The Reds Are Past the Point of Placating Veterans

The Reds, it appears, have caught a break. Last week they dropped three straight to the Cardinals, turning a two-game NL Central lead into a one-game deficit. But since then things have turned around. St. Louis lost two of three to the Cubs and then dropped the series opener to the Brewers, while the Reds swept the Marlins and took the first game against Arizona. That has put Cincinnati back on top and has put their excellent August in better view. They’re 10-4 this month and have led the division most of the way.

One change the team made this month came when Orlando Cabrera suffered a strained oblique during the team’s August 2 win against the Pirates. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. While Cabrera had rebounded from an atrocious defensive season in 2009, he was by far the team’s worst producer on offense. His .289 wOBA is not only worst among Reds with 200 PA (by 30 points), but it is also third-worst among MLB shortstops. Yet despite this abject futility, Dusty Baker continued to pencil Cabrera into the No. 1 or 2 spot in the lineup regularly.

At this point in the season the Reds cannot afford to continue playing a player as ineffective as Cabrera. They’re in a race with a team that, by most measures, has more talent than they do. That means the Reds need to catch every break possible. As Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Playing the third-worst shortstop in the league and then positioning him at the top of the order doesn’t seem like ample preparation. In fact, it seems like a detriment to the team.

The problem, of course, is finding someone who can replace Cabrera in the field and lineup while providing better production. Thankfully for the Reds, they had someone worth trying. Paul Janish, the team’s fifth-round pick in 2004, had hit well coming off the bench, a .270/.370/.413 line in 74 PA. It’s understandable why the Reds didn’t outright bench a healthy Cabrera in favor of Janish, but now that they’re getting production from the latter they owe it to the team to ride this as far as it goes. If that means benching Cabrera upon his return, that might be a necessary sacrifice.

In their pre-season 2007 rankings Baseball America had Janish as the Reds No. 9 prospect, saying that he “will go as far as his bat allows him.” That bat produced a .358 wOBA in high-A ball in 2006. Still, his best skill remained his defense. It wasn’t so much his incredible range, but as BA put it, his “nearly flawless footwork, soft hands and a plus arm.” The next year Janish fell out of the top 10, though they did rate him as having the best strike zone discipline in the system. His 12.8 percent walk rate in 2007 represented a three-point jump from his 2006 season and it came at a higher level, Double-A. A drop in power meant a lower wOBA, but the future still looked bright for young Janish.

Overall, though, Janish produced underwhelming minor league numbers. The player who had once shown promise on offense stumbled through about a full season at Triple-A, producing a .319 wOBA in his final run in 2008. By 2009 he was with the big league club, playing his expected part-time role off the bench. In 292 PA last year he produced a .275 wOBA, though he turned that into a 1.0 WAR with stellar defense. But the Reds didn’t think that was enough for him to hold a spot as a regular, so they signed Cabrera this off-season.

While Janish hit well enough in part-time duty before the Cabrera injury he has really stepped it up in his absence, going 13-for-43 (.302 AVG) with four walks (.362 OBP) and four extra base hits (.488 SLG). He has done this without the aid of a ridiculous BABIP, .292 on the season and .289 in August. This adds up to a 0.9 WAR season, which is 0.2 behind Cabrera despite having 331 fewer PA. He deserves a shot to stay in the starting lineup as long as he keeps this up.

How long will he keep it up, though? His minor league and scant major league record suggest not long. He’s had success in some regards, but nothing that suggests he can maintain a .348 wOBA for an extended stretch. But, at this point, that shouldn’t be of much consideration to the Reds. They’re in a pennant race with a tough team, and they need to find every advantage possible. If that means playing a hot-hitting Janish at the expense of Cabrera, so be it. There would be nothing worse than to remove Janish during a hot streak and replace him with the currently inferior Cabrera.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Jeff in So. Indiana
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Jeff in So. Indiana
6 years 1 month ago

This is pretty obvious to anyone watching Reds games. Maybe there’s some intangiable clubhouse effect Cabrera brings but they both seem like good teammates and well-liked from the broadcasts.

Also, maybe you could do a study of the cost of Baker playing catcher Ramon Hernandez so much as well.

Ryan Hanigan is an OBP machine and has an awesome arm. His at-bats remind me of Scott Hatteberg. Yet he only plays 40% of the time or so vs. an aging veteran.

Maybe Hanigan doesn’t speak Spanish and can’t communicate with Volquez and Cueto, etc.?

Rick
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6 years 1 month ago

If you look at Janish’s BABIP during his 2007 AAA campaign and during his time with the Reds prior to this year, his current offensive success doesn’t seem quite so unsustainable. He’s always had good plate discipline and made contact at a good rate. He may be over-performing his talent slightly in those areas, but not by much. The most noticeable change in his offense has been his power. He we worked doggedly this offseason on his wrist strength and he has shown pull power this year which he had not previously displayed.

I’m not sure he’ll maintain that .348 wOBA, but .330 is certainly sustainable given his skill set. This exceeds what Cabrera provides. Combined with his clearly superior defensive ability, this should be a no-brainer.

All that said, Cabrera is, by all accounts, a very strong clubhouse presence and we all know that Dusty’s top priority is keeping his clubhouse happy. Unless Cabrera asks Dusty to keep playing Janish, I’d be shocked to see Janish continue to play more often than not when O-Cab returns.

Rick
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6 years 1 month ago

And one more thing, this same article could basically be written about Jonny Gomes. His early success has earned him way more rope than he deserves. His glove is horrendous and his bat overrated. That Chris Heisey is not playing everyday is another example of the Reds making poor decisions on the margins.

Jeff in So. Indiana
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Jeff in So. Indiana
6 years 1 month ago

Agreed about Gomes. The Reds broadcasters keep saying how awesome the Reds’ bench has been. That’s true. But when you consistently start vets like Cabrera, Gomes and Hernandez and leave upgrades on the bench, of course your bench will be awesome.

Of course, this doesn’t explain Miguel Cairo’s year. That’s just unexplainable other than small sample size.

I can understand playing slumping rookies like Stubbs and Bruce as they are high-ceiling young players. but Hernandez, Cabrera and Gomes are all FAs after the year. Why not play better performing players who are the future of the team?

Jeff in So. Indiana
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Jeff in So. Indiana
6 years 1 month ago

I do want to add that Baker’s done a nice job giving the youngsters a shot in the rotation and bullpen and not overworking them like he was accused of in his Cubs days. He also didn’t give up early on Masset and that worked.

Chris
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6 years 1 month ago

Agree. Same deal with Logan Ondrusek. Well, they *did* give up on him, but they gave him a second chance.

StatBoy
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StatBoy
6 years 1 month ago

This is the same manager that had Adam Dunn attempt to sacrifice bunt. Not exactly a forward thinking guy.

B N
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B N
6 years 1 month ago

I have to say that this seems spot-on. Cabrera has been on a slow decline for a while now, in my opinion. It hardly seems crazy to think that a solid prospect on the rise is a better bet than him in the lineup at this point, and it’s basically certain that Janish would be an upgrade in the field.

In other news, speaking of veterans- did anybody catch Thome’s walkoff the other night? Thome has hit a lot of walkoff HR’s in his career. Unless I’m incorrect with my numbers (which I might be) I think this puts Thome with 12 walkoff HR. That would be enough to tie the career record (for regular season), which I think is shared by Ruth, Foxx, Mantle, and Robinson. Can anybody confirm this?

Max
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Max
6 years 1 month ago

Yes, as well as Stan Musial.

Classical
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Classical
6 years 1 month ago

Seneca never said that. But he did say that the “gradually declining years are among the sweetest in a man’s life, and I maintain that, even when they have reached the extreme limit, they have their pleasure still” which might provide some solice to Cabrera after logging another 0-for.

David
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David
6 years 1 month ago

I don’t get it…we are checking Janish’s babip to ensure that his last few weeks haven’t been flukish, yet we aren’t checking Cabrera’s to see where he stands? His babip had been normalizing in the 2nd half before his injury and he was putting up a robust .333/.395/.391 line since the break. Cabrera is an asset to the Reds and should get his job back once he returns.

William
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William
6 years 1 month ago

Much has been made of the late-season run the Reds went on late last year after acquiring Rolen. Has nobody noticed that it was about that same time that Janish was inserted as SS? It would be very interesting to see the Reds W/L with Janish starting at SS since that time. Ignore the starts he received at 3B while Dusty inexplicably played OCab at SS.

I would also find it interesting to see the SP ERAs in those games compared to Cabrera games. While that may be a rather simplistic stat for the readership here, I would be surprised if those numbers weren’t very telling.

Finally, it makes no difference what Cabrera is hitting recently, longterm, or projection. If Janish’s bat is productive at all, his glove is so far superior to Cabrera’s at this point that that Cabrera’s offense would have to be substantially superior.

Dake Wright
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6 years 1 month ago

Love to see Janish stay put at SS. Great glove, smooth as silk, and seems to be getting more confidence at the plate, with a good eye…leave him there Dusty, PLEASE!!!!

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