2011 Reds

X-Factor: Paul Janish

Paul Janish (The Enquirer/Joseph Fuqua II)

Orlando Cabrera (2010)
Alex Gonzalez (2009, 2007)
Jeff Keppinger (2008)
Felipe Lopez (2006)
Rich Aurilia (2005)

Between 1974 and 2004, the Cincinnati Reds were fortunate to be able to pencil in the names of Dave Concepcion or Barry Larkin at the shortstop position nearly every Opening Day. Now take a look at the group of names above. You may have surmised that those are the shortstops who have started for the Reds on Opening Day since Larkin’s retirement.

Yes, the stench is nearly overwhelming.

This year, Paul Janish is expected to take his turn at the most important defensive position on the diamond for Cincinnati, and his performance is one of the keys to the Reds’ chances to repeat as NL Central champs.

In one important way, Janish presents an immediate upgrade to the list of has-beens at the top of this post. Every single one of the shortstops above were poor defensively with very little range (although a couple had been good in their younger days). Janish is the opposite; Soft-J has a reputation as an elite defender and he should help make the Reds stronger up the middle than they have been in quite some time.

There are questions about Janish, however, and those revolve primarily around whether or not he will hit enough to merit a starting spot. Here’s the way FanGraphs sees it:

Janish has posted 2.0 WAR in his first two significant stints in the Major Leagues. His bat hasn’t been anything stellar, but since his disastrous first stint in 2007 (42 wRC+ in 89 PAs), Janish has shown moderate patience and good contact. He doesn’t have much pop, and some bad luck and a fly ball heavy batted ball profile has led to low BABIPs. It is those two factors which have largely driven his poor batting lines to date.

Between 2009 and 2010, Janish compiled -15 batting runs, and that’s with a BABIP in the .260s. Despite his issues with fly balls, it’s hard to imagine Janish will continue to have such poor results on balls in play. His .260/.338/.385 line in 2010 appears to be pretty representative of Janish’s abilities, although probably with a SLG closer to .360. His minor league numbers are poor, but the two parts of his game that have played the best in the majors – walk rate and contact rate – are the quickest to stabilize. 600 plate appearances still isn’t a huge sample, but for both statistics it is above the reliability thresholds stated here.

His bat probably only plays at shortstop, but that’s not a problem for Janish. According to Baseball America, Janish has “nearly flawless footwork, soft hands and a plus arm.” UZR was insane over Janish in 2009, rating him at +11 in only half a season. That seems outrageous, but DRS and TZL nearly completely agree. He wasn’t quite as impressive in 2010, possibly due to splitting time between SS and 3B in the small sample, but he was still above average.

The MARCEL projections see Janish hitting at a .237/.313/.362 rate. That’s certainly not great, but it’s better than the numbers Orlando Cabrera posted last year. If Janish plays defense the way everyone expects, he’s a good bet to be an average (or slightly above-average) shortstop. There is value in that.

Of course, we can’t discuss Janish without discussing the Edgar Renteria factor. Cincinnati signed Renteria in the off-season, and GM Walt Jocketty says that Renteria will be Janish’s backup. Most of the Loyal Citizens of the Nation believe that Renteria will be named the starter at some point (see the poll on this page). At this point, I’m just going to express some skepticism and I will pretend that Janish is going to be the full-time starter, since that’s what Jocketty continues to insist. Janish will have to play well early in order to convince the Reds that they can really let him play this time around, instead of making yet another switch to the over-the-hill veteran shortstop.

I think Janish would have been a good starter for the Reds last year (instead of Cabrera, and he was a better choice than Gonzalez the previous year), and I continue to believe that he’s the best bet for this team. It will be nice to see a shortstop every day who can field the position with some flash. Of course, perhaps the most value that Janish can bring to the Reds is that he’s an excellent stopgap, a cheap bridge to the probable shortstop of the future.

That shortstop is very likely Zack Cozart. Cozart will start the 2011 season at AAA Louisville, but there are some within the Cincinnati organization that expect Cozart to be the shortstop for the Reds very soon. There is a reason why people are high on Cozart. Take a look at what <a href="Baseball Prospectus“>Baseball Prospectus had to say about the kid:

Just when it seemed safe to declare Cozart’s 2008 power surge dead, he set a career high in homers. The additional power came at the cost of some plate discipline, so the overall package wasn’t more productive than the 2009 model, but the righty held his own despite climbing to the minor-league ladder’s highest rung. As one of the best defensive shortstops in any team’s system, Cozart doesn’t have to excel with the stick to get the call, but he’s done plenty to dispel his former all-glove reputation, and might well have surpassed Orlando Cabrera at the plate last season had he gotten the chance. Edgar Renteria should take plenty of pictures of his first season as the Reds’ starting shortstop, because he likely won’t get another.

High praise, and I agree that Cozart has a good chance to be the starter in 2012 (whether taking over from Renteria or Janish). Of course, even if Cozart becomes the shortstop Reds fans have been waiting for, we still have to give him time to prepare.

In the meantime, Paul Janish is a good bet to provide some good play at shortstop for Cincinnati. If Soft-J is able to man the position adequately, the Reds will be in good shape as they hunt for a second consecutive playoff appearance. He’s the X-Factor.

24 thoughts on “X-Factor: Paul Janish

  1. Renteria’s slash stats over the last three years, in nearly 1300 plate appearances: .263/.316/.359

    Janish can certainly outproduce that this year.

    • Renteria’s slash stats over the last three years, in nearly 1300 plate appearances: .263/.316/.359Janish can certainly outproduce that this year.

      I don’t think Janish can get close to those numbers. I actually think the .237 projection is about 30 points too high.

      However, defense will be improved, and we should get more overall production from our outfield.

      I always equate Janish with Doug Flynn (light), but Flynn did make the all-star team when he had a chance for regular playing time, so what do I know?

      • I don’t think Janish can get close to those numbers. I actually think the .237 projection is about 30 points too high.

        However, defense will be improved, and we should get more overall production from our outfield.

        I always equate Janish with Doug Flynn (light), but Flynn did make the all-star team when he had a chance for regular playing time, so what do I know?

        Janish hasn’t hit .207 since his brief rookie year.

        In 228 plate appearances last year: .260/.338/.385.

  2. I could not agree more, janish or Edgar, no matter they are just a place holder for cozart who will be starting next season

  3. “In the meantime, Paul Janish is a good bet to provide some good play at shortstop for Cincinnati.”

    I’d say that Janish is a reasonable bet to ride the pines. If he doesn’t hit well in the first few weeks, Renteria will take over. Janish isn’t Jay Bruce—Baker is not going to give him a ton of slack.

    I would say Janish is a great bet to ride the pines, but Baker did do a good job being patient with Bruce. Part of that, though, could have possibly been because they had no one to put there in place of him.

  4. Renteria has smacked LHP his entire career, he should play on those days.

  5. I realy hope if that is the case that the reds do the right thing and just let the guy go after this year. that way he can hook up with a team that needs a shortstop and is smart enough to bat him 8th and tell him to go out and do his job on the field and not worry about anything else. the reds have enough offense that they do not need him to be anything more than the hitter he is. who knows maybe they can invent another stat that will show him in a more favarable light before the end of the year.

  6. I’m still disappointed at Renteria’s refusal to play 3B. That’s where he could get significant PT and an ER – Soft J left side could be quite formidable. Plus that would require Cairo to just be the backup 1B/PH where he has max value.

  7. Cozart is going to be 26 this season. His age already prohibits him from being the “shortstop Reds fans have been waiting for.” If he still needs “time to prepare,” how old will he be when he is ready? Billy Hamilton is the better bet to replace Janish long term. Depending on his development, that could be Opening Day, 2013.

  8. Dusty has a history of riding guys with no stick at SS (Clayton, Jose Vizcaino, Cedeno) but he is also not afraid to dump them for something else (like an Aurilia, Nomar) if the need arises. If Stubbs struggles and Janish hit sin the .600’s I’d think that Dusty might be prone at times to look for more bat at SS. If Stubbs produces, then I’d think carrying a light stick would matter less.

  9. Depending on my mood when waking up, I have two distinct and opposing opinions on soft j:

    On most days I think he’s precisely the type of player we need. Losing teams don’t trot out janish types. They send five janish type and three rick ankiels and hope for the best. Winners sometimes have this type of production when they cAn hide him near the bottom of the lineup(like we can)

    On my grumpy days, I think he’s like a thousand other hispanic shortstops who can field but can hit a lick and bounce around based on defensive reputation. We reds fans know all about those types.

  10. @David: I agree. Cozart would’ve been somebody by now. Sure, his ceiling could be that of a starter, but the more likely outcome is a backup infielder. To that end, I like him in that role much more than Valaika.
    If Hamilton plays to his ability, this debate will be moot by mid-2012.

    • @David: I agree.Cozart would’ve been somebody by now.Sure, his ceiling could be that of a starter, but the more likely outcome is a backup infielder.To that end, I like him in that role much more than Valaika.If Hamilton plays to his ability, this debate will be moot by mid-2012.

      That’s a lot of pressure on a kid with short season just rookie ball behind him…

    • Janish is not the X-factor, he is the j factor

      Pronounced “yuh fahk-ter”

  11. In English, the above comment is “That’s a lot of pressure on a kid with just a short season of rookie ball behind him”.

  12. Jeff Keppinger as a SS was a Ham and Cheese sandwich in a Steak Sandwich world

  13. AAAAH. Thom Brennamen just said that “Gomes isn’t that bad in LF” and said “he has his moments but all and all over the last two years he’s done a good job.”

    • AAAAH. Thom Brennamen just said that “Gomes isn’t that bad in LF” and said “he has his moments but all and all over the last two years he’s done a good job.”

      Last year there were 137 major league players (excluding pitchers and catchers0 who played at least 1000 innings. Jonny Gomes was rated the third worst defender – #135 – as measured by UZR.

  14. all of you who say cozart would “be somebody by now” need only look to our own dugout for examples of late bloomers. Stubbs, hanigan, arroyo, burton, and yes even joey votto all blossomed in their age-24 season or later. Not everyone is a bruce/chapman/cueto/leake type. How quickly we forget. Even stubbs, who we are all tripping over ourselves to anoint as the best thing since sliced bread was called up more because there were no better options rather than because he was presumed read.

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