Jack Cust’s Missing Power

Jack Cust’s path to big league regularity is most unusual. He was always the former top prospect shunned with a skill set too uncool and too untrue to the expectancies of major league teams. Cust’s eHarmony page read that he liked 90-foot walks down the first base line, jogs around the bases, and hangdog expressions following strike threes on journeys back to the dugout. Just like a real dating profile, nobody reading Cust’s believed a word of it. Not until Billy Beane took him out on a second date.

What a horrible fall from grace, as Cust was traded for Mike Myers and Chris Richard in separate deals before becoming a free agent following the 2004 season. He signed with Oakland, but a year later repeated the process, this time signing with San Diego. In May 2007, Beane purchased Cust, who would jump into the Athletics lineup days later and hit a home run in his first game. He would hit 25 more, and finish the year with a .393 wOBA. In 2008 Cust’s performance would come back to earth. His BABIP would drop from .355 to .306. He still posted a wOBA over .370.

Last year, though, things went sour. The 30-year-old’s ISO slipped to .177 despite a slight raise in his BABIP and a decrease in strikeouts. That .342 wOBA got him designated for assignment from the A’s. Cust stayed with the A’s, of course, and he’s racked up more than 180 plate appearances this season. At first glance, the .381 wOBA posted this year suggests he is back to fulfilling his previous role: the pretty girl with glasses that obstructs her comeliness. But no, this isn’t the same Cust. Sure, he still walks a lot, and despite once more cutting down on the whiffs, he’s still sitting down after a strikeout nearly one-third of the time, but the power … it’s just not there. His ISO is down to .171. Even with a BABIP over .380 he’s just not generating the power he once did.

Cust’s BABIP on flyballs is .194 which means that he is getting hits on flyballs 5% more of the time than the league average. And yet, Cust is hitting more infield flies – which turn into outs something like 98% of the time – and fewer home runs – which never turn into outs – leaving one a bit curious as to whether Cust’s new found ability to get hits isn’t just a proxy of some fortuitous drops.

The reality of the situation is that Cust might be nearing the end of his usefulness as a major league designated hitter if the power is truly gone and if the strikeouts remain. It’s too bad because he got started in this league far too late for it to end so soon.

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10 Responses to “Jack Cust’s Missing Power”

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  1. rjmusil says:

    Well okay. But we can’t ignore that Cust has four of his six homers and 11 of his 26 RBIs in his last seven games.

    Is ol’ General CUSTard back?

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    • PL says:

      Yeah, did RJ write this a month ago? Times have changed man! Cust circa 2007 looks like he’s back in business in 2010

      Moral of story: be careful when writing articles on known streaky hitters, they can really come back to haunt you sooner than later.

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      • scatterbrian says:

        Be careful to declare turnarounds after seven games from a known streaky hitter.

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      • 3rd Period Points says:

        I disagree. Keep the articles coming. From my POV, it’s win/win, really. Even if the thesis is proved wrong, he’s a valuable contrarian indicator.

        And let’s not underestimate the possibility that Jack Cust is a faithful reader of FanGraphs. Maybe he embraces his elevated status among the community of baseball nerddom.

        Jack, if you were sufficiently motivated to start bashing by this post, I think R.J. Anderson deserves some gratitude. Not necessarily public, mind you. Just drop him an e-mail with a heapin’ helpin’ of snark.

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  2. jinaz says:

    I don’t want to make too much of small samples, but Cust’s power has been better of late: he hit 2 home runs from May 15 (when he was called up) to July 7, but has hit four since July 9th. As a fantasy owner, I’m hoping he’ll continue to be productive over the remainder of the season. :)

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  3. brianS says:

    as much as like Jack, his HR/BIA has been declining for a couple of years now (19.4-19.8 pct in 2008, 12.1 pct last year, under 9 pct this year both in Sac and in Oak).

    Those are very worrisome signs. I simply don’t believe he can sustain his current, ~.300 BA.

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  4. Utah says:

    Jack Cust is angry with you.

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  5. D-Rock says:

    Hmmm…yeah, I wonder what could have happened to it.

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  6. D-Rock says:

    “Cust is hitting more infield flies – which turn into outs something like 98% of the time”

    Correct me if I’m wrong here, but shouldn’t infield flies turn into outs 100% of the time?

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    • 3rd Period Points says:

      You do know that the infield fly rule applies only in certain circumstances? The 2% = errors *cough* (Yuni) *cough, cough*, and infielders that tear an ACL on the play.

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