Toronto’s Mitch White Has a New Team and a Revamped Slider

© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Mitch White brought a new-ish slider to Toronto when the Blue Jays acquired him at this year’s trade deadline. He also brought a nerdy approach to pitching. That should come as no surprise. The 27-year-old right-hander had pitched in the Los Angeles Dodgers system since being selected in the second round of the 2016 draft out of Santa Clara University.

White also had a big-league resume when he changed organizations. Having debuted with the Dodgers in August of 2020’s COVID-truncated campaign, he had 105-and-two-thirds innings under his belt when the four-player swap occurred. Since coming to Toronto, White has a 5.89 ERA over four starts.

White discussed his new and old sliders, and the blister issues that have dogged his career, when the Blue Jays visited Fenway Park last week.

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On his path to the big leagues and dealing with blisters:
“A lot of it was staying healthy. I’ve had a few things go on every year, whether it was blisters or some back stuff. I had a broken toe at one point. Right now, I have this little guy [blister]. The slider really puts a lot of pressure there because I’m trying to get to the side of the ball and spin it, and for whatever reason, I guess my skin is soft. I’ve had to learn how to manage that stuff in between outings.

“I haven’t really played around with a different grip. It’s such a hard give-and-take, because I found a slider that I really like and want to stick with it. So it’s more about what I can do to manage it when I’m not throwing. It’s, ‘Let’s file it down. Let’s take care of the nails.’ I bite my nails a lot, so they become sharp and there’s that pressure point where the seam digs into the skin. It pushes it into the nail.

“The blisters do predate my new slider. That’s part of the reason I haven’t really tried to mess with the grip. It’s kind of, ‘Well, I threw the old slider and had blisters, and I still get them with the new slider.’ The blisters just come and go.”

On his slider grips:
“I learned the new grip from Connor McGuinness, the assistant pitching coach with the Dodgers. That was in the middle of last year. It’s the same pitch that Blake Treinen throws. It’s similar to Walker Buehler’s. A lot of guys throw a similar slider.

“Before, I was throwing more of a bullet slider. The idea… the movement profile was a -5 kind of thing, like a traditional hard slider. I found that I had trouble consistently making that one move. I also felt like I had to keyhole it into a spot to get swing-and-miss. This one, I feel a little more comfortable just ripping it, knowing that I’m not going to spin it out or lose it. It’s a little bigger.

“I’m shooting for zero, -10, let’s say. I’ve found through experience that I can make it bigger and maintain most of the velocity. But honestly, I feel like the sharper, harder one plays better. I think a lot of times… the Dodgers started to realize this — or at least I started to realize — that bigger isn’t always better. Holding its line is what I’m really trying to do. I’m not really worried about the movement profile so much as the late movement. I think the deception behind that plays a huge role.”

On valuing late movement:
“With the Dodgers, I’d ask our guys if we can measure when a pitch starts to break. I’ve always been curious about that. A lot of pitchers throw similar sliders, but obviously some guys have a lot better results with certain ones than others. You talk to hitters, and what tends to come up is deception. That’s whether it’s late break or something they’re doing back here to hide the ball. I’ve always wanted to quantify that.

“I can’t intuit how mine compares to other guys’ [in terms of late movement], but I can intuit my own. I can be like, ‘All right, that one came out of my hand like this,’ and then I look at the Rapsodo and it’s like, ‘Wow, that was negative whatever; that’s a great slider at 86 [mph].’ But if I’m looping it, that’s not as good as the ones I get through a lot better, and have that sharp, dart-y bite.

“This is anecdotal — I don’t necessarily know all the numbers — but my new one has been more effective than my old one. And I’d say the harder I throw it, the better it is. We talk a lot about having a threshold… like [Clayton] Kershaw. He’d be pissed if he threw a slider 86-87 [mph], whereas you knew he was going to have a good day when it was 88-89. That’s because it’s closer to his heater, and it’s so late. It’s going to carry its line, then bite. The amount of movement isn’t as important as few more miles of velocity.”

On spiking his slider, and his mechanics:
“The grip changed a lot. It’s called a soft spike — at least that’s what we started calling it — and the idea is… I mean, my fastball cuts a lot. My middle finger is very dominant, so my ball doesn’t get a lot of tail. Or then there’s a Kevin Gausman, who gets behind the ball really well and has that ride. So, the idea is to take the pointer finger out of the picture totally, because it’s not really being used. It’s kind of just there.

“I basically load up on [the middle] finger. There’s a lot of pressure there to spin the side of the baseball, and create that nine o’clock spin axis. That’s the idea behind this grip. A lot of guys have had success with it. The movement profile is zero, -10. So there’s a little bit of both [horizontal and vertical]. It’s kind of a two-plane, although I guess it is more horizontal, especially compared to what I was throwing.

“In 2017, I was actually throwing the old slider really well. In 2018… I mean, a lot of it is delivery. I think I could throw the old slider effectively now, because I’m in a better place delivery-wise. That counts for a lot, which is something I think people kind of forget about with all the emphasis on pitch design and new grips. Things often click because you’re in a good place with your delivery, not necessarily because of the grip.”

On going from the Dodgers to the Blue Jays:
“At the end of the day, the pitching side of things is very similar between the two organizations. Obviously, I haven’t totally gone into pitch design stuff here — that’s more of an offseason thing — but our pitching coach, Pete [Walker] has been great. He’s basically said, ‘Don’t think of this as a fresh new start, just think of this as a continuation of what you’ve been doing. Maintain that, and if there are things we need to work on, and address as we go, then we will.’ We’ve already started throwing more back-foot sliders. We’ve started throwing more sliders to lefties in general.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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chipjoshmember
3 months ago

Great interview. I could make this a much longer question with examples and caveats, but instead… is there actually a way to evaluate “late” movement ?