Jack Cust’s path to big league regularity is most unusual. He was always the former top prospect shunned with a skill set too uncool and too untrue to the expectancies of major league teams. Cust’s eHarmony page read that he liked 90-foot walks down the first base line, jogs around the bases, and hangdog expressions following strike threes on journeys back to the dugout. Just like a real dating profile, nobody reading Cust’s believed a word of it. Not until Billy Beane took him out on a second date.
What a horrible fall from grace, as Cust was traded for Mike Myers and Chris Richard in separate deals before becoming a free agent following the 2004 season. He signed with Oakland, but a year later repeated the process, this time signing with San Diego. In May 2007, Beane purchased Cust, who would jump into the Athletics lineup days later and hit a home run in his first game. He would hit 25 more, and finish the year with a .393 wOBA. In 2008 Cust’s performance would come back to earth. His BABIP would drop from .355 to .306. He still posted a wOBA over .370.
Last year, though, things went sour. The 30-year-old’s ISO slipped to .177 despite a slight raise in his BABIP and a decrease in strikeouts. That .342 wOBA got him designated for assignment from the A’s. Cust stayed with the A’s, of course, and he’s racked up more than 180 plate appearances this season. At first glance, the .381 wOBA posted this year suggests he is back to fulfilling his previous role: the pretty girl with glasses that obstructs her comeliness. But no, this isn’t the same Cust. Sure, he still walks a lot, and despite once more cutting down on the whiffs, he’s still sitting down after a strikeout nearly one-third of the time, but the power … it’s just not there. His ISO is down to .171. Even with a BABIP over .380 he’s just not generating the power he once did.
Cust’s BABIP on flyballs is .194 which means that he is getting hits on flyballs 5% more of the time than the league average. And yet, Cust is hitting more infield flies – which turn into outs something like 98% of the time – and fewer home runs – which never turn into outs – leaving one a bit curious as to whether Cust’s new found ability to get hits isn’t just a proxy of some fortuitous drops.
The reality of the situation is that Cust might be nearing the end of his usefulness as a major league designated hitter if the power is truly gone and if the strikeouts remain. It’s too bad because he got started in this league far too late for it to end so soon.