Brandon Watson just plum beat Ryan Church out. That's the line from on high, and one supposes Church can petition for a rehearing with a bang-up couple of weeks. For now, Jim Bowden and Frank Robinson presented a unified front, and Church appeared to take the news appropriately: in a respectfully stifled competitive fury, punctuated by enough teeth-gritting, "keep my mouth shut, show up and do what I've got to do" banalities to show he cares without being presumptuous enough to burn bridges.
Some guys run baseball teams, and some guys follow baseball teams. The fact of the matter is that ten-, a hundred-, a thousand-, ten thousand-fold more guys follow baseball teams than there are guys who run those teams. The proposition that follows dictates that those guys who run the teams possess a particularized knowledge of the game that escapes those comparatively plentiful folks who merely follow the teams. At the very least, there must exist a standard presumption of competence in the decisionmaker guiding one's team; maybe the presumption can and has been rebutted, but it's out there---and, no matter what we write or how we mock, it's not the least bit haughty (or naive) to pretend that this presumption need not exist.
The decision to demote Ryan Church is an instance---at least for me, but judging by comments at other blogs and message boards, not just me---where this presumption of competence is shaken, stretched, and singed. It seems like a boneheaded decision, made doubly more boneheaded by a boneheaded rationale. Why single out one guy for a few dozen bad at-bats, when everybody has those stretches? Why single out one guy for having a bad spring when lots of guys had bad springs? Because Church needed to toughen up, get motivated, or learn a lesson? Because he had an option year to burn? Even granting that Watson and Byrd beat him out for a regular spot, he's sent down because a dozen horrible at-bats as a pinch-hitter last July and August scared the team from using him as a reserve outfielder?
It can't be all of those rationales; they strike me as impressive as multiplying negative numbers. Let's just stick to the bad spring/great spring rationale. Lots of teams use that one, and they're run by fellows who carry a presumption of competence.
Just like this team's brain trust, for better or worse.
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Nevertheless, I cannot shake a wry and empty feeling that I have for Church right now. For instance, compare him to this other guy, another '05 rookie, of whom we will refer temporarily as "Mystery Man":
PL G AB AVG OBP SLG OPS+
RC 102 268 287 353 466 120
MM 081 350 289 330 434 089
The two players were injured about the same amount of time, and they were healthy about the same amount of time. Church was likely healthier for a longer amount of time, but he compiled fewer at-bats in large part because he was dog-housed for a significant stretch of the season. Church's rate stats were somewhat better, but their park-adjusted OPS figures were quite a bit different. As you will see in a moment, the two played in drastically different home parks.
Neither player really lit the lamp after the all-star break, by the way:
PL G AB AVG OBP SLG
RC 045 108 231 315 352
MM 027 125 216 256 288
To recap, both players were rookies (for what it's worth, Church is six months older), both compiled partial-season playing time because of injuries, and both tailed off dramatically upon their return and as the season concluded. Though Church played a less demanding defensive position than Mystery Man, he also compiled better hitting numbers on the campaign---far better when adjusted for home park. Church was also bad, rather than abjectly putrid, in his bad portion of the season.
Yet, Church is out of a job---temporarily, one would hope, even out of the league---whereas Mystery Man is guaranteed regular playing time and is sometimes referred to as a minor, up-and-coming star.
Because Clint Barmes hit .410 last April---in all of 83 at-bats---and people remember that, clinging to it as a lasting memory of Barmes' unusually adroit (and hardly statistically significant) ability to swing the bat. (Church waited until May and June to have his big months; he hit only .190 in April.) Because Barmes suffered a cute injury that people remember as an odd fluke, a humorous yarn. (Church made the twin mistakes of hurting himself by ramming full-speed into Pittsburgh's left field wall, and then breaking---of all unmanly things---his pinky toe.)
It is a bit of a waste, though, you have to admit. This team already has a dearth of guys who swing potent bats---I'd call .287/.353/.466 as a rookie in a pitchers' park potent---and we just watched it toss another one back into the lake.
Hopefully we'll hook 'im again right quick.
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As for Watson, I don't want to pile on him. He looks quite a bit like Endy Reloaded, but he seems to have some legitimate uses. He is quite fast (though his minor league stolen base percentages have not been impressive), and he appears coachable, and he's the type of speedy slap-hitter who could Wee Willie Keeler himself into a 200 at-bat stretch of .300 hitting. But he's a fourth- or fifth-outfielder who is a stretch as a regular---which he will essentially be, as the lefty-swinging half of the centerfield platoon with Marlon Byrd. Over time, Watson would likely be exposed, but maybe in the short-term he could be a sort of spark plug.
Conversely, he might flame out. You know who was Jim Bowden's Opening Day centerfielder in 1996? Tools demigod Mike Kelly. He flamed out in 49 at-bats.
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Finally, I want to give a grand Federal Baseball note of congratulations to Marlon Byrd for making the squad. This seemed to be in some doubt, despite Byrd's usefulness as a versatile outfielder and righty bat off a lefty-heavy bench. While Byrd struggled mightily during his "middle stretch" with the Nats last year, I've been fond of him for quite awhile, probably since I researched a long, long post on him when the Nats acquired Byrd for Endy1.0 back last May.