by Adam Sobsey
The Durham Bulls' season has already had a few twists and turns, thanks mainly to surprises in Tampa Bay like the injury to the Rays' superstar third baseman, Evan Longoria, and the abrupt retirement of Manny Ramirez, just a few days into his Tampa tenure, after he tested positive again for performance-enhancing drugs. Two brand-new Bulls, Casey Kotchman and Felipe Lopez, have already been summoned to the major leagues. A couple of others have already missed time with injuries. The starting pitchers haven't lasted deep into games, partially owing to the Rays' early-season 75-pitch limit imposed on them from above; as a consequence, the Durham bullpen, year in and year out one of the most overworked cadres around, is already groaning under its workload.
Stay tuned—plenty more drama to come.
We'll see you all on Thursday, April 14 at the DBAP—one-dollar concessions on the first night of the home season. Read on for a glossary/primer.
BABIP: Batting Average on Balls in Play. This measures a hitter's batting average only on the balls he hits into the field of play, and is subject to wide variations from year to year. It helps determine how much of an unusually good or bad season can be chalked up to luck.
Bisquicked: A word used when a player is called up from Double-A Montgomery (q.v.), usually due to an injury or some other unforeseen temporary situation in Durham, and then sent right back down after a few days or as much as a couple of weeks. Last year, Justin Garcia was Bisquicked. Outfielder/first baseman Leslie Anderson was not; he remained a Bull through the rest of the season after his promotion, as the Rays intended all along.
Buck Showalter Theorem: This posits that any given major-league club will, in the course of a 162-game season, win 60 games and lose 60 games right out of the chute. Your starter gets shelled for eight runs in 1 2/3 innings, or your own lineup explodes with a 19-hit outburst on the way to putting up 14 runs off of a procession of decreasingly leveraged and finally mop-up-caliber relievers: Games like that don't require much in the way of managerial acumen or clutch performance; they decide themselves via extremes. It's what you do with the other 42 games, those closer, go-either-way contests, that separate champions from chumps. (This is why a team like the 1998 Yankees is so remarkable: They lost fewer than 50 times, and that included an additional 13 postseason games.) In the 144-game Class AAA minor-league season, you can modify the numbers to approximately 54-36-54. It may very well be that Showalter, currently the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, did not make up this theorem, that he got it from someone else. But that's where we heard it first, so we're crediting him.
DBAP: Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Not to be confused with the historic Durham Athletic Park (DAP), a little ways north, where the Bulls played back in the Bull Durham days and before. The Bulls will play one nostalgia game at the old DAP this season, as they did last year, as well.
ERA: Earned Run Average. (Earned runs allowed)*9/Innings Pitched. Tells you how many earned runs (i.e. those not blamable on errors) a pitcher allows per nine innings pitched. It's an old stat, and still fairly reliable, although sabermetricians—the prevailing vanguard of baseball thinkers—now like to push FIP (q.v.). League average ERA tends to be around 4.40. Anything under 3.00 is quite excellent.
FIP: Fielding-Independent Pitching. This is a complicatedly derived stat that focuses only on what the pitcher can ostensibly control: Walks, strikeouts and home runs. FIP comes from recent research, much of it by a whiz named Voros McCracken (see this article), that suggests that pitchers have essentially no control over what happens to a ball hit in the field of play, and that the difference between, say, a groundout and a double is one of pure luck. We at Triangle Offense have some reservations about FIP, but it makes for an interesting supplement to ERA in that it can sometimes help identify good pitchers who are simply the victims of bad luck, and vice versa. The BABIP (q.v.) stat is sort of a hitter's cousin-stat to FIP.
FOB: Full of Bulls, i.e., the Bulls have the bases loaded.
Heather: She's a big fan of the Bulls; I'm a big fan of her.
Hudson Valley: The Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades are the short-season Rookie League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Renegades' season only runs from mid-June to around Labor Day, and it's common for the Rays to "assign" the occasional Durham Bull to Hudson Valley, temporarily, as a means of freeing up a roster spot in Durham. In reality, the player in question continues to be a Durham Bull in all but name, though ineligible to play in an actual game—they warm up pitchers, sit in the dugout, etc. This is sort of a gray area in the rulebook, apparently, but no one seems to be asking the Rays or anyone else to stop doing it. Often, you'll see the reassigned player in full Bulls uniform, except that he's covering his jersey with a sweatshirt (see "Sweatshirt (Putting On/Taking Off"). Already in 2011, pitcher Brian Baker began the year on the Hudson Valley roster, and was reassigned to Durham when Bulls' first baseman Casey Kotchman was called up to Tampa. Catcher Craig Albernaz is currently on the Renegades' "paper roster," as it's called.
IL: The International League, the league in which the Bulls play. The IL has a history dating to the late 19th Century, although its essential role now, as one of two Triple-A leagues, is more recent. There are two Class AAA baseball leagues in the US, the IL and the Pacific Coast League. Each team has an affiliation with a different major-league ballclub, thus there are exactly as many Triple-A baseball teams as major-league teams: 30. The IL has 14; the PCL 16. Most big-league clubs like to have their Triple-A affiliate fairly nearby, to make callups and demotions easier; but that isn't a hard-and-fast rule.
LOOGY: "Left-handed One-Out Guy." Many teams like to have a southpaw in the bullpen whose job is usually to come into a close game and retire a single, fearsome left-handed hitter, or perhaps two of them. The Tampa Bay Rays had Randy Choate for that job last season (he had been a Bull briefly in 2009), and for the last two years have sent R. J. Swindle to Durham as a potential candidate to fill the role. Mike Myers and Jesse Orosco are a couple of examples of lefties who made their living this way. In 2003, at age 46, Orosco made 65 appearances—for three different teams—but pitched just 34 innings, averaging about an out and a half per game in which he pitched. He made $800,000. The reason there is no such thing as a ROOGY is that right-handed pitcher is the commonest job title in baseball, and there is thus no notion of specialization attached to it.
Luck: We used to worry about luck a lot with regard to the Bulls and baseball, but now we mostly think it tends to even out over the course of the 144-game International League season. Still, it's something we like to discuss here.
Momentum: Baseball is an episodic game, unbound by a clock, and yet ballplayers and coaches and managers often talk about momentum, e.g. "hitting is contagious." We go back and forth on whether there's any such thing, really—a bone we worry about as much as the one about luck—but it's one of those shadow factors that somehow seems to assert itself in the deciding of outcomes.
OBP: On-base percentage. More useful than batting average, this statistic shows not only how often a hitter reaches base, but by extension how disciplined he is at the plate because the stat adds walks drawn into the equation. The major-league average OBP is usually around .330.
OPS: On-base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage. This stat is derived by simply adding OBP to SLG (slugging percentage, q.v.), and we use it a lot. Although OPS is an imperfectly weighted measurement—there is compelling evidence to suggest that OBP should be more important than SLG, via some as-yet-undetermined coefficient—it gives a fairly accurate sense of a hitter's productivity. (Top 5 major-league OPS in 2010: Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista.) OPS accounts for both on-base efficiency and power. Thus a home-run hitter can be valuable to a team despite low batting average and/or OBP by getting lots of extra-base hits. A slap-hitter with no power can be an asset by drawing a lot of walks to go along with a high batting average. The major-league average OPS tends to hover around .750.
RISP: Runners in Scoring Position. For the uninitiated, a runner is considered in scoring position once he has reached second base, because most baserunners will score from second on a base hit to the outfield—but not every runner, and not on every hit. A popular but not fail-safe way to estimate clutch hitting is by looking at batting average with RISP.
Roodge, The: Our nickname for Justin Ruggiano, but only when he has a good game. elsewhere you'll see it spelled "Rugg" or even "Ruggs," but those don't get the phonetics right.
SBG: Senseless (or Stupid) Baserunning Gaffe. In 2009, the Bulls seemed to find all kinds of ways to do dumb things on the basepaths that hurt them. They got picked off, they got hung up between bases on grounders, they ran themselves into flyball double plays. The 2010 edition of the Bulls committed fewer SBGs than they 2009 team did—or at least it seemed that way—but the general impression of Triple-A is of a league where baserunning tends to be noticeably worse than it is in the majors, and thus an abbreviation was born. For example, in the 2011 season's very first game, on April 7, between Charlotte and Norfolk, which I happened to attend at Knights Stadium, the Knights' Eduardo Escobar foolishly tried to go from first all the way to third on a hard ground-ball single up the middle. There were no outs at the time. So when Escobar was thrown out at third base, he not only cost his team a run—one out later, Dayan Viciedo hit what would have been an RBI double—but committed the baseball sin of making the first out of an inning at third base.
SLG: Slugging percentage. Divide total bases by at-bats to get this number. It measures power, because extra-base hits increase slugging percentage. The major-league average SLG is usually around .420.
Sweatshirt (Putting On/Taking Off): To be temporarily "assigned" to Hudson Valley (or added back to the Bulls' roster from Hudson Valley).
Tampa Bay Rays: The Durham Bulls' "parent club." All of the Durham Bulls players are under contract with and paid by the Tampa Bay Rays, who have a working agreement with the Durham Bulls franchise. Last year, the Rays played an exhibition game against the Bulls at the DBAP (q.v.)—although of course many of the Rays had recently been Bulls themselves, and in any case the players on both teams had just been through more than a month of spring training together in Florida.
WHIP: (Walks+Hits)/Innings Pitched. Tells you how many baserunners (not counting those who reach on errors) a pitcher allows per each inning pitched. A WHIP of 1.00 is excellent. League average is about 1.4. WHIP has an advantage over ERA (q.v.) in that it tells you how much danger a pitcher puts himself in, generally. ERA is subject to fluctuations in luck (also q.v.).