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Aaron Civale’s emergence helped to stabilize a battered rotation

One of several college arms to emerge this season - and maybe the best

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

We’re counting down to our top-10 best Indians players of 2019 as voted on by the Let’s Go Tribe staff. Follow along here, and keep reading until October 26 when the team MVP is revealed.

Aaron Civale started the 2019 season in Akron. After five starts there and eight more in Columbus, the Cleveland Indians — due to a plague of injuries — called him up to the show.

If this sounds unusually familiar, there’s a reason for that. Shane Bieber started the 2018 season in Akron. After five starts there and eight more in Columbus, the Tribe called him up, as well.

The pitchers were even drafted in consecutive rounds of the 2016 draft, with Civale coming off of the board in the third and Bieber in the fourth. Not that it actually matters much in context, but they’re also both 24 and were born just two weeks apart.

Things begin to differ in the comparison when you look at the number of starts each made in their rookie campaign. Civale’s arrival might have come sooner if not for time spent on the IL at the beginning of the season. In the ten starts that he did make upon arrival, he pitched 57.2 innings while allowing a 2.34 ERA, striking out 20.3% of the batters he faced while walking 7.1%. Not too shabby.

Digging into some of the other metrics, however, shows that the pitcher might have landed on the wrong side of the regression plot. Civale’s xFIP wasn’t quite as kind in its “assessment” of him, suggesting a deserved ERA of 4.61. This may be in large part due to his low HR/9 of 0.62. While he allowed more than 1.00/9 only once in his minor league career, his mark this season puts him among the very best in the league. That, combined with a BABIP of .250 suggest a note of caution in projecting a Bieber-like breakout from Civale next season.

Maybe just a note, though. Civale orchestrates a counterpoint between his two-seam fastball and cutter that sends hitters swirling into a fugue. A developing trio of slider, curveball, and changeup all show promise as out pitches and offer glimpses of what might become impressive overall quintet.

To me, it’s almost a certainty that Civale pitched his way into the 2020 rotation with his performance in 2019. He provided the greatest impact of all the rookie arms that the Tribe relied on during the season, and in my mind shows the most promise as well. His first season showed shades of his teammate Bieber — and there are much worse pitchers to draw comparisons to. The mix of his pitches and his command of the zone give me much more confidence in his abilities than, say, Adam Plutko or Zach Plesac.

Moving forward, I’m excited to watch his continued growth as he distinguishes himself as yet-another Indians pitcher to fear.