Janish Time in Cincinnati?

Between Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips, and (mostly) Joey Votto, the Reds formed one of the best infields in Major League Baseball this season. Their cumulative performance – 16.4 WAR – ranks higher than all starting infields in the National League.

And that’s without including a shortstop. The Reds weren’t slouches at the position at all in 2010, as their shortstops combined to post 2.5 WAR. The majority of that comes from starter Orlando Cabrera, who posted 1.3 WAR this season. He didn’t do much with the stick (.292 wOBA), but his glove was a solid +3.7 UZR, consistent with a good defensive reputation and a career +45 UZR.

However, Cabrera will turn 36 in November. He suffered injuries toward the end of the season and compiled fewer than 600 plate appearances for the first time since 2005, and was removed from a playoff game due to yet another injury in the Reds’ playoff loss to Philadelphia. Now, the Reds will have to decide whether to keep him around, as Cabrera’s contract includes a $4 million mutual option for the 2011 season.

Cabrera’s poor stick, recent injuries, and moderate price tag may be enough of a reason for the Reds to decline the option and pay the $1 million buyout. If not, Paul Janish should be. 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. Overall, Janish has a +12 UZR at shortstop that is supported, much like Cabrera, by a strong defensive reputation.

If Janish puts up a .260/.330/.350 line, as I think he will, he’ll need to be about a +5 SS to be an average player. This may be a slightly optimistic prediction, but there’s a very good chance that Janish will be close enough to league average that he would outplay Cabrera over a full season. The Reds should be able to find a Craig Counsell-type player to back up Janish for peanuts. Between Janish and that backup, the Reds should easily be able to replicated the production they got from the shortstop position last season at a fraction of the cost.

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19 Responses to “Janish Time in Cincinnati?”

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  1. jason461 says:

    Cincy should ditch Cabrera, but I don’t know if they will. Valaika is also worth keeping an eye on. If he has a good spring, he could win the starting job.

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    • Ken says:

      Valaika’s no longer a SS. He played 2B in Louisville and in a brief stint in Cincy. Zach Cozart is the hopeful heir to SS.

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  2. nycredsfan says:

    The Reds also have Zack Cozart in AAA, who is kinda like Janish both offensively and defensively, but with a lot more power. There really is zero reason to bring Cabrera back.

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  3. camisadelgolf says:

    Orlando Cabrera’s option will be bought out for $1M, but he may be brought back at a deal worth about half of the $3M he would be owed if the Reds were to accept the club option.

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    • Jack Moore says:

      I think that would make a lot of sense.

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    • redsfandan says:

      Or they may just wait and see how Janish and Cozart look in spring training first before they decide whether to pickup another player. There should still be some utility player types available if needed.

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  4. Boxkutter says:

    I could see Cinci bringing Cabrera back either with the option or on a cheaper deal in order to give Cozart another half season of AAA. Then trading Cabrera before the deadline to get another bullpen arm or some far away minor leaguer and calling Cozart up then.

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  5. blackout says:

    I don’t know if Cozart is the defender Janish is — anecdotally Janish is as good as UZR indicates — but the bat probably evens things up as he’s got far more power potential than Paulie. Either guy would go a good ways toward making the 3B look better. And no, Valaika isn’t a SS anymore, but he is worth noting as having been a solid defender at 2B when filling in for BP this year. The bat looks good enough to afford him a floor as a utility MIF.

    Don’t think I’ve heard it mentioned, but I do wonder if Cozart has any potential as a 3B. If he could move back toward the spike in walk rate of his 2009 Double-A season while maintaining the double digit home run power he’s shown the last two years, he could be an affordable option for us there if/when Rolen departs.

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    • lexomatic says:

      Blackout, I’m curious what you mean by making the 3b look better. I haven’t seen Rolen play this year, but 2-3 years ago I saw him enough to know he was the best fielding 3b I’ve ever seen (and the only one who’s come close was late 80s Kelly Gruber.) The numbers don’t support your statement either with a double digit UZR for 2010.

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  6. gator32301 says:

    I sure hope they turn the job over to Janish. Perhaps Cabrera’s issues in the playoffs opened Dusty’s and the front office’s eyes. I really feel that right now Janish is at worst Cabrera; at the plate his plate discipline alone is worth putting him in as the starter.

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  7. RMR says:

    I just don’t understand why the Reds have to make this so complicated. Janish is an excellent defender, clearly better than Cabrera. As a hitter, Cabrera hasn’t had a reasonably good season since 2007 and not a good once since 2003. Janish has had very low BABIPs up until this year.

    Janish: .283 BABIP, .260/.338/.385
    OCabrera: .284 BABIP, .263/.303/.354

    Why is this even a discussion. I’m all for having good leadership. But good leadership should not come at the cost of on field production. Janish is no all-star, but he’s better than Cabrera without a doubt. Short of acquiring somebody else, Janish and Cozart are your SS options next year. Save the cash on Cabrera and put towards something else — like a contract for Votto or Bruce.

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  8. OCab will not be back with the Reds. His agent is already shopping him around at the playoffs. He wants to sign as early as possible. Last year he signed late again and really his prospects are going to be slim. He may have to accept a back up role.

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  11. Deetta says:

    Fine submit and a brilliant read. You’ve raised several legitimate points. Fantastic work.

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  12. bryan says:

    The spam-bots love them some Paul Janish

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