It is becoming increasing clear that Jack Cust struggles mightily to hit offspeed pitches. This is not the big shocker, as he joins countless hitters who can pound fastballs but then suddenly become Graham Koonce when you throw slop – Graham Koonce comes to mind. What is the big shocker is why major league pitchers will spend an entire season watching fastballs leave the yard before going, “Hmm…This guy really hits a fastball well. Maybe we should see if he can hit the slow stuff.”
Very few hitters have been described as guys who could mash the curve and stay back on the changeup, but just couldn’t hit a fastball. So why, when a young slugger comes up, don’t pitchers try the steady diet of offspeed pitches…first? Sure, offspeed pitches are harder to command but as Cust’s difficulities so far in 2008 demonstrate, they are harder yet for hitters to handle. And Cust’s 2007 season serves as a reminder of how well a young slugger is likely to handle your best fastball – yes, even yours.
I just find it remarkable that Cust saw so many fastballs to hit last season, right down to the end of his 26 HR, .912 OPS campaign. It’s not like he ever had to prove he could hit offspeed pitches – which he clearly has yet to prove. Had Cust seen this year’s repertoire in 2007, would he now carry the label as “potential a one-year wonder,” or would he qualify only as a zero-year wonder?
In summary, if I’m a pitcher and I face a batter about whom I know nothing except that he’s in the major leagues, I’m going to assume that the one pitch he can handle is the fastball and I’m going to make him handle my offspeed stuff before I make him – or should I say let him – handle my fastball. Yet this is not the pattern we actually see in the big leagues with Jack Cust, Chris Shelton, Kevin Maas, and every other young slugger who did great until pitchers finally refused to throw the one pitch every young slugger can handle. What takes so long?