Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Trust In Cust!

Amidst all of the bad stories we've seen of late in the sports world, it's always nice to hear about those of perseverance and success. By now, most of you are pretty familiar with the story of St. Louis pitcher turned outfielder, Rick Ankiel. Another great story has emerged out of Oakland this year - the story of Jack Cust.

At 28 years old, Cust is someone who had been mired in the minor leagues for 10 years! Over that time, he'd hit 191 home runs and perhaps more importanly drew 923 walks. The only thing that really seemed to prevent him from ascending to the next level was his propensity to strike out - he struck out nearly once every three at bats (1204 strikeouts in 3706 at bats) during his minor league career. Impressively, Cust had a career .429 on-base percentage, and a .514 slugging percentage over that time. In spite of displaying the propensity to get on base a lot and hit for power (in addition to striking out a lot), Cust never truly got a chance to really prove himself at the major league level. He had brief stints with Arizona, Colorado, Baltimore and San Diego, managing to only accumulate 144 at bats (and five home runs) over that time. Last year, Cust's Triple-A numbers were really out of this world - 30 home runs, 77 RBI's, 97 runs, a .293 batting average and 143 walks. Yes, he struck out 124 times in 441 at bats but when you look at the .467 on-base percentage, .549 slugging percentage, and 1.016 OPS (on base pct. + slugging pct.) he put up, it was obvious that this was someone who needed a chance to show what he could do. Enter one Billy Beane into the picture.

Billy Beane is the Oakland A's magician who has this uncanny knack for finding greatness amidst other teams' "cast offs" in the minor leagues... If you've read the book Moneyball then you're very familiar with Beane's methodology. In a nutshell, Beane looks for hitters that have a propensity for drawing walks. He feels that the more patient a hitter is, the more likely he's going to see a pitch he can hit. When the A's new DH, Mike Piazza got injured in early May, Beane decided to make another push to acquire Cust - someone he's been trying to acquire for a very long time. On May 3rd, Beane finally got his man, giving up only a "player to be named later." This year, Cust had added eight homers, and 19 RBI's to his resume in 24 games with the San Diego Padres' minor league club.

On May 6th, Cust made his 2007 debut, promptly homering in his first game against Tampa Bay. Four days later, Cust hit two homers against the Kansas City Royals. On May 11th, the A's came home to take on the Cleveland Indians. Cust homered in each of the three games of that series. In his first seven games with the A's, Cust had managed to hit six homers - more than he had in his ENTIRE major league career to that point. Those homers also accounted for most of the 14 RBI's and eight runs he had scored over that first week of games... He also drew six walks, and had 11 strikeouts in his first 26 at bats. In other words, we were looking at someone very similar to the Cincinnati Reds' Adam Dunn. A lot of walks, a lot of power, and a lot of strikeouts.

Like Dunn, Cust has shown the propensity to have very cold stretches, and then very hot ones - he went 9-for-57 (.158) in 21 games from May 20th through June 14th with no homers and only two RBI's. He then followed that up with a 23-for-55 (.418) 14 game stretch from June 15th through July 1st where he hit six homers and drove in 16 runs.

Last night, Cust almost single-handedly kept the A's in their game, homering twice and driving in three runs as the A's defeated the Chicago White Sox 4-3. Cust has power to all fields - one of his homers went to left, the other to right. Four days ago, Cust hit his first career grand slam against Detroit and also drove in SEVEN runs in a 16-10 Oakland win. Yes, he's in the midst of another hot streak!!! He's 8-for-20 (.400) with three home runs and 11 RBI's over his past five games. On the season, Cust has put up some pretty remarkable numbers. In only 260 at bats, he's slugged 20 home runs, driven in 63 runs and drawn 59 walks, while hitting a very respectable .273. Most impressively, he's carrying a .405 on-base-percentage and a .550 slugging average. Although he's struck out a ton - 105 times to be exact, but he's been EXTREMELY productive. Give him 500+ at bats, and you're talking about 40 home runs, 125 RBI's (and a new major league strikout record). Yes, Jack Cust has finally arrived, and it indeed is a nice thing to see!!!


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