Comparisons: Why is Jack Cust Better than Dan Johnson?
by Ken Arneson
2007-08-14 15:28

As a fan of a Moneyball-type team, there’s something deeply unsatisfying about watching your offense at work. There’s always a sense as a fan that something is missing from the attack; we grasp at straws trying to figure out what this something is. Sabermetricians pooh-pooh our doubts, patronizing us as if we just silly little children talking about imaginary monsters underneath our beds.

I try to be brave, but I keep hearing noises. It keeps me awake, and as I lie there trying to tell myself that there are no such thing as monsters, my mind ignores my own advice, and keeps looking for proof that monsters really, truly exist.

Lately, my mind has convinced myself that the key to finding the monster lies in the comparison between Dan Johnson and Jack Cust. Jack Cust, as you all know, TOTALLY ROCKS, while Dan Johnson (when hitting without Ryan’s mojo) SUCKS. The thing is, I don’t really understand why. They’re both about the same size: Johnson is 6’2", 225, while Cust is 6’1" 230. They’re both pretty slow, lumbering types. They were both born in 1979. They both have the typical Moneyball approach to hitting: see a lot of pitches, take a lot of walks:

2007 Johnson Cust
Plate appearances 363 320
Bases on Balls 53 59
Pitches seen 1494 1404

Cust has a slight advantage there, but not a hugely so. There’s nothing there to suggest that the problem with Johnson is that he needs better plate discipline. And while Cust has more home runs, it’s not like Johnson is without power, either. In fact, they both have exact same number of hits (69) and extra-base hits (30) this year; the difference being that Cust turned seven more doubles and triples into homers:

2007 Johnson Cust
Hits 69 69
Doubles 18 12
Home Runs 11 18

On the other hand, if there’s one thing that’s glaringly different between these two men, it’s the kind of outs they make:

2007 Johnson Cust
Strikeouts 54 104
Ground outs 84 59
Fly outs 96 28

See that? If you didn’t have the middle table in this blog entry, and you were going to guess which guy has more home runs, the guy who puts the ball in the air in 30% of his plate appearances, or the guy who does so in 14% of his plate appearances, which would you choose? If you were going to guess which guy has the better batting average, the guy who puts the ball in play 85% of the time, or the guy who puts the ball in play 67% of the time, which would you choose? You’d think if baseball outcomes were distributed more or less evenly and fairly, Dan Johnson would be better than Jack Cust, but he’s not.

I don’t understand it. Even though their ages and body types and plate discipline are similar, there’s something clearly inferior about the quality of contact that Johnson makes when he swings his bat. Perhaps some smart people out there can explain it to me. Perhaps there is some chart (Plate Discipline on one axis; Quality Contact on another?) that could make sense of this for me. But until I understand how the quality of contact works, how you measure it, and how it impacts an offense, I’m still going to continue to feel like there are treacherous monsters sabotaging the A’s attack.

Comments: 4
1.   chri5
2007-08-14 18:45

1.  You're only looking at outs, and also not accounting for pop-ups. Remember, a lot of the FBs Cust hits go over the fence.

Jack Cust 29.5 46.8 21.2 2.6
Dan Johnson 28.3 42.9 20.1 8.7

Cust actually hits more FBs, GBs nd LDs on a % basis than DJ. Almost 9% of DJs batted balls were popups, and of course the BABIP on popups is very low.

DJ was at 7.7% last year, so it isn't that out of norm for him to hit a lot of popups.

When Cust was in Portlans last year, he was below 5%.

Of course, you also have to consider that Cust simply hits the ball harder. 40% of Cust's FBs were HRs, while DJ is at 15%. Cust was at 30% at Portland last year.

I don't think Cust's power is quite as good as it has looked, however it certainly is better than DJ's, and that is the difference between them imo.

also, is there a bette way for me to get the table to be formatted? Does HTML work in the comments?

2.   Ken Arneson
2007-08-15 01:43

2.  1 OK, but those percentages are only for balls in play, right? Cust strikes out so much more that Johnson actually ends up with more of each type of ball-in-play result than Cust on a per-plate-appearance basis.

I'm assuming your numbers are correct. If you run each player with those percentages out to 500 plate appearances you get:

Fly balls: 72
Ground balls: 115
Line drives: 52
Popups: 6
Strikeouts: 163
Walks: 92

Fly balls: 100
Ground balls: 151
Line drives: 71
Popups: 31
Strikeouts: 74
Walks: 73

Again, I don't understand it. If Johnson has 28 more fly balls and 19 more line drives per season than Cust, why is Johnson the one who ends up with fewer homers and fewer hits?

I think your statement that "Cust simply hits the ball harder" is part of the answer, but that's kinda what I meant by "quality of contact". I suspect that a better measurement of batter quality would be some combination of plate discipline and "hits the ball hard" that has not yet been calculated.

Perhaps the new stats coming out of might help there.

As for the second part of your question, no, there is no HTML in our comments, for now. The best way to deal with it is to make lists, like I did above.

3.   rebus
2007-08-16 04:17

3.  let's see... the only difference between the Lengendary Cust and Johnson is .200 of OPS and .100 points of ISO.

The home runs make all the difference in terms of power and a higher walk percentage in fewer at bats shows up as a .060 difference in OBP.

These discrepancies that seem inconsequential are actually large spreads over a half season of at bats.

The most telling fact is that 36.4 % of Cust's fly balls are homers, while only 11.0 % of DJ's go long (in line with his career numbers). That's the strength of America's Greatest Hero for you.

stats courtesy of Fangraphs



4.   XV84
2007-08-17 02:03

4.  It's their difference in mechanics.

Cust has an extreme uppercut swing. When he misses, he will roll over or strikeout. When he gets a hold of one, he crushes it. That explains the HR/flyball and Groundout/flyout differences.

DJ with his open stance doesn't always get his front foot down in time to close his hips and will open up too soon causing his hands to fly away from his body. This causes him to get under the ball and hit weak fly balls.

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