game homestand. Meanwhile all those metal bat PINGS! will be sounding inside the DBAP as the ACC tournament sees its last days in Durham. Note: Why not use the old DAP for the ACC tournament? That would be a bit crowded, but fun.

The South Division is very competitive this year. Tides are only one game below .500 and they match up well against the Bulls. Plus the Bulls don't do all that well at Harbor Park. They lost 3 out of 4 at the beginning of the season. Plus the lost 2 out of 3 at home. That is, they are 2-5 against the Orioles farm club this year.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Durham Bulls Pitching at Game 41

As a team, Durham Bulls pitching is doing OK. The team ERA of 4.80 is slightly below the International League average of 4.88. But they rank 9th of 14 in the IL, almost a full run behind the leading Syracuse Mets (note the name change from "Chiefs" to "Mets").

The starters, however, are not distinguishing themselves. Over their 156 innings they are at a pretty crummy 5.96, while the Bulls' relievers in their 199 innings are at a stellar (for 2019) ERA of 3.89. Safe to say that it's the relief crew that is keeping the Bulls in the running.

Another way of measuring pitching performance is to look at your opposition's hitting. Here is where the Bulls are doing exceptionally well in some categories. This next chart shows their opponent's batting average and their "secondary average". What this implies is that (with the notable exception of yesterday's game against Rochester, see that tick upwards in the secondary average) Bulls's pitching (and catching) is very stingy when it comes to awarding extra base hits, walks, and stolen bases. They have given up the least amount of walks in the league, are in the middle of the pack on home runs, data on doubles and triples aren't available, and appear to be the best in the league in preventing stolen bases. Hence the tremendous difference in the league secondary average and the secondary average when those teams are playing the Bulls.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Durham Bulls Hitting (and Pitching?) at Game 36

I've become fascinated with a statistic called "Secondary Average" this year and have started tracking it for individual Durham Bulls and for the team. Batting average is pretty simple. The player hits a fair ball and gets on base. But it leaves out a lot of other stuff. Others stats that are out there such as On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage make up for that, but, for me, the numbers don't connect all that well.

I'm not alone. What got me started on secondary average was a Victor Mather article last April in the New York Times. It's pretty simple. Count up the total bases, back out the singles, add in the stolen bases, back out the caught stealing and divide by the at-bats. Then compare the batting average to the "secondary average".

Let's take a look at the Bulls as a team. This chart shows team  averages on the season. Just the last 15 games are shown. As of today, the Bulls batting average is .269, a few points over the International League average (and ranking 6th in the league). The Bulls secondary average is .307, indicating plenty of extra-base hits, walks, and stolen bases. They are essentially in the middle of the pack on all measures.

An interesting puzzle for all the league is the proliferation of home runs (Gwinnett has hit 59 in over their 37 games!). My guess is that using major league baseballs has a lot to do with it.

This table takes a look at Durham hitters and is sorted by batting average. I was surprised by Kean Wong's numbers and they may be an indication why he has not gained the attention of the Rays after all this successful time with the Bulls. If you want to worry, then worry about the Bulls' catchers. But, wait for the next chart to think about that.

Kean Wong
Jake Cronenworth
Mike Brosseau
Andrew Velazquez*
Nick Solak
Nate Lowe*
Emilio Bonifacio
Christian Arroyo*
Jason Coats
Jake Smolinski
Mac James
Nathan Lukes
Nick Ciuffo*
* On 40-man

I got to wondering if this stat could tell us something about Bulls pitching. Measured by ERA the Bulls have certainly not had stellar pitching this year, but as a team, they are at the league average.

However, if you start plotting the Opponent's batting average and secondary average, something pretty interesting jumps out. The opponent's secondary averages are well below their batting averages. What does that mean? It means that they are not getting very many extra-base hits, walks, stolen bases (and often getting caught stealing when they try). That fits with what we know about Rays' pitching philosophy — avoid walks, let the fielders do their jobs (and maybe all that shifting?).

Friday, May 10, 2019

Durham Bulls in First Place; On to Rochester

I have to say that I did not expect the Bulls to do so well against the IronPigs, but they did. They swept the team with the best International League record in their home park. We can expect the IronPigs to try to return the favor when Lehigh Valley visits the DBAP next week.

In the meantime, the Bulls rode their 5-game winning streak into first place in the South.

And are off to Rochester to play a three-game set with the Minnesota Twins (note: the Twins are now being managed by former Bull Rocco Baldelli — 2002, 2006, 2007, 2010).

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Mixed Home Stand; Off to Pennsylvania

The Bulls had an erratic home stand. After winning six games on the road, they went 4-4 at home. They ended up tied for second place in a very tight South Division.

They are on the road to face the Phillies franchise, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who are unquestionably the best team in the International League this year ... so far. So these next three games are certainly their biggest challenge for the Bulls in this young season.

The IronPigs are also blessed with a blogger who, much like me, isn't as  busy this year as in previous years. Still, he might jump in while the Bulls are in town. Take a look.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Durham Bulls Dominate on the Road

After an extraordinary 6 games won on the road, the Bulls are back today. They left 4 games under .500 and return  two games above .500.

The pitching seems to have sorted itself out. The team ERA has steadily improved over the last two weeks until they have gone from the worst in the International League to 9th, and only a few points off the league average.

What's kept them in the game has been the team hitting, especially extra-base hitting and plate discipline (i.e., walks). The Bulls' "secondary average" is a superb .317.

Note that this season has been front-loaded with a bunch of away games, only 6 home games and 16 away. At least they will be in town for the next 8 days. ...

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Durham Bulls Reach .500

Seems like a long slog, but four wins in a row — featuring a top-of-the-9th home run by Andrew Velazquez — gets the Bulls to .500 for the first time this year. Congratulations!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Bulls Sweep Bats; Off to Columbus

The Bulls had a really nice run in Louisville. Now heading up to Columbus to face the Clippers, who are off to a terrific start. Note the new stat in the matchup, Secondary Batting Average, which is sort of a simplified OPS and easier to understand. Teams with a secondary average higher than their batting average hit for power, wait for walks, and steal bases.

Note that the Bulls lost 2 out of 3 games to Columbus on the home opening of the season at the DBAP.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Bulls Return; Coping with Rain

The Bulls are returning to a formidable weather forecast. Hope things don't get too disrupted.

Speaking of rain, here's a link from a couple of years ago that still seems relevant.

Meanwhile the Bulls are last in the IL South, primarily due to their last place team ERA of 6.75 (actually tied with Buffalo).

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Off to Norfolk; Pitching Unimproved

Just a quick update here. Hitting still OK. Pitching still not OK (worst in IL).

I can't seem to comment to by own blog! But, to answer the comment:
At this time last year the Bulls team ERA was 2.96 and the IL's ERA was 3.65. So, yeah, the league ERA is up by about a run. But the Bull's ERA is up by about 4 runs!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A New Season

The Bulls first home game is today and we're happy to have them here.

So far, the win-loss is not too favorable, but it's the pitching that's causing problems. Otherwise, this team looks pretty good.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Spring's A'comin!

Here's a listing of folks invited to Spring Training with the Rays. Worth a look.