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Aaron Civale tweaked his pitch arsenal with mixed results

Injuries shortened a new look for Aaron Civale in 2021

Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Indians Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

With Shane Bieber checking in at No. 7 in our countdown and now Aaron Civale earning the No. 8 spot over Triston McKenzie by a narrow two-vote margin, we seem to have entered the portion of the Top 10 reserved for starting pitchers who missed significant time this season due to injury.

Civale made 15 starts for Cleveland before exiting his June 21 start against the Chicago Cubs with a finger sprain on his pitching hand. That landed him on the injured list along with Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac, where he remained until he was activated on Sept. 7.

At the time he sprained his finger, Civale was the only Guardians starting pitcher who was a threat to pitch beyond the fourth or fifth inning and give the bullpen a rest. He had pitched at least six innings in 11 of his 15 starts before being placed on the injured list.

Civale had recorded a 3.32 ERA up to that point, but his 4.28 FIP and .250 BABIP suggested that his success was perhaps built on a house of cards. Additionally, his K/9 was down to 7 (compared to 8.29 in 2020) and his BB/9 was up to 2.12 (compared to 1.95 in 2020).

His issues became more pronounced once he returned from the injured list. Civale made six starts to close out the season for Cleveland, recording a 5.74 ERA and 6.84 FIP over that stretch. Rock bottom was a start against the White Sox during which he surrendered 14 hits, including four home runs, and seven earned runs over 1.2 innings. Opposing hitters were teeing off on his four-seam fastball (.545 BA, 1.364 SLG) and sinker (.400 BA, 1.000 SLG).

Coming into the season, the news on Civale was that he would be de-emphasizing his sinker, emphasizing his four-seam fastball, and ditching his previous changeup for a split-change. His four-seamer became his second-most used pitch, accounting for 22.5 percent of his pitches in 2021. But it was also one of his worst pitches at season’s end, with opposing hitters batting .278 and slugging .600 against it. The only pitch that fared worse was his sinker, which accounted for 10.4% of his pitches and recorded a .309 batting average and .618 slugging percentage.

His split-change wasn’t as effective at missing bats as his cutter or his curveball, but posted a respectable .219 batting average and .484 slugging percentage. Then again, Civale doesn’t seem as concerned with missing bats these days, as his strikeout percentage dropped from 22.1% in 2020 to 19.9% in 2021. He also recorded a 45% groundball rate this year, a rate that has gone up each year since he made his big league debut in 2019.

Offseason tinkering seems to be Civale’s favorite pastime, so it’ll be interesting to see how he continues to develop his six-pitch arsenal, especially how he utilizes his four-seam fastball.


  • Andres Gimenez: .218/.282/.351, 5 HR, 11 SB, 5.2 BB%, 25.7 K%, 73 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR
  • Triston McKenzie: 120.0 IP, 4.95 ERA, 27.5 K%, 11.7 BB%, 4.36 SIERA, 1.1 fWAR
  • Eli Morgan: 89.1 IP, 5.34 ERA, 21.4 K%, 5.8 BB%, 4.51 SIERA, 0.4 fWAR
  • Zach Plesac: 142.2 IP, 4.67 ERA, 16.7 K%, 5.7 BB%, 4.73 SIERA, 1.1 fWAR
  • Bradley Zimmer: 227/.325/.344, 8 HR, 15 SB, 8.6 BB%, 35.1 K%, 89 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR

Poll

Who should be our No. 9 Guardians player for 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Andres Gimenez
    (0 votes)
  • 83%
    Triston McKenzie
    (44 votes)
  • 5%
    Eli Morgan
    (3 votes)
  • 9%
    Zach Plesac
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Bradley Zimmer
    (1 vote)
53 votes total Vote Now