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Cleveland +139 over Toronto
6:10 PM EST. What we have here is the perfect buy-low/sell-high scenario on two starting pitchers. First up is Jose Berrios (RHP -TOR) who comes in with a 2-0 record to go along with a BB/K split of 9/20 and an ERA of 4.13. That’s after posting a terrific 3.52 ERA last year along with the best skills of his career. However, there are signs of danger. Berrios’ swing & miss rate of 10.9% points to some negative K% regression. He’s surrendering more hard contact, and xHR/F indicates some HR/F luck. Berrios comes in with a 5.36 xERA and a groundball/line-drive/flyball split of 29%/28%/44%. That’s not good. His WHIP of 1.58 is also in the high danger zone. He’s benefited from an unsustainable 80% strand rate and therefore a correction to the bad is forthcoming.
After a hot start followed by a nasty 7-game losing streak, the Guardians have picked it up again with four wins in their last five games and also cooled off the Padres in the process. We wrote an entire piece on the Guardians (you can read it here) earlier in the season, citing that their hot start was not a fluke.
Aaron Civale (RHP - CLE) comes in with a 10.67 ERA after four starts. That is going to stick out like a sore, pulsating thumb. No starter in the league is due for a bigger correction to the good than Aaron Civale.
Civale has four pitches that are league-average or better by strike percentage: his cutter, sinker, curveball, and sweeper. Those same four pitches are also solid by xOBA, our metric of choice for contact quality. What’s most notable otherwise is just how bad Civale’s fastball is by all three metrics. Since 2019, Civale ranks in the third, first, and 10th percentiles in strike percentage, respectively, of all four-seam fastballs thrown by starting pitchers. Unless it’s helping set up his curveball, it is, arguably, an unusable pitch. So, it’s a fairly simple fix: emphasize those four pitches, and don’t throw that four-seamer.
The list of pitchers who are a tweak in pitch mix away from a breakout is many. Civale has been on that list for a while now, because his curveball has always been a swing-and-miss weapon, and his cutter is effective. Now his sweeper makes him a bonafide breakout candidate. He didn’t need it to be good, but now that he has it, he’s using it.
Over his career, Civale has run reverse splits, which means that he’s struggled more against hitters of the same handedness as him—in his case, righties. That’s because of an underutilization of his cutter and curveball, which has resulted in an overutilization of his sinker and slider which have, in turn, been sent into orbit too often. Against righties, his solution is to mix and match his best pitches. That means leaning heavily on his cutter as his primary hard pitch, even though it sits at just 86 miles per hour.
Civale has never had a wipeout pitch, per se, so he’s opted to throw the kitchen sink at hitters. He, mostly, has thrown a cutter, four-seamer, sinker, and curveball. Every so often, he’d mix in a slider or splitter, but mostly, it was a lot of hard stuff, a softer cutter, and some curveballs. That could change in a hurry.
Here’s a leaderboard we came across, sorted by horizontal movement:
This is a leaderboard of the sweepiest sweepers in MLB. Last year, Civale had a fairly generic slider that didn’t do much for him. Now, he’s throwing a Kluberian breaking ball that has the third-most sweep of any starting pitcher, which means that he gets more horizontal movement on his new slider than almost any pitch thrown by starting pitchers. If he can command it at all, it instantly becomes his best pitch.
Civale doesn’t have a hard fastball, but he’s got the secondaries to make up for it. He might have more of a cutter-slider hybrid than a pure cutter, but it’s worth deploying as his primary pitch of sorts, given that he throws it nearly as hard as his fastballs now. He’s got a curveball with huge drop, and a sweeper with big sweep, which makes him a pitch tunneling nightmare. We’ve seen plenty of pitchers overhaul their pitches or repertoires. Yu Darvish is a relevant example, velocity aside. Kyle Wright is a different, but more recent one. If Civale trusts his stuff, he’ll be tough as shoe leather against today’s fastball hitting population.
Cleveland +139 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.78)