I can’t quite explain why those in the new-age statistics community fawn over the “three-true outcomes” player. We love seeing them hit a ball 450-feet, we applaud their walks, and are entertained by their ever climbing strikeout totals. But this year, that TTO club is on the verge of losing one of their true members – Jack Cust.
Ever since he was acquired by Oakland a couple of seasons ago, Cust was unleashed on the world as a prototypical TTO guy. In 2008, Cust whiffed 197 times, had 111 free trips to first and hit 33 round trippers with a .231 batting average. A hallmark season.
But in 2009, Cust has been doing something far more often than he has thus far in his career. He’s actually swinging the bat. In years past, Cust swung at roughly 62% of pitches in the strike zone (MLB average is around 66%). That number has climbed to 71.4% in 2009. Moreover, Cust is swinging at pitches outside the zone more frequently as well (up to 21% of balls out of the zone compared to roughly 15% over his first two seasons in Oakland).
He’s still on pace to hit 32 HRs, and he’s still batting .230 (thanks to a much lower BABiP than in years past). However, as a result of putting the ball in play more often, his strikeout rate has fallen considerably, from 41.5% and 41% in ’07 and ’08 respectively, all the way down to 28.1% this season. What’s more, Cust is now walking in just 11.7% of his plate appearances, a steep decline from his numbers in ’07 (21%) and ’08 (18.8%).
So if his batting average is remaining fairly constant in comparison to his career numbers even though he’s taking fewer pitches, that means his OBP is taking a pretty big hit. Between 2007-2008, Cust had a very strong .390 OBP. His 2009 number currently stands at a below-average .320. And if that weren’t enough, all those extra swings aren’t resulting in more extra-base hits either – he’s just making more outs and making life easier on opposing pitchers.
I don’t know if the A’s staff specifically asked Cust to cut down on his Ks or if he himself decided to do so. But with 68 games in the books, the 2009 version of Jack Cust is considerably worse than the previous incarnations.
Growing up, I heard announcers and commentators talking all the time about how the ever-climbing strikeout totals in the early 1990′s was a bad thing. Former players would say things like “in my day, you were embarrassed as hell to strikeout 100 times a year”. I’m not saying that strikeouts are a good thing. An out is an out. But by trying to cut down on his Ks, Jack Cust is becoming a lesser player. So figure that one out on your own.