You Don’t Know Jack

Guessing game! So who has the best on-base percentage (OBP) for the Mariners this year? You might guess our hitters in order: Ichiro? Brendan Ryan? Dustin Ackley? Justin Smoak? Adam Kennedy? No. It’s JACK CUST. This could be an article about how that implies the Mariners’ offense is awful, but we all know that. How about this: why isn’t Jack Cust playing?

Since June began, Cust has received just 62 plate appearances in 18 games. His OBP this season is .348 (above league average), and since 2007 it’s an impressive .378. If you’re in the cool club with me* and you enjoy acronyms like wOBA, Cust is still second only to Justin Smoak among Ms with at least 100 plate appearances this season.

In that same span, Carp (6), Kennedy (5), Smoak (3), Peguero (2) and Olivo (1) have all gotten starts at the DH spot. Carp and Smoak are the only legitimate arguments for being better than Cust at this point, but each can play a position! If Smoak DH’s, then Kennedy plays first and effectively takes Cust’s place. If Carp DH’s, then Peguero plays left and effectively replaces Cust. So in reality, Kennedy and Peguero have each taken 8 starts from Cust.

I have recently likened Peguero to a little league hack, and Kennedy’s OBP this season is a pathetic .305. His career mark isn’t much better at .322. Both Kennedy and Peguero bat left handed, like Cust, so there was no platoon advantage (read: no logical reason Cust shouldn’t be in some of those games instead). At least Olivo’s start came against a lefty where he had the platoon advantage.

Kennedy could actually make an argument for playing over Cust since his slugging percentage is higher this season. But I think we’d all just rather put Kennedy at third, sit Figgins on the bench, and let our OBP leader go up there and take some pitches. Hell, bat him second. Here’s what Ryan has done from the second spot: .249/.310/.304. That .310 is a disgustingly low OBP for a two-hole hitter.

All that said, based on his success in past seasons, Fangraphs’ Zips Projections forecast improvement for Cust in all areas: average, OBP and slugging. He has a solid track record of putting up above-average numbers in pitchers’ parks (Oakland Coliseum), and some regression in the right direction should be expected with more at bats.

In summary, here’s what the M’s nightly lineup should look like (and probably should have looked like this season):

1) Ichiro

2) Ackley

3) Cust

4) Smoak

5-9) Pick your favorite five Mariners and order them by their home addresses, least to greatest. Or maybe a height line?

Time and time again studies have shown the importance of OBP. Cust avoids outs better than any other Mariner, and saving outs is the name of the game. You only get 27.

*Questionable source

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3 Responses to You Don’t Know Jack

  1. TJ Ludwig says:

    I like the idea of moving ackley to the 2 spot. I would be interested in seeing cust K% to at bats. I swear every time he starts you can mix a k or two in. He might walk a good chunk but at the same time his batting average speaks for itself. due to the mariners weak offense they can throw a dead fast ball hitter like cust all breaking stuff and if they walk him in the 7 hole who cares because the 8 and 9 hitter wont drive him in. If you move him to 3 I think he sees much more aggressive pitching with smoak and olivio and kennedy behind him and has way less success with his obp and his 200 average wont do much damage.

  2. uoduckfan33 says:

    Yeah, Cust’s K rate is pretty high, and always has been. He’s never going to be anything better than a .250 hitter. What he was able to in Oakland was mix in some patience and power and make himself valuable. Now that the power is gone, he really shouldn’t have a job, but on this Mariners team, I think he represents the fourth best hitter. Which is really sad.

    Many studies have shown that where exactly a player bats isn’t nearly as important as we make it out to be. However, that assumes that a player performs just as well in any given spot, and that’s probably not true. So in that light, it would be interesting to see how Cust is pitched in the 3-hole, and if he could respond to more aggressive pitching by regaining some of that average and power.

    It’d just be really nice to have real major league hitters on this team. Having to choose between Kennedy and Cust is like choosing between fake vegan meat and tofu. I want the real thing.

  3. uoduckfan33 says:

    To add to that, though, Cust’s walk and strikeout percentages this year are almost exactly at his career averages. It’s the batting average an slugging that are way down.

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