Two outings in a row now, Aaron Civale has been some kind of excellent. We’re getting used to it with these rookies, first with Jefry Rodriguez, then Zack Plesac, and now it’s Civale making an early mark in Cleveland. Unlike the other two, he’s not dancing out of danger with well placed grounders and a dash of good luck.
It’s only 12 innings of work, but there could be something special to Civale.
It’s impossible to glean any real information from the numbers Civale has posted thus far. Twelve innings is a blip of time that we can forget about without issue. So there’s no real reason to be excited about the 29.6% strikeout rate or the 48.1% grounder rate, just as there’s little worry from his 9% walk rate being nearly twice what he showed in the minors.
But that doesn’t mean he’s just some mysterious nothing with a ton of noise, chance and good luck surrounding his starts. Civale is a very, very intriguing prospect, if we can call him that now he’s thrown a dozen major league innings. First, remember how it was a really neat move that the Astros picked up Aaron Sanchez from the Blue Jays, ostensibly just to see what he could do? All the talk from Statcast writers and FanGraphs was how the Astros were going to unlock Sanchez by having him throw more curveballs, because Sanchez’s curve is so filthy. This FanGraphs piece goes into it more, but suffice to say, with a spin rate in the 93rd percentile it’s a separator for Sanchez. He threw it a season-high 28 times in his dominant Astros debut, also completely eliminating his sinker. The Astros may be on to something.
Civale hasn’t shown a good curve. He’s thrown 16 times across his two starts, barely more than once an inning. What he does have is a cutter with a spin rate that ranks 11th in baseball among starters at 2608 RPM. That number varies a lot, from just under 2400 to over 2700, but the average is there, and so is the fact that, over his life, Civale has thrown about a million of these things. Unless something has already been done drastically to him in the minors, this is something he’s already good at. With the speed he shot through the system since being drafted, and considering he missed chunks of time with injury, that seems unlikely anyway. So while sample size is always an issue with a guy this new, somethign like spin rate seems like it won’t see some weird, drastic change between Akron or Columbus and Cleveland
So he’s got a cutter with great spin, up there with Trevor Bauer (2587 rpm) and topping Corey Kluber (2503 rpm). Both good cutters in their own right. This alone is intriguing. Pair that with his sinker — 20th highest spin rate among starters at 2222 RPM — and suddenly something is emerging here. Spin rate isn’t the end-all, be all, of course: it relies on several things. Specifically, release point. The spin needs to actually be doing something.
For comparison’s sake, here’s where Civale’s cutter comes out of his hand:
The rookie’s release is more over the top than the three-quarter release Bauer and particularly Kluber, so you wonder what difference that makes to his pitch versus the other two. Not that it was bad at all — he was getting enough tight movement to make it lethal on Monday. That, and perhaps it’s his ability to cut it sometimes and other times throw it as a sinker like Bartolo Colon got so good at towards the end of his own career is part of that different release.
He’s got to be more than a cutter/sinker guy, but Civale has a couple neat little pitches going for him already. He can locate his changeup pretty well too and has used it to get swings and misses with good effect, so that makes for a very nice little trio of pitches. And that’s what brought him to the Indians in the first place — location. We saw how they turned that into All-Star caliber pitching with Shane Bieber. Civale has the pitches to force grounders and get off the sweet spots of bats, and the catcher in Roberto Pérez to turn borderline pitches into strikes. It’s a dangerous blend.
Like with any youngster, like with Bieber a year ago and perhaps his fellow rookie Plesac, Civale’s is a career we will watch with great interest.