Cust Cut Loose By Oakland

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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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


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AK707
Member
AK707
5 years 8 months ago

When Crash Davis said “Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – a gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.” he summed up this entire post.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
5 years 8 months ago

Its funny how you bring up Cust’s inflated BABIP and leave out he was actually trying to hit singles this year:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/10/03/SP051FNFEB.DTL

“Cust, who didn’t come up until mid-May, has 13 homers, half his average in the past three seasons, but he noted that his average (.275) is nearly 20 points above his previous best.

After all that’s happened, I’m trying to show what more I can do offensively,” he said. “I averaged almost 30 home runs the last three years, and that didn’t get me anywhere, so I’ll try to show ’em something else.”

He was actually trying to be a more “rounded” hitter and was not trying to hit HR’s all year, and thus his lower power total (still would have been low 20s if he had played the full year). I’m an A’s fan through and through, but at this point for the way they have treated him, I kind of hope he goes to another team in a more hitter-friendly park and he can hit 35+ HR and have an OPS of over 900 while making next to nothing, just to show Billy Beane how very wrong he has been in his treatment of him.

I still think if Cust had been the DH for 160 games last year the A’s would have won 3-4 more games and made the playoff race a LOT more interesting than it was.

sean
Guest
sean
5 years 8 months ago

So, you’re arguing that Cust should be given a free pass for attempting to make himself less valuable as a hitter?

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
5 years 8 months ago

He got non-tendered last season too, so it appears that being a good hitter wouldn’t have helped either.

BX
Guest
BX
5 years 8 months ago

He was asked to by Bob Geren/Jim Skaalen, and you generally are supposed to listen to those who are above you/your managers.

That’s not on him.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
5 years 8 months ago

It’s easy for him to say that after the fact. I’d be more impressed if he said that in Spring Training, and actually followed through. By saying that at the end of the season, it just seems to me that he was trying to rationalize why he lost his power this year.

jg
Guest
jg
5 years 8 months ago

Exactly. He didn’t swing as hard supposedly, but his contact rate stayed level. Even if he’s telling the truth, this is a good long term strategy? He’s going to raise his batting average not by putting more balls in play but by hitting them less hard? His babip was a fluke.

notsellingjeans
Guest
notsellingjeans
5 years 8 months ago

As an A’s fan, I’m definitely troubled the fact that the A’s non-tendered two guys who would’ve ended up being among their best hitters, in a year when they are trying hard to contend and the division should be winnable.

These are the facts:
a.) Free agent salaries are exploding this offseason.
b.) No player wants to play in Oakland.

Thus, when you have the opportunity to keep Cust for $4M, and E5 for $5M, you should, despite their warts.

One note about Cust though: He’ll actually go to arbitration two more times. Even though he entered 2010 with 4.001 years of service, he spent about six weeks in AAA, so he didn’t get to 5 years of service yet.

baycommuter
Guest
baycommuter
5 years 8 months ago

Cust made no secret of his displeasure with the A’s organization for not renewing him and then sending him down, and that “I’ll show ’em” quote might have been the last straw. Beane pretends to be loose but isn’t — he traded Jeremy Giambi for drinking and being loud on a plane, and let his favorite reporter go off on Nick Swisher for bar-crawling on the road.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 8 months ago

I was under the impression that Beane was just the opposite, and was kind of tight wired, high strung, etc.

The guys that run teams with a “I don’t care what they do as long as they perform well”, generally deal with some rather serious human issues. Humans aren’t the best self-regulators and the numbers of guys that think they can do whatever they want personally and still perform at a high level are nowhere near the number that claim to be able to.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 8 months ago

Here’s what I am trying to figure out …

… WAR and other advanced metrics have made their way to ESPN. That indicates to me that Major League teams know about them (at the very least). I think we likely incorrectly assume that GM’s and their offices/assistants are walking around with “ERA Tables” and the like. They may still make bad decisions based upon how much they let emotion get involved, but I think they have access and likely use a variety of metrics.

So, a team like the A’s that is both sabermetrically-influenced and struggles on offense, non-tenders a guy like Cust … either we’re placing too much value on him, or there’s other factors that go into his non-tender.

The whole situation is weird. He was DFA’d, said he wouldn’t play, then went to AAA and is now non-tendered.

The article figures him as a 2-3 WAR player, and his salary will be in the 3M range? So basically the A’s are letting 10-15M worth of value “walk out the door”. Since the A’s are generally both a [1] smart office and [2] financially efficient … what am I missing?

Kimo
Guest
Kimo
5 years 8 months ago

I agree, CC11, and I think the thing we are missing is in the WAR calculations. I have tried to follow the valuation, especially defense, and it seems to me that the defensive measurements fluctuate too much year to year (vs fluctuation in “standard” hitting and pitching measurements). This suggests to me that the work in quantified fielding excellence still has a ways to go. I also think the defensive component of WAR is overvalued. Additionally, there have been very excessive claims have been made by WAR proponents on this site and others. One that I recall – sorry no link- was the WAR totals of the NYY infield was “only” one greater than the WAR total of the Oakland infield. Suggesting that Barton, Ellis, Pennington, Kouzmanoff have contributed, in total, almost as much to their team as Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, Rodriguez did contribute to NY seems unreal and almost absurd.

Any discussion or link to additional WAR info would be appreciated.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 8 months ago

My personal opinion based on things that make me go “Huh?” combined with the discussions at TT’s site (actually, primarily based on the discussions at TT’s site) is that defensive metrics are either going to undergo an overhaul, or experience a significant decrease in importance (i.e weighting in WAR) … until we know more, or can be more accurate. I think we should do the same thing with BABIP … until we know more, or can measure/analyze more relevant data.

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