Brent Lillibridge: Deep League Waiver Wire

If there’s one player I never thought I’d be writing a waiver wire post about, it’s Brent Lillibridge. When you have a .194/.253/.298 triple slash line in 298 PA’s coming into this season there’s little reason to. Even his Triple-A numbers aren’t very good. Yet, somehow, here we are.

The general ineffectiveness of Gordon Beckham, Juan Pierre and Alex Rios has given way to more playing time for Lillibridge at second base and all three outfield positions. Used mostly as a defensive replacement early on – you may remember him from his back to back gave saving catches in right field at Yankee Stadium – Lillbridge has emerged as the best White Sox hitter not named Paul Konerko thus far. His .308/.387/.662 line is obviously unsustainable over a larger sample, especially that slugging percentage, but let’s take a look at how he’s done it so far.

My first thought was to check his BABiP. Currently it’s sitting at .333, which seems slightly high, but he had the exact same number in 2010 in 101 PA and finished with an OPS of .625. He’s striking out ~9% less this season and has increased his walk rate by 3.5%, so those obviously help. Pitchers are throwing him ~7% less pitches inside the strike zone so far, which would seem an odd strategy given his perpetual weak bat. But he’s not taking advantage of that, swinging at pitches inside the zone ~9% less than last season. Actually, he’s taking hacks at more pitches outside the zone, which goes against what pitchers are giving him. He’s a tricky one, that Brent Lillibridge.

The real reason he’s hitting so well is a giant uptick in his fly ball rate. Currently 60.4% of all balls he puts into play are going in the air. That’s 20% more than last year. All of those fly balls have caused his HR/FB% to take a huge jump as well, climbing to 20.7% which ranks 11th among players with 70+ PA. That’s ahead of Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Ryan Braun to name a few. Somehow I don’t see that continuing for the 5’11, 185lb infielder. Once the fly balls decrease, and they will, Lillibridge will stop hitting home runs at his current rate. I just don’t know when that will be. He’s currently owned in just 2% of Yahoo! leagues and has second base and outfield eligibility. With the White Sox offense struggling Lillibridge will likely continue seeing playing time. He’s very much worth a roster spot in deep leagues until the power begins to fade.

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Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.

5 Responses to “Brent Lillibridge: Deep League Waiver Wire”

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  1. Scott says:

    “All of those fly balls have caused his HR/FB% to take a huge jump as well”

    Yet another writer attributing a high HR/FB to an increase in fly balls. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s right there in the denominator – the rate of fly balls has been corrected for. That’s the whole point. There is causality from FB% –> HR%, but not FB% –> HR/FB.

    This is like saying that an increase in gunshot wounds has led to an increase in the fatality of gunshot wounds.

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    • Adam says:

      I’ve been thinking a lot about this too. While I agree with your logic from a purely numerical aspect, consider the following:

      If a player has changed his approach such that he tries to hit more homeruns, rather than just put the ball in play, both his FB% and HR% should go up. I don’t know if Lillibridge has actually changed his approach, but if he has made the decision to swing harder, and swing with a bigger uppercut, for example, couldn’t it be argued that the increase in fly balls HAS caused an increase in HR/FB?

      If the aim is to hit a fly ball, or not to swing at all, fewer “accidental” fly balls would be put in play. This should end up making his FB% a more “pure” one, if you will, and ultimately lead to a higher HR/FB.

      I’m not totally convinced of these ideas myself, but there’s been a lot of talk about the relationship lately and that’s where I’m at with it. It would be interesting to know if he’s changed his approach, or at least become more selective.

      Feel free to rip this inchoate rambling to shreds if it needs it.

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    • Christopher says:

      I would say both parties are somewhat correct. My opinion is the sample size has more to do with it. Just for arguements sake, 10 fly balls with no HRs is 0% obviously. However, 100 fly balls with 10 HRs would give him HR/FB of 10%. Clearly i’ve exaggerated but there in lies the issue. A jump in the number of fly balls would give cause to an increase in HR/FB %.

      However, over a longer time frame with a larger sample size it should level out since it is a ratio. Just depends on what you’re looking at. This stat seems somewhat pointless to me unless you’re analyzing multiple years worth of batting stats.

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      • Dan N says:

        “Just for arguements sake, 10 fly balls with no HRs is 0% obviously. However, 100 fly balls with 10 HRs would give him HR/FB of 10%. Clearly i’ve exaggerated but there in lies the issue”

        That’s not really a valid argument, because in theory it would be similarly likely for someone to hit 2 HR’s in 10 AB’s, in which case his HR/FB% would decrease with a larger sample size.

        But I think Adam could be onto something with his explanation, although I haven’t seen any empirical evidence.

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  2. Scott says:

    I gotta disagree with the interpretation – and I think Christopher’s explanation (or rather Dan N’s rebuttal to Christopher’s explanation) shows why. HItting more fly balls will certainly give you more OPPORTUNITIES for a home run, but not a higher rate of home runs.

    As for an increase in FB% being a result of a new approach at the plate, that is a little over my head. If you’re trying to hit home runs, you may hit more fly balls, true. I would also expect a lower BABIP due to less line drives, perhaps more balls pulled weakly after an overswing (which may or may not be a real effect), and perhaps a higher infield fly ball %. I think it’s all a bit speculative though.

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