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Monday, May 15, 2006

Better Know a Red #17 - Rick White

In part 17 of our ongoing 25-part series, Better Know a Red, we turn our attention to the Reds' new veteran right-handed reliever, Rick White. White, 37, a Springfield, Ohio Native, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 15th round of the 1990 amateur draft out of Paducah Community College in Paducah, Kentucky. He rose steadily through the Pirates' minor league system and eventually made his major league debut with an excellent rookie season for the 1994 Pittsburgh team, posting a 3.82 ERA in 75.3 innings of work. Although he has started on occasion, the vast majority of White's 500+ major league appearances have been as a reliever. Since his rookie year, he has bounced around the major leagues, playing for the Devil Rays, Mets, Rockies, Cardinals, White Sox, Astros, Indians, and last year, back with the Pirates. In general, he has had a solid but unspectacular major league career as a journeyman reliever. He was a member of the NL-Champion New York Mets in 2000 and participated in the subway series...which few outside of New York actually remember (I, at least, decided to skip that particular World Series...).

On January 31st, 2006, the Reds signed Rick White to a 1-year contract worth up to $900,000 if he reaches incentives (it's worth nothing that this move was among the last prior to Krivsky's hiring). They hope he will be a stabilizing force in middle innings out of the pen. Thus far, he has been up and down, and lately more down than up. When White is pitching well, the Reds' bullpen has three capable right-handers (White along with Coffey and Weathers) that can guide the Reds through the second half of ballgames. The Reds need that sort of performance to help make up for their inconsistent starting pitching.

For additional biographical information (with a humorous slant), please see Red Hot Mama's profile on Rick White in her Human League feature.

Historical Statistics (for explanations of all the statistics used on this page, please see the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet in the sidebar)
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
2003/CHW 47.7 7.0 2.5 2.08 0.298 6.61 5.46 5.25 -6.9 45%
2003/HOU 19.3 7.9 3.7 0.93 0.281 3.72 4.03 4.26 3.2 51%
2004/LAN-AAA 11.7 10.8 0.8 0.00 0.159 0.00 1.06 2.53 3.6 --
2004/CLE 78.3 5.1 3.3 1.72 0.277 5.29 5.68 5.56 1.9 49%
2005/PIT 75.0 4.8 3.5 0.36 0.320 3.72 3.81 4.11 6.7 56%
White's story over the past three years is that of an aging pitcher who reinvented himself. In 2003 and 2004 he was generally pretty bad. His strikeout rate dropped substantially between '03 and '4, while his walk rates and home run rates remained relatively high. Last year, White seemed to be much improved. His low strikeout rate remained, as his walk rates were relatively unchanged, but his HR-allowed rates plummeted to an almost absurdly low 0.36 hr/9: White only allowed 3 home runs in 75 innings. This newfound ability to keep the ball in the park allowed White to be a very effective pitcher last year, turning in an honest 3.72 ERA (FIP=3.81) and being a bright spot in the Pirates' bullpen.

'03 to '05 Splits:
Category IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
vs. Left 91 6.7 3.7 0.99 0.280 4.53 4.38
vs. Right 129 4.9 2.9 1.47 0.308 5.16 5.42
Home 106 5.2 2.8 1.61 0.296 5.26 5.45
Away 91 5.7 3.8 1.29 0.281 4.35 5.23
Surprisingly, White has been more effective vs. left-handed batters than right-handed batters over the past three years. While he walks them more often, he strikes them out more often and allows fewer home runs to left-handers than to right-handed batters. And it's a substantial effect: in 2005, he posted a 2.96 ERA vs. lefties and a 4.09 ERA vs. righties! I haven't seen White pitch enough to know why this might be, though some right-handers can be very effective vs. lefties by throwing cutters in on the hands (e.g. Mariano Rivera). In contrast, the few times I've seen him, White seems to rely on a 94-mph fastball. I've love to hear from folks who might be able to explain this interesting split. Regardless of how he does it, this tendency has interesting implications for how he should be used, particularly given that the Reds are already carrying three lefthanders in their bullpen.

Projections:
Year/Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
PECOTA75 59.3 5.3 2.9 0.76 0.295 3.42 4.08 4.05 11.6 52%
PECOTA 53.7 5.2 3.0 1.01 0.315 4.63 4.50 5.04 3.1 52%
PECOTA25 43.3 4.8 3.5 1.45 0.346 6.81 5.42 6.83 -9.2 51%
ZiPS 78.0 5.1 3.3 1.04 0.288 4.96 4.69 --- --- ---
Honestly, I'm surprised the projections are as kind to White as they are. All do predict a decline from last year, but there's a way in which I think they might be a bit generous All seem to agree that this strikeout rate is unlikely to return to its 2003 levels. That seems natural, given that '03 represented a career high in strikeout rate. However, they also predict that his HR-allowed rate will remain near his career norms: not as good as '05, but not as bad as they were in '03-'04. From my perspective, I see a guy who, at 36, managed a good season in the face of reduced ability (strikeout rate) by keeping the ball in the park a rate well below his career norms.

Whether he'll be able to maintain this good fortune (and I'm guessing that's mostly what it was) this season is questionable. Early returns, unfortunately, are not good. White has already, in only 16 innings given up more home runs (4) than he did in 75 innings last season (3). It's still possible that he could turn in a solid season for us, but my feeling is that he's headed for something closer to the PECOTA25 prediction, which is well below that of replacement level. Given his historical lack of effectiveness against right-handers, my strong preference would be to give more of the middle-inning situations to Matt Belisle to see if he can regain his form. Eventually, I'd probably recommend White's release in favor of someone from the farm system. However, with Ryan Wagner imploding at AAA, the only plausible replacements might be someone like Mike Burns or Jason Standridge, neither of whom seem to offer much of an improvement. Perhaps Balfour will return from his injury soon...

References:
Baseball Archive, The
Baseball Cube, The
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
Baseball Reference
Baseball Think Factory
CBS Sportsline
Fan Graphs
Hardball Times '06 Annual