Comparisons: Why is Jack Cust Better than Dan Johnson?
by Ken Arneson
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:
Bases on Balls
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:
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:
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.