In the uncertain wake of what might become one of the best trade deals of Dodger history (according to the histrionics of Twitter, that is), let’s take a look back at a less glamorous deal of the recent past.
On July 25th, one of the first post-All Star trades of the 2019 happened. It was surprising for two reasons. One: the trading partners were the Dodgers and the Astros – teams with little love lost between them (though not as much as later revelations would cause), and two: it was a trade of a decent minor league pitcher for, well, Tyler White.
The Astros got Andre Scrubb, a righty who would ultimately end the season with an ERA of 2.78 in 64.2 innings. The Dodgers got White, a fourth-year major leaguer with decent stats that had recently taken a hit. Sports writers scratched their heads on why this trade happened at all, though generally agreed that the Astros had gotten the better deal.
On the surface, it was perplexing as to why the Dodgers would go after White. He had posted some solid numbers in previous seasons but was struggling to reach those again in 2019. He’s only stolen one base in his career. For a team that seems to pride itself on versatility, White only played first base.
Ah. First base.
I was at the July 29th Rockies game in Denver. I watched from the outfield seats as Joc Pederson bumbled his way through an increasingly embarrassing game. In his defense, it wasn’t great conditions for him. For the first few innings, the edge of the stadium shadow fell on the infield, causing almost every ball thrown to him to go from shadow to light, optics that can cause even the best to flounder. At first base, Pederson was not his best. From my seat in the outfield, I could actually see him pointing at the shadow, gesturing around with an accusatory finger. So could the Rockies fans in the row behind me. They were not kind about it, either.
Don’t think this is a dig at Joc. No matter where he ends up in the future, I’m gonna root for him. I like his goofy attitude. I like him as a player and as a person. He’s a good outfielder who will give his level best to make a catch, even at the expense of his ribs against the wall. And his bat ain’t too bad, either. In fact, Joc scored the only RBI in that July 29th game, his 50th of the season. Which is why it was so hard to watch him struggle at first base, especially when his struggle seemed to be reflected throughout the infield.
That 9-1 loss was not at all one person’s fault, it was a team-wide failure. Pollock missed a bouncing fly. Muncy ricocheted a ground ball off his chest. Maeda was way off form and Rockies pitcher Jon Gray was putting up Ks left and right. It was brutal to watch.
It was the height of what some fans would call the Joc Experiment, though Muncy, Beaty, and Freese (when he was healthy) would also take occasional starts or switch in during this time. And the problems definitely weren’t limited to first. Tuner flubbed in games against the Angels, Phillies, and Nationals. Barnes had a few rough outings. Seager in particular struggled in his short stop role, recording five errors in a six game stretch in the days leading up to that game. Muncy recorded three in a five game stretch. Even in a crushing sweep of the Marlins major errors were made. Balls seemed to find holes and it wasn’t always because the opposing team beat the shift.
Something was wrong in the infield. And the Dodgers needed to fix it. Fast.
Could stability at first base help? It sure couldn’t hurt. Bellinger was a solid possibility, but so was a Golden Glove for him in the outfield. A permanent move to first would likely cost him that, though it was unlikely to factor heavily in those kinds of decisions. Call-up rookies were also an option, but no one eligible seemed to fit just yet. So they took a look around the league and saw Tyler White, a relatively cheap first basemen already designated for assignment who had posted zero errors in the past two seasons. And they went after him.
Late in that July 29th game, after he knocked in the only Dodger run of the game, Joc came out and Tyler White stepped in. The Rockies fans behind me sniggered at him. But when the play was at first, the ball was thrown to Tyler White and he caught it. Decisively. It might not seem so magical a thing, but in a game riddled with very bad baseball on our side, it felt like a small miracle. He just…did the job.
He started at first in the next game, which the Dodgers won against the Rockies 9-4, a much-needed confidence booster. Beaty started at first the next game, which the Dodgers won 5-1. White would take a pinch hit walk, the Dodgers would take the Rockies road series.
White went on to either start or switch in at first for six of the next nine games.
From July 12-29, the Dodgers played 16 games and committed 20 errors, the majority of them in the infield. After White’s first start (technically he pinch-hit on the 28th, but we’re not talking about his rather dismal plate appearances), from July 30-August 16, the Dodgers played 16 games made only 5 errors – a stark and decided improvement.
Is this due in some part to White?
The short answer is: maaaaaaybe?
And that’s the strongest assessment to be made. One of those five errors was White himself, his first and only since 2017. Bellinger also started at first for a good portion of those games, but was almost always swapped for White or Rios mid way though. Cody was having his own struggles at that point.
White played 12 games, got one hit, walked 4 times, scored two RBIs, then was injured and put on the IL for the rest of the season. By that time, Freese was healthier, rookie Rios was up to scratch and the two of them – along with Muncy, Beaty, and Bellinger – kept up the revolving door at first but somehow without a repeat of the July struggles. It’s doubtful even without the injury that White would have seen much playing time. Had the Dodgers not been smacked down by the Team of Destiny in the Nationals, White would have likely quietly rode the injured list into another World Series without contributing anything in the postseason.
Still, he had come in at a time when the Dodgers were struggling hard and brought a bit of much needed stability to the infield. Was he the reason the Boys in Blue finally got their crap together? Not by a long shot. But the numbers say he likely helped, and that’s worth…something.
Flash forward to the breaking news of trashcans, bangings, and a World Series forever tainted by a cheating scandal that rocked Major League Baseball.
In January of 2020, Tyler White is linked to sign stealing by amateur sleuth Tony Adams, who claims White benefited from a bang around 26% of his Minute Maid plate appearance pitches. If you compare it to the other players, it’s second highest bang percentage of the group listed. Granted, Adams only measured bangs, and there are rumored to be other methods of communication, but still, the numbers this time are not in White’s favor.
His Astros stats, especially his .279 in 2017, begin to look suspicious.
Reporters and fans scratched their heads when Tyler White became a Dodger. Now the head scratcher is why he continues to be a Dodger.
Altuve, Bregman, Beltran, and their ilk are still likely be known years from now despite accusations because of their fame before the scandal broke, though their names are rightly forever tainted by association. What does it mean to guys like White whose own current team kinda forgets about him?
The Dodgers very wisely didn’t put him out to answer to the masses at Fan Fest this year, but early reports say that he’s healthy and in good shape out of the winter break. He endured many jokes and nicknames for his weight, Maximum Muncy being one of them. But could White himself pull a Max Muncy? Could he be another guy found languishing on the wrong team, bought for a song, and reworked into a solid player?
It’s a reach, absolutely, but the Dodger staff is particularly good at spotting talent and even Dave Roberts seemed to think so at the time. Infield struggles or not, the Dodgers don’t go after White if they don’t see something more than a short term investment. A healthy White’s right-handed at-bat with an improved swing could be useful in a roster thick with power lefties.
But with Muncy himself likely to start at first and an infield blessed with incredible depth, does it matter for the Dodgers if White does somehow turn himself around?
If he does, can Dodger fans get over the stink of a trashcan bang? And, more importantly, should they really be asked to?