John Russell finally gives in:
Manager John Russell said Thursday night, after the team's hourlong post-break workout at PNC Park, that Milledge's recent performance has convinced him to stop what had become a conspicuously imbalanced platoon with Ryan Church: Milledge is batting .276, Church .186.
"Lastings has earned it," Russell said. "It's not about Church. It's about what Lastings has been able to show, how he's handled it, and that he looks like he's ready."
Finally. Church has had 19 at bats since June 28; Milledge has had 28. It's actually kind of amazing how inconspicuous Church was until a couple weeks ago, given how badly he was playing. I suppose a decent April (Church had an OPS of .732) and the presence of Akinori Iwamura really paper over quite a lot. Since April, Church had OPSes of .519 in May and .293 (!) in June before finally recording a few hits this month. It's pretty amazing it took the Pirates this long to bench him (assuming the benching lasts), but Wilbur has a pretty good theory on what happened:
I've come to the conclusion that one problem the Pirates are facing is a FO that prioritizes managing assets over winning. Not many teams would put up with Church's performance. He's at the age where merely decent hitters often fall off a cliff, so it's not like you can keep pointing to his career BA (which isn't exactly fabulous anyway) as if he's guaranteed to return to that level. The long-term potential, if any, that Church offers to this team doesn't remotely offset the horrible short-term performance. Yet we keep hearing that "we have to get him going."
NH is obviously hung up on the fact that the Pirates control Church for one more year. That's what this platoon farce boils down to--NH is trying to protect the value of that one year of control. I'm all for the FO taking an analytical approach, but they've lost sight of the forest because of the trees. The cost of "wasting" that one year of an asset--one that may provide no value at all anyway--isn't worth the costs on the field and the opportunity costs of not playing somebody who offers more potential, whether it's Milledge or some younger 4th OF type. EVEN IF, GOD FORBID, CHURCH IS STILL AROUND NEXT YEAR, THEY'RE GOING TO HAVE MORE WORTHWHILE OPTIONS FOR THAT ROSTER SPOT. Pearce and Clement will both be out of options, Alex Presley may earn a shot. And NH will no doubt be out there over the offseason looking for another Garrett Jones type. A competent GM should have little trouble finding somebody worth giving a chance to.
I'm not sure if we should take Huntington's comments that the Pirates control Church's rights next year at face value, but if we should, this is probably the reason why. It's also possible that Huntington finally got sick of Church and told Russell to knock it off - Dejan Kovacevic recently wrote that the decision to play Church so much came from Russell.
In any case, the Pirates say they're stopping the platoon. Let's hope they really do it.