Tag: Ian Kennedy

The definitive categorization of post-Yankee beards

Love this, minus the uniform. (MLB Gifs)

Matt’s off this week, so in lieu of his Sunday column, here’s my dissertation on Yankee beards.

Since the early days of George Steinbrenner’s tenure as owner of the Yankees, the Bombers have had a strict facial hair policy. Yes to mustaches, absolutely not to beards or excessively long hair.

Would I love to see the Yankees practice the scraggly art of unkempt or even fine-tuned beards? Sure. But the contrast of non-bearded Bombers gives us a chance to study players changing, one follicle at a time.

If someone is drafted by the Yankees out of high school or signs with the team on July 2 as an international free agency, that player is joining the organization well before their prime as a beard grower. Therefore, for much of their adult life, they’re deprived of the ability to grow out fun, lengthy and sometimes hilariously bad facial hair except in the offseason.

When players leave the Yankees, particularly homegrown talents, each player immediately throws away their razor. OK, maybe not literally, but almost everyone grows a beard shortly after leaving the Bronx. Some pull it off well and some … well, they aren’t quite as gifted.

For a breakdown, here’s an unnecessary categorization of Yankee beards.

The Standard Offseason Beard aka the CC

The most common beard you see from a Yankees player is the offseason beard. Without responsibilities to the team, players can go wild from November to February with hirsute appearances.

There is one undisputed champion in this category; CC Sabathia leads the Yankees in Offseason Beards Above Replacement. As he talked about on R2C2, he’s even mastered the in-season beard after learning at the feet of the master, Andy Pettitte, by finding ways to let some growth come up in-between starts. Since he’s now retired, he was quick to start the process back up.

Let’s check out this offseason work from 2014:

That, my friends, is a master at work. CC tested, LeBron approved.

Sabathia hasn’t always had the best beards, but he’s always courtside at basketball games ready to show off the new look. Salute.

The In-Uniform Offseason Beard aka The Bernie

Bernie Williams takes the cake here. First up, his appearance on Seinfeld:

You know that the Yankees are either in a stetch of off-days or the offseason, as Bernie is rocking the goatee. Considering the show aired in November, it’s likely the latter.

Yet Williams was not done. Six years later, he took part in MLB’s trip to Japan and played against Koji Uehara, among others. Most notably, he sported a devilish goatee again, this time in full Yankee pinstripes. We must bow down to this flagrant display of whiskers.

The Average Post-Yankee Beard aka The Hughes

For most players, this is a right of passage. You play for the Yankees for a while and shave every day. Once you leave the Bronx, you want to see what you can do. Most players don’t abuse this newfound power and put together a fine look.

Example: Phil Hughes

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It’s not perfect, but it’s a strong effort from the baby-faced Hughes to blend into the adult world of Minneapolis. I dare say he pulls it off.

Example II: David Robertson and Melky Cabrera

This … This is the Bad Place! I didn’t want to see David Robertson with a beard, so now you have to as well. He put in the effort, but he was meant to be clean-shaven. (Melky’s beard fits him. Don’t @ me.)

Robertson has since tried to hide all evidence of his bearded days with his glove.

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Example III: Ian Kennedy

Kennedy shows up in a later (and lesser) category, but after years of trying, he’s mastered the post-Yankee beard. We salute you, IPK. Save the Big Three. 10/10

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The Cano

Sometimes, there are visionaries in a field. Someone who knows instantly their true calling and makes strides that others simply cannot. That is Robinson Cano and the mustache-less beard. He brought it out at his introductory press conference. That’s how much confidence he had in it.

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Years later, it was still there. He’s since gone in new and innovative hair directions (Check his Instagram), but he’s a unique player in the post-Yankee beard space. No one else is pulling this off.

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Going Too Hard aka The Joba

All of the energy Joba put into expressive fistpumps early in his career went into hiding his chin and neck with hair later on.

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Look, Joba was great. He’s a World Series champion and was just about as fun a middle reliever as one could watch. That being said, he made a follicle folly. Chamberlain appears to have spent 10 years at sea on a crab-fishing expedition and barely lived to tell the tale. This took the post-Yankee beard past the line.

As promised, here’s Kennedy doing the same in San Diego.

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Once a Yankee, Always a Yankee (The Tino)

Almost everyone grows out the Yankee beard. Not Tino Martinez. Never Tino.

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Perhaps he couldn’t pull it off. Maybe he knew not to mess with his good looks, even while wearing a Cardinals or Devil Rays uniform.

Joe Girardi remained steadfast in his clean-shaven look as well. It’s What You Want.

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Extra: The Pre-Yankee Beard!

There are a few players who went hard on a beard before coming to the Bronx. The most famous, of course, is Johnny Damon. As a member of the ’04 Red Sox, he had long hair on every inch of his head.

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He never really grew it out again after leaving the Yankees, only sporting the occasionally average beard of a normal human.

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However, let’s check on the work of one Jonathan Holder. He was drafted by the Yankees but out of college. While at Mississippi State, Holder, aka Kenny Powers, clearly saw grooming as an optional pursuit meant for everyone else.

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Here’s an even better look. If Holder had gone to another organization, he’d have had a chance to shine as a cult hero for his shaggy hair. In the Bronx, he’s just like everyone else.

Trade Candidate: Ian Kennedy

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Imagine it’s early 2008. Imagine you’re looking over the Yankees’ prized trio of Phil (no long Phillip) Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Patrick Kennedy. At the time, they were all had big time potential and we had the highest of hopes for them to front the Yankees’ rotation for a long, long time. Despite that collective good feeling, there was a bit of separation between the three. Now imagine that in that early 2008, I tell you that Ian Kennedy is the one who’d still be pitching in the Majors in 2019, with the other two as (relatively) distant memories. You’d be shocked. I’d be shocked at saying it. But it’s the truth.

Now in 2019, the Yankees are–as they are at most every trade deadline–looking to bolster their pitching. This applies mostly to the rotation, but we’ve heard they’re seeking bullpen help as well, and that’s where Kennedy fits in. This year, the Royals shifted him to the bullpen and the results have been pretty great.

As I write this on Wednesday night, Kennedy is sporting a 3.32 ERA (71 ERA-) and 2.26 FIP (50 FIP-) in 38 innings across 37 games. He’s striking out 28.9% of the batters he’s facing as well as walking only 5.7%. His Statcast rankings are also closer to ‘great’ than anything else:

Just about all of this represents a huge improvement over Kennedy’s previous performances. Let’s take a look, on a pitch-by-pitch basis, to see what’s behind this great change.

Before we look at gains, let’s acknowledge something he’s lost. This year, Kennedy has all but ditched his changeup, throwing only 11 all season. He’s also slightly lowered his curveball usage. In their stead, he’s relied on his cutter a bit more, increasing the pitch’s usage from 11.78% in 2018 to 14.61% this season. He’s also throwing his cutter faster this year, increasing its velocity from 88.24 MPH to 91.69 MPH. Similarly, as one would expect of a starter moving to the bullpen, his fastball has ticked up , too, from 92.5 MPH to 94.55 MPH. The three pitches also have something else in common: more whiffs.

Kennedy’s fastball has gone from a 15.92 whiff/swing% to 24.02 and his curve has gone from 20.99 to 28.30. Those are big increases! The same holds true with his out of zone chases via Statcast. The rate has increased more than 20% on his fastball, more than 15% on his curveball, and just over 6% on his cutter. His cutter’s overall whiff/swing% has dropped, but has compensated with a higher GB/BIP% than 2018: 42.86-60.00. Similarly, his fastball has generated more grounders: 18.72% in 2018 to 34.48 in 2019. Predictably, the same holds true for his curveball: 46.05 to 53.85. It’s possible we can trace this to some other changes. His pitches are moving more and his release point is different.

Pitch/Movement2018 Horizontal/Vertical2019 Horizontal/Vertical
Curveball5.67/-8.266.93/-8.75
Cutter 0.98/4.350.01/5.07

One way or another, his two moving pitches are moving more than they did in the past and it’s helping them be more effective in missing bats.

Now let’s look at the release points, 2018 first:

And now 2019:

Kennedy’s release point is clearly lower this year than it was last year. I’m not an expert on mechanics or anything, but that is clearly having some effect on his pitches and their effectiveness.

While it’s tempting to write off Kennedy’s 2019 as an outlier or a fluke because it’s so different than his 2018 and his mostly middling career, there is evidence that this is all real. Both his pitching process–pitch selection, release points, movement–and results–more whiffs, more grounders–show that something has changed in Kennedy and, baseball wise, he’s probably worth a look.

Given the more luxury tax conscious Yankees, we do have to take a look at Kennedy’s contract. He’s under contract for 2019 and 2020, both at $16.5M. For luxury tax purposes, he counts as $14M, the AAV of his 5 year, $70M contract. That doesn’t matter as much for 2019 since the Yankees are already over the threshold. They’ve got, per Cots, $36.55M to play with before hitting the threshold next year. At $14M, Kennedy would eat up almost 40% of that, which might scare the Yankees off, unless they plan on blowing by the threshold again. If you’ve read me in the past on this issue, you know I don’t care about saving the Steinbrenner family money, so that’s of no import to me. Now, I’m not going to propose a trade because that is way beyond my depth, but, as always, the Yankees–should they offer–should take on as much money as possible to lower the prospect cost.

The chances of this happening are incredibly slim and this might be a bit of wishing. I always liked Kennedy more than others and was sad to see him go. Considering how much ire there was towards him for not throwing himself on the fire after a bad game against the Angels, it’d be nice to see him ‘come home’ and contribute to a Yankee run at the playoffs. Bring IPK home, Cash. Bring him home.

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