Friday, January 29, 2010

The Paul Janish Conundrum

I've always liked Janish and what he brings to the table, but if he's going to be the every day starter, then he has to bring just a bit more on the offensive side. Not a ton more, but a bit.

When you play elite defense at a premier defensive position, then you can get away with minimal offensive production, especially in the first three years of your MLB career. The efficiency of production in a young player is difficult to match.

So, what about Janish's offensive game? Is there hope?

Some additional thoughts on Janish.

Obviously, there is a lot to like about his glove work, but there are a few things to like about his offensive game.

First, I'll say I like his approach at the plate. He uses a calm approach and a compact swing that gives him a short path to the ball and allows him to stay balanced throughout his swing. And, his swing generates a lot of line drives. It's not award winning, but it should/could be serviceable.

Hitting is about walks, contact rate, and the type of contact.

1. Janish has good plate discipline. In the minors, his career OBP was 0.90 points higher than his batting average, which is impressive, especially so for a middle infielder.

So, he knows how to control the zone and draw a walk.

2. For his MLB career, Janish is making contact when he swings 83.9% of the time. Not great, but certainly not bad. In addition, his K/AB percentage at the MLB level is 17.3%, so he strikes out less than 1 out of every 5 at bats. Again, very respectable.

3. As for type of contact, Janish again is surprisingly strong, as evidenced by his MLB career line drive rate of 19.8%. When he makes contact, he hits a lot of line drives.

When you add those factors together, you have the makings of a productive hitter. He draws his fair share of walks, makes contact at a good clip, and when he makes contact he hits a high percentage of line drives.

So, why is hitting a paltry .211 when he doesn't strike out an exorbitant amount and hits line drives at a good clip? Given his components, one would think that he would be a bit more productive. His BABIP was .230 in 2008 and .247 in 2009, but I'm not sure we can chalk it up to luck.

Here, in a nutshell, is the real problem with Paul Janish: infield fly balls.

In each of his 2008 and 2009 seasons, his infield fly ball rate was 16%, which is very high. So, when he hits the ball in the air, 16% of the time it stays on the infield. And, unfortunately, infield flyballs are the absolute worst type of ball in play you can have, as they result in an out 95%+ of the time. In essence, it's an automatic out.

The question is why does he hit so many infield flyballs and is it going to be a consistent problem?

Obviously, a lack of power has something to do with it. He simply doesn't drive the ball with much authority, so it doesn't leave the infield. Still, that's not entirely it, as Rocco Baldelli is another hitter who consistently posts high infield fly rates (15% for his career), but one who has no shortage of power. So, it's not just a lack of power and it's not likely a problem that is going to go vanish on its own.

I don't have any evidence to support it, but I suspect that he simply chases too many high fastballs. He doesn't have the bat speed or power to effectively handle and hit the higher fastballs. Whatever the reason, if he can chop that rate down by a handful of percentage points, then all of a sudden his walk rate, contact rate, and line drive tendencies will work more effectively to raise his level of production. It sounds simple, but I suspect cutting down on the infield flies would be enough of a difference maker to make him a viable starting shortstop at the MLB level. It could raise his batting average and OPS just enough to exceed the threshold level to be a viable every day player.

As it stands now, Paul Janish might be the least effective hitter in all of baseball when he hits the ball in the air. His 16% infield flyball percentage and his dreadfully low 1.7% HR/FB mark indicate that he should hit the ball in the air as infrequently as possible. He rarely hits homeruns and frequently doesn't get the ball past the infield. Unfortunately, it's not just the percentage of flyballs that don't leave the infield that give him problems, but also the overall percentage of balls that he hits in the air.

To compare Janish to a couple of players, David Eckstein and Adam Everett, who boast similarly atrocious power, it's clear that Janish just hits the ball in the air all too often.

Player: LD%, GB%, FB%, IFFB%
Janish: 19.8%, 36.6%, 43.6%, 16.0%,
Eckstein: 21.3%, 46.8%, 31.9%, 12.6%
Everett: 18.8%, 39.5%, 41.7%, 16.7%

The obvious problem is that Janish isn't hitting enough balls on the ground. David Eckstein also lacks any semblance of power, but he's smart enough to recognize this and respond accordingly by hitting the ball on the ground at very high rate. And, ultimately, there really isn't all that much difference between Janish and Adam Everett.

Of course, that only deals with the type of contact and omits the rate of contact (Eckstein: 92.2%, Everett: 82.4%, and Janish: 83.9%). Obviously, Eckstein is a more effective hitter because of both the contact rate and the type of contact he generates. On the other hand, there isn't much difference between Paul Janish and Adam Everett. Janish has a better contact rate and higher line drive percentage, but Everett has a bit more power and hits the ball on the ground a bit more.

Ultimately, it would seem to me that Janish, with a tweak or two in his approach, could improve his production to get to an acceptable level. It seems like hitting more balls on the ground is the type of change that could actually be made with the help of some good coaching. Now, even the end result wouldn't be a Barry Larkin type level, but rather an absolute bare minimum level of competence with the lumber. Everett and Jack Wilson are similar glove-first type players and they have gotten away with career OPS marks of .648 and .684 respectively. Not much higher than where Janish is now and just a bit of improvement would get Janish to that level.

Obviously, there is a risk that Janish doesn't take a step forward on offense, but by that time Zack Cozart, Chris Valaika, or another option will likely present itself.


  1. agreed, kinda nailed exactly what I was trying to say in my last comment.

    save your money dont waste it on Cabrera, if janish struggles then cozart should be ready soon. If cozart struggles then trade our surplus of young talent and get a good SS

  2. Smitty,

    Yeah, Janish is intriguing and puzzling to me. If you told me that we had a shortstop who played plus plus defense and (1) walked at a good clips (0.088 BB/PA), (2) struck out less than 20% of the time, and (3) hit line drives at a 19%+ rate, then I would have been pretty excited.

    Unfortunately, despite all that working for him, he just has yet to be a productive hitter. I went back and added in a comparison of Janish to Everett and Eckstein, and it seems clear that he just hits the ball in the air too often.

    Janish does have some positives working for him and I'd would think a tweak here and there could make him a .650+ OPS player. That level of offense, when coupled with his type of defense, makes him a viable option. At least until he starts earning 7 figure paydays.

    Regardless, I still think he is our best option at short.

    Thanks for the comment!


  3. Smitty,

    Also, I agree with your sentiment that O-Cab is rather unlikely to be worth the money. I suspect it will take at least $3M to get him to Cincy.

    While some would say that this is an inconsequential amount of money, if you start adding up all of these types of acquisitions, then you are looking at some real money.

    For example:

    Ramon Hernandez (3) + Willy Taveras (4) + O-Cab (3) = ~$10M

    At best, these guys are league average and more realistically they are somewhere between league average and replacement level.

    Personally, I'd rather use young, cost controlled talent to fill those positions and spend the $10M on something that would actually make a difference. An impact free agent, a higher rule 4 draft budget, or more money for the international market.

    To compete, the Reds have to generate more production per dollar spent than the big money clubs. And, frankly, you don't do that by throwing millions at veterans who are only marginally more productive than the inexpensive talent.

    Anyway, my $.02.


  4. I agree, but i also still think we should pursue a trade for a young above avg defensive ss that can hit. We have alot of talent, just everywhere but that position.

  5. A little off topic, But the Fay reported that the reds may try Alonso at Catcher.

    I think its a pretty good idea, gets his bat in the lineup although it would mean a few more years in the minors. Wats your take on it lark?

    i think if your going to try him there, you should try El nino there. He has a cannon of an arm and his lack of plate discipline wouldnt hurt him as much at that position

  6. Smitty,

    They are a very difficult team to match up with in trade, but I'd go after Jed Lowrie from the BoSox. He would definitely be my target.


  7. Smitty,

    To be honest, I hate it and am more than a little baffled by it.

    We drafted Yonder solely for his bat. When you select a college 1b, it's because he has a special bat.

    At this point, I'm a bit underwhelmed by Yonder thus far. I'm hoping that most of it is nothing more than the fallout from his hamate bone problem, but he lacks the electricity I thought he'd bring to the table.

    His future is still bright, but I'd put all my energies into unlocking the potential in his bat. That's where his value lies. Shifting him to catcher is risky because it would add significant development time to his timeline. Yonder was supposed to be low risk and fast moving.

    Trying him at catcher is massively risky. I fail to understand why we don't simply cash in on his value in trade, rather than try to force him into a lineup where he simply doesn't fit.

    I've seen Yonder play and he simply doesn't work at any position other than 1b. He's a big, barrel-chested type player with an almost pigeon toed stride. I have never understood the notion that he could play left, 3b, or anywhere else.

    The Reds selected Yonder as the best player available. Typically, a good strategy, but they need to trade him to get value for him. Trying to change him into something he's not drags down his best attributes, his polish and ability to move quickly.

    Frankly, I think Yonder should have been traded this offseason for an impact bat that fits into our plans.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment.


  8. yea i agree, I just like dream worlds where the reds actually try something out of the box... BTW they signed cabrera. yuck

  9. See my comments on Janish on the Janish Vs. Cabrera thread. In all he's the poster child for how to get to the big leagues without big league talent per se, great approach, fundamentally sound in every way, just lacking in the speed and power areas a great deal. He's done what few players do he's maximized his skills to almost as much as possible, gotta love that. I like the Everett comp but Eckstein was gifted with more usable speed.

    On Yonder I agree with Lark, pooor decision if it has any truth to it at all. Personally I think Dusty was just jiving to a certain extent. However if they want to do that with someone they might try it with someone like Neftali Soto who it might not be too late for and he has the arm and at the catcher position would be a tremendous bat. Francisco if done earlier on would have been a pretty good idea as well as smitty pointed out. Both guys are below average in the speed dept. and that limits their range everywhere else but both have strong arms and intriguing bats which would be true plusses at that position.

  10. Smitty,

    Yeah, I suspect it was just Dusty being Dusty. I doubt there is anything to it. The Reds simply seemed confused as to what to do with Yonder, which is odd because it's obvious that he doesn't fit and a trade needs to happen.

    Forget shifting Votto to left or Yonder to 3b/lf/c. Just get Yonder back and hitting the ball, then trade him away for something of value. Seems simple enough for me, but evidently not to the Reds.

    Thanks for the comment!!


  11. Will,

    Agreed on Janish maximizing his abilities. That's a good point. I still think he has usable tools, but he'll have to work to prove that to the Reds.

    The idea of switching a prospect to catcher is an interesting one. Still, I'm not sure I see either Neftali or Francisco being the right guys to make the switch.

    I'm not really sure what attributes make a prospect a good candidate for the switch, but I would think a bit more quickness, agility, and athleticism would be necessary.

    I wonder if Chris Valaika might not have been a good candidate for the switch. Of course, it would be too late now, but he leaps to mind first.

    Anyway, it's interesting to consider. Thanks for the comment.


  12. I am Will,

    Hey guys according to a friend who gets BA the book he said that the Reds actually did try out Soto at catcher in the most recent instructional league and he took to it well. Could be a switch in the offing. As far as pre-requisites for the position obviously a strong arm, soft hands and a durable frame is preferential. Soto has the arm and frame not completely sure about his hands although being a SS/3B by trade I'd have to imagine his hands are good enough to give him a shot at it. Certainly he'd have to learn the nuances which is what takes time but I think he has the tools to be a reasonably solid guy there and we know his bat will hold up quite well there.

  13. i really want BA's book, but its ridiculous how much they charge for that stuff

  14. I am Will

    I think it's (BA's book) on Amazon for around 21 bucks or so.

  15. Yeah, I haven't picked up my copy of the handbook just yet, but the costs of all the baseball books, magazines, and subscriptions can certainly add up in a hurry.

    Interesting to hear that about Soto. To be honest, I'd rather see him focus on developing his bat. He's got a nice, fundamentally sound swing and plus power. I guess my doubt on Soto playing catcher is with his feet. I really believe catching is largely about footwork and Soto has always struck me as being somewhat "plodding," for lack of a better word.

    I'm just not sure I see him being able to move laterally to block pitches in the dirt and "pop-up" to nail a base stealer at 2b.

    I'll certainly be interested to see if the Reds follow through with it.

    Thanks for the comments!


  16. I am Will,

    2 Words Lark, Benjie Molina. I don't think you can get anymore plodding than that and he's never been a poor defensive catcher more slightly above average I think. Certainly I agree the better the footwork the better the defense. But could you imagine Benjie at 3B or LF? Ideally if you are a plodder you are probably better suited for Catcher than anywhere, sans perhaps 1st base. I don't think Soto has to be gold glove back there to be a force look at Geovany Soto he's decent behind the plate but with his bat provides a lot of surplus value. I am personally more concerned about whether or not Soto has the mental aptitude to play it than the physical. I think he's got enough physical ability to be above average defensively. But I don't want him behind the plate calling a poor game, but of course todays day and age that falls to the coaches more and more all the time.

  17. Will,

    Yeah, you may be right. It's more of a gut feeling than anything else. I just don't get the impression that Soto has the agility and lightness of foot to handle the catcher spot. You can be a slow runner and still have good agility/foot work.

    In addition, Soto's value will have to come from his bat. I'm just not sure how switching him to catcher takes advantage of his strengths. If it works, then great. If not, then we have likely ruined whatever potential resides in his bat.

    Maybe I'm just stuck on the Buster Posey train of thought. Good athletes who can handle premier defensive positions. Brandon Inge is another that leaps to mind. Those are more the type of players I think can/should be switched. Not the offense first type players like Soto.

    I'll be interested to see what the Reds do. It would be a rather gutsy move to switch Soto behind the dish.

    Anyway, that's where I'm at. Thanks for the comment!


  18. Lark,

    I guess it depends on just how good Soto becomes with the lumber, I had high hopes for him last season and I really haven't moved off of that too much he has plenty of room to grow both physically and developmentally yet. But will it develop to the point where it will be of value on a corner? I am hopeful but not yet convinced and if they are gonna move him to catcher they must do it ASAP without the luxury of knowing for sure. They could always move him back is the good news.

  19. Anon,

    It's an interesting idea, to be sure. I'm not sold on it, but maybe it'll work out. I still like Soto's bat and think it could develop to the point where it is more than viable at an offense first position. He's got nice contact and power. I suspect last year's struggles where driven by a tough home park and expect a nice bounce back season in 2010.

    Thanks for the comment.