Sometimes you make a move that’s supposed to help, and you get Adam LaRoche hitting lights out for two months, or two good years of John Burkett. And sometimes you make a move that’s supposed to help, and it doesn’t and its name is Shane Reynolds or Casey Kotchman, and you want to quit sports forever. And sometimes you make a move that you don’t expect much of, and you get pleasantly surprised.
That’s how I felt about Paul Janish. Pleasantly surprised. I remember watching him with the Reds and wondering how he had a job, then hearing the Braves had traded for him and were inserting him at short until Andrelton Simmons came back from his thumb injury. I wondered why they didn’t try Pastornicky again, or Prado, or anybody else. And then being continuously, pleasantly surprised with him every step of the way.
Janish was drafted by the Reds in the fifth round in 2004 as a 21 year old out of Rice. At one point he was rated as the 10th prospect in the system by Baseball America, and I guess he lived up to it, as they got a few good years out of him and may have turned him into a decent acquisition in Todd Redmond. Would that all 10th rated prospects could be as useful.
In the minors he got his reputation for slick fielding with no hitting, as he’s never hit much above A ball and his walk rate seems to dip with every step up he takes. He’ll still take one occasionally, but not enough to really matter. On the plus side he didn’t seem to strikeout too much.
Janish can’t hit. He’s not Tommy Hanson bad, but he’s a worse hitter than even the prototype good-field, no-hit shortstops of the past like Mark Belanger. In his career he’s hit .216/.286/.291, which is a fine line for a pitcher, or a slightly drunk backup catcher. As an everyday shortstop, I don’t know that you can hold that kind of line across a season, especially in the National League, which would basically limit a club to seven hitters a game. Just like in the minors he walks a bit, and his strikeout totals aren’t terrible, but there’s no power and not enough contact.
His best year was in 2010, when he hit .260/.338/.385 with 5 homeruns over 228 plate appearances. If he could hit like that over a full season he’d be a top 15 shortstop, but that appears to be an anomaly, as he’s never hit close to those numbers again; his second highest OPS is more than 120 points worse then 2010, and the five homers is only two less than his career total. He did hit 21 doubles in 2009, but I’d be willing to bet large sums of money he never hits that many again.
Janish hit .186/.269/.234 for Atlanta last year, though I seem to recall him having a few big time hits and walks. Maybe he’s just really good at picking his spots. He also isn’t a good base runner, with seven steals to five caught-stealing in his career.
I think given the same playing time he’d probably actually hit a bit better, and some of the singles might turn into doubles to raise that slugging percentage, but not enough to really make him a viable option as a starting candidate anywhere.
But defensively is where Janish really shines, and why I have no problem with his having a roster spot set in stone going into 2013. He had only two errors last year, and by any defensive metric he appears to be one of the better shortstops in baseball. BRef gives him nearly 1 WAR for defense last year in only 55 games; if he could hit at even replacement level he could probably start for a few teams and be a 2 win player on defense alone, and if he ever hit close to his 2010 numbers might even be a 3 or 3.5 win player.
Played only short for Atlanta last year, but played some at second and third in Cincinnati. If he can handle three positions he gives Fredi some options as far as days off for Prado, Uggla and whoever else (Francisco or FA Signing X) at third base. I don’t really see why he can’t; he seems a pretty smart ballplayer and the scouting report on his arm and defense don’t show any reason why he shouldn’t be a viable option at second and third. As a defensive replacement he also gives Gonzalez options at late innings, removing Uggla, moving Prado back to left.
Hopefully, Andrelton plays about 155 games next year. If Simmons can stay healthy, giving Janish seven to ten starts at short won’t be the worst thing in the world. If Andrelton suddenly can’t hit and has to go back down, or gets hurt for an extended period again, the Braves may be in a bit of trouble, especially with Chipper gone, because I’m not sure his bat makes up for his defense as a full time starter.
He really should be the last bat off the bench as a pinch hitter; if there’s somebody behind him in the pinch-hitting rotation we’re in trouble. I might even take a long look at Hudson before I sent him Janish out to hit, if Huddy’s available.
You can win with Paul Janish as a defensive replacement and the 24th man on the team. Just hope he doesn’t have to do more then that.