Paul Janish on (Not) Hitting

Paul Janish is your classic good-glove, no-hit infielder. In parts of seven seasons with the Reds, Braves, and currently the Baltimore Orioles, the 32-year-old defensive whiz has slashed .215/.282/.289. Outside of 2010, when he had a .723 OPS and hit five of his seven career home runs, in 200 at bats, Janish has been a non-entity at the dish.

Like most glove-men of his ilk, Janish hit well enough in the minors to reach the big leagues. His bat hasn’t translated to the highest level, but success is often a byproduct of extended opportunities, of which he’s received a paucity. It’s a chicken-and-egg dynamic: you need to hit to stay in the lineup, but you need to stay in the lineup to hit.

That isn’t to say Janish would be a productive hitter if given a chance to play every day. He might not even be a league-average hitter. Janish realizes that. Even so, he can’t help but wonder if he maybe could have been more than he is: a vacuum cleaner bouncing between Triple-A and a big-league bench, essentially because he’s failed to flourish in 1.234 sporatic MLB plate appearances.


Janish on getting labeled: “It’s been tough for me. From an early stage in my career, I was labeled as somebody who could play very well defensively, and if I could do X amount offensively, I could play in the big leagues. I kind of took that mindset, and it probably hurt me. I was a victim of circumstances in that respect.

“It’s not that I expected to not do well. I swung the bat OK coming up through the minor leagues, and I’ve had stretches in my career where I’ve actually hit really well. It’s not that I can’t hit. It’s a consistency issue, and to a certain extent it’s a timing issue. If you hit well at the right times, you can be in the big leagues and play for a long time. But the nature of the game is such that once you get labeled, it’s really difficult to get rid of that label.”

On making the best of opportunities: “Feeling good at the right times impacts your career path. I’ve been subject to other people getting banged up – getting hurt – in order to play consistently. One year (2010), I felt great for two months and helped us win the division, in Cincinnati; I kind of shored up shortstop. On another occasion, in Atlanta (2013), I played really well defensively for six weeks when Andrelton Simmons was hurt, but I hit under .200. I just didn’t feel good. Offense is a very fickle thing. When you don’t feel good, you don’t feel good. Again, it’s not that I don’t think I can hit. It’s a matter of consistency.”

On mechanics and approach: “I used to spend a lot of time worrying about things [like mechanics]. I’ve come to realize that a better frame of mind is to just go up there and try to hit the ball hard. A lot of times we focus on mechanics so much that it gets lost in translation. The point is to hit the ball hard, not to think about stuff like where your hands are. Having an aggressive attitude – just being ready on every pitch — and keeping things simple would have helped me over the course of my career.

“I also think I spent a lot of time worrying about what somebody might throw, instead of focusing on what I can handle. The logic of the situation is, with the type of hitter I am, I’m going to get a lot of fastballs. No matter if I’m swinging the bat great, or not so great, I’m going to be the guy that people challenge. That said, the best hitters on our team get fastballs. Manny Machado and Adam Jones get fastballs, too. It’s a matter of having the right mindset.”

On growing as a hitter: “I think I do [understand hitting better]. And a lot of your success is relative to who you’re facing. One criticism I’ve gotten is, ‘He’s not going to be able to consistently hit so-and-so.’ Well, nobody gets paid to hit Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke. I always joke around: ‘Those guys are rich for a reason.’ It’s because they’re better than everybody else.

“I feel confident that if I had a chance to play more, I could be competitive. Back in the National League, I had success against a few different teams, and a few pitchers. One guy in particular I had success against was Ted Lilly, although I’m not sure why that was.”

On hitting in the minors: “The minor leagues are getting a lot deeper than they used to be. That’s not to say there’s not a talent gap – guys in the big leagues are obviously better – but the level of talent in Triple-A is high. You’re facing some good pitchers.

“But the biggest thing is the grind of the season. The travel is difficult, and eating healthy is next to impossible. The schedule if difficult; you only get five or six off days the entire season. It’s one thing when you’re 22-23 years old and just coming up, because you don’t know any different and your body responds to pretty much everything. But when you’re on the back end of it, the 6 a.m. flights and the 10-hour bus rides wear on your body. It’s an adjustment to go back down to the minors and feel good. Not even feel good, but not feel terrible.”

On separating offense and defense: “People have always commented on how I’ve managed to play good defense, despite not having success as a hitter. I don’t know if it was on purpose, but over time I’ve kind of removed myself from what was happening offensively. There’s no doubt that you feel better when you’re getting hits, but I have had the ability to separate the two. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. To a certain extent, I think it may actually be a fault, because it creates a situation where you’re almost callous to what does happen offensively. Then again, my ability to play defense has given me opportunities in the big leagues, so it’s hard to fault what has been my best attribute.”

On relative value and his future: “Hopefully I can get another three or four years in the big leagues. I’d need to be in the right spot, because I could just as easily not get very much time up here. What’s hard for me is the difference in what I bring to the table.

“If you put me on a big-league roster, I feel that I bring value with what I do. When you put me in Triple-A, I’m not going to turn any heads, particularly in terms of statistics, even though I’m the same player. It’s maybe a hard concept to explain. but I think I’m a better player – I’m a more valuable player – in the big leagues than I am in the minors.

“It’s tough for me to deal with that fact, but at the same time, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve got (parts of seven) years in the big leagues, and hopefully I’ll get more opportunities. I still have time. Thirty-two is old, but it’s not dead.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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8 years ago

The right spot for Janish would be on a team with young pitchers that needs a guy who can play an excellent shortstop behind those pitchers to give them confidence and let them develop. Perhaps that way he could work on his own offensive game, although he’s had a pretty significant track record on that already, more than many without his glove would be permitted.

He could be useful on the Orioles in 2016 as a backup for Hardy in case JJ can’t bounce back from his injuries. It sort of depends on what other offensive players are around to help carry the load.