Approbation for Tyler White

It took me way too long to come up with the word “approbation” for the title of this article. In the time it took me to find an appropriate synonym for “praise” that wasn’t as boring as “praise,” I could have done a lot of other things.  Like paint a picture. Of a guy. With a big knife.

Astros first baseman slash designated hitter (and not the other way around!) Tyler White has been done a disservice. While the greatness of his greatness during the 2018 Major League Baseball season has been appreciated by the unwashed denizens of #AstrosTwitter, I can’t help feeling that if he were on a less decorated team (or a team on one of the extreme coasts), White would be one of the toasts of the league this year.

During his sixty six games with the Houston Astros this season, White batted .276/.354/.533 with twelve home runs and a wRC+ of 144, good for 1.5 Wins Above Average despite playing less than half of a season and at positions where defense contributes no value to that total.

Now, it’s not fair to be “pace” guy, because if White had played 150-plus games, his stat line could have been better or worse.  But comparison with full-timers is useful to understand how impressive he was.

Tyler White’s 162-game pace
Runs: 66
Home Runs: 29
RBI: 103

Over a full season, those numbers would have put him 2nd on the team in Home Run and RBI totals. He would have posted the 3rd-highest On Base Percentage, and the highest Slugging Percentage due to his three triples.

For some more context, his 144 wRC+ (indicating he was 44% more valuable than an average Major League hitter in 2018) would have placed him 8th-best in the majors, tied with perennial All Star Paul Goldshmidt and ahead of this winter’s favorite Free Agent, Manny Machado.

But is it real? Can he sustain it? I’m glad I asked.

White has been wrecking baseballs in the minor leagues for a long time, and it always seemed that he could be on the verge of breaking through in the majors. His career AAA line sits at .311/.399/.539 after 282 career games.

I remember back in 2014 when my friend and former co-blogger clack first pointed White out as a potential deep pick in the Astros’ minor league system who was being overlooked by pundits and fans alike. Since then, I have kept a close eye because clack is never wrong about anything.  And White kept hitting through 2015.  And through 2016. Etc.

White made his ML debut out of the gate with the Astros and 2016 and immediately showed that he at least had the goods to succeed at that level. During April, he posted a 118 wRC+ and belted five home runs.  Afterwards, his performance declined and he was sent back to the Pacific Coast League for more seasoning.

In a short stint of 22 games during the Astros 2017 World Series season, White contributed a .279/.328/.525 line with three home runs and a 127 wRC+, again showing that he had the ability to hit in the major leagues.

Finally in 2018, given some struggling by incumbent DH Evan Gattis (.226/.284/.452 in 2018) and some roster shuffling necessitated by a lengthy injury to shortstop Carlos Correa, White received some extended playing time.  The 2018 season all but engraved his name into the 2019/2020 Astros’ lineup as the regular DH and occasional 1B/3B, with the anticipated departure of Gattis.

So how good was White this year?

Using Statcast as a judge, pretty darn good.  His 9.3 barreled balls per batted ball rate ranked him ahead of sluggers Jose Abreu, George Springer, Robinson Cano, and Bregman, among others.  His average batted ball distance was longer than that of Bregman, Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rizzo.

So he hits the ball, he hits it hard, he hits it far, and he gets on base.

If you aren’t giddy enough … actually strike that, you really shouldn’t get giddy over stuff like this. If you are actually giddy, please turn off your device and go do something fun like throw a boomerang in the park with your elementary-school aged children … anyway, if this doesn’t make you want to see more of White, consider that nothing he did during 2018 is outrageous from a statistical standpoint.

White’s BABIP for the season was .307, where league average is .300. There’s no compelling reason to believe that his BABIP is more than a bit higher than it should be, and so there’s no reason to believe that he can’t be as effective in 2019 as he has been in 2018.

Tyler White. The Astros’ underappreciated star batter.