Minor Matters: Cox, Warren Brackman

Your regularly scheduled DotF will be a little late tonight, so I’ll leave you some links to hold you over…

  • J.B. Cox is back. He struggled mightily after undergoing Tommy John surgery during the 2006-2007 offseason, and basically packed his bags and headed home to Texas last June to think about his future in baseball. Hopefully the time off rejuvenated his arm a bit and he can get back to being the strikeout/ground ball relief monster he was in 2006. It’s good to see J.B. back, he was always a personal fave.
  • Cox was assigned to High-A Tampa, taking the place of Adam Warren, who was placed on the 7-day disabled list. Apparently it’s nothing serious, more of an innings control kind of thing. He’s only scheduled to miss one start.
  • Andrew Brackman was reportedly sitting at 93 last night, touching 96 with his fastball. He’s also added a power slider to his repertoire, which registered as high as 87 yesterday. Kevin Goldstein backs those reports up (sub. req’d): “He’s been throwing an almost shocking number of strikes all season (7 BB in 55 IP), but his stuff is getting better and better, as the Yankees have put considerable work into nearly every aspect of his game and the results are finally showing up.  With a fastball suddenly getting up to 96 mph, two distinct breaking balls and a changeup, Brackman has allowed six runs over 29 innings in his last five starts while whiffing 34, and he’s back on the prospect map.”

The Yankees knew Brackman was going to be a long-term project when they drafted him in 2007, especially with Tommy John surgery on the immediate horizon. Now that he’s 20 or so months out from surgery, Brackman’s starting to come around and show everyone why he was so highly touted in the first place. It’s all about patience, people. If you don’t have any, don’t follow prospects.

Game 64: Date with the Doc

Photo Credit: Matt Slocum, AP

The Yankees just can’t seem to get away from Roy Halladay, even with the move to the NL. He’s made a total of 14 starts against the Yanks since 2007, and he’s gone 9-2 with a 2.51 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in 107.2 IP in those starts. That’s unfathomable. We might hate seeing Doc dominate the Yanks, but we should also take a second to marvel at his greatness.

Here’s the unfortunate nine that will start again Halladay…

Jeter, SS
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Posada, DH
Gardner, LF
Cervelli, C
Pena, 3B

And on the mound, Carsten Charles Sabathia. Should be a good one.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and can be seen on My9. Ben, Joe, and I will be at the game, and if you want to say hi we’ll be sitting in Section 405, Row 13, Seats 28-30. Enjoy the game.

A new Yankee marker for the Canyon of Heroes

With the World Series runner-up Philadelphia Phillies in town, New York City chose a good day to remind us of the Yankees’ 2009 World Series championship. This morning at the northern end of the Canyon of Heroes, Yanks’ skipper Joe Girardi along with Downtown Alliance officials and the Downtown Little League Yankees unveiled a new marker to mark the November 6, 2009 ticker tape parade.

“Last year was an incredible year for our team and I’m proud to be here today to commemorate our 2009 World Series championship,” Girardi said. “There are almost no words to describe the energy and excitement that was in the air on that special day we all shared last November up the Canyon of Heroes. We are so grateful that each and every member of our team was able to share that feeling with our fans and the great people of the City of New York.”

Whenever I’m walking through Lower Manhattan, I always find the granite markers a unique part of the stroll. They start near the Battery with one dated October 28, 1886 that commemorates the Statue of Liberty, and the Yanks’ new one is nearing City Hall Park. With the team’s late 1990s success, five of the last eight markers now celebrate the Bombers.

For more photos from the event, check out the Downtown Alliance’s flickr photoset. The photo above shows a happy Little Leaguer posing in front of the newest granite stripe and comes to us via the Alliance for Downtown New York.

Mitre to the DL, Logan recalled, Aceves throws

Via Ben Shpigel, Sergio Mitre has been placed on the disabled list with an oblique injury apparently suffered during batting practice. Boone Logan has been recalled from Triple-A Scranton to take his spot. Mitre hasn’t pitched in 11 days, and he was probably just getting some hacks in before the Yanks head out for the road leg of their interleague schedule next week. The Phillies have a lefty heavy lineup, so chances are Logan will get some action during this series. Sigh.

In better injury news, Alfredo Aceves, battling back injuries, threw 30 pitches this afternoon. Marc Carig says the Yanks’ look took the pitches from “flat ground at about 70 percent intensity, and Aceves said he “feels normal.” There is still no timetable for Aceves’ return.

The not-so Dandy Yankee

The 1970s were a wild time for Major League Baseball, and as I page through Dan Epstein’s new book Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 70s, I am learning more about a care-free, anything-goes approach toward popularizing the game as America adjusted to shifting cultural and societal norms. Epstein intersperses straight-ahead chronological examinations of baseball with chapters about the game’s development. I’ve read about cookie-cutter stadium, the “We Are Family” Pirates, Oscar Gamble’s afro, AstroTurf and, of course, mascots.

The mascot craze started in San Diego with the chicken and spread east with the Phillie Phanatic and Montreal’s Youppi. These oversized…things…shook their guts, taunted third base coaches and generally played up to the mayhem of the era. Even in the Bronx, that bastion of Proper Baseball, where facial hair and giant afros were banned, got in on the mascot act with Yankee Dandy, a hideous seven-foot-tall bird who resembled Sparky Lyle.

Photo by Wayde Harrison

Today, Scott Cacciola in The Wall Street Journal remembers Yankee Dandy. Calling Dandy the biggest bust in Yankee history, a title for which Carl Pavano and Kei Igawa regularly battle, Cacciola delves into the mascot’s painful history. Designed by Wayde Harrison and Bonnie Erickson, the team behind the Phillie Phanatic, the Yankees embraced Dandy only reluctantly, and today, this mascot’s history is hazy. While Cacciola says the team used Dandy only from 1979-1981, previous jaunts through history say Dandy worked for the Yanks from 1982-1985, and few fans remember this ill-begotten experiment in ostentatious showmanship. “The Yankees didn’t even want people to know there was a mascot,” Rick Ford, the college student hired in the 1970s to perform as Dandy, said.

Cacciola’s history grows more exciting after an incident in Seattle where the San Diego Chicken was moonlighting as the Mariners’ mascot. The Yanks had forked over $30,000 for three years of Dandy’s antics and were set to debut him in July of 1979 when disaster struck.

On July 10, 1979, the Chicken—on sabbatical from the Padres, his regular employer—was working for the Seattle Mariners at the Kingdome, where he threw a hex on Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry as he warmed up. Mr. Piniella, the Yankees’ left fielder at the time, considered this to be in poor taste, so he chased the Chicken and, lacking apparent success, fired his glove at him in a fit of rage.

In the wake of that fiasco, Mr. Steinbrenner supported Mr. Piniella by telling reporters that mascots had no place in baseball—this, just two weeks before the Yankees were to introduce their own.

“It was so unbelievable,” Ms. Erickson said. “We just sat there in front of the TV with our mouths open. Did he forget or something? I can remember hearing him on the news: ‘Those things don’t belong on the field.'”

It portended disaster for Dandy—and for Rick Ford, a recent college graduate who had been hired to perform as Dandy. He had been choreographing routines for his debut. Eddie Layton, the Yankees’ longtime organist, had even composed an original song for Dandy. But Mr. Layton never got an opportunity to perform it at a game, thanks largely to Mr. Piniella’s squabble with the Chicken, according to Mr. Ford.

Practically since its debut, then, the Yankees have been trying to erase Dandy from its team history. The mascot was banished to the Upper Deck for nearly its entire tenure, and in 1998, George Steinbrenner, before he started to suffer the ill effects of old age, claimed to have “no recollection” of the mascot.

Today, former Yankee spokesman Marty Appel sums it up best. “It was sort of un-Yankee-like to have a big mascot running around,” he said. “It had no resonance.”

Linkage: Halladay, Culver, Oppenheimer

A few links to check out this afternoon because let’s face it, you aren’t getting any work done anyway…

The King Of The Yankee Killers

We hear lots about Yankee killers because it’s a fun story for the media. A gutty little underdog that tops the giants, who doesn’t like it? Over the years we’ve seen guys like Chuck Finley (3.82 ERA vs. the Yanks) and Josh Beckett (5.95) get the label, but the true King of the Yankee Killers is the guy they’re going to face tonight, Roy Halladay. ESPN’s Mark Simon breaks it down in every which way possible, and there’s just no denying it: Doc owns the Yanks. At least now we know it isn’t confirmation bias.

Looking At Other Surprise First Rounders

It’s barely been a week but already it’s been beaten to death … yes, Cito Culver was a surprise first round pick. In this week’s Ask BA, Jim Callis went back and looked at other recent first round surprises, most notably Tyler Colvin of the Cubs (.399 wOBA in 2010) and Ben Revere of the Twins (.331-.393-.419 career hitter in the minors, currently at Double-A). “Quite frankly, we misevaluated Colvin,” says Callis, who admits that teams were higher on the Clemson outfielder than BA when they ranked him 170th on their top 200 draft prospects list back in 2006. He adds that Revere “has established himself as one of the best pure hitters in the minors,” but was just 135th on BA’s top 200 in 2007.

Chat With Damon Oppenheimer

Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer is holding his annual post-draft chat with fans at the Yanks’ official site today starting at 2pm ET. I’ll certainly do something with this tomorrow, maybe breakdown his answers a little further, I don’t know yet, but for now make sure you head over and ask him something remotely intelligent. You’re representing RAB, make us proud.

Regression and Maintenance: The story of Javy and Andy

This morning Joe took us through the tale of Frankie Cervelli and Brett Gardner, in which two young Yankee players came out of the gate hot but have since gone in different directions. Cervelli’s not the only player on the team to experience some sort of regression and Gardner’s not the only one to have maintained an unexpected level of performance. Two veteran members of the starting rotation also fit the bill.

The word “regression” has a negative connotation to it, but remember that in the world of statistics it basically means reverting to the mean. That can be a positive thing, such as a player who performed poorly early improving later on. To steal Joe’s example, think Mark Teixeira last year.

At the beginning of the season, Javy Vazquez was giving the Yankees exactly the opposite of what they had expected. He was getting hit around and doing everything but soaking up innings, and it was quite ugly at times. Andy Pettitte on the other hand, managed to exceed all expectations and emerge as the team’s best starter. Cervelli and Gardner started at basically the same place in terms of performance before hitting the fork in the road, but Vazquez and Pettitte did the opposite. They started at different ends of the spectrum and met up later on.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill, AP

When Javy struggled early this season, the all too simple “he can’t handle New York” narrative was everywhere we looked. He was booed unmercifully at home, not only because he was pitching poorly in 2010, but also because of the perception that he cost the Yankees the 2004 pennant. Vazquez has since done more than just right the ship, he’s been the team’s best pitcher for the last month, compiling a 2.93 ERA with a .596 OPS against. Prior to his start on Saturday, the Yankees had scored just 11 runs in Vazquez’s last five starts, but he still managed to win three of those games.

During his first five starts, Javy put a total of 39 men on base in 23 IP, which is certainly a ton. His batting average on balls in play stood at .358, but even more damning was a ~55% strand rate, an unfathomably low number that certainly contributed to his 9.78 ERA. His velocity had dipped from his usual low-90’s into the upper-80’s and he appeared to nibble in an attempt to compensate, walking 5.87 men per nine innings in his first five starts (more than double his 2.4 career mark). Twenty-three innings is about 11% of a typical season for Vazquez, a bona fide workhorse with a track record of being no worse than a league average strikeout machine.

Clearly Vazquez wasn’t pitching to his capabilities, but he wasn’t getting any help either. His BABIP and LOB% luck were simply terrible, unsustainably bad. Sure enough, what followed was a combination of Javy appearing to regain confidence and a statistical correction. In his six starts since (we’re throwing away that one batter relief appearance), he’s posted a .215 BABIP and a ~80% LOB%, bringing his season totals to a much more respectable .269 and 70.8%, respectively. The luck literally went from one extreme to the other.

Vazquez’s track record is long enough that we pretty much know what to expect. He’s been a dead average (literally, 100 ERA+) pitcher in the American League, and we’ll gladly take that going forward. Javy isn’t as bad as he was in his first five starts and he isn’t as good as he has been in his last six — his true talent level likely lies somewhere in between. And there ain’t a damn thing wrong with that.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

A soon-to-be 38-year-old starter in the AL East isn’t supposed to be a staff ace. He’s supposed to be a veteran leader that gives innings and keeps the team in the game. Expect anything more and you’re likely to be disappointed. Well, unless that pitcher is the 2010 version of Andy Pettitte.

After three ever so slightly better than league average campaigns (106 ERA+) since coming back to the Yanks, Pettitte ripped a page out of the 1997 playbook this year and has been the Yanks’ best and most consistent starter. In his first six starts (prior to his little bout with elbow inflammation), he held opponents to a .619 OPS with a 2.08 ERA. In his six starts since, those numbers are .660 and 2.83. Slightly worse, sure, but still stellar.

Looking at some not necessarily more advanced stats, but ones that better represent underlying performance, helps back up Pettitte’s consistency. He got batters to swing and miss just 5% of the time in his first six starts, but that number has jumped up to 9% since. He stranded about 82% of baserunners in the first six, and about 80% in the second six. His GB/FB rate went from 1.02 to 1.47. Strikeouts? 6.23 K/9 before, 6.10 after. Walks? 3.00 B/9 before, 1.96 after. I could go on and on.

I’m comfortable saying that Pettitte’s best years are behind him, but his 2010 season has a little “last hurrah” to it. I find it to be very 2008 Mike Mussina-esque. You don’t expect him to keep performing this well, but the season is close to 40% complete, and he just keeps doing it. Season totals of a .256 BABIP and 82.1% LOB% tell us to expect a regression, but I get the sense that we might be waiting a while. Sometimes unexplainable things happen to extraordinary players, which Pettitte certainly is.