I love watching A's games, and I love dissecting box scores afterward. And while I do pay quite a bit of attention to some of the more intricate statistics, I rarely check up on season statistics. Today, I did just that. I was quite shocked to see Jack Cust sporting a lowly .760 OPS - well, lowly for him anyway.
So, what's the deal with Cust?I remember reading stories about how Cust was spending time this offseason training his eyes, and that it would help him see the ball better, help his contact skills and lower is strikeout rates. I also remember reading stories during Spring Training about how A's hitting coaches were working on Cust simply to make more contact and cut down on the strikeouts.
Now, I've never really felt that strikeouts were such a terrible thing. There are times when an out can be productive, when moving the runners over, but there are also times when outs turn into double plays, so honestly, I never minded Custs strikeouts - especially when he was getting on base over 37% of the time.
Cust has 65 K through 63 games so far, which is about 13% less than he did last year, when he K'd 197 times in 148 games. Down from 41% to 28%. Good job, Oakland A's hitting coaches, you finally did something right!
His BB% is down, too, to 11.5% from 18.8% in 2008. Cust's attempt at making more contact has taken him away from what he does best - striking out a lot, hitting big homeruns, and getting on base. At .760, his OPS is 91 points less than it was last year, and he's really not helping the team like he did the last two years.
His HR/FB%, which sat around 30% the last two years, is at 16% this year. He's hitting more flyballs and less of them are leaving the park. And while his BABIP is .266, with room for improvement, he likely won't see a huge improvement unless he gets back to what he did in the past.
In my opinion, the A's need to tell Cust to be Cust. Teams have tried to change who he was before, with bad results just the same. If A's coaches keep telling him that strikeouts are bad, a chain reaction happens. With two strikes, Cust begins to reach for pitches he can't do anything with, only to avoid the strikeout. That's why he's hitting all these weak flyballs. In the past, Cust was never a guy who was scared to hit with 2 strikes, and often worked the count. With a full count, he could take a close pitch and either A) take a walk or B) strikeout. In trying to avoid the strikeout, he's just making weak contact and swinging at pitches he can't do anything with.
The Oakland A's, of all organizations, should realize that Custs greatest strength was getting on base and hitting for power, no matter how he goes about doing it. When cutting down on strikeouts, which aren't that bad to begin with, becomes so detrimental to a player's OBP, it's not worth it at all.