[Before I begin, being of Japanese heritage (among others), I wanted to congratulate team Nippon for repeating as WBC champions. In honor of the win, I shall be drinking my favorite Japanese beer and listing to my (current) favorite Japanese artist while writing this article. I strongly suggest checking out both.]
As I’m sure you’re aware, Mike wrote a very good article about Ryan Church last week. I particularly liked his break down of Church’s career up until now. I also enjoyed reading the comments section as opposing viewpoints squared off; special hat tip goes to Lunkwill Fook for pointing out that Church was not really given the starter’s job at anytime with the Nationals, taking the words out of my mouth.
With Meddler’s article over at AA, as well as others this offseason, there are plenty of articles that try to answer the question “Who’s the real Ryan Church?” The obvious answer being that the real Church is somewhere in between his hot streak to start the season and his post-second-concussion play. So, why am I throwing my two cents into the Church collection? Simple, I think the Mets community is missing a big part of Church. It seems the arguments regarding Church are all about the offense. I mean I know chicks dig the long ball, but let’s talk defense.
Over the past three years, Church has had UZR/150 in RF of 18.8, 34.2, and 4.8. (It must be noted that the lowest rating comes from his most recent season and there are minor sample size issues. Regardless, it’s clear that Church can play a helluva right field.) For comparisons sake, Endy Chavez in right field over the past three seasons has put up UZR/150 of 11.6, 43.6, and 19.8. Considering Chavez is an absolute freak in the field, Church is respectfully close. Combine Church’s defense with his hitting and he’s a pretty valuable player going into 2009. While the last sentence might fly in other places, I know the readers of MetsGeek want something more quantitative. So, let’s calculate how valuable Church is projected to be in 2009.
Using Sky Kalkman’s handy spreadsheet, we can calculate Church’s value by inputting projected offense, defense and base running. Base running is a bit tricky to project, so I’m just going to go with PECOTA’s projection of -1.6 EqBRR. For offense, I like to average out the projections of a number of systems. Using FanGraphs’ provided projection systems (Bill James, CHONE, Marcel, Oliver, and ZiPS,) Church has an average projection of a .348 wOBA. Consider that over the past three seasons (in the ML,) Church has put up wOBAs of .383, .351 and .339, the projection of .348 seems very reasonable if not a bit pessimistic. Lastly, in order to project defense, I used a weighted average of Church’s past three seasons’ UZR/150 (weight by a 5:3:1 ratio) to come up with a projected 16.2 UZR/150, which is somewhat reasonable but probably very optimistic. Now comes the tricky part.
In order to properly project Church, we need playing time in the form of plate appearances. This brings up the question, how should you project playing time for a player in regards to valuation? That is it say, do you project based on if he was a full time starter, thereby ignoring time lost to platoons and, in Church’s case, time rested by the manager for health reason? While the latter would obviously be flawed, it would allow for an easier comparison of Church to other right fielders. However, health is more of a skill than some realize, so for this projection, I’m going to go with 525 PAs, or roughly 120 games for a player hitting in Church’s projected spot in the order. The results of the data being:
PA wOBA Hit BR Pos Fld Rep FA $ WAR
525 .348 0.79 -0.10 -0.75 1.62 2.50 $14.1 3.0
Wow, Ryan Church a 3 WAR, $14 million dollar player, I’m honestly surprised by how well Church projects. If Church put up these numbers last year he would be ranked the tenth-best right fielder in baseball ahead of Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerroro, Jermaine Dye and Bobby Abreu. I know what you’re thinking, this projection must be busted, but consider this, last year Church was worth $6.6 million in 359 plate appearances. Had Church sustained his production and got to 525 PAs, he would have been worth $9.65 million. In 2007, in 530 PAs, Church was worth $11.2 mil. Thus, considering the injuries last year, while the projection seems a bit optimistic (probably due to the defensive projection,) it’s really not all that inconceivable.
Church’s defense is one of the most underrated strengths on the Mets. I think this has to do with the fact that the guy is built closer to a keg than a beer flute, companied by the fact that Church is not that fast. While most Mets fans realize Church has a great arm and plays well in the field, especially after watching Shawn “Cap flies off head” Green in right, I think Church’s great jumps, positioning, and routes get lost on most. So, next time you debate about Church, don’t just mention his offense, talk about the D.