Cleveland Indians

Aaron Civale: Incredibly Promising

Aaron Civale took fans, prospectors, analysts, and well, perhaps the Cleveland Indians by surprise in 2019. In 57 big league innings, the uncomfortably poised Civale posted a 2.34 ERA, 3.40 FIP, and he was exceptional when the Indians desperately needed him.

At first blush, one of the most exciting signs for Civale was his sudden fastball spike upon reaching the big leagues, with signs of a sustained leap:

Now Civale’s fastball is not elite, it may not even be average but as of now, it no longer appears to be damaging. Civale’ s sinker/two-seamer has topped out at 95 through his first four games and averaged 92.5 MPH. His four seam has hit 93.5 MPH and is resting at 92.4 MPH. Essentially Civale has gone from touching 91/92 to sitting 92.5 MPH which is a dynamic value add when paired with solid command and a deep arsenal. 

In a strong outing over the weekend in Yankee Stadium Civale’s hardest pitch of the game, 94.8 MPH, was his final sinker.

Aaron Civale, and Ceilings

The entire arsenal, and components are thoroughly thrilling. Fastball velocity is not the only thing but an important thing because it creates margin, and makes the hitter’s game-theory analysis more complex. Lower fastball velocity increases a hitters ability to cheat on secondaries or primaries.

Indians fans have seen how adding 2-3 MPH to a Shane Bieber with already elite command, and a legit out pitch can turn a pitcher from #4 or #5 starter into a legit ace.

In many ways, pitching is better understood when reducing it to ones ability in three distinct areas: 1) limiting contact, 2) limiting free baserunners, and 3) limiting damage (contact management). For a long time the analytics community believed that contact management was largely outside the pitchers control, and to an extent it is, but pitchers have been found to have legitimate influence on both batting average on balls in play and damage metrics via actual contact management skills.

Now lets talk about where Civale sat in 2019 in terms of the three key categories. Civale is below average in terms of limiting contact, with just a 27th percentile strikeout rate, though further curveball usage could improve his standing. Civale was in the top 35% in limiting free baserunners, with a better than average 7.1% walk rate. Finally, Civale was in the 84th percentile for expected weighted on base average (xwOBA) which weights power, and on base against.

Of those pitchers with 100 batted balls against, Civale had the 4th best barrel rate against in baseball at just 1.8%. One of the reasons Civale is able to induce such poor contact is that his arsenal is diverse, keeping hitters off-balance due unpredictability.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Civale uses all six different offerings in all sorts of counts which makes attacking his offerings a dynamic challenge for hitters. As one dives deeper, the arsenal offers more promise.

Civale’s curveball has 96th percentile spin rate, and above-average horizontal and vertical movement, a plus pitch. More fun? Civale commands it brilliantly, pounding it below the strike zone for a chase pitch.

Civale has an elite pitch from a movement perspective, and he almost never leaves it in a portion of the plate where it can be hit hard, a plus offering.

Opposing hitters swung at Civale’s curveball outside the strike zone 48.5% of the time! The result was a lot of swings and misses, and soft contact. Indeed, if one was to criticize Civale’s 2019 performance it would be that he did not lean on the offering enough.

One of the best parts is that even pitches which are not quite as overwhelming for Civale are exquisitely used for maximum impact. For instance Civale’s four-seam fastball which has a 85th percentile spin rate. Civale used it roughly 5% of the time but did so with positive results because he commanded to a sector where it does the most damage, above the strike zone.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

More than 75% of Civale’s four-seam fastballs are above the strike zone, where the effective velocity makes it more difficult for hitters to both make contact with, and hit with authority.

The story is similar with Civale’s cutter which he does not often throw for a strike, and when he does it is away.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Finally, Civale’s changeup which is buried below the strike zone or away to left-handed hitters.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Aaron Civale has a large arsenal. Aaron Civale has an arsenal with increasing velocity. Aaron Civale has an arsenal with a plus curveball, multiple other average or above pitches, and the ability to command each offering to the most effective part of the strike zone for that offering. Civale’s command of the four-seam fastball and curveball are a master class in how to make the most of offerings via command.

Civale is able to manage contact by inducing hitters to make contact at the wrong point or in the wrong sector. Civale is better than average at limiting walks, and with some usage manipulation, his strikeout rate may just improve as well. Once again, the Indians appear to have turned a middle round command reliant pitcher into something more.

1 reply »

  1. Where do you see him this year? Is he 4 behind Cookie, Clev and Bieber? With Plukto out of options he has to start unless they move him to the pen.

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