How Mitch White Can Realize His Potential

Photo credit:© Brent Skeen-USA TODAY Sports
Tate Kispech
1 year ago
Mitch White is weird.
The newest Blue Jays starter truly does have the potential to be a middle-of-the-rotation arm. Though it might not appear that way at first glance, he has significant untapped potential. Where does that potential come from? Why is White struggling? What will it take to reach his ceiling? Does he need major changes? Let’s take a closer look.
Let’s look blindly at an individual stat for a minute. Few stats are good without context, simply by their lonesome, but if there is one number that attempts to encompass everything to determine value, it’s Wins Above Replacement. So how good has Mitch White been as a Blue Jay? FanGraphs says he’s been pretty solid. 0.5 fWAR in six starts isn’t too bad. His FIP is above average! In terms of bWAR… it’s not so good. -0.8 in six starts is putrid. If he was given Gausman’s volume at this level of output, he’d have -4.1 bWAR. That’s nearly TWO TIMES worse than Patrick Corbin (-2.1). What’s the answer then? Is Mitch White good or bad? Well…it’s complicated.
Let’s start with a positive. Mitch White’s slider is amazing. In 2021, his slider had a whiff rate of 35.7%. In 2016, Chris Sale finished 5th in Cy Young voting, and his legendary slider had a whiff rate of just 35.6%. White’s slider doesn’t break as much as Sale’s (because nobody’s does), but it can absolutely be just as devastating. Watch as he makes the 128 wRC+ Carlos Correa look like a little leaguer:
The slider is an unbelievable pitch. It tunnels brilliantly with his fastball. Let’s talk about that for a second, tunneling. It’s a weirdly misunderstood concept in baseball. Recently, a piece was written by some baseball data scientists that detailed tunneling extensively. If you’d like to read it, it’s here.
However, I’m just going to reference several of the points made in the article as they relate to Mitch White. So, back to the slider. One of the biggest aspects of creating swing and miss on the slider is fooling hitters between that pitch and the four-seam fastball. Sliders can break as much as they want, but if the hitter is immediately aware that it’s going to be out of the zone, they don’t swing. As detailed, the optimal range for fastball/slider tunneling is as follows.
  • 6-14″ horizontal break separation
  • 8-16″ induced vertical break separation
  • 6-11 MPH separation
Now, we look at White’s slider/fastball tunnel…
  • 13.1″ horizontal break separation
  • 16.4″ IVB separation
  • 8.5 MPH separation
His slider checks two of those three boxes, indicating why it’s effective. However, as I’ve detailed in the past with Kevin Gausman, just because one pitch leads to the effectiveness of another does not mean that both pitches are good. White’s FF is what makes his slider good, but the fastball in and of itself is not good. Its active spin sits at a pretty terrible 83.7%, which is 464th out of 598 pitchers who throw a four-seamer. It’s also thrown with pretty poor velocity, at an average of 93.8 MPH. These are the two biggest factors that contribute to the poor quality of the pitch, carrying a .367 wOBA. Unfortunately for White, as we’ve touched on, it’s not a pitch he can really drop, because of how deadly it makes his splitter. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t things he can improve on. Let’s get into those.
Curveballs are a pitch, believe it or not, best thrown in the strike zone. Hitters swing less at curveballs than ANY other pitch, despite the fact that it’s thrown in the zone at a pretty average rate. It has a chase rate lower than every pitch except sinkers and four-seamers (and knuckleballs, I guess). Despite the big break, they’re a pitch that tunnels well with cutters in order to get whiffs, but they pretty much don’t do so otherwise. Pitchers with poor velocity are best throwing slow curves in the strike zone, as these pitches are often watched by hitters who are unable to properly read the break. White does that here, as he just grooves one down the middle but is able to start Steven Kwan with a strike. This is a fantastic tool for getting ahead in the count early.
Beyond this, White can make improvements with his fastball too. In the past, we’ve talked about how Jose Berríos has been especially poor when he’s throwing his pitches arm side. Similar things seem to be at play with Mitch White. Here we can see just the extent to which White’s four-seamer gets hit harder when he doesn’t locate it well.
White is able to manage hard context especially well when he’s pitching glove side. He’s also great when he goes up to that side, as it’s not only his lowest EV zone, but he’s also running a 33.3% strikeout rate when he locates a pitch there. Let’s take a look at his most recent start for a bit of a case study of what White’s got. Here, in his first at bat, he locates an unhittable pitch to Manny Margot, who whiffs.
When he locates his fastball in that region of the zone, it pairs even better with the slider that ends up glove side as well. Just a couple of pitches earlier, he throws one up in the zone. Margot is unable to react quickly enough, and he takes it for a strike.
White came in for the second inning against the Rays, and that inning was his best, as he allowed only a double, but struck out two. His third inning is where it all rolled downhill. So what went wrong? Well… nothing.
Here, after allowing a soft single to Yandy Diaz, he locates a perfect fastball that jams Wander Franco, and is hit at 70.9 MPH off the bat. Somehow, in typical Rays fashion, it manages to find a way into left field for a base hit. That’s the second straight Rays AB that’s ended with a ball entered into play at less than 80 MPH, but they’ve still got runners on first and second with nobody out.
Next is Jonathan Aranda, and it’s not going to get any less frustrating for White. He tries to steal a first-pitch strike with the curve, but Aranda swings. Luckily, he doesn’t make good contact. In almost any circumstance, this is going to be an easy play for Espinal. However, since there are runners on base, the Jays can’t shift Aranda, and Santiago has to make a terrific play. Sadly, a mistake from Vladdy means that he’s late getting to the bag, and Aranda’s safe (after a challenge), which means the Rays now have bases loaded, nobody out, and still no hard-hit balls.
The suffering only continues from here, as now Arozarena steps up and proceeds to tap a grounder at 62.3 MPH, but manages to avoid the double play and knocks in a run. Next, David Peralta hits a soft liner to Teoscar, but Franco is fast enough to tag and score from 3rd, for the second earned run of the inning. Next is Manny Margot again.
After putting up a fantastic at-bat, White induces a terrible chase on a slider in the dirt. The only thing worse than the chase? The fact that it ended up scoring a run. Margot reaches out, taps it, and it knocks off of Chapman’s glove for a base hit. Hernandez proceeds to run the ball in from left, and then airmails Jansen, and Arozarena scored. Three earned runs.
The inning mercifully comes to an end when Christan Bethancourt chases a slider that Matt Chapman’s able to field cleanly.
The Rays have just scored three earned runs, and only had a single hard-hit batted ball. Mitch White proceeded to go another 4 innings, and only got hit hard 3 times more, bringing his HH total to four on the game. It truly was a fantastic game from White, who got saddled with the loss. Just another example of why W-L for pitchers is one of the worst things that statisticians have ever cooked up.
So what did White do better in this game? What caused him to play so well? It’s a few things, really.
First of all, White threw SEVEN first-pitch curveballs. Here’s how they break down, by result:
  • 1 foul ball
  • 2 called strikes
  • 2 outs
  • 2 hits (including the Aranda one)
On average, White’s thrown 4.8 first-pitch curveballs in his starts this season prior to the Rays game. He’s been very successful when doing so, however, as when he locates the pitch in the zone, it’s been called a strike more than 65% of the time. Against the Rays, he also threw 13 four-seamers to the glove side, as opposed to only five arm side heaters.
It was a positive start for White, and hopefully, it’s one he’ll be able to replicate moving forward, as he can be a valuable innings eater for the Jays down the stretch. He’s begun to make the two biggest changes that can help him, and if both of them are able to become integral to his game, he’s going to be a back-of-the-rotation pitcher for more than just this year, especially if Ross Stripling’s not brought back in free agency.
For now, though, let’s just hope he gets some better BABIP luck.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @6IXWAR. All stats via Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, Baseball Reference, and Alex Chamberlain’s Pitch Leaderboard



Check out these posts...