Staturday: Jack & Ichiro: Still Two of a Kind?

Back in March I commented on the similarity between the way Ichiro Suzuki and Jack Cust produce very, very dissimilar results. Ichiro has confounded PECOTA for years because he is a truly unique player. Jack Cust, with his limited MLB experience, had not had the chance to prove whether his own uniqueness was merely a function of small sample size or whether he was truly unique.

In that article, I noted how unique Jack Cust was in that he had the 8th highest line drive percentage in the league, a fairly low fly ball percentage but the highest HR/FB percentage. Also, particularly remarkable, given his relatively high ground ball percentage, he was the only player to fail to get a single infield hit. Each of those added up to an acceptable batting average, despite a ton of strikeouts and mammoth amount of power. Oh yeah, he also walked a lot.

So where do those things stand now?

 

Strikeout rate:
His strikeout rate has improved slightly – from 41.5% down to 39.5%. That is better … but still the worst in the league by a fair amount.

Walk rate:
His walk rate has fallen off more, though – from 21% to 18.5%. Although he has fallen off, that is still good for the second most in the Majors, behind kissing cousin Adam Dunn.

So while his strikeout rate and walk rates are still extreme, they did both converge towards the mean a bit, which should have been expected, given the extremity of their extremity, even if we take for granted that Jack Cust is a unique player. Also, keep in mind that we still have to deal with small sample size issues. The changes only amount to a difference of 2 or 3 strikeouts/walks.

No one really doubted that Jack Cust was going to continue to walk and strike out a lot, though. The question was whether he would be able to keep up with the Suzukis in terms of the productivity of his balls in play.

Ground ball percentage:
Cust’s ground ball percentage ticked upwards slightly, from 42.2% in 2007 to 42.9% this year. The difference is only one ground ball, so it is essentially identical.

Line drive percentage:
Somewhat troublingly, his line drive percentage has fallen a fair amount, from 23.2% to 20.3%. Small sample size warnings definitely apply, but this is not a good sign. To this point in the season, after being 8th best last year, he has dropped to the middle of the pack, 74th out of 169 eligible.

Fly ball percentage:
Given the drop in line drive percentage and the only moderate increase in ground balls, we should all know where the bulk of those line drives went – up, becoming fly balls, increasing from 34.6% to 36.8%. We should all recall that fly balls are generally good for power numbers but bad for batting average.

Homerun to fly ball percentage:
Given his increase in fly balls, this number becomes even more critical. Unfortunately, he has fallen off a fair amount in this regard, from a league leading 31.7% last year to a mere third best 26.9% this time around. That is a difference of a bit over 3 homeruns.

Batting average on balls in play:
And here comes the reality check. From an excellent .366, Cust dropped to a merely above average .311. Most of this drop is actually directly attributable to the drop in line drives. 3% fewer line drives usually means 3% fewer hits. Not at all surprisingly, a fairly normal line drive percentage led to a fairly normal batting average on balls in play.

Isolated Slugging:
In 2007, Jack Cust was 14th in the league in Isolated Slugging, with a .248. This year, though, he has dropped to 48th, with a .209. If you add in those 3.2 HRs he has lost to the decreased HR/FB%, though, he would be back up to .242 – so there is your difference.

Conclusion:
All told, with the exception of walks and strikeouts, this season Jack Cust has not been terribly unique. He has even risen to the middle of the pack in infield hit percentage. He gets about the number of hits we should expect, given the number of line drives he has hit and he has good – but not unworldly power. While small sample size issues definitely apply, there is serious cause for concern here. If Jack Cust is not unique, Jack Cust is not a terribly good player. So watch his LD% and HR/FB%. His drops in those two numbers are almost entirely responsible for his loss of 100 points of OPS. If those numbers increase, so will his value. If not … lets just hope they increase.

Ichiro Suzuki, by the way, is still unique.

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