The Cust Inefficiency

I was going to post this yesterday, but after realizing that it was Patrick’s day to post an article, I decided to save it for today. Jack Cust and Jonny Gomes are two very interesting guys who can provide a lot of value in the power categories but will hurt you a lot in Batting Average. First let’s take a look at these two and then decide how their value compares to the rest of the league.

In 120 At-Bats, Jack Cust has nine Home Runs. Five have been hit past 400 true feet, and eight have gone past 390 true feet. When he plays, he normally bats anywhere from 4th to 7th. That gives him plenty of RBI opportunities in an Oakland lineup that is 9th in baseball in On-Base Percentage. The problem with Cust is that it will be impossible for him to hit for a high batting average. His 20% Walk rate is gargantuan, but — adversely — his 58% Contact rate is atrocious. That means that if every ball he put into play were a hit, he wouldn’t even hit .600. A guy like Casey Kotchman would hit over .900. Nobody can do this, but I thought it might have worthwhile comparative value. Let’s say Cust hits .360 — still very high — on balls he contacts that are not Home Runs. His 21.4% Line Drive rate and 20% Walk rate make this a good possibility. His BA would then stand at .182 before including HRs. Including HRs — at his current 13% AB/HR rate — Cust’s BA would still only be .257. His good discipline should allow him to score Runs batting in the middle(ish) of the Oakland lineup, so Cust could be a great 3 category contributor.

Jonny Gomes probably has even more power than Cust. In 73 At-Bats, he has 5 HRs, 4 of which have gone past 400 true feet. His furthest was marked at 450 (Cust’s farthest was 432). Last year’s numbers were equally impressive, and he should have hit several more. Gomes’ 62% Fly ball rate this year (54% last year) is also much higher than Cust’s. His Walk rate is much lower, though, at 8.8%. Not bad, but not great either. It was 10.1% and 13.7% in 2005 and 2006. His Line Drive rate went from 23% in 2005, to 17% in 2006, to 26% in 2007. Given these stats, Cust should have a pretty good BABIP. His Contact rate is low, but not as low as Cust’s. It has been right around 70% for the past three years. A low BA should be expected of Gomes but the possibility of a lot of HRs is there too. He’s been batting all over the place, but he’s spent the most time batting 7th this year. If he sticks in the majors, a move up to a prime RBI spot wouldn’t come as unexpected.

The biggest problem with Gomes and Cust is playing time. With Milton Bradley back now, Cust probably won’t get to play every day. The Oakland outfield is quite injury prone, though, so Cust should be able to find 500 At-Bats. Gomes has been in the minors a good portion of the year, and manager Joe Maddon doesn’t seem to be a fan of Gomes, despite him being one of the team’s 9 best hitters. Playing time is very tough to predict, but if talent prevails, Gomes and Cust should find themselves playing every day.

While people generally have no problem owning a 3-category (BA, SB, R) guy like Juan Pierre (98.8% ownership in ESPN leagues), a 3-category (HR, RBI, R) guy like Jack Cust is only owned in 2.2% of leagues (Gomes in 1.7%). That is a huge difference, folks, for players who will help in the same number of categories. Granted, SBs are tougher to come by than HR or RBI, but 40 HR hitters are tough to find too. Regardless, that difference is just too large to ignore. This is a market inefficiency if I’ve ever seen one. From now on, I’ll refer to it as the “Cust Inefficiency.”

So what causes this inefficiency? In typical 5×5 Fantasy Baseball leagues, there is only one category that can go down as the year goes on: Batting Average. Even if you’re entire team stops hitting Home Runs, the number you have attained up until that point can never diminish. If your team stops getting hits, however, your fantasy team’s Batting Average will drop. I believe this is the reason a high Batting Average guy like Pierre has more perceived value than a low Batting Average guy like Jack Cust.

I wish I remember where I read it (my apologies for not citing it), but I remember reading about this psychological study. It showed that people dislike ‘loss’ more than they like ‘gain.’ This directly relates to our conversation. Fantasy owners value Pierre more highly than Cust because you will not lose any Batting Average points with him. Because this is more important to them than gaining HRs and RBIs, they can be comfortable with the fact that Pierre won’t give them any. Cust may help HRs, but he will hurt BA. This isn’t acceptable to “Pierre People” (as I will call them). Pierre owners’ HR and RBI totals won’t be “hurt” by keeping him… or so they think.

While your HR and RBI totals won’t go down with Pierre, they are hurt by keeping him, the same as your BA will be hurt by keeping Cust. It is just less noticeable. If the remaining four categories were made into ratio stats, it would be much easier to observe. But they are not, and that’s why this inefficiency exists. The point of fantasy baseball is to gain (notice that word, again) more points than the other teams. It doesn’t matter if you can keep your BA high or not. If a player’s BA is .260, but you are getting the same amount of value as a .300 BA out of another category, that’s perfectly fine.

A person like me — and now, hopefully, you — will see these Pierre People, laugh at them, and realize that Cust has a true value very similar to Pierre. As we realize this, we will then pay much less to get him. That is the second part of properly managing a market inefficiency. First, you find it. Then, you exploit it.

Other guys that are victims of the “Cust Inefficiency” include Troy Glaus, Pat Burrell, Frank Thomas, and — my favorite — Adam Dunn. When I drafted Dunn in the 8th round of my 10-team draft with my friends this year, they all laughed at me. They failed to realize that Dunn should hit over 50 HRs this year and pound out RBIs and Runs due to his great power/patience combo. The 20 SB pace he’s on has been a bonus. Many of these guys can still be had for much less than what they are worth.

Of course, I’d much prefer a 5-category stud like Carlos Beltran on my team (or even a 4-category guy like Mark Teixeira), but we can’t fill out a roster with these types of guys in deeper leagues. We need to find guys that are undervalued. Without doing so, it is nigh impossible to win. Jack Cust or Jonny Gomes can help you.

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