Left field closing arguments: Ryan Church

Open Thread: Win and they're in
Fan Confidence Poll: January 4th, 2010

After a New Year’s hiatus, we return with our ongoing series on the left field situation. Given the parameters — mostly a caddy for Gardner — we’re looking at the available free agents to determine whether or not they fit. I’ll present the data, you’ll comment, and that will be that. Today, we get the final say on Ryan Church. You can check out the previous closing arguments on Reed Johnson and Marlon Byrd.

Just a few years ago, Ryan Church looked like a budding star. In 2005, his first full season in the big leagues at age 26, he hit .287/.353/.466 in 301 PA, despite battling multiple injuries. These included a day-to-day shoulder issue, a ribcage injury that caused him to miss 16 games, and a toe injury that forced him to miss 15. Time missed due to injury would become a major theme in Church’s major league career.

Despite his successful 2005 campaign, the Nationals started him in AAA for the 2006 season. That ended quickly, and Church hit fairly well in his first 78 plate appearances. The only thing he didn’t do, really, was hit singles. His .215 average must have stuck out to the Nats, because they demoted him on May 20, despite his .346 OBP and .477 SLG. Of the 14 hits he amassed in that short stint, eight went for extra bases.

The Nats recalled him again after the All-Star break, and this time Church hit his way into a more prominent role. In 152 plate appearances he posted a .305/.376/.550 line, sending half of his 40 hits for extra bases. Best of all, he got through the season without injury. In two partial major league seasons, Church had hit .282/.359/.491 in 531 plate appearances. His BABIP was a bit high, at .350, but that’s not too uncommon for a high strikeout player.

(While Church toiled in the minors after his 2006 mid-season demotion, the Yankees actually expressed interest in him. While Church would have been a decent addition at the time, I think everyone was more than pleased with Abreu.)

In 2007 Church would get his chance, and he responded well. He missed just two games due to injury, and racked up 530 plate appearances, hitting .272/.349/.464. That was good for a .351 wOBA, 116 wRC+, and a 114 OPS+. In other words, solidly above average. His power fell a bit, from a .250 ISO to .191, but that’s still a good mark. Apparently, though, the Nationals had seen enough, shipping Church and catcher Brian Schneider to the Mets for Lastings Milledge.

It appeared Church would continue his hot hitting ways in New York. He got off to a torrid start in 2008, hitting .311/.379/.534 in 183 plate appearances through May 20. But then his head collided with Yunel Escobar’s knee in the ninth inning of the second game of a doubleheader. It was the second concussion Church had suffered that year — the first came in Spring Training when he and teammate Marlon Anderson ran into each other while tracking a fly ball.

Even though it was his second concussion in two months, and even though he had to visit a doctor after the game, Mets manager Willie Randolph used Church as a pinch hitter the very next day. He actually pinch hit three times in the four days following the Escobar incident. Church tried to return full-time at the beginning of June, but apparently couldn’t handle it. After striking out three times in four at-bats on June 5, Church missed the next 19 games with post concussion issues. He tried to come back in July, but that experiment ended after five games, and he missed the next 41.

Since then Church just hasn’t been the same player. He finished the 2008 season horribly, hitting .219/.305/.307 in 128 plate appearances. An off-season of rest didn’t bring him back to form, as he hit .272/.328/.352 through May 22, when he injured his hamstring. He kept a consistent line upon his return, and eventually Omar Minaya traded him to the Braves for Jeff Francoeur. He hit better in his new home, .260/.347/.402 in 144 plate appearances, but nothing approaching his 2006, 2007, and beginning of 2008 seasons. The Braves cut loose Church on December 8.

On the plus side, Church has demonstrated that he can hit. From 2006 through May 22, 2008 he posted solidly above average offensive numbers. He also plays average to above average defense in the outfield — above average at the corners, which is what the Yankees seek. His strikeout rate historically is a bit high, but he still hits for a good average. I’m not sure if it means anything or it’s just an outlier, but Church drastically reduced his strikeout rate in 2009, dropping it nearly 10 percent from 2008.

On the negative side, we never know if he’ll be the same again after the two concussions. That the Braves, who could use some outfield help, cut him loose makes that even more doubtful. Another area of concern, at least as it involves the Yankees, is his platoon split. They already have the lefty Granderson in center field, so in order for Church to make sense he’d have to hit about equal against lefties and righties. But, as is the case for many lefties, he shows a large split, .813 OPS vs. righties in his career and a .700 OPS against lefties.

For another team, Church might be worth a gamble. He has the ability to hit and field well, but it’s unknown whether he can actually handle it. Given that uncertainty and his platoon splits, however, he doesn’t appear a good fit for the Yankees.

So now, whenever a rumor surfaces involving Church and the Yankees, we can refer back to this post and its comments. Have your final say now.

Photo credit: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters

Open Thread: Win and they're in
Fan Confidence Poll: January 4th, 2010
  • themgmt


    See what I did there?

    • inman

      i’m not sure. it’s monday now.

    • JMK aka The Overshare’s Excessive Back Hair Complex

      Super awesome comment. +1!!!!

      • History Teacher

        I think the biggest question is how bad did the concussions screw him up. I’ve seen him hit fairly well with the mets, but he’s been awfully bad since the head injuries. You wonder if he’ll ever be the same.

        We should fork up the money and Damon should cave for a 1 year deal.

        Church, Reed “I have the worst beard ever” Johnson, Dye, Gardy, Hoffman… you name it, none of them sound as good as Damon to me… unless of course… Holliday. I know that’s not a wise move though.

  • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

    If he were an RHB, a la Reed Johnson, I’d be more on board with bringing him in.

    • DRU

      Agreed, the last thing we need is another LHH that can’t hit LHP. If he was a righty, it would be a solid move.

  • Yankeefan91 Arod Fan

    i wouldn’t mind bringing Reed Johnson to platoon With Brett Gardner.

  • RKelly39

    How much would Church cost? I feel that all of these arguments are settled based upon how expensive these guys are (relative to how inexpensive Damon might eventually become). If he’s very, very cheap I think Church would be worth a look.

  • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

    They already have the lefty Gardner in center field…

    Typo? Prediction? Knowledge?

  • http://pendingpinstripes.net Greg F.

    I still stand by my proposal for Austin Kearns. He has more upside than any of these guys.

    • Salty Buggah

      Sure, he has the most upside (unlikely to hit as well as he did when in his mid 20’s) but in the past 2 years, he’s been horrible( OPS+ of 67 in 08, 72 in 09). Also, in his career line against LHP, he has OPS’d .809. Considering he’d be a caddy for Gardy against LHP, I think Reed Johnson is better. He hits lefties better (.841 career OPS against LHP) and plays just as well on defense. Kearns is 30 now so I don’t expect him to improve so much (though I doubt he is as bad as he has been in the past 2 years).

      • http://cache.boston.com/multimedia/sports/bigshots/110509/01.jpg Drew

        I don’t get this platoon idea. Gardy has a reverse split.

        • JMK aka The Overshare’s Excessive Back Hair Complex

          He’s been pretty even throughout his career (obviously including his minor league numbers).

        • Salty Buggah

          I’ve thought that too but I’m not sure we can trust it. When I brought it up like 3 months, someone pointed out the SSS. He had only 65 PA against LHP in 09 (so perhaps he got benched against tough LHP since Melky was a switch-hitter). He had 91 PA against LHP in 2008 and he hit them worse by 63 OPS points. It seems like he hit both pretty equally in the minor leagues. He probably can hit them equally but he also might not as he hasn’t really gotten the chance to face lefties consistently yet.

          • http://cache.boston.com/multimedia/sports/bigshots/110509/01.jpg Drew

            Word, I wasn’t citing his major league splits. Wayyyyyyyyy too small.

    • JMK aka The Overshare’s Excessive Back Hair Complex

      He also appears to have one of the lowest floors, too. While I don’t expect his 2010 to be as bad as his 2008, 2009 seasons, why take that big a risk on him? Reed Johnson may not be an All-World player, but the chance of him going under .200 is really, really unlikely. Plus, he hits lefties, which would be really beneficial with our present outfield alignment.

      I’ve lobbied for Reed Johnson for quite some time, so I realize that the horse is dead. But I just want to stress that the upside of Kearns is greatly undermined by his considerable downside. If it were one season, I’d be more inclined to consider it, but not two seasons of around .200/.320/.300/.620. That’s just scary risky.

  • http://thebronxbloggers.wordpress.com Bronx Blogger

    Church would be a great platoon LF.

    Just not in the Bronx.

  • YankFanDave

    If his value falls to a minor league contract then of course sign him. With no OF depth in the upper minors the Yanks need help in that area.

  • Yankeefan91 Arod Fan

    U Never Know if Jon Weber Wins The position out of spring training.

  • JackISBACK

    How about Willy Mo Pena for a minor league contract? (Hear me out, hear me out!)

    He’s not all that wanted right now, so he might be willing to take a minor league role. This gives the Yankees an opportunity to start Brett Gardner in LF to start the season. See how he responds there, before making it a platoon system. Gardner had a reverse split last year, and a regular slpit against LHP the year before. So I’d like to see what Gardner can do on a daily basis before platooning him.

    Pena hits much better against lefties (than he does against righties atleast). Career OPS of .796. He can play all three OF spots (albeit, very up and down in his defensive metrics) but atleast can play a decent LF.

    Of if the Yankees want to, they can platoon Hoffman and Gardner later in the season, and use Pena as a bat off the bench.

    • http://cache.boston.com/multimedia/sports/bigshots/110509/01.jpg Drew

      I think everyone would welcome him on a minor league deal. It’s a no lose situation.

      • JMK aka The Overshare’s Excessive Back Hair Complex

        Yep. And if it doesn’t work out you just got a bodyguard. Win, win.

      • http://cache.boston.com/multimedia/sports/bigshots/110509/01.jpg Drew

        Also, it’s tough to go by Gardy’s major league splits. It’s such a small LvL sample.
        Going by his minor league splits his OPS is 4 pts higher vs righties but he slugs 33 points higher vs lefties.

  • dino

    as an atheist i am opposed to church, religious or ryan.

  • Omar

    He was traded for Jeff Francouer, that says a lot.

    • http://cache.boston.com/multimedia/sports/bigshots/110509/01.jpg Drew

      That says nothing.

      lol… Minaya just signed Bay for 80+ mil.

  • http://www.wiredtowns.com Short Porch

    From 2005:


    An article in Sunday’s paper about Baseball Chapel quoted Church as saying that he had turned to Moeller for advice about his former girlfriend, who was Jewish. “I said, like, Jewish people, they don’t believe in Jesus. Does that mean they’re doomed? Jon nodded, like, that’s what it meant. My ex-girlfriend! I was like, man, if they only knew. Other religions don’t know any better. It’s up to us to spread the word,” Church said.

    So now his Jewish ex-girlfriend is going to hell? What a tool. With an easily injured brain. Obviously not much going on upstairs. For the 25th spot on the NY Yankees, we can do much better. At least have someone good in the clubhouse. We don’t need Chad Curtis 2.0.

    • History Teacher

      Haha, you said Chad Curtis.

  • Bryan

    I say we sign Chien Ming Wang and put him in left. That way you have a Wang on the left, a Johnson on the right, and a grandy up the middle

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  • http://deleted RollingWave

    it would be hilarious if Church does well for the Yankees though.

  • Sal

    In the end, the Yankees will sign Matt Holliday for a less money than the Cardinals offered him. The contract will be back loaded and Cashman will say “this was a no-brainer decision and the Steinbrenners felt it was ok to go above our budget since we got a got him at a below market contract”.

    Other reasons:
    1. The Cardinals can’t get a deal done with him.
    2. The Yankees have left left field open
    3. They won’t bring back Damon.
    4. His father said during the season that he wants his son to to play for the Yanks.
    5. Holliday was rumored to say he wants to play for the Yanks.

    • http://www.wiredtowns.com Short Porch

      1. If my dad were alive he’d know I’d want to play for the Yankees.
      2. I want to play for the Yankees.
      3. They are not giving me $100 million.

    • Zack

      Why would the Yankees get him for less?

  • http://www.republicbroadcasting.org KJC

    1. False
    2. True
    3. True
    4. True
    5. True

    Score: 80%

    • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bring-Melvin-To-America/193013541601?ref=nf Andy in Sunny Daytona

      Correct reply response score…


      http://www.sadtrombone.com :)

  • Bill

    I wouldn’t mind Church. He probably isn’t the best fit given his splits, but we could always use Gardner against lefties as his splits are pretty even. Also if Hoffmann is on the roster that guy has killed left handed pitching throughout his minor league career (particularly last year). If Hoffmann is not on the roster or we don’t feel confident in him making it then I’d go out and sign 2 OF’s. So with the current setup I think Church would be a nice gamble. Maybe not our best option, but certainly not a bad one.

    Honestly I kind of love the idea of bringing back Hinske and/or Hairston. Both give us defensive flexibility and while Hinske appeared to be terrible in the field throughout his career most metrics have him as about an average OF. He also consistently produces league average offensive numbers with even splits. Hairston can also play anywhere. Although Hairston may be overkill with all the Util infielders we have on the 40 man roster.

    Personally don’t like the idea of signing just Reed Johnson. I worry about having a bench that is all righties. If we sign Reed Johnson we need another OF and need to either give Hoffmann back or make a trade with LAD so that we can put him in AAA. If Johnson and Hoffmann are our only backups in the OF that would leave us volunerable against RHP if any of our starters went down. Simply put there is no point and having both Johnson and Hoffmann on the team.

    • Zack

      “Hinske appeared to be terrible in the field throughout his career most metrics have him as about an average OF. He also consistently produces league average offensive numbers with even splits.”

      Think you looked at the numbers wrong

      Career V LHP: .221/.296/.370 OPS .666
      Career v RHP: .263/.347/.456 OPS .804

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  • Boogie Down

    It looks like it’s going to be a platoon situation in left. I’m comfortable with Gardner playing half the games out there, but Hoffman is a big question mark for me. We need a decent bat that can play 80+ games in left, and come off of the bench when needed. And we’re looking to get this player for about 2Mil. I think the guys the Yanks are looking at right now are in the 4-5 mil range, and we’re waiting for their price tags to drop by the spring. I think we’ll snag a player or two by February.

    • http://fmylife.com JobaJr

      I have a feeling Hoffman will be returned before Opening Day. Unless he tears up Spring Training, I can’t see how he makes the roster.

  • Steve B.

    “….he doesn’t appear a good fit for the Yankees…”

    Hmmm….well, then, thanks for wasting my time. Next time, evaluate a player that WILL fit the LF position.

  • DRU

    I was looking at the 2009 splits for FA’s available and something REALLY stuck out.

    Would anybody be interested in a LF platoon player for Gardner with this line against LHP in 2009 =

    100 AB / 31 Hits / 8 2B / 5 HR / 19 RBI / .364 OBP / .530 SLG / .300 AVG

    The guy strikes out a ton, but is a legit 30 HR threat, a hard nosed player who “plays the game right”, has experience in the AL East and we could get him for next to nothing.

    Anyone interested in Jonny Gomes on a one year deal to platoon with Brett Gardner?

    • DRU

      More on Gomes =

      Career vs LHP

      515 AB / 30 HR / .274 AVG / .369 OBP / .517 SLG

      At Fenway

      79 AB / 3 HR / .278 AVG / .374 OBP / .456 SLG

      At Yankee Stadiunm

      95 AB / 6 HR / .263 AVG / .343 OBP / .505 SLG

      • DRU

        Even MORE on Gomes =

        Vs Lester =

        12AB / 4Hits / 1HR / 3RBI / 1BB / 3K / 1SB / .333AVG / .385OBP / .583SLG

        Vs Mark Buehrle

        13AB / 6Hits / 0HR / 2RBI / 1BB / 2K / 1SB / .462AVG / .500OBP / .692SLG

        As far as RHP, he gets owned with only a couple of exceptions =

        Vs Greinke

        5 AB / 3 Hits / 2 HR

        Vs Roy Halladay

        24AB / 7Hits / 1 HR….292AVG/ .500SLG

        He’s also not that bad in LF either. His 2009 UZR is 1.0 and UZR/150 was 2.2. Compare that to the guys who played LF for the Yanks in 09

        Gomes = 1.0 / 2.2
        Swisher = -0.5 / -11.7
        Melk = -2.5 / -19.2
        Damon = -9.2 / -12.1

        Not bad at all.

        Again, he would be a part time player and could provide Nick Swisher type production at the bottom of the order against LHP. I’ve always liked Gomes, he plays like a bulldog.

    • http://www.twitter.com/wahbjo01 Jordan – Cashman Has No Equal

      He can’t field at all, so he loses a lot of his value right there.

      • DRU

        Please see above…

      • Am I the only Kevin?

        Is that really true? (Not asking to be a jerk, just really don’t know). I got the impression he was DHing in Tampa mostly because they had every day outfielders who were very good defensively and played home games on turf, so Gomes DHed. All told, it looks like he nonetheless averaged about 60 games a year in the field. Just by the number of games he gets out there, you wouldn’t expect him to be a complete butcher.

        Even if he is below average defensively, would he really be that bad with the glove as the smaller (RHHitting) end of a platoon given how much he mashes lefties? Isn’t Gomes the equivalent of a rightly Hinske?

        • DRU

          haha..no sweat, I didnt take it the wrong way. I thought he was pretty bad in the field too. I think part of the reason he was DHing so much was because of the stud fielders that Tampa throws out there in LF and CF. I took a look at his historical fielding numbers to get a better idea.

          In 05 he started the most games of his career in RF, 34. He was an above average fielder. However, he wasnt that good in his 14 starts in LF. In 06 he only started 8 games total in the OF. In 07 he started 20 games in LF and 30 games in RF. He stunk in LF ( -9.1 UZR + -52.2 UZR/150 ), but was solid in RF ( 0.4 UZR + 1.4 UZR/150 ). In 08 he had 4 starts in LF and 17 in RF, he was horrible across the board. In 09 he signed on with the Reds and was solid in 33 LF starts ( numbers from my post above ), but stunk in 33 RF starts. His 09 LF numbers were the 2nd best of his career. The numbers indicate he has a solid arm, but not much range. I agree that he could be a nice platoon player for LF and also a solid RH bat off the bench. Very much a RH Hinske like you said.

  • RobC

    those concusions make me wonder.
    Watch the video:


  • scoopemup

    Alex Rios on the trading block?

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