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Optimizing the DH
2008-04-22 10:02
by Ken Arneson

The A's are 12-8 so far, despite getting almost no production out of their primary projected power source, Jack Cust. The A's are dead last the majors in hitting home runs--only seven combined homers for the entire team.

The Blue Jays' release of Frank Thomas makes it worth a look to see if the A's can get better production out of their DH spot than they're getting from Cust. Perhaps Cust is just a one-year wonder--teams have figured out that Cust only hits fastballs, and are giving him nothing but soft stuff until he adjusts, and he might not adjust.

So let's take a look at the options for the DH slot: Cust, plus Mike Sweeney, free agents Thomas and Barry Bonds, plus, just for the heck of it (since there are calls for his head in New York), Jason Giambi.

All five of these guys have similar profiles: low batting averages, lots of walks, high slugging percentage. Let's look at their PECOTA projected and current 2008 stats, both overall and by handedness:


Overall:   projected          2008 to date
Sweeney: .259/.321/.428 .275/.356/.333
Cust: .242/.389/.467 .157/.368/.255
Thomas: .258/.364/.488 .167/.306/.333
Bonds: .246/.420/.494 ---
Giambi: .234/.362/.453 .109/.288/.283

vs LHP:
Sweeney: .266/.332/.422 .391/.483/.435
Cust: .216/.362/.395 .143/.368/.286
Thomas: .273/.387/.518 .143/.250/.357
Bonds: .234/.397/.449 ---
Giambi: .214/.338/.413 .000/.400/.000

vs RHP:
Sweeney: .251/.309/.389 .179/.233/.250
Cust: .246/.396/.477 .162/.367/.243
Thomas: .253/.351/.461 .174/.321/.326
Bonds: .253/.437/.508 ---
Giambi: .241/.377/.492 .125/.265/.325

If you look by projections alone, clearly Mike Sweeney is the worst of the bunch. His projected OBP is far lower than any of the other four candidates. And yet, Sweeney is the only one of the five who is doing anything at all this season: he's clobbering LHP. Nobody's doing anything against RHP, although Cust has at least been taking his walks.

Normally, you'd say forget the small sample size of 20 games--believe the projections. However, since all five of these players may be considered to be possibly in the final year(s) of their career, you need to make a judgment on whether the player has anything left in the tank or not. Any one of them could fall off the cliff at any time. Sweeney's the only one who is showing any positive evidence that he hasn't already fallen off the cliff.

In the end, I think the A's will just stick with what they have. Bonds is a headache I don't think they want to deal with. Cust has better projections than Thomas against RHP.  The difference between Sweeney and Thomas against the few LH starters the A's would face in the AL West (Saunders, Washburn and Gabbard--one per team), particularly given the performance so far, might not be so big that it's worth the extra salary it would take to bring in Thomas. Plus Sweeney is the backup first baseman now that Dan "Crab-Man" Johnson is gone, and he vastly outperforms Thomas in that defensive role. But given the positive history of Thomas' one year in Oakland, the idea of bringing him in is certainly tempting.


Tonight: Twins at Oakland, 7:05 pm. Livan Hernandez vs. Joe Blanton.

2008-04-22 11:57:53
1.   Jason Wojciechowski
I hadn't anticipated how close Cust and Thomas's projections would be.

Of course, there's also the issue that Cust isn't just a DH the way Thomas is. He may not play a pretty LF, but at least he owns a glove. I'd love to see Frank Thoams on the team replacing Mike Sweeney, playing exactly the same role, but I'm not sure Thomas wants 2/3-time play on a non-contender. (But does Thomas make the A's a contender in a weak West?)

Also, Crab Man? I'm assuming this is an Earl reference, but I don't get it.

2008-04-22 12:41:30
2.   Ken Arneson
1 Re: Crab-Man

2008-04-23 11:16:30
3.   toni
(okay I've lost two posts when I've hit "edit again" what am I doing wrong?)

Anyhoo... at least they're getting shorter, so there is that.

It's interesting to see how poorly, if healthy, one can perform and not be benched or dropped in the batting lineup.

I understand that lineup construction doesn't have that much bearing on run production, however KKKKKust has an astounding 24K's in 54AB's, at some point the ball needs to put in play. And it's not like we don't have another option for DH. Sweeney, M. has been hitting when given the opportunity.

I'd love the A's to sign Bonds. It won't happen because the A's braintrust are a bunch of cowards, but I'd still love to see it.

2008-04-23 15:41:09
4.   WaddellCanseco
Sweeney also seems to have a gimpy knee. The DL may be in his future. In that case Thomas becomes a lot more attractive.
2008-04-23 16:48:55
5.   toni
4 Which Sweeney?

If it's Mike, and Thomas is heading back to Oakland, the future is now apparently.

A's claimed Rajai Davis off of waivers, which I bet means Buck is heading to the DL.

Saarloos was DFA'd and Braden was recalled.

And poor Dan Johnson, waived, claimed and cut already.

2008-04-23 17:00:13
6.   MrIncognito
One thing to consider is that' Sweeney's performance thus far is almost completely driven by an unusually high batting average and therefore likely to regress sharply. He's essentially been a lot luckier on singles than PECOTA thinks he will be. That's good for us as a team, but not the sort of result that should inform our future thinking.

On the flip side of that coin, Thomas has shown a strong Isolated Power and Isolated Discipline, and you would expect his numbers to improve significantly as his BABIP regresses.

Personally, I would like to see the A's sign both Thomas and Bonds and throw outfield defense completely to the wind with a Cust-RSweeney/Denorfia-Bonds OF. It'll hurt out pitching a bit, but we are in serious need of some offense right now.

2008-04-23 17:09:52
7.   trainwreck
Semi-interesting note:

My friend used to work for the Rivercats and apparently Braden is a klepto.

2008-04-23 17:42:47
8.   toni
6 I'm with you, however I'd rather have Bonds/Sweeney-Denorfia/Brown with Thomas DH'ing, with Davis or whomever is sitting as a late inning replacement.

Cust was a great story, but I think it's ended.

Our defense is horrible anyway, especially along the corners. Unfortunately we have bad defense (though the rumor is Wash is about to be canned in Texas can he come back to help with Jack H and Daric B) with no pop. Worst of both worlds.

2008-04-23 18:07:27
9.   toni
I'm crashing the comments section...

but bp has this to say about Cust:

*Is the Jack Cust Era already over? Cust's problems making contact limit his value as is, and those problems have actually gotten worse this season—he's striking out in 44 percent of his at-bats, up a couple of ticks from 42 percent last season. To survive at that rate, you have to hit almost .400 when not striking out and hit for power as well. Whereas last season Cust hit an unsustainable .437 on contact with 45 extra-base hits and an isolated power of .248, this year those figures are .267, three, and .093. Given that Cust brings absolutely nothing to the table but walks and power, it won't take long for him to play himself out of the league at this rate.

It's instructive to contrast Cust to Ryan Howard, a similar player in type. Even last season, setting the MLB record for strikeouts, Howard whiffed in 38 percent of his at-bats. He also hit a spectacular .426 on contact, but he'd established himself at that level, with a career mark of .444 prior to last season. The combination enables Howard to hit for a high enough average to buoy the rest of his game. It seems that the outer limits of an acceptable strikeout rate is around 38 percent of any one player's at-bats. Any more than that, and the strikeouts eat your career. Cust is about to get munched.*

2008-04-23 20:01:20
10.   MrIncognito
While I agree that Cust is struggling, I would like to give him more than 70 PAs before we dump him. Of course, he just grounded out weakly in an AB vs. Boof Bonser who threw two 90 mph fastballs with no movement in the fat part of the plate - that's a trend that has to change.

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