The Astros made the first move that indicates they are preparing for life in the American League. Yesterday, they signed designated hitter and corner outfielder Jack Cust to a one year deal with an option for a second year. Financial terms were not disclosed, but indications are the deal is a major league deal. For those inside and outside the industry, the deal has to be a shocker. Cust was no way on the radar for anyone this offseason and rightfully so.
Last season, Oakland let him walk, so the Mariners ended up signing him. Cust has always been a low batting average guy, but new Astros management recognizes what many in the industry have realized: batting average is overrated. Last season, Cust walked in 16% of his plate appearances. To put that in perspective, no one on the current Astros roster walked in more than 10% of their plate appearances.
The problem with Cust has always been that he was a three outcome hitter. Since 2007, Cust has never had a lower K rate than 36 percent. For his career, he has a 39 percent strikeout rate. Some will tell you that strikeouts aren’t a big deal as long as the walks are there. I’m not one of those people. I’ll go along with them up to a certain extent, but once you start talking about rates above 25 percent you are really talking about a lot of strikeouts.
The Athletics were happy to take all of that before Cust’s power started to diminish. With a low batting average guy you always look at isolated power (SLG-AVG). For those that are unitiated, isolated power is one of the seldom used stats that we use to measure a player’s power. Obviously, batting average taints slugging percentage, so if we remove batting average from slugging percentage we get a clearer picture.
- 2007: .250
- 2008: .245
- 2009: .177
- 2010: .166
- 2011: .116
You don’t even need to know anything about isolated power to see what’s going on here. Cust did hit for considerable power with the Phillies AAA affiliate after being dumped by Seattle, but if Cust isn’t a power hitter he isn’t going to bring a whole lot of value to your team. In fact, total run index really doesn’t feel good about Cust’s future. The forecast line on Cust is pretty steep and the data is pretty tight, so he is going down. By the time he is ready to DH, TRI has him projected as nearly -40.
All told, I have to say that I’m happy to see the new regime paying attention to on base percentage and walks, but it is an indication of a problem the club had when Ed Wade was in control. The problem isn’t so much signing a Jack Cust. He could bounce back I suppose and have a good season. The problem is why give him a major league deal when no one else was even on the radar. You could have invited him to Spring Training and given him a split contract or a guarantee to make it to the big club by a certain date.
In addition to being the editor of hardballchat.com, Scott Barzilla is also the proud father of one and the author of four books. His books can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Barzilla's Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical advancement.