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.