For the second straight offseason, the Oakland Athletics non-tendered Designated Hitter/ “Outfielder” Jack Cust. Arizona’s first-round pick in the 1997 draft drifted through Colorado, Baltimore, Oakland and San Diego before the A’s re-acquired him in May of 2007, and the uber-patient lefty batter has since hit a collective .247/.381/.457 in the Green and Gold. During his time in Oakland, Cust’s park and league-adjusted Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) has been 30 percent better than the average batter (130 wRC+). Despite his utter lack of positional value, that bat has allowed Cust to post win values of +3.0 in 2007, +2.1 in 2008, +1 in 2009 and +2.4 this past year. According to our dollar values, Cust’s performance with the A’s has been worth about $36 million, while he has earned around $6 million over that time frame.
Cust is entering his last year of arbitration eligibility, and he made $2.65 million in 2010. Given that his salary will remain modest in 2011, he might seem like a nice acquisition for a team in search of patience and pop at a bargain price. Look closer, though, and you’ll see some reasons to doubt that Cust can keep it up at the plate.
Patience certainly isn’t the problem. The soon-to-be 32-year-old remains an exceptionally disciplined hitter. Cust drew ball four 16 percent of the time in 2010, tied with Daric Barton, Lance Berkman and Prince Fielder for the highest rate in the majors among batters with at least 400 plate appearances. Cust swung at just 20.7% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone (29.3% MLB average), and pitchers got a first pitch strike against him 52.9% of the time (58.8% MLB average). He refuses to chase junk pitches, and that puts him in favorable counts.
So, Cust is still takin’. But he’s not doing much rakin’. Take a look at his Isolated Power figures over the past few years (ignore the stuff before 2007 – it’s based on very few plate appearances):
Cust was an elite power hitter in ’07 (.248 ISO) and ’08 (.245), but his ISO was .177 in 2009 and .166 in 2010. That’s not much better than the big league average, which has ranged from .145 to .155 in recent seasons. Yet with merely modest thump, Cust managed a 138 wRC+ after he was summoned from Triple-A Sacramento in mid-May. How? A big batting average on balls in play spike:
His BABIP was .325 from 2007-2009, but it skyrocketed to .387 in 2010. Only Austin Jackson and AL MVP Josh Hamilton had higher marks. Cust does have attributes of a high BABIP hitter, with a career 21.6% line drive rate (the MLB average is around 19%) and a pop up rate of 3.6% (7-8% MLB average). But a near-.390 BABIP? That’s a lucky mark, compiled in less than a full season’s worth of PA (425), that won’t follow him to the plate in 2011. His BABIP numbers on grounders, fly balls and liners were all much higher than usual:
As a DH who occasionally plays Dunn-like D in a corner outfield spot, Cust needs to be an impact hitter to be of value to a club. If his power doesn’t return and his BABIP falls more toward the .330’s, then he profiles as a below-average starter. Cust needs to resume crushing the ball, because he’s not going to get so many bloops and seeing-eye singles in 2011.
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