Aaron Civale wasn’t perfect on Monday night, and had an outing the represented that. He’s still a rookie, still figuring out baseball in the major leagues, and still doing a great job of convincing people he’s something more than just 32 innings worth of a starting pitcher. After five innings of 3 run (one earned) ball with a handful of strikeouts, his ERA continues to sit below 2, but there’s been some dents in the armor. Of course he wasn’t going to be perfect and unhittable forever, luck does run out, at least some.
Even so, there continues to be a lot to like about Civale going forward, more than can be blown away because of a merely mundane outing against the White Sox. I wrote recently about the neat pairing Civale has in his cutter and two-seam/sinker, that they work so well together to baffle the hitter while his insane spin rates allow for nifty break and hard-to-barrel pitches. It seems to be a thing about Civale, because it turns out he’s also absolutely elite when it comes to spinning his curveball. Look at this:
And then look at this:
When I first started looking into this, Civale rated in the 95th percentile for curve spin rate according to Baseball Savant. Small sample sizes being what they are — Civale had only thrown 43 as a major leaguer coming into Monday’s start — I expected it to move a bit after the 14 he threw against the White Sox were recorded. It did move - his rate got even more elite somehow. And every time he drops one right, it’s like he’s on Venus with how much gravity grabs the damn thing:
It’s not quite every time it leaves his hand, but right now Civale is throwing absolute mind-benders when he tosses a curve. In limited sample he’s getting a swinging strike 32.3% of the time, and while hitters are notching a .354 wOBA against the curve, the xwOBA is a mere .227. Hitters have been quite lucky when they have made contact. Say, let’s look at another one of those curves:
Mmm, yes. Delicious. Something extra satisfying about it being against the Yankees. At one point in that same game he threw five straight curves to Gio Urshela, ultimately getting an out with one of his fastballs. It speaks to a level of trust when your first five pitches of an at-bat against a breakout hitter are the same pitch not to mention excellence. Also he broke Gleyber Torres:
Some dirty, dirty stuff. Really, you love to see it.
There’s a lot of fun numbers around Civale’s curve that just re-state the obvious when he really drops a good one — the pitch is a thing of beauty. It’s a bit funny that he was scouted as having a 45 grade curve when he was younger and that he would struggle to get strikeouts. Seeing it now you have to wonder what people were seeing, what the Indians have done to him, and when, not how, the strikeouts will start coming. He’s got undue amounts of filth across his repertoire, and that’s just in three pitches that I’ve focused on so far. That alone is encouraging, exciting even. Knowing this is just the start — that’s a little ridiculous.