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2017 season review: Durham Bulls starting pitchers

How did the Rays future aces fare this season?

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Durham Bulls starting rotation was expected to be a strength of their 2017 season. The numbers they put up didn’t disappoint. The way they got there, however, wasn’t exactly what was expected.

The starting rotation was expected to be Jose De Leon, Jacob Faria, Chih-Wei Hu, Taylor Guerrieri, and Ryan Yarbrough. There is expected to be some turnover at the Triple-A level from promotions to the majors and injuries, but Yarbrough was the only starter to make more than 11 starts for the Bulls.

Jose De Leon returned from the World Baseball Classic injured and ended up missing a majority of the season while making three starts for Durham. Guerrieri left his second start of the season due to injury and never returned to the mound. After an injury to Jaime Schultz the Rays decided to get Hu work in the bullpen to give the Tampa Bay Rays more multi inning relief options after just three starts. Jacob Faria made 11 starts after making the most of a promotion to the majors and never looking back.

The Bulls had quality depth to draw from in Montgomery. Brent Honeywell was promoted after his second start and Yonny Chirinos was promoted after his fourth.

25 pitchers made a start for the Bulls.

The Durham Bulls were the Seattle Mariners of the International League. Where the Mariners used 17 starters in the majors, the Bulls used 25 in the minors. There was very little consistency in the rotation. The Bulls used more bullpen days which led to an inflated total. It’s what you have to do when injuries occur or guys are sent down for a fresh arm in the majors.

Durham Bulls Starting Pitchers

Team/Lg G IP K% BB% HR/9 WHIP ERA FIP
Team/Lg G IP K% BB% HR/9 WHIP ERA FIP
Bulls SP 142 730.0 25.7% 6.7% 1.06 1.20 3.64 3.71
League 1984 17,260.1 21.2% 8.4% 0.87 1.34 3.97 4.02

The Bulls were well above league average in every stat but HR/9. As a team, the Durham Bulls were kings of strikeouts. They struck out 1421 batters, including the K numbers for relievers. That was 172 strikeouts more than the second place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Yankees). The significantly above average strikeout rate while being well below the league average walk rate is the most impressive.

Ryan Yarbrough, Brent Honeywell, and Yonny Chirinos lead the way.

Yarbrough, Honeywell, and Chirinos each made 22 plus starts and were the only pitchers to throw over 60 innings as starting pitchers. The trio made 72 of the 142 starts and contributed 418.0 out of 730.0 innings by starters.

Durham Bulls rotation

Player GS IP K% BB% HR/9 WHIP ERA FIP
Player GS IP K% BB% HR/9 WHIP ERA FIP
Ryan Yarbrough 26 157.1 24.7% 6.0% 1.14 1.16 3.43 3.92
Yonny Chirinos 22 137.0 22.5% 4.1% 0.66 1.00 2.82 3.11
Brent Honeywell 24 123.2 29.1% 5.9% 0.80 1.30 3.64 2.89
Jacob Faria 11 58.2 34.7% 9.1% 1.07 1.12 3.07 3.25
Blake Snell 7 44.0 32.6% 8.0% 1.02 1.32 2.66 3.06
Michael Roth 9 43.1 19.6% 5.3% 2.28 1.38 5.19 5.74
Hunter Wood 6 30.1 16.1% 8.8% 1.48 1.68 6.23 5.37
Chih-Wei Hu 4 18.0 18.7% 4.0% 1.00 1.39 3.50 3.78
Burch Smith 3 16.1 31.7% 6.7% 1.10 0.80 1.65 3.34
Austin Pruitt 4 16.0 36.5% 3.2% 1.13 0.94 3.38 2.65
Jose De Leon 3 12.0 25.9% 11.1% 0.75 1.67 6.75 3.59
Mike Broadway 4 10.2 36.1% 0.0% 0.84 0.38 0.84 2.17
Yoel Espinal 2 10.1 17.2% 31.0% 0.00 0.97 1.74 5.33
Taylor Guerrieri 2 9.1 30.8% 5.1% 0.00 0.96 2.89 1.73
Hunter Adkins 2 9.0 11.6% 14.0% 4.00 1.67 9.00 10.34
Andrew Kittredge 2 5.2 12.0% 0.0% 0.00 1.59 3.18 2.33
Jeff Ames 2 5.0 26.3% 10.5% 0.00 0.80 1.80 2.54
Chase Whitley 2 4.2 20.0% 10.0% 5.79 1.50 11.57 11.27
Mike Franco 1 4.1 20.0% 30.0% 0.00 1.62 0.00 5.65
Matt Andriese 1 4.1 35.3% 0.0% 0.00 1.15 2.08 0.57
Justin Marks 1 3.0 18.8% 25.0% 0.00 2.33 6.00 5.34
Ryan Garton 1 2.0 44.4% 11.1% 0.00 1.50 0.00 0.84
Neil Wagner 1 2.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00 0.00 0.00 3.34
Kyle Winkler 1 2.0 27.3% 18.2% 9.00 2.50 13.50 16.34
Diego Castillo 1 1.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00 1.00 0.00 3.34

Yonny Chirinos was named the Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Year. In 22 starts he threw 137.0 innings with a 2.87 ERA and 3.11 FIP. He saw an uptick in strikeouts to 22.5% when he has usually been in the high teens. He showed his typical control with a 4.1% walk rate that is in line with his previous seasons. He always put up good results until last year’s ERA bump to 4.46 ERA in Double-A in 62.1 innings. It was definitely a step forward for a guy who was passed over in the last year’s rule 5 draft.

Ryan Yarbrough made a good first impression in his first year in the organization. He made 26 starts totaling 157.1 innnigs with 3.43 ERA and 3.92 FIP. His 24.7% strikeout rate was a significant bump from his 19.0% strikeout rate last season in Double-A. He continued to show good control with a 6.0% walk rate.

Brent Honeywell shook off a rough welcoming to the International League to put up a 3.64 ERA and 2.89 FIP in 123.2 innings over 24 starts. Honeywell put up a 29.1% strikeout rate and 5.9% walk rate. By the end of the season he was the most dominant starter for the Bulls.

Jacob Faria put up a 3.07 ERA and 3.25 FIP in 58.2 innings over 11 starts and Blake Snell, 2.66 ERA and 3.06 FIP in 44.0 innings over seven starts. They provided some punch for the Bulls when they weren’t busy producing for the major league club.

There were a few rehab starts from Burch Smith and Matt Andriese that were thrown into the mix, as well.

Michael Roth and Mike Broadway were brought in to fill in some starts to add organizational depth just for innings.

The Bulls had at least 13 games started by pitchers that were primarily relievers when they made their starts: Andrew Kittredge, Jeff Ames, Chase Whitley, Justin Marks, Ryan Garton, Neil Wagner, Kyle Winkler, and Diego Castillo all made at least one start.

Despite the number of moving parts the Durham Bulls starting rotation was a major reason the Bulls went 86-56 (a 98 win pace over 162 game season) and went on to win the Governor’s Cup and Triple-A National Championship.