Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs drew an interesting comparison to Brent Lillibridge.
The only player somewhat similar to Lillibridge that made my list was Jeff Liefer (remember him? Me neither) in 2001. He was a left-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder, but he did sort of come out of nowhere serious power (.264 ISO) in part-time play for the… wait for it… White Sox. He then proceeded to bomb in 224 plate appearance for Chicago the following season and last saw the majors in 2005. That’s the closest thing to a comparison to Lillibridge. It doesn’t bode well, but it is far from the greatest comparison for Lillibridge. If anything, it just backs up the “sample size” issue. -- FanGraphs
Beerleaguer: That's a pretty straightforward statistical look at it, but there's a better comparison -- and it's a guy who used to play for the White Sox.
In 2006, Pablo Ozuna had an .809 OPS in 203 plate appearances, coming seemingly out of nowhere to put up solid numbers. He was a decent enough as a pinch-runner in 2005, but his .313 OBP was hardly good enough to justify more playing time.
Ozuna was a little older than Lillibridge (32 in 2006, Lillibridge will turn 28 in September) but he had the same pedigree as a former prospect who never quite developed until later in his career.
Like Lillibridge, Ozuna was "clutch" in 2006 -- his first career homer was a game-tying blast off Seattle's Eddie Guardado, and he laid down a walk-off squeeze in a game against Oakland -- but he's very much a cautionary tale.
Until a season-ending injury in late May, Ozuna started a decent chunk of the Sox games in 2007 -- 20, to be exact. He was deemed irreplaceable by Ozzie Guillen, which he hardly was -- his WAR that season was -0.7. He was quite replaceable, in fact, but his value was easily overstated by those who admired versatility and speed.
What does this have to do with Lillibridge? Well, first, for the record, Lillibridge is having a much better season in 2011 than Ozuna had in 2006. It's not even close -- thanks to horrid defense, Ozuna' WAR in '06 was -0.1, while Lillibridge's in 2011 is 1.1, which is pretty damn good for a guy with 186 plate appearances.
But Ozuna was deemed "not a regular" in 2006, which sounds awfully like the Sox strategy with Lillibridge in 2011. In 2007, he was forced into a role as a regular for a few games thanks to some outfield attrition and was awful (again, a -0.7 WAR).
The lesson here is this: Utility players who put up "impressive" seasons aren't always good bets to produce when they start. It's the classic small sample size argument -- 200 plate appearances is hardly an ideal number, and players who only get that amount of playing time are generally prone to wild swings in their stats.
That's not to say Lillibridge is going to falter in 2012. But, at the least, he probably shouldn't start.