Is Versatility Enough to Merit Roster Spot for Chicago Cubs’ Brent Lillibridge?
Joe Mather version 2.0?
Brent Lillibridge is what Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum refers to as a “Super-utility player.” Lillibridge has experience at playing seven different positions. He can play every infield and outfield position. That versatility is intriguing because teams normally keep five hitters on their bench. It gives them more flexibility.
Lillibridge joined the Cubs as a non-roster invitee to spring training. For a 29-year-old who spent 2012 with three different American League organizations, Lillibridge has gotten a lot of publicity as a non-roster invitee who could make the 25-man roster. The Cubs are looking for someone who can serve as a backup first baseman and fifth outfielder. Defensively, Lillibridge can do both of these things.
While Lillibridge is a “Super-utility player,” that has nothing to do with his bat. In 2012, Lillibridge had a .195 batting average with three home runs and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 71-to-11. In five MLB seasons, Lillibridge’s on-base percentage (OBP) has surpassed .273 just once. His on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS) has surpassed .626 just once. He has struck out in 218 of his 649 at-bats.
Those are some ugly numbers. An exception to his struggles came in 2011. In 186 at-bats, Lillibridge had a .258 batting average with 13 home runs and an .845 OPS. He had a 1.7 WAR. His other four seasons combined? -1.8 WAR.
The Cubs have few options for backup first baseman and fifth outfielder. One could argue that among all of their candidates, Bryan LaHair would’ve been just as good as Lillibridge. Currently, LaHair plays with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan.
Due to the lack of competition and options, versatility alone may keep Lillibridge employed for another season. Don’t expect much from him other than playing several different positions, possibly making Ian Stewart expendable.