Considering Cust -- and whether we'll ever see another .400 hitter
I was watching the A's the other night, and
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.*
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.
And as you can see, the high walk-strikeout guys are, mostly, a recent phenomenon.
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
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.
And thinking about that led me to wonder ... everyone talks about why no one will ever hit .400 again. And I've heard many, many reasons: Night games, travel, the slider, the split-fingered fastball, improved fielding, the intense media pressure, on and on and on and on.
BUT ... could it just come down to the fact that batters strike out a whole lot more than they did in the .400-hitting days? I do realize that all of the above reasons would contribute to more strikeouts, but I am still wondering here: Is that what it comes down to?
There have been nine .400 seasons since 1920 (when strikeouts are counted on
Now, we look at the players who have challenged .400 since
Well, to get eight more hits, I'd say he had to put the ball in play 26 more times.
Carew struck out 55 times. So if he had cut his strikeout rate in half -- to 4 percent -- then I think he would have put those 26 balls in play and hit .400.
Same is true for Ted Williams in 1957. He hit .388 that year, and much was made of the fact that if he had only legged out five more infield hits over the season, he would have hit .400 again. True, but more to the point: Williams struck out 8 percent of the time in 1957. Again, that's really good, but it's not superhuman. To hit .400, you have to be superhuman. The year the Kid hit .400, he struck out much less ... 4.5 percent of the time.
Williams struck out 43 times in 1957. If he had cut down his strikeouts, put 15 or 16 more balls in play, he probably would have gotten those five hits and hit .400 again.
And so on. Andres Galarraga in 1993 hit .370 despite striking out 73 times. That was in crazy Mile High Stadium, when the Rockies hit .306 at home as a team (with a preposterous .333 batting average on balls in play) while visitors hit .308. Anyway, Galarraga was 18 hits shy of .400 that year. If he had cut his strikeouts down to 4 percent -- that would have meant putting 53 more balls in play. And that might have gotten him his .400 batting average.
So, that got me thinking: A great hitter who could strike out 4 or 5 percent of the time in one year, in a favorable park, might actually hit .400.*
And that led me to do one last nutty math thing: I looked at the 200 best batting averages since Ted Williams hit .400 in 1941 -- made the strikeout adjustment (reduced their strikeouts to 4 percent), added the likely number of hits to the equation (considering that hitters usually get hits on 30 percent of the balls they put in play) and looked to see who (if any) would have hit .400.
As it turns out, there have been six seasons since 1942 where, if a hitter had managed to only strike out 4 percent of the time, he likely would have hit .400.
And believe it or not, the next guy on the list is ... Larry Walker. According to this rough little formula, Walker would have hit .398 in 2001.
Other interesting years:
The biggest jump on the list is
One more worth mentioning:
Sparky's an interesting guy. Anyway, I think so.
And then I look back at the mental wreckage I have left behind ... all because I stopped to consider Jack Cust. It's exhausting watching a baseball game.