July 29, 2014

Ready or Not: Alex White Getting the Nod?

Carlos Carrasco is officially going on the DL after not feeling capable of throwing a bullpen session yesterday

You all probably know how much I like Carrasco, so I consider this quite a blow to the rotation.  You can read about my Carrasco obsession here or here or here.  Suffice it to say, I think he has the potential to be really good.

Interestingly, when it became clear that Carrasco was going to miss some time, I assumed David Huff would get the call.  I know the team hasn’t been overly impressed with his contributions, work ethic or tweeting habits, but the only other viable option (with Jeanmar Gomez already called upon to spell Mitch Talbot) is Alex White.  The same Alex White who has pitched exactly 23.2 innings in his brief AAA career.

Well, guess what?  Jordan Bastian is speculating that Alex White is going to be the guy to take Carrasco’s spot in the rotation.  This is both really exciting and a little scary.  Let’s discuss.

Alex White was the Indians’ first round draft pick in 2009, and has done nothing but impress as he’s moved up the organizational ladder.  He started the 2010 season in Kinston—the Indians’ Carolina League A-ball affiliate—and threw 44 innings with a 2.86 ERA before being promoted to Akron.

He spent the remainder of last season with the Aeros where he threw 106.2 innings with a 2.28 ERA.  Not only were his 2010 ERA figures impressive (2.45 ERA combined), but for a guy many saw ending up in the bullpen, he demonstrated the sort of durability that pitching coaches dream of.  I saw him pitch in Akron on an early September evening.  He threw seven innings and let up one run.  I had a hot dog and several beers.  It was fun.

So far this season, White seems to be continuing his dominance: he’s let up two earned runs in his 23.2 innings with the Clippers, good for a 1.90 ERA.

But what sort of pitcher is Alex White?  His ERA would suggest that he might be the “good” sort, but that’s not nearly specific enough for me.  Let’s find some fun numbers.

  K/9 BB/9 K/BB GB%
A 8.4 3.9 2.16 48.8%
AA 6.4 2.3 2.81 56.0%
AAA 10.6 1.9 5.60 48.4%
TOTAL 7.5 2.6 2.84 NA

This tells me a few things.  First, he’s not a huge strikeout pitcher.  In the minor leagues, Alex White strikes out fewer batters than Carlos Carrasco does in the Major Leagues.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not really impressive.  He also doesn’t have dominant strikeout-to-walk ratios, suggesting that he’s probably not the sort of pitcher you’d want to call your “ace”.

On the other hand, those groundball percentages are truly striking.  Opposing batters hit groundballs off White roughly 50% of the time, which means that they’re (a) not hitting homeruns and (b) not hitting the ball particularly hard.  Furthermore, you can only assume that a pitcher who relies on his infield defense will improve as he moves up in the system: the better the level, the better the fielders, right?  At least you’d hope so.

When I saw Alex White pitch, everything about him reminded me of Jake Westbrook: his style, his body, his look, and his groundballs.  Granted, I had a couple beers, so that may not be a particularly reliable comparison.  But as I reported those thoughts, everyone looked disappointed.  “He was a first round pick!  He has to be better than that!”

No.  He doesn’t.  Jake Westbrook has been a really valuable pitcher, and if the Indians can get that sort of production from Alex White, they should thank their lucky stars.  After all, some first-round picks become Jeremy Sowers.  Nothing is guaranteed, and if you could draft a good-but-not-great starting pitcher, I have to think you’d do it every time.

We should also note that if the Indians really do bring up Alex White, the organization is behaving differently than they have over the past several years.  Make no mistake: if this were 2009, there is no way Alex White sees the MLB roster until September.  The fact that we’re even discussing this as a viable option suggests to me that the front office is thinking about winning now rather than delaying arbitration clocks.  For a group that has been (maddeningly, for some) conservative before bringing up top prospects, if they go to Alex White now, they’re signaling that the “contention window” is opening, and they’re not going to waste any more time on roster-fodder.

This makes me happy, mostly.  Alex White is almost certainly a better pitcher than David Huff and by bringing him up, the signal has been sent: it’s time to believe again.

Photo: Chuck Crow / The Plain Dealer

  • http://www.whitecollarredneck.com Narm

    I believe I read that White has two dominant pitches but is still working on a third to become a MLB starter. When he develops a third pitch it will probably help his K numbers a little bit.

    Wouldn’t be surprised to see him come in and play really well for a month. A lot of rookie pitchers can have success before the league figures them out. Might be a good chance to get him some experience as long as he is past Super 2 status.

  • bobby

    I really havent seen White pitch.. but this just got me pumped. On the day of the NFL draft I am pumped about the Indians?? What is this madness!

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Yeah, this is great stuff, Jon. Those last two paragraphs are pretty powerful.

  • Doug

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say that this Indians team is different because they’re talking about bringing up White. Don’t forget that a month ago they sent down Chisenhall when it was clear he was the best available for the position. Huff will get the call, perhaps his last opportunity with the Tribe.

  • lstavole13

    @Doug – You say that Chisenhall was clearly the best option, yet he is only hitting .256 in AAA this year, where as Hannahan is hitting .284 in the majors and playing fantastic defense. Maybe the coaches actually do know what they are doing and are playing to contend rather than thinking about arbitration.

  • Merrick

    The Indians weren’t 15-8 a month ago, though.

  • Matt S

    @Istavole13

    Exactly what I was going to say. Chiz has been so-so in AAA this year, and it’s obvious to everyone that he really DID need to start at AAA (a level he hadn’t played at before). Same with Kipnis, for what it’s worth.

    I’m iffy on this. I figured Kluber or McAllister would also be options before White, given his 3rd pitch issues. I also figured “why would they roster Kluber and McAllister in the off-season if they didn’t think they were close to being MLB ready?”

  • mgbode

    i’m sort of worried about promoting Alex White so early.

    i’m more worried about trying to compare him to Westbrook. Jake is among the best in MLB at keeping the ball on the ground. 65% GB in 07/08, 60% in ’10.

    now, Carrasco is another guy who was around 50% GB% in the minors. Once he got to MLB w/ the Tribe though, those numbers went up (~60% in 09+10 in 66IP). possibly a small sample size or possibly something that our pitching coach stresses.

    personally, I think Talbot is more of a Jake Westbrook pitcher. 60% GB% in the minors. 50% last year in 160IP.

    but with a better IF defense, the more guys we have forcing grounders the better.

  • dwhit110

    The chance of bringing up White is exciting.

    And no real harm if he has to go back to AAA and work stuff out in a month. If he’s not ready all you really burn is an option year. He’s only collecting service time while he’s on the ML roster, and he’s only up here as long as he can hack it.

  • 5KMD

    Let’s just bring up Adam Miller for a couple starts for completion sake.

  • GhostToMost

    If they call up Alex White, then I dont think its unfair or unreasonable to assume that David Huff must have REALLY pissed somebody off. You would think that with Huff being a first round pick they would be eager to give him another shot. And Huff has pitched well at Columbus so far.

  • b

    White is not on the 40 man roster. I don’t know if there are any free spots on it now, but someone would have to go.

  • NJ

    Huff deserves one more chance. He’s only 26, had success in the minors (this year included), is a lefty, and received a near $1M signing bonus back in the day.

    If they’re not willing to give him another shot then they should have moved the guy for a bag of balls.

  • GhostToMost

    @12

    Im guessing Austin Kearns wont be around much longer.

  • Doug

    Of course things change once the season begins. I wouldn’t send down Hannahan now and I wouldn’t bring up Chisenhall, but I think that the best decision during Spring Training would have been to put Chisenhall at third. If you want to defer to the coaches, fine – but I guarantee you wouldn’t be saying that if we were 10 under .500 instead of 10-over.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Jon

    I think I wasn’t as clear as I meant to be: if we were 10 games under .500, they wouldn’t bring up Alex White because it would be wasteful, and this organization is averse to that. And I would agree with them.

    But since the record is good, bringing up the best available pitcher is a sign that the front office is taking the calculated risk that we have a chance to win. Whether they’re right, I’m not sure. But they seem to think the hot start has pushed the clock up a year. I was thinking (and I bet they were thinking) that 2012 was going to be the next year to contend. It came early, and they’re reacting to that.

    (And yes, it’s official now; White will be starting Saturday)

  • NJ

    Awesome. A small move with large implications.

    I know it’s a while away, but what are the chances that we’ll be buyers this summer? How much of our future will we be ready to borrow from to win in the here and now?

    Random question – Where did you get your minor league GB%s from? The site I go to for advanced stats online doesn’t have advabced stats for the minors.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Jon

    @NJ: Check out statcorner.com. It’s great for a lot of the stuff you can’t find at some of the bigger places.

  • NJ

    Thanks.