Considering Cust -- and whether we'll ever see another .400 hitter
Jack Cust walked or struck out more than 50% of the time he came to bat in '08
The ball got put in play a lot more in the old days; strikeout rates were lower
To bat .400, a player probably needs to strike out no more than 4% of the time
I was watching the A's the other night, and Jack Cust came to the plate. I love Jack Cust. Who doesn't? So, like anyone would, I spent a bit of time contemplating Jack Cust. I looked up his statistics, and here's what struck me:
Last year, Jack Cust came up 598 times.
He struck out 197 times: That's about 1/3 of the time. He walked 111 times. That's about one out of every five times. Total: Jack Cust walked or struck out more than 50 percent of the time he came to the plate last year.
Best I can tell, only two players in baseball history who have qualified for the batting title have done the Jack Cust dance -- that is, walk 100 times, strike out 100 times and not make contact half of the time they came to the plate. The first, of course, Jack Cust in 2008.
The second? Yeah, Jack Cust in 2007.*
*Does this make Jack Cust the most boring player in baseball history? You would think so: The guy doesn't even HIT THE BALL more than half the time. And yet, no, I think Cust is actually a lot of fun to watch. Maybe it's the name. Maybe it's the Matt Stairs persona. I don't know.
Highest percentage of walks + strikeouts in baseball history (min. 100 walks, 100 K's):
1. Jack Cust, 2007: 53%
Now, you will note the caveat: I did not include players who walked fewer than 100 times or struck out fewer than 100 times. Barry Bonds in 2004, for instance, walked 232 times and struck out 41, so he did not make contact in more than 44 percent of his at-bats. Mark Reynolds struck out 204 times last year, walked 64, so he didn't touch the ball in about 44 percent of his at-bats, too. But I really wanted the well-rounded batter, the one who walks AND strikes out at an extremely high rate.
And as you can see, the high walk-strikeout guys are, mostly, a recent phenomenon. Jimmy Wynn in 1969 is 12th on the list; he walked or struck out 44 percent of the time. Before Wynn, you have to go down to 44th place -- Mickey Mantle in 1967, at 40 percent.
You can see the leaders by decade:
2000s: Jack Cust, 53%
The ball just got put in play a lot more in the olden days. This may be one quick reason to explain why batters hit for so much higher average in years past. Take the National League in 1930 -- you know, the whole league hit .303 that season. That was the year Bill Terry hit .401, the year Hack Wilson drove in 191 runs, the year 23 out of the 44 batters who qualified for the batting title hit .320 or better.
Well, that year the whole league only struck out about 8 percent of the time.
To give you an idea, last year in the National League batters hit .260 and struck out 18 percent of the time.
How much of a difference is that? Well, if batters had struck out at the 1930 strikeout rate, there would have been 10,000 more balls hit in play. Yikes. TEN THOUSAND more balls in play. We know that, generally speaking, about 30 percent of balls in play turn into hits but to prove the point, let's take it down a notch and say that only 25 percent of those balls hit in play would have been hits.
If you make that adjustment, the league would have hit .288 last year instead of .260. Chipper Jones only struck out 11 percent of the time last year ... but if you drop that down to 8 percent and make the adjustments, he would have hit .376. Matt Holliday would have put 50 more balls in play and might have hit closer to .350. And so on.*
*Interestingly enough, Albert Pujols struck out 54 times in 641 plate appearances. That, friends, is 8 percent. Pujols is like a guy right out of the 1930s.
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