We've gotten to the point where you have to expect the Oakland Athletics' designated hitter spot to be filled by a reclamation project that works out. Two years ago it was the bargain bin signing of Frank Thomas, last year it was supposed to be Mike Piazza, but he had some shoulder issues and missed nearly half the year. Beane didn't take long to acquire his new signature acquisition in the form of Jack Cust. I'm not sure what part I like about the move better, a team giving a former top prospect who has great power and a great eye a chance on the cheap or that Beane and Kevin Towers completed the deal through e-mail.
Naturally questions arise about the validity of such a breakout season; in fact the other two similar cases have nearly identical ponderings (Carlos Pena and Dmitri Young) but we'll cover them at another time. Cust would get 124 games and 395 at-bats to prove that he was better than the previous 70 games since 2001 showed, and would he ever take advantage, finishing with 26 homeruns, 82 runs batted in, 105 walks, and a line of .256/.408/.504.
Blowing away his previous numbers wasn't a massive accomplishment, in fact we're better to completely disregard his limited pre-2007 big league numbers when discussing whether his season was full of luck. Instead we'll focus on his minor league numbers in 2006 as the true litmus test.
As we see above overall the two seasons are very similar, although Cust striking out nearly 50% of the time is a bit terrifying if he goes on a prolonged slump, but I'm sure Beane would like Cust to keep his P/PA hovering around 4.4. Nothing seemingly suggests that this year was a fluke, although his batting average may take a shot, but Cust's skill set complements itself very well. Cust is the perfect statistical ballplayer; his 23.2 line drive rate projects to an expected BABIP of .352. Unless Cust is extremely unlucky he's going to have a nice looking batting average and with his ingrained ability to draw walks his on-base percentage is going to benefit. Factor in that Cust has light tower power and he's a perfect "slash" player - possessing the ability to hit for a decent average, walk a ton, and hit for loads of power.
Paul DePodesta's computer must've figured in defense when examining Cust, otherwise there's no reason that the team should've dealt Cust for simply a player to be named later. I would fully expect Cust to produce at similar rates next season assuming he gets the opportunities - and let's face is he's going to get more than 500 at-bats.