Granderson drives Yanks to Opening Day win

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It had been 84 years since the Yankees started a season with the same three outfielders and same four infielders on consecutive Opening Days before Thursday, and it had also been three years since the Yankees last won their first game of the season. The 6-3 win over the Tigers was a total team effort that featured a few individual highlights, namely from the guy roaming center field.

Biggest Hit (subjectively): The Grandyman cans Coke

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Yankees and Tigers played to a three-all tie through six innings yesterday, so it came down to a battle of the bullpens. Jim Leyland made the wise move and went to a left-hander to face Curtis Granderson leading off the seventh, giving the ball to former Yankee Phil Coke. Coke is making the transition to the rotation this year, but Detroit won’t need their fifth starter for another week or so, so he finds himself working in relief for the time being. He missed the plate with his first two pitches, rather ordinary fastballs that clocked in at 90 and 89, respectively. It’s not easy to get a 90 mph fastball by a big league hitter in a 2-0 count, but Coke tried to do it and Grandy tomahawked the pitch into Damon’s Deck for a one-run lead. The pitch was up in the zone and over the plate, prime hitting real estate. The WPA of this homer: .182, the second largest swing of the game.

Granderson, of course, was a question mark for this game as recently as Wednesday since that oblique injury limited him during the final week of Spring Training. He show the muscle was more than healed in the very first inning, making a diving catch to rob Will Rhymes of a base hit. He also made a brilliant catch going back on a ball hit by Brandon Inge in the ninth, so Granderson provided two legit highlight reel catches plus the eventual game-winning homer off one of the guys he was traded for. All in all, it was a damn fine day for the Yankees center fielder.

Biggest Hit (by the numbers): Tex Message

We’re all well aware of Mark Teixeira‘s painfully slow starts, and we also know that the first baseman took a lot of extra swings this winter in an effort to start the season somewhere besides the dumps. It took him three games to hit his first homer of the season in 2009 and then a dozen last year, but it took all of two-and-a-half innings in 2011. The Yankees had runners on the corners with one out when Justin Verlander tried to sneak a 1-1 fastball by Tex upstairs. It didn’t work, as Teixeira hooked the ball into the right field corner for a three-run homer and a 3-1 lead. It had plenty of distance, landing in the second deck like Granderson’s shot, so the only question was fair or foul. It was fair, and it resulted in a .211 WPA swing, the biggest of the game.

(Photo via Ben Kabak)

Win, Hold, Save

Once the Yankees decided to take the plunge and sign Rafael Soriano this offseason, we evaluated the move basically two different ways: the contract was awful, and the bullpen was awesome. The latter was on full display today.

Joba Chamberlain took over for CC Sabathia in what figures to be his primary inning this year, the seventh. He struck out Austin Jackson on a bit of a hanging slider, but he gets no credit for that since I think I would have been able to strike out Jackson yesterday. Rhymes then lined out to a perfectly positioned Brett Gardner, and Magglio Ordonez flew out weakly to right to end the inning. Since the Grandyman homered in the bottom half of the inning, Joba got the credit for the win today. Three up, three down by the pen so far.

Soriano was warming up even before the Yankees took the lead, and he came in to handle the eighth. He got Miguel Cabrera looking at strike three for the first out (a generous call, no doubt about it) before Victor Martinez rolled over on a slider and grounded out to first rather harmlessly. Ryan Raburn made the final out of the inning on a hard hit fly ball to deep right-ish-center. Give that man a hold. Six up, six down for the pen.

Soriano gave way to Mariano Rivera, who went fly ball, fly ball, strikeout to record his first save of the season. The three relievers retired all nine men they faced with a strikeout each, which is exactly how you’d draw it up in the later innings. Joe Girardi still had David Robertson in reserve if something went awry, and Boone Logan was available in case the Tigers actually had a dangerous lefty in the lineup. I’m still not a fan of the Soriano contract, but I love watching him get outs late in the game.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Making his third consecutive Opening Day assignment for the Yankees and eighth overall, Sabathia was strong but hardly overwhelming. He did strike out seven (Jackson twice, so they don’t count) and walked just two, but four of the six hits he allowed came with two strikes. CC will tighten that up as he gets closer to midseason form, so there’s no worries there. Seventy of his 106 pitches were strikes (66.0%) and half of his non-strikeout outs came on the ground. What I found interesting was that Sabathia threw a first pitch breaking ball to 12 of the 27 batters he faced (eight called strikes, two balls, two fouls). The data at FanGraphs says he threw first pitch breaking balls just ~23% of the time last year and ~19% of the time in 2009, so he definitely threw more than usual on Thursday. It could just be a blip on the radar, but it’s worth keeping track of going forward. Maybe it’s the Larry Rothschild effect.

Another thing worth paying attention to as the season progresses: Granderson was playing very shallow in center. It worked out well because he made at least two nice catches on balls hit in front of him while still tracking down everything hit over his head. Again, let’s follow this going forward.

Nice Yankees debut for Russell Martin, who went 1-for-3 with two runs scored, but it would have been 2-for-3 if not for a nice diving grab by Raburn. He also showed off the wheels and stole third, and looked perfectly fine behind the plate. The hip and knee look wonderful.

The 2-3-4 hitters reached base a total of six times in eleven plate appearances, driving the offense. Alex Rodriguez carried his torrid spring into the season, clubbing an opposite field double off the wall and walking twice. Nice Swisher also blooped in a single to drive in an insurance run, but he got caught in a run down trying to advance to second. I guess you take the good with the bad.

Gardner struck out in his two official at-bats, seeing nine pitches total. Can’t blame him, Justin Verlander was throwing grenades out there. He did, however, bunt twice, once in the third inning (!!!) and then again in the eighth. I’m not really in the mood to talk about bunting, so let’s just leave it at that. Derek Jeter went 0-for-2 with a walk, a run scored, and a sac fly, though he looked pretty immobile in the field. Moreso than usual. Let’s hope it was the crappy weather and wet field. Jorge Posada took an unkind 0-for-4 but it was Robbie Cano that had the worst day of all. He struck out twice (once on a ball over his head) and flubbed a routine play on the field, indirectly leading to a run for the Tigers. He’ll do better.

The Yankees won their tenth straight Opening Day game at home, a streak that goes back to 1982.

WPA Graph & Box Score

A little rocky for Opening Day, but a win is a win. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score.

Up Next

These two teams will take Friday off then meet back up for game two of the series and season on Saturday afternoon. FOX will carry the matchup of former Florida Marlins teammates – A.J. Burnett and Brad Penny – at 4:10pm ET.

RAB Exclusive: A new look for the Subway Race

The Yankees’ Great City Subway Race (sponsored by Subway) and I have a tenuous relationship. As a little kid growing up at the stadium, I loved the guy with his Noo Yawk accent broadcasting the race between what was then the 4, D and C trains. The video had live footage inside the subway system, and the race was a thrill for the little kids pulling for their favorite trains.

At some point over the past 15 years, after the B replaced the C in the Bronx, the race changed. It found a corporate sponsor and became all special effects. In early March, I explored how the subway race made no sense and how divorced from transit reality it was.

Today, the Yankees dropped a bombshell on us at Opening Day: The B, D and 4 trains are no more. Instead of using real New York City subway routes, the Yankees have taken the branding in house. The Road Gray and Midnight Blue trains have replaced the B and the D while the Pinstripes train — today’s winner — took over the East Side route for the 4. I am as speechless as you are.

The Yankees have replaced the B, D and 4 trains with their own subway colors. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

I was able to snap the image above after picking my jaw off of the frozen tundra that was the floor underneath my seats this afternoon. How could the Yankees do such a thing to the iconic New York imagery and their long-term between-innings entertainment? Did the MTA force a change? Did the Yanks want the chance to sell pinstripe-branded subway cars? The questions were endless.

Right now, I don’t know the answers to these questions. I’ve reached out to the Yankees for an explanation, and I’ll do the same with the MTA. Trust me; I will get to the bottom of this. We deserve the answers. In the meantime, we’ll ponder the fates of the B, D and 4 trains and find a silver lining: At least the injustice of the B winning the Great City Subway Race will no longer drive us nuts.

After the jump, a shot I snapped of the trains in motion. It just looks…wrong. [Read more…]

Open Thread: Textbook

Grandy was all over the place today. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Our regular game recap is coming later tonight at its usual time (midnight ET, all season long), but there’s one thing I want to briefly muse about here: I thought today’s win was pretty textbook. It wasn’t perfect, but that’s pretty much you draw it up with this team. The power hitters hit homers, CC Sabathia gave them six good (but not great, not today) innings, and then the bullpen from hell closed things out flawlessly. They scored early and tacked on late when they had too; it was just a solid win on Opening Day. I’ll take 161 more just like it.

Anyways, here is your open thread for the night. The Giants and Dodgers (Lincecum vs. Kershaw) will be on ESPN, plus the Rangers and Isles are facing off. Talk about whatever, enjoy.

ESPN’s 50 Greatest Yankees

ESPN New York published a list of the 50 greatest Yankees yesterday, and the good news is that it’s not completely ridiculous. Four very familiar names top the list and rightfully so, but it gets a little interesting after that. Not bad interesting, but I guess we could call it thought-provoking. There will always be dissent with something like this, but I thought it was well done. Anyway, when Mike Mussina is the 50th greatest player in your franchise’s history, you’re doing pretty well. So click the link and check out the slide show, I enjoyed it and I bet you will too.

Food For Thought: Velocity vs. Temperature

PitchFX guru Mike Fast posted a gem yesterday (no subs. req’d), looking at pitch velocity versus temperature. Surprisingly, at least to me, the relationship between fastball velocity and game-time temperature is pretty linear, with velo increasing by one mile an hour for every 37-degrees (or so) according to Fast. This graph shows that fastball velocity gradually increases early in the season before peaking in July in August, and the change is not insignificant. We’re talking about a difference of 1.5-2.0 mph from March/April to July.

Fast acknowledges that the study isn’t perfect, as adjustments for specific pitch types (two-seamer vs. four-seamer, etc.) and climate are needed, but the early data suggests that there is substantial correlation between fastball velocity and the weather. So yeah, stop sweating March/April radar gun readings.

Game One: Opening Day

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

It’s been five long, generally boring months without meaningful Yankees’ baseball, but that all comes to an end today. Game one of 162 (and hopefully more) will be played in the Bronx today, even if Mother Nature isn’t fully cooperating. It’s overcast and chilly and it’s been drizzling all morning, but the weather is only going to get worse tonight and tomorrow. They’re likely to play at least part of the game through some rain or mist, but that’s life. Yankees’ baseball is back, and as cliche as it sounds, the quest for #28 starts now. Here are you lineups…

Tigers
Austin Jackson, CF
Will Rhymes, 2B
Magglio Ordonez, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Ryan Raburn, LF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Brandon Inge, 3B
Alex Avila, C

Justin Verlander, SP

Yankees
Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Curtis Granderson, CF
Russell Martin, C

CC Sabathia, SP

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET, thought there will be some pregame ceremonies. Mike Mussina is throwing out the first pitch before signing a one-year contract. The game can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Smile, baseball’s back.

2011 Season Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Last year the Blue Jays surprised us by belting homer after homer en route to an above-.500 season. It made me kind of embarrassed to have written this before the season, but then again, who could have guessed that so many Blue Jays would go on power streaks? (In my defense, I had the right idea with the pitching staff.) The Jays have made a few changes this year, and in some ways they’re a weaker team than they were in 2010. But they’re set up for an AL East run in the not so distant future.

Strengths

Despite losing Vernon Wells, the Blue Jays still possess plenty of power. Clearly they think that Jose Bautista’s breakout is real, since they signed him to a five-year, $65 million extension this past off-season. He won’t smack 54 homers again, but even if he hits 35 this year it will be a huge plus for the Jays. There are other hitters around him who can also crush the ball.

This year Travis Snider figures to get his chance to break into the bigs. He’s been in the league for the last three years, but has just 675 PA to his name. This year he’s starting with the big club and figures to stick around all season. What’s crazy is that he’s just 23. If he hits his stride this season he’ll provide an excellent left-handed power complement to Bautista. There’s also Adam Lind, a former top prospect who destroyed baseballs in 2009. He had a down year in 2010, but if that’s just a fluke then the Jays have just added even more power.

Another Jay who had a down year last year was Aaron Hill, who also broke out, at least in terms of power, in 2009. his 2010 was poor, but he still hit for some power. If he brings his average up, he’ll add some more right-handed pop to the lineup. The same goes for new acquisition Juan Rivera. He seems like the perfect fit for hitting coach Dwayne Murphy’s system. The same goes for rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia, whose No. 1 tool is his power. Finally, let’s not forget Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 21 homers in just 367 PA last year.

Weaknesses

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Nathan Denette

While the Jays led the majors in SLG last year, they finished 26th in OBP. That’s why their runs total ranked ninth. The power was there, but they just didn’t produce enough base runners. If Lind recovers and Snider approaches his ceiling then they will get a boost in that department. If not, they could be in for a year where they hit for plenty of extra bases, but don’t have enough runners on base to crack the top five in runs scored.

The bullpen has to be something of a concern, since the Jays lost a few key contributors in Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg. They did add Frank Francisco, which helps shore up the unit. But they also added Octavio Dotel, who could detract from it. Jon Rauch might actually be the best addition they made. Jason Frasor stays around, too, but it’s not as though the Blue Jays had a knock-out bullpen last year. That could be one of their most glaring weaknesses in 2011.

The starting staff, too, took a hit during the off-season. The Jays traded Shaun Marcum, perhaps their most effective pitcher, and inserted Kyle Drabek, a rookie. There are also reports that Brett Cecil’s velocity is down considerably — not good, since he didn’t throw all that hard to begin with. Brandon Morrow will miss the start of the season, which further hurts the staff. It figures to be pretty good once it’s completely assembled: Ricky Romero, Cecil, Litsch, Drabek, and Morrow, with Jo-Jo Reyes filling in.

Overall Outlook

I don’t want to make the mistake of underrating the Jays again, but unless they have breakout years from just about everyone, I doubt they’ll do much but play the spoiler in the AL East. This won’t be the case for long. The Jays have a good core of players and a fine farm system. They’ll be contending before we know it. In fact, this could be the last year where I write that they don’t appear to have it all together. At this time next year we could be looking at a four-team dogfight in the AL East. Hell, maybe even five.