White Sox player wrap-ups - Jayson Nix & Brent Lillibridge

White Sox player wrap-ups - Jayson Nix & Brent Lillibridge
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'Dive' into 1600 words on sub-replacement White Sox utility infielders

I have always found baseball players more relateable than athletes who play basketball or football.  Maybe it's because they're not freakishly large or tall, maybe it's because the rate of success for elite prospects seems smaller and leads to less lifelong primadonnas, maybe because the initial salaries for young players is more in the "successful executive" range and not the "successful druglord" range, maybe it's because when they celebrate wins they do so goofily and giddily, and don't act like they just slaughtered a deer for their village with their bare hands.

...And maybe it's because of guys like Brent Lillibridge and Jayson Nix, who seem very aware that they are playing baseball...and being paid for it...and that that is awesome.
Stat Lines:

Nix: 24 Gs, 49 ABs, 8 H, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 7 BB, 12 K, .163 BA, .268 OBP, .245 SLG, .513 OPS, 5 errors at 3B in 30 chances....Jayson gets spared the traditional Saber-analysis because of his preposterously small sample size with the Sox

Lillibridge: 98 ABs, .224 BA, .248 OBP, .378 SLG, .625 OPS, 5 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 19 R, 16 RBI, 3 BB, 36 SO, 5 SB (62.5%), .268 wOBA, -1.2 UZR, -0.4 WAR

What did we expect?: With Teahen installed at 3rd, and Vizquel signed on to be utility infielder, Nix and Lillibridge seemed destined for an epic spring training battle to win the role of "dugout high-five specialist" for the 2010 Chicago White Sox.

With neither player appearing ticketed to play a big role beyond pinch-running because Omar is too old and slow to do it himself (or so I thought), I was partial to Lillibridge because he's, you know, faster. 

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Some pictures say a thousand words, this one says three, "Jayson Nix's career"

"Given 500 AB in a season Nix might very
well be capable of hitting 25 solo home runs. He's raking in Spring
right now, but I'd just as soon spend the last roster spot on a good
pinch-runner than 10 solo home runs, and one would think Ozzie would
feel the same way. Expect to see Nix though, because nothing ever works
out.
"

I was in a mood....Nix had 14 HRs in 331 AB between the Sox and Indians in 2010...so the dream lives on of a 25 HR year for Jayson when some team puts up with his D and his horrible batting average with balls in play.  Turns out I was a lot closer to being right with a throwaway prediction:

"Most likely when a certain Kansas City acquisition is melting down
in June we'll be talking ourselves into one of these dreamboats."

Turns out June would have been far too long.


The result: On the basis of a stronger spring, proven multi-position versatility, better potential power, and higher body-fat total, Nix won the job out of camp.  I guess giving Lillibridge the spot over Nix when he didn't come close to winning it last season and hit .243 in the spring would strike most as a travesty of incompetence, but man, wouldn't it have been worth it to see Nix's shock slowly morph into volcanic rage on an episode of 'The Club'?....alright, perhaps not.

You know what I said earlier about Nix and Lillibridge both being immediately aware of how lucky they are to be playing baseball for a living?  Well, Jayson was aware of it in the wrong way, where it seemed like his mind was constantly screaming "Crap! I'm 28, no one believes in my potential anymore, and I'm the last off the bench on a sub-.500 team right now.  One screw-up and I outta here!  Oh God...dontscrewupdontscrewupdontscrewupdontscrewup!"

Such a mindset would explain why Nix played so tentative in the opening months of the season.  Bouncing around the place is kinda the fate of the 25th guy, but appearing at 4 different positions, including right field at Yankee Stadium, when he only made 24 appearances goes a ways in explaining why Jayson never looked settled in, and became disastrously error-prone.  A trend highlighted by a two-error play he committed with 2 outs in the 8th inning on May 19th to simultaneously lose the game to the Angels, ruin a John Danks start, and send the value of the U.S. dollar spiraling in global markets.  The preposterous 5 errors in only 30 chances Nix committed at 3rd combined with Mark Teahen's handiwork should pretty concisely answer the question of "why did White Sox fans go bananas for Omar Vizquel and his -4.8 UZR?"


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Ever have a picture where you look at it, and all the memories of the moment flood back at once and a friend has to tell you that you've been screaming for the past 4 minutes straight?

At the plate Nix was just as heinously bad.  He actually walked more and struckout less than at any other point in his big league career, but when you go 8 for 49, you shouldn't be surprised when the manager stops giving straight answers about when your next at-bats are going to come.  Jayson was so out of sorts at the plate, the eternally optimistic Hawk commented that every pitcher in the league knew the scouting report to get him out....and that it worked every time.  Harsh words from a man who still believes that A.J. Pierzynski has vast reserves of unlocked potential. 

When Mark Teahen went down, it seemed like it might open up a lot of playing time for Nix, especially when he walked into an out-of-nowhere grand slam off James Shields of the Rays to give the Sox a split with the best team in baseball at the time.  But no, Jayson went 3-19 with 5 Ks after that moment...and got sent walking two and a half weeks later.

AND IN STEPPED BRENT LILLIBRIDGE...well...actually at the time, in stepped Dayan Viciedo, as Brent was already up with the team as of June 1st.  However, in the month of June, Brent saw a mere 7 at-bats, started only one game, and appeared to factor as strongly into the team plans as signing Jack Parkman to fill the DH slot. 

But guys who have washed out of the big leagues once or twice like Lillibridge tend to not be offered readmission without adjustments being made, and Brent Lillibridge had made an ingenious, and pretty hilarious adjustment.  Determined not to allow himself to victimized by late in the count breaking balls, Brent decided that pitchers had cheated to get ahead on him by throwing a get-me-over fastball for strike one for the last damned time. 


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If you're teammates are just as surprised that you're cranking out big hits as the cynical fans are, then your first big-league stint was probably a bust

In 101 plate appearances, Brent put the first pitch in play a grandiose 18 times, far more than any counts besides defensive situations like 2-2 and 1-2.  He hit 6-18 on the first pitch, with three extra-base hits, and accounted for a third of his total bases.  I don't know about you, but seeing Fu-Te Ni's perplexed expression when a first-pitch fast ball he floated over in a 12-3 game gets hit 8000 miles to center by Brent Lillibridge was a season highlight.  This new, aggressive, 'nobody puts Lilly in a corner' approach deserves a lot of the credit for why Brent sat with a 1.128 OPS after two months with the team.

However, as with all sudden rises based on flimsy premises, this one fell apart pretty quickly.  The obvious counterpoint to Brent's aggression was that pitchers stopped throwing him easy strikes at the beginning of counts, his strikeouts skyrocketed, and the extra-base hits became a lot more spread out.  It's a shame, because if he could have pulled another rabbit out of his hat, Brent could have taken advantage of the fact that his emergence coincided with the peak of the organization's frustration with Beckham, and really seen some playing time.  Instead his bat slowly faded as Gordon righted the ship, and a sudden Chuck Knoblauch-like case of the yips on his throws to first made him a poor choice on defense as well, breaking up any chance of him and Alexei forming a 300 lbs combined double play combo.

Even when Beckham went out for the rest of the year with an injury, Brent didn't seem any less cooked as a candidate for a bigger role in the future, striking out in an incredible 9 of his last 10 at-bats.

Love them or leave them?: Well, Nix is gone...wave to him.  The Indians snatched him up after the White Sox gave him his walking papers, and he flashed a bit more power in Cleveland, but still fumbled to a pedestrian .705 OPS.  The fact that he's rumored to be a serious contender to win the 3rd base job Opening Day is thought to be far more a stinging indictment of the Indians organization than praise to Nix.

As fun as his ride was in 2010, the painful process of the league figuring Brent Lillibridge out leaves him in a similar position to the end of last year...a sort of 'contender by default' for the last spot on the roster.  With the year Vizquel had at 3rd, Brent really has to bank on something happening to Gordon Beckham for playing time, and his defense near the end of the year was bad to the point that probably doesn't need to be outhit to lose his job.  Luckily, there are no youngsters really nipping at his heels; C.J. Retherford had an abysmal 2010, and even a red-hot Arizona Fall League season shouldn't push Eduardo Escobar that far up the organizational ladder...yet.  With the farm system still threadbare, Brent sadly represents what the Sox probably want in the 25th man role; a versatile speedster who lacks the upside for it to be a waste for him to toil in the dugout all season.

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