Monday, June 18, 2007

Revisiting Jack Cust: His first quarter season with the A's

Last month, I wrote about A's designated hitter Jack Cust's long road to the majors, shortly after his debut with the team, so I thought I'd revisit how he's doing. I admit to a little selection bias here--Cust had an oustanding weekend at the plate, giving a nice boost to many of his statistics. Nonetheless, it makes some sense to reconsider his season now that he's played almost 40 games and received roughly 150 plate appearances. In short, Cust continues to prove himself as a premier major league batter. In a variety of statistical categories, he ranks among the league's best. A quick ESPN search reveals that his 1.007 OPS places him 11th in the majors, and his OBP (.423) 9th in the league. His RC/27 is 12th in the league, and he ranks 4th in isolated power. His forte is drawing walks, which he currently does every five plate appearances, a more robust rate than all but three players--superstars Bonds, Thome, and Burrell. (I should add that I sorted all these stats by players with a minimum of 125 ABs because Cust was called up in April).
A little less selection bias would show that Cust's performance has, unsurprisingly, fluctuated a fair amount over the course of the season. When I first wrote about him, his OPS hovered around 1.230, which was unsustainable. His OPS continued to decline through last week, bottoming out at the still-excellent .883 before his most recent streak of hot batting. Indeed, his decline from the initial Ruthian output dropped his fantasy league ownership rate to 3.6% by June 8, and 1.8% by June 17, according to his ESPN player profile.
It's hard to say exactly how Cust will have performed come October, of course, but we'll probably get more of what he's shown us this far this year, and throughout his lengthy AAA career: lots of walks and strikeouts, a respectable average, and lots of home runs, and few steals. 
In his brief stint with the A's, he's made a name for himself as a good story and great hitter, but the Hardball Times writers have also cited his case as a lesson in player evaluation. Jacob Jackson has written an article titled, In search of the next Jack Cust (Part 1), in which he sets out to find potential major leaguers like Cust. That is, productive but inexpensive players who've toiled in the majors into their late twenties, and qualify as six-year minor league free agents, who "therefore aren’t under control of their original drafting team." The A's are paying Cust, for instance, just under $400,000 this year. Check their site on Wednesday when he's supposed to post the first full article evaluating these players.