Cleveland Indians

A Review of Aaron Civale’s Dominating Debut

The Indians season, from a watchability perspective, hit a tipping point in late May, not only did the Indians start to improve their record but a flood of young Indians players began to get opportunities at the big league level. Oscar Mercado, Zach Plesac, and Bobby Bradley have all debuted in 2019 with positive results and significant public clamoring.

Aaron Civale has never been the type for whom clamoring occurs, as is often true of command-control starters without blazing fastballs. Civale sat at 91.5 MPH in his debut, and may have increased a tick in velocity as many do in their debut as undergirded by adrenaline. Never the less, as pitchers like Kyle Hendricks have taught baseball, command of an adequate arsenal can overcome middling velocity.

In his minor league development Civale was a bit of a Shane Bieber lite, limiting walks at near elite levels , 5.7% being his highest walk rate at any level over a reasonable sample. Where Civale lacks in Bieber’s 93-94 MPH velocity spike he offers advantages in contact management. Time to divert the comp as it is not fair to either, and likely it will not do much but deceive.

Civale has run ground ball rates exceeding 41% in every minor league stop and over lengthy stays has rested at closer to 50%. In the launch angle revolution ground balls are of incredible value, and the ability to induce them is an advantageous tool to demonstrating contact management abilities.

With two strengths in mind, ground ball inducement and control, it is time to look at how Civale’s arsenal was so effective in his debut.

Without elite fastball velocity Civale relies on his ability to command a broad arsenal. In Civale’s first start he threw 40% sinker, 27% cutter, slider 11%, curveball 11%, changeup 5.9%, and four-seam at 4.7%.

First, it is worth noting that Civale induced just four swings and misses on 85 pitches, lower than ideal. Further, Civale walked more hitters than one would expect but Civale did show flashes of what could be the making of a strong fifth starter.

A part of Civale’s outing is how he sectored different offerings against right-handed batters to optimize their tunnel value.

Civale threw different pitches to different zones largely. Sinker was in and frequently on the hands of right-handed batters. Cutters were frequently up-and-away to right-handed-batters. Curveballs and sliders were predominantly below the strike zone and away.

The stuff itself, outside of velocity has significant potential. Civale’s cutter has 152% more horizontal break than the average cutter and roughly average drop. A driving factor appears to be an elevated spin rate which would slot in at 13th of 160 when qualified at 2653 RPM.

Civale’s curveball has above average vertical and horizontal movement. At 2754 RPM, it would slot in at 48th among 288 qualified pitchers in spin rate. The slider is no slouch either.

In Civale’s secondary offerings; cutter, curveball, and slider, he appears to have three average to above average offerings which when paired with above average command is the sort of arsenal necessary to cover for his lagging velocity.

What is more the diverse usage and command helped Civale avoid hard contact in his first big league start. Civale induced 50% ground balls, similar to his minor league rate, and his average exit velocity against was 82 MPH, significantly below the league average 87 MPH.

Once again, it is necessary to note the small sample size, and that the quality of competition, a weak Detroit Tigers lineup was not a significant test.

However, Civale showed all of the pieces which are essential to him maximizing his tools at the big league level. Civale used four different pitches more than 10% of the time and manipulated them to different parts of the zone.

There are three baseline inputs which in their simplest sense are essential for a pitcher to succeed: limit walks, limit hard contact, and limit overall contact. Civale’s track record and first start suggest an ability to limit walks as well as hard contact, this alone may be enough to be a #5 starter.

Civale’s first start was not breathtaking but it was precise and well managed, perhaps Civale is yet another overlooked pitching prospect in an organization that continues to churn out productive starters.

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