Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mid-Term A'Ssessment - The Outfielders

Jack Cust – LF

The Good News: After a rancid April (.176 BA, .265 SLG), I was in attendance at Anaheim when Cust broke out with a 4 for 4 game on May 1. He'd go on to put up an insane 1.004 OPS for that month. Cust currently leads the A's in home runs (18) and on-base percentage (.374), among other offensive categories. His cameo in The Mitchell Report this past offseason wasn't the least bit of an issue, despite Cust coming to camp this year with nearly 30 pounds of "extra muscle".

The Bad News: Honestly, in nearly 30 years of following this team, I can't remember a more polarizing player. Cust strikes out a TON and, for many fans, this makes him worse than herpes. He's sitting at 114 K's on the season and on pace to pass 200 sometime in September. The much bigger problem from where I sit is his defense. I've seen some bad leftfielders in my time – Kevin Reimer springs immediately to mind, as does Dale Murphy's '93 stint in Colorado – but, Cust is something else. Since June 1st, Cust's OPS is just .773.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Cust is cheap and reasonably productive, so he's not going anywhere. Most A's fans will continue to blindly obsess over the things he can't do (make consistent contact, use his glove, mix in a salad now and then) instead of the things he does better than anyone else on the team (hit home runs, not make outs).

Grade: B

Ryan Sweeney – CF

The Good News: Jettisoned from Chicago as part of the Nick Swisher haul, Sweeney's played with a chip on his shoulder all year and might be the most exciting guy on the team. He stalled in the White Sox system when his power failed to develop, but there's still a lot of value in a .300 hitter who reaches base 35% of the time.

The Bad News: Well, he does only have 14 extra base hits this year. He's only 23, so it's not unreasonable to think that he's still got room to grow in the power department. Of course, here in San Diego, they said the same thing about Sean Burroughs. Oddly enough, Sweeney's #2 comp over at Baseball Prospectus is Travis Buck – a guy who put up better numbers for the A's than Sweeney did in 2007, before completely collapsing this year.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Sweeney's current .301/.354/.408 line is eerily similar to the numbers he put up over six minor league seasons (.291/.353/.405). There's a lot of talk that he's playing over his head, but I think he keeps this up and finishes in the AL ROY top three.

Grade: B+

Emil Brown – RF

The Good News: He's been killing the ball this month, slugging .513 in 39 at bats and he's tied for the team lead in RBI (47).

The Bad News: RBI might be the most overrated counting stat in all of baseball. Brown's total can be sourced to a fluky first month of the season when he drove in 25 due to an inordinately high number of baserunners when he came to bat and a lot of luck with balls in play. He's a fifth outfielder on a good team as he doesn't have one baseball attribute that he does well (his soft .294 BA vs. LHP this year can't be counted). Defensively, he's almost as bad as Cust, but plays a more important position, so it's a wash.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: I'm absolutely flummoxed. If the A's are trying to contend in 2008, Brown isn't helping. If the A's are building towards 2009 and beyond, Brown won't be around. He's someone only Bizarro Billy Beane would want. Hoping against hope here, but there's no way Emil Quincy Brown gets 308(!) plate appearances in the second half. Right?

Grade: D+

And the rest…: In two separate stints with the A's, Travis Buck hit .160/.235/.321. He's currently back in Triple-A where his moderate power has continued to erode. Carlos Gonzalez has hit 17 doubles in the 39 games since his call up at the end of May. He's got a pretty sweet swing that belies his ghastly BB/K rate (4/37). Rajai Davis is "Willie Mays Hayes" revisited – the Omar Epps version. A punchless midget who's convinced he can hit the ball a mile and refuses to use his one offensive skill (speed) to his advantage. He plays a mean centerfield, though, and is slightly more convincing than Epps as an athlete.

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