It is hard to remember, but at this time last year, many projection systems had the A’s right there with the Angels competing for the 2009 AL West. Noting that is in no way an indictment of projection systems — even the best have to make mistakes — but to highlight that 2009 was a big disappointment for the A’s, who had hoped to compete as they rebuilt. Probably not the biggest reason, but part of it, was the poor season for Jack Cust. In his first year with the A’s, 2007, he had a wRC+ of 144, but it has dropped in the past two, coming in at 132 in 2008 and then last year at just 111. Because he was either a DH or a poor-defending outfielder this was not enough to make him an above-average player, and he was worth just one win above replacement. Now the A’s have re-signed Cust to a one-year, 2.65 million dollar deal: What does 2010 have in store for Cust?
In July I looked at Cust’s 2009 approach at the plate, noting his decreased walk and strikeout rates. At the time he was hitting just wOBA of 0.324 — he finished at a more respectable 0.342. Since then those two rates increased and ended closer to his 2008 and 2007 values, so maybe he read my article. The other issue in 2009 compared to the two previous years was his loss of power. His ISO was above 0.240 in both 2007 and 2008, but just 0.177 in 2009. The Game Day extracted fly ball distances bear this out: in 2007 his outfield flies went on average 330 feet; in 2008, 327 feet; but in 2009, just 306 feet.
Using the technique in my Kotchman post we can look at his non-ground balls in a spatially explicit manner. Again the playing field in broken into ten zones; the number in each zone represents the percentage of his non-ground balls to that zone; and the color the slugging percentage on those balls, going from gold (indicating zero) to dark green (indicating over three). The first zone is the infield and each subsequent ring is 100 feet farther.
Like most LHBs, Cust’s power is highest to right field, and while there is not much difference in the fraction of his hits to deep right, there is a big difference in the resulting slugging. In 2007 and 2008 non-ground balls to that zone were worth, on average, 3.3 bases, but in 2009 they were worth just 2.6 bases. The other big difference is that in 2009 he traded deep opposite field balls in play for deep center field ones, and these had a poor slugging percentage. Center field walls are the deepest and so fly balls to center are less likely to be HRs, and Hit Tracker shows fewer opposite field HRs in 2009 compared to 2008 and 2007.
Although they A’s are hoping for for a rebound from Cust — and he did perform better in the second half of 2009 — they are not paying for one. Combining his 2009 one-win performance with the chance of lost playing time to injury 2.65 million seems about right.