Church to Pittsburgh

Pirates signed OF Ryan Church to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, with $1.32M in possible incentives.

Church, 31, seems to be ticketed for a fourth outfield role in Pittsburgh. The club is leaning toward starting Garrett Jones in right field, giving former Mariners prospect Jeff Clement a chance to establish himself at first base. Brandon Moss also figures into the outfield rotation, though his feeble hitting last year (74 wRC+) puts him at the back of the line.

A plus defender in an outfield corner, Church fell flat offensively during an injury-riddled 2009 season in which he was traded from the Mets to the Braves for Jeff Francoeur. Atlanta non-tendered Church earlier this winter.

During his career, the lefty batter has been a slightly above-average hitter, with a 110 wRC+ and a .272/.345/.441 triple slash. However, his last healthy season was 2007, when he posted a 116 wRC+ in 530 plate appearances. Church hit the DL twice in 2008 with post-concussion syndrome, scarcely playing during the second half.

In 2009, Church was hampered by a strained hamstring and back spasms. His wRC+ was just 93 in 399 PA, as his power went MIA:

That .250 ISO in 2006 (in 230 PA) was an anomaly, but Church’s pop has declined four years running. He had a .191 ISO in 2007, a .163 mark in 2008 and a tepid .111 figure in 2009.

The former Expo, National, Met and Brave made more contact than usual this past year, though of the weak variety (career average and MLB average in parentheses):

Z-Contact: 92.9% (87.1% career, 87-88% MLB average)
Contact%: 82.2% (75.7% career, 80-81% MLB average)

Typically a quality fastball hitter (+0.97 runs/100 pitches seen), Church had a -0.12 run value against heaters this past season. It seems as though the injuries made him more content to simply but the bat on the ball, as opposed to making hard, authoritative contact. During his career, Church has hit to the opposite field 15.8 percent, to the middle field 53.1 percent and has pulled 31.1 percent. In 2009, he hit 20.1 percent to the opposite field, 51.5 percent to the middle field and pulled 27.6 percent.

CHONE projects Church to hit .263/.332/.411 in 2010, which comes out to an even 100 wRC+. He’s a nice little addition for the Bucs as a decent-hitting, rangy player acquired on the cheap. But Church needs to remain upright and hope for Jones to turn into a pumpkin to hold any fantasy value.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on and, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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If Jeff Clement is to establish himself at first base, it will be at AAA rather than in Pittsburgh. Thanks to the M’s previous administration, Clement already has 150 days of MLB service time, putting him in jeopardy of being an arb-eligible super-two just a couple of years down the road. This sort of forces the Pirates to keep him down on the farm in hopes of maxing his most cost-effective service time, or at least until they have a better idea if Pedro Alvarez can handle third base (or will have to move across the diamond sooner rather than later).

A far better use of Garrett Jones’ pre-pumpkin time is to put him at first base where he is not a defensive liability (+2.4 UZR/150 in 2009 vs -7.9 UZR/150 at the OF corners last year) and use some combination of Church (+19.4 UZR/150 away from CF in 2009 and roughly the same career-wise), Moss (+10.6 UZR/150 as OF last year),and Milledge (+16.4 UZR/150 in LF in 2009) at the corners where all three are plus defenders. Not a bad low-cost stop-gap until they find out what they have in Jose Tabata starting his age-21 season in AAA.

Also do note that Ryan Church has 4 years 152 days of MLB service time currently. So the Pirates do have a final year of arb-eligible control after the 2010 season should he regain his health and his power. This also won’t hurt his flipability at the trade deadline, should a contender come looking for decent fielding, left-handed bat able to fill in at all three OF slots.