Doc White posing for a picture before a game in 1909.
Bridging the Two-Way Gap

Bridging the Two-Way Gap: Doc White

Doc White never made a big splash as a two-way player. The reason for that is simple, he was too good of a pitcher. In 13 major league seasons White finished with a 2.39 ERA, 2.51 FIP, and 113 ERA+. Those aren’t the numbers of someone playing around with being a pitcher, those are the numbers of a legit top of the rotation Deadball Era starter. That’s why he never starred as a two-way player, even if the man with the dental degree gave two-way action a try in a few different seasons.

In 1902 White was coming off of a very successful rookie campaign for the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies. In addition to his pitching prowess, he had acquitted himself well with the bat in 1901. Thus, while he took the mound for 36 games in 1902 he also roamed center field in 17 games and right in 2. On the mound White was great, posting a 2.53 ERA, 2.42 FIP, and ERA+ of 115 over 306.0 innings. He also led the league in K/9 at 5.4. He was decent, if slightly below average with the bat. His slash line of .263/.305/.307 in 199 plate appearances led to an OPS+ of 86. Added up his rWAR in his last season with the Phillies was an elite 6.9, though all but 0.5 of that was from his pitching.

White was used sporadically in the field until 1909. That year he was with the American League’s Chicago White Sox for 24 games at pitcher, 1 in left field, 35 in center, and 4 in right. A slash of .234/.347/.292 in 238 plate appearances shows an improved eye at the plate. Most of his 104 OPS+ came from his improved ability to get on base. Meanwhile, toeing the rubber, White was fantastic yet again. In 177.2 innings he put up an ERA of 1.72, FIP of 2.07, and ERA+ of 138. His low innings total limited his value in 1909, but he still amassed an rWAR of 2.3.

Your friendly neighborhood dentist was back at it in 1910. That season he played 10 games in center field and 4 in right while pitching in 33 games. The story changed some for the lefty, his pitching regressed. A 2.66 ERA, 2.27 FIP, and 89 ERA+ across 236.2 innings represented the worst pitching season of his career. He wasn’t much better with the bat in his last season as a major league two-way player. A .198/.279/.238 slash with an OPS+ of 66 in 155 plate appearances is not what hitting dreams are made of. His total rWAR of 3.1 was an improvement only because his innings were back to their normal range.

1914 was White’s last year as a two-way player, period. He was in the Pacific Coast League now, with the Venice Tigers. He pitched in 39 games and played the outfield for another 10. He still struggled with the bat, slashing .212/?/.232 in 99 at-bats. Throwing the ball was a different story as the 35-year-old still had the good stuff. He posted an ERA of 2.43 in 259.0 innings. 

He played a couple more years, but never again attempted to play both ways. Doc White is an easy case of a great pitcher who wasted his time trying to be a good hitter. If he hadn’t of been a middling hitter maybe White would have been able to make the leap from great pitcher to consitently elite. As it stands he’s a great pitcher who winds up as a failed two-way experiment.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Chicago Daily News

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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