Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dream about magnolias in bloom

I think it may now be official. There's nothing bone-headed, nothing so stupid or ridiculous the Nationals could do that would surprise me anymore. At least while the current regime is in place.

Yesterday, the Nationals sent Ryan Church, the National League Rookie of the Month for May 2005 to AAA New Orleans. In effect, that hands the starting CF and leadoff job to Brandon Watson, a speedy player with very little Major League experience.

I'm late to the party once again, since this story broke around dinnertime last night and I was away from ESPN and the internet once I got home from work. Most of the other fine members of the Natosphere have chimed in already, many of them doing a fine job of explaining much better than I could why this is a silly move.

The main rationale for the move seems to be that Church hit only .200 this spring while Watson hit .311. Perhaps that's true, but Church also walked 10 times -- a team high for the spring. And in 2005, Church hit .287 with 9 homers and 25 RBIs while Watson managed only a .175 AVG.

And as Scott pointed out in the Yudite chat yesterday, Johnson, Clayton, Guillen and Schneider all have worse averages than Church this spring, yet all four will be starting on Opening Day (assuming they're healthy.)

Check out the Punisher and the Federalist for some interesting number crunching on this issue. In the end, I think many agree the brass has been down on Church since he lost a fight with the left-field wall in Pittsburgh and his oh-so-unmanly injury to his pinkie toe.

Last night, I finished Barry Svrluga's new book, National Pastime. (I may or may not have a review up soon.) It goes into greater detail with some of the storylines from the 2005 season. There is a story that has relevance here.

In Spring Training 2005, Bowden and Frank Robinson were hoping that Endy Chavez would be the centerfielder and leadoff in the lineup:

With all that in mind, Bowden held meetings with each of his new players at the start of spring training. ... None was more important than his meeting with Chavez. There would be, Bowden said, no more of this free-swinging bullshit. If Chavez ... wanted to make this team ... he had to have the mind-set that he was there to score runs, not to drive them in. ... He had to, as Robinson said, "stop swinging from his ass."

All the information seemed to frustrate Chavez, who was twenty-seven and quiet. "I've heard it," he said impatiently one day. "I know." Leave me alone, he said, and I'll carry out your orders. After all the meetings of the spring, he asked for the same thing. The coaching staff obliged. (Svrluga, Barry, National Pastime, pp. 100-101)

After Chavez went 0-3 in a loss to the Dodgers in Vero Beach, Robinson got frustrated:

His on-base percentage fell to .257. In thirty-seven plate appearances, he had drawn two walks. Robinson, alone in the small manager's office inside the visiting clubhouse, muttered to himself afterward, "He's the same fucking player he's always been. Hasn't changed a thing." (Svrluga, pg. 104)

Of course, we know that Inning-Endy was shipped to AAA New Orleans near the end of Spring Training. And guess who was the beneficiary?

Church saw Chavez slump into the clubhouse that day, saw the paper in his hand, saw the look on his face. The gears started to turn, and Church looked away. Wait a minute. Church's mind started linking things together quickly.... If Chavez is out then ... Okay, think through it again. Count the outfielders remaining in camp. Five will go north. Jose Guillen, Brad Wilkerson, J.J. Davis, Terrmel Sledge ... and me? Holy shit, Church thought. Holy shit! I just made the team. (Svrluga, pg. 107)

Fast-forward to Spring Training 2006. Brandon Watson is the speedy centerfielder dujour. And less than three weeks ago, Robinson and Bowden highly praised Watson for his work ethic and willingness to listen, especially compared to Chavez.

And yesterday, the brass decided that Watson's .311 AVG, .368 OBP, 7 stolen bases and 6 walks meant that he had been more willing to listen to them than Chavez. They rewarded him with a spot on the team, and presumably the leadoff spot in the lineup.

Because Watson has better ears than Chavez, Ryan Church -- who got his 2005 roster spot because Chavez wouldn't "listen" -- gets demoted to AAA New Orleans. He'll take his .287 AVG/.353 OBP rookie season to the minors with him, along with his .323 OBP this spring (only 45 points lower than Watson).

It sure seems that the fate of Ryan Church rests on the ability of speedy centerfielders to listen to their superiors. Maybe it's just me, but I think Church has long since earned the right to have his fate decided by his own abilities.

Fire Bowden.


Blogger El Gran Color Naranja said...

It seems like you flew threw the book if you read it in a day. Short, easy read, or were you just that interested?

10:18 AM  
Blogger Rocket1124 said...

241 pages. It's an easy read for someone who obsessively followed the 2005 season like you or me. But I'm also a fast reader who had a lot of time on my hands yesterday. Plus I wanted to scoop other bloggers for once!

10:19 AM  
Blogger Scott M. Collins said...

Beautiful prose as always Rocket. I've always thought of you as the Natosphere's Boswell or semi-regular columnist.

I can't wait to read the book!

10:37 AM  
Blogger El Gran Color Naranja said...

"Natosphere's Boswell"

Don't insult him Scott.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Scott M. Collins said...

see... I tried to amend it a bit by saying semi-regular columnist. It's supposed to be a good compliment.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Cassander said...

I checked Olsson's and they have Svrluga scheduled for a booksigning on April 24th.

(just do a "Find In Page" on "svrluga")

2:43 PM  

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