Step 1: Leave Yankees. Step 2: Grow beard

The Yankees organization prides itself on class and professionalism. Whether or not it lives up to its self-image is a source of constant debate, though they do take measures to ensure that their players represent the team well. One infamous policy they’ve had in place since George Steinbrenner took over is a ban on facial hair below the lip. You wanna grow a pencil-thin mustache? Go for it. But you can forget about a fu manchu. Sal Fasano learned that first-hand.

After years of having an organization tell them what they can and cannot wear on their faces, it’s natural for former Yankees to immediately sport beards. This year’s crop of departures are no exception. Leave Yankees, grow beard. I’d do it, too.

A few of the departed Yankees rocked beards before coming to New York. Here’s Johnny Damon, who started to grow one in spring training with the Tigers, but has since shaved. Maybe the wife doesn’t like it. In any case, it would take a lot to top the beard he’s sporting in the second picture. Oh, what luck. There’s a french fry stuck in my beard.

Photo credits, left: Charlie Riedel/AP, right: Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP

Chad Gaudin also rocked a beard when he pitched for the A’s, Cubs, and Padres before heading to New York. His beard is not very remarkable, which makes me sad. I wanted to include a wiseass remark with each beard.

Photo credits, left: Jeff Chiu/AP, right: Lenny Ignelzi/AP

I always forget about Brian Bruney. I’m not sure what that says about him, or me, other than I don’t miss him in the bullpen. Great potential, just couldn’t put it all together. But he can grow one mean beard, which should certainly help his future earnings potential once he can’t throw a baseball 95 mph.

Photo credits, left: Rob Carr/AP, right: Duane Burleson/AP

Two more bearded former Yankees never got a chance to rock the facial hair before. Take Phil Coke for instance. He spent his entire career in the Yankees’ system, so he’s always had to keep a razor nearby. Once traded t the Tigers, though, he went all out, growing a mullet, a beard, and picked up the beer gut to go along with it. He kinda looks like Rod Beck, though I’m pretty sure no one will write a song about Coke when he passes away.

Photo credits, left: Eric Gay/AP, right: AP file photo

Finally, we get to Melky. He showed up to Braves camp with a beard, but it appears he has since shaved it. That’s a shame. Melky looks slightly more badass with the beard. Slightly. Which is an improvement upon not at all. I wonder, then, why he shaved. Maybe the women don’t like it.

Photo credits, left: Rob Carr/AP, right: Darren Calabrese/AP

The only one who didn’t grow a beard, it seems, is Hideki Matsui. He should rock the Chan Ho beard this year.

Rays rally in fifth to spoil Javy’s return

Tonight’s game felt a bit familiar. Not completely familiar — when the Rays blew out the Yanks in early 2009 they hit Chein-Ming Wang in the early innings. It took until the fourth to rough up Javy Vazquez, though the Rays did a pretty good job of it. David Price was on his game, looking strong until his pitch count crept up to and then over 100.

Biggest Hit: A-Rod‘s long double

Photo credit: Mike Carlson/AP

Through the first three innings David Price looked more like an ace than the Rays’ No. 4 pitcher. His only blemish to that point was a four-pitch walk to Nick Swisher, but he retired the next three with ease. In the fourth, though, he ran into trouble on the very first pitch. Nick Johnson pulled a pitch on the outside corner for his first base hit of the season, setting up a scoring opportunity for Teixeira and A-Rod.

After two curveballs, a ball and a called strike, Price delivered a fastball low and away, which A-Rod fouled off for strike two. He went to the changeup with two strikes, and left it high and away. A-Rod got his arms extended and smoked it over B.J. Upton’s head for what appeared to be a double. Nick Johnson chugged around the bases and scored, drawing a throw that allowed A-Rod to take third. An errant throw sent him home.

A-Rod was credited with .201 WPA for the play, though this is where individual player WPA breaks down somewhat. Should A-Rod get credit only for the double? Or should he get credit for creating pressure, taking third and drawing the throw, thereby provoking the error? I’m of two minds but lean towards the latter.

Biggest Pitch: Carlos Pena ties it

Photo credit: Mike Carlson/AP

Javy didn’t look quite sharp when he came out for the fourth. Ben Zobrist opened the inning with a four-pitch walk. After Evan Longoria flied to to center, Carlos Pena came to the plate. Javy seemed a bit focused on the runner, throwing over before each pitch. Perhaps he thought the chances of Zobrist running were greater with the lefty up.

None of the pitches to Pena was particularly good. The first pitch, a curveball, stayed high for ball one. He got the second pitch, a 90 mph fastball, on the inner half, and Pena fouled it off for strike one. The at-bat’s final pitch, a waist-high 89 mph fastball, went over the right field fence and tied the game. In itself it wasn’t terrible. The game was tied, there was plenty of baseball left. It’s what came net that sunk the Yanks.

Biggest outs: Aybar and Navarro

While Javy’s final line looked a bit ugly, he did impress by working out of a jam in the second. Longoria started things by grounding an outside fastball, the fourth outside pitch of the at-bat, to right for a single. Carlos Pena followed by drawing a seven-pitch walk, coming back from an 0-2 hole. B.J. Upton had an RBI opportunity, but instead grounded one to the right side. He cost the team an out, but set them up with second and third with one out.

After dropping a curve for strike one, Javy came back with two straight changeups to Willy Aybar to record the strikeout. He again worked exclusively with his secondary stuff, two curveballs followed by two changeups, to finish the inning by retiring Dioner Navarro. The Rays’ WE after the Pena walk was .644. Navarro’s ground out brought that back to the mid-inning .500.

The goat: Javy Vazquez

This was not the best way to celebrate a return to pinstripes. At first it looked like Javy might have gem in him. He set down the Rays 1-2-3 in the first, worked out of a jam in the second, and returned for a 1-2-3 inning in the third. Things fell apart in the fourth, and at that point he put a lot of strain on the Yankees’ offense to score runs off David Price, who, again, looked like an ace for most of the night. Even with his 1-2-3 fifth, Jazquez had already claimed the title of goat.

Even if you hadn’t watched this game, Javy’s line tells much of the story. 5.2 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 8ER, 3 BB 5 K, 2HR.

Defense saves runs

With the lefty on the mound, Joe Girardi once again started Marcus Thames over Brett Gardner. Quickly, Thames is showing that he might not be the best candidate to play the field. He did pick up a hit, but his defense cost the Yankees two runs. After Vazquez recorded the second out of the inning, the Rays were up 3-2 with runners on first and second. Jason Bartlett drove a liner to left. Thames tried to dive and catch it but could not. I imagine Gardner would have been there and would have stayed on his feet while making the play.

The question of platooning Gardner really comes down to the value of the player replacing him. Does the potential of Thames’s bat against lefties really outweigh his poor defense? Sometimes he might get a big hit where Gardner would have floundered, but I think it’s more often that he’ll cost the team with his glove. Joe Girardi will hopefully abort this experiment by the time the Yankees face the Angels next week.

Things that annoyed me

Everything after the Pena homer.

Things that made me smile

A-Rod’s double, Johnson’s two hits, the fight the Yanks put up in the eighth.

WPA chart

Which is not so awesome tonight.

Check out FanGraphs for the full box score.

Next up

The game is on FOX tomorrow afternoon. This is me being excited about that.

Brackman hit hard in season debut

No news on Chris Garcia yet.

Triple-A Scranton (7-6 loss to Buffalo)
Kevin Russo, 3B & Colin Curtis, CF: both 2 for 5 – Russo doubled
Greg Golson, LF, Juan Miranda, 1B & Eduardo Nunez, SS: all 1 for 3 – Golson drew a walk, stole a base & scored twice … Miranda walked twice, scored a run & K’ed twice … Nunez walked, scored a run & drove one in
David Winfree, RF & Jesus Montero, C: both 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K – Montero drove in a pair, Winfree just one … a throwing error committed a Montero
Jon Weber, DH: 1 for 5, 1 RBI
Reegie Corona, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K
Zach McAllister: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 4-7 GB/FB – 47 of 81 pitches were strikes (58%) … meh, not a great Triple-A debut, but no biggie
Amaury Sanit: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0-2 GB/FB – 12 of 18 pitches were strikes (66.7%) … allowed both inherited runners to score
Royce Ring: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 0-1 GB/FB - just 9 of 18 pitches were strikes
Zack Segovia: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 5-2 GB/FB – 24 of 39 pitches were strikes (61.5%)

[Read more…]

Game Four: Javy Returns

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

The season is just three games old, but the Yankees’ new additions are already paying huge dividends. Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson have driven in the go-ahead runs in the team’s two wins, albeit with methods found on opposite ends of the offensive spectrum, and Chan Ho Park delivered three shutout innings of work Wednesday night.  The team’s’ fourth big offseason pickup will take the field tonight, when new-old Yankee Javy Vazquez takes the mound in Tampa for his first start of the season.

As Joe reminded us this morning, Javy’s first first start in pinstripes went as well as possible. Six years later, the Yankees hope from more of the same from the guy no longer being counted on as a front-end arm, but a back-of-the-rotation workhorse who only has to soak up innings and keep the team in the game. This older and wiser version of Vazquez is more than qualified to do just that, but for now he just has to go out and prove his inability to handle New York is nothing more than narrative.

With another lefty on the mound tonight, Joe Girardi goes with the same lineup that faced Jon Lester on Tuesday. That means Marcus Thames in left and Granderson in the nine-hole. Of course, David Price has a long way to go before he’s in Lester’s class, but he’s got just as much talent and is capable of going into Beast Mode on any given day.

Will Nick Johnson get his first hit of the year? Will Mark Teixeira? Will Derek Jeter hit a ball in the air? Answers to all that and more, tonight in Tampa.

Jeter, SS
Johnson, DH
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Swisher, RF
Thames, LF
Granderson, CF

And on the mound, the best fourth starter in the business, Javy Vazquez.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy the game.

Looking at Granderson’s new stance

Later tonight, the Yankees will trot out their lineup heavy on right-handed bats vs. Tampa’s David Price. Robinson Cano and Nick Johnson, two lefties who can handle southpaws will play, but Marcus Thames will sub for Brett Gardner. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the order will be Curtis Granderson, the Yanks’ center fielder who struggles against lefties. For the last few seasons, Granderson hasn’t done well against lefties, and today, Moshe Mandel at The Yankee U posits that this trend could change. Granderson, he discovered had adjusted where he positions his hands, and a few scouts think this new handset will prevent him from flying open against lefties. As the game unfolds tonight, keep an eye on Granderson’s ABs against Price. Perhaps there’s something to this after all.

Addendum: In other Curtis Granderson news, after the home run against Jonathan Papelbon on Wednesday night, John Sterling apparently started singing “The Grandy Man Can” to the tune of “The Candy Man Can” from the original movie version of Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The good folks at It Is High, It Is Far, It Is….Caught captured this one and juxtaposed it with Sammy Davis Jr.’s version of the song. It’s a must-listen 45-second clip.

RAB Live Chat

Make sure you scroll down for some non-chat content.

Link Dump: Mo on West, The Nicks, Opening Day

A few links to keep chatters and non-chatters occupied for a bit this afternoon.

Bernie throwing out first pitch at home opener

After a rocky relationship with the Yankees in the first few years of his non-retirement, Bernie Williams has been around plenty over the past year or so. He’ll make another big appearance this year, throwing out the first pitch of the home opener, when the Yankees will hand out their World Series rings. Nice that Matsui will be in the house for the ceremony.

For those planning to attend, gates will open at 11, the ceremony will start at 12:15. Kristin Chenoweth, of The West Wing and other shows I’m not nearly as interested in, will sing the national anthem. You might not be able to see her from the upper deck.

Mo on West: “What does he want us to do, swing at balls?”

Few were pleased with Joe West’s comments about the pace of Yankees-Red Sox games. Count Mariano Rivera among them. In addition to the above quote, Mo laid down the law for West. “He has a job to do. He should do his job.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. He also notes that no, the players don’t particularly want to play four-hour games, but they’d rather take their time and get it right than rush and play sloppy baseball.

The Nicks slow down the game

Perhaps West should have focused his criticism on Nick Swisher and Nick Johnson specifically. Boston pitchers threw 506 pithes, and the Nicks saw 130 of them. As Joel Sherman notes, that’s 22.2 percent of the lineup seeing 25.7 percent of the pitches. In a lineup rife with patient hitters, that’s no small feat.

Indians in the East

Here’s an odd line from Peter Barzilai at USA Today. “[Rockies GM Dan] O’Dowd cringes as thinks back to realignment talks in the early 1990s when Indians owner Dick Jacobs discussed the possibility of playing in the AL East.” Uh, the Indians did play in the AL East in the early 1990s. It wasn’t until MLB changed the division format in the mid-90s that the Indians moved to the central. It’s clear that Barzilai refers to the possibility of the Indians staying in the East, but the phrasing is strange.

It would have been an odd trade-off for the Indians. They would have faced stiffer competition in the East, but would have benefitted by having the Yankees and Red Sox visit more often. It all worked out for the Indians, though, who won the Central from 1995 through 1999 and came within an two outs of winning the World Series.

Largest contracts by service time

At MLBTR, Mike takes a look at players who signed the biggest contracts at each level of service. While the Yankees have the highest paid position players in the five to six and six-plus categories, as well as the highest paid pitcher in the six-plus category, they haven’t handed out the largest contracts to players with little service time. It’s part of the Yankee advantage. They can afford to go year-to-year with most players, knowing they can afford the eventual free agent contract. Other teams don’t have that luxury, so they try to lock up their players to extensions.