Checking In On The Aaron Civale-Kyle Manzardo Trade

Analyzing how Tampa Bay and Cleveland fared in this prominent swap

As the 2024 season crosses the one-third mark, trade deadline season will be just around the corner as organizations decide whether to go into “sell mode” with an eye toward the future, or make some transactions to strengthen their rosters for a postseason push. This time of the season offers an excellent opportunity to revisit one of last season’s headline trades, the Aaron CivaleKyle Manzardo trade between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Guardians.

This trade saw Cleveland aim to reload with a Top 100 prospect like Manzardo, while Tampa Bay acquired Civale hoping he would bolster their rotation for a postseason push. Results have varied for both teams. While Civale has stalled breakout discussion, Manzardo is shaking off his previous struggles to emerge as Cleveland’s primary first base option. In this article, we will explore how these players have performed since the trade and explore adjustments that these players may make to reach their full potential.


Aaron Civale

Drafted by the Guardians in the third round of the 2016 draft, Aaron Civale made his major league debut in 2019 and had been a reliable member of their starting rotation throughout his first three full big league seasons. During the 2023 season in which he was traded to Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, Civale turned in one of the best seasons of his career, producing a 3.46 ERA, 23.0% strikeout rate, and 6.5% walk rate over 122.1 innings pitched.

Given the increase in strikeout rate he experienced once he arrived at Tampa Bay, as well as due to the success the Rays had at getting the most out of Zach Eflin during the 2023 season, there was hope that Civale could maintain the elevated strikeout rate throughout a full season and many anticipated 2024 being a breakout season for Civale. While the underlying metrics are consistent with his career trends, a full-on breakout for Civale has not yet materialized in 2024.

Aaron Civale: Statistics (2024)

Throughout his career, Civale has fared better against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters, producing a wOBA of .298 against hitters of the opposite handedness while same-handedness batters have produced a .319 against him throughout his career. This trend has continued during the beginning of the 2024 season, as Civale has performed better against left-handed hitters by measure of K-BB% and xFIP. Civale has been able to experience so much success against hitters of the opposite handedness due to his wide pitch arsenal, which includes platoon-neutral offerings such as a cutter and a curveball.

As shown by the pitch cards above, Civale has a wide pitch arsenal with offerings that he can use effectively to both right and left-handed hitters. Against left-handed hitters, he predominantly uses his cutter and curveball while he utilizes a “kitchen sink” approach against right-handed hitters, primarily using the sinker, sweeper, and cutter.

The primary issue with Civale’s pitch arsenal is that his breaking balls (such as his sweeper and curveball) and graded very highly by pitch quality models such as PLV, while his fastballs are graded very poorly. While throwing multiple fastballs helps mask this issue to an extent, as this adds deception due to hitters having to prepare for more than one fastball shape, the lack of an average fastball in his pitch arsenal does lower his ceiling as a starting pitcher. While Civale does display good command of his breaking pitches, not having a fastball that grades as at least average causes him to rely on his breaking balls more often which might lead to a more volatile profile, as he will have to rely on these below-average fastballs if he runs into command troubles during a particular outing. While the cutter-curveball combination has proven to be very effective against left-handed hitters, there are a couple of adjustments that Civale can make to his approach to improve his performance against right-handed hitters.

One adjustment that Civale can make to his approach is to throw more sweepers against right-handed hitters. While Civale has always included a slider in his pitch arsenal, he added a sweeper to his repertoire this offseason, and the pitch has been highly productive so far in 2024, grading out as the best pitch in his arsenal by metrics such as PLV (5.65) and plvLoc+ (114).

Aaron Civale: Slider Statistics (2022-24)

As shown by the table above, the new sweeper grades out better than the old slider in pitch quality metrics such as Stuff+ and PLV, while also performing better at generating whiffs, chases out of the zone, and called strikes. This is truly a plus offering and Civale has only been utilizing it 14.2% of the time, with a 22.2% usage to right-handed hitters. Civale has been utilizing this pitch to generate first-pitch strikes (68.2% TF-Str%) and has not been afraid to utilize the pitch with two strikes (35.2% 2-Str%) to right-handed hitters so far this season. I do believe that he should use the pitch more when he is behind in counts, as he tends to rely more often on this four-seam and sinker in these counts which makes him vulnerable to hard contact and increased offensive production due to the poor grades of these pitches and the often aggressive nature of hitters in two-strike counts.

In addition to using the sweeper more frequently, Civale also needs to locate his sinker in better locations to right-handed hitters to improve his effectiveness against hitters of the opposite handedness. While it is not a bad idea to throw a sinker in the outer third of the zone (especially if the pitcher can command the pitch well) to generate called strikes, consistently utilizing the pitch in this location will cause hitters to “sit” on the pitch which can be dangerous as sinkers have movement that will move towards the barrel when utilized against same-handedness pitchers.

As shown by the heat maps above, this is the problem that Civale has run into this season as he has consistently utilized his sinker up and away to right-handed hitters. This has been a shift in his strategy from the past, as he frequently located the pitch on the inner third of the plate to right-handed hitters over the past two seasons.

As I have written about in the past, I am not necessarily opposed to throwing sinkers up in the zone as they can be used as a means to both set up a high four-seamer and to counter adjustments hitters have made to making contact on upstairs fastballs. However, utilizing the sinker up and away does not achieve these objectives as it is not able to tunnel well with an upstairs four-seamer, allowing hitters to sit on the pitch and produce hard contact.

Opposing hitters currently have a 46.5% hard-hit rate against the sinker, up from the 34.8% hard-hit rate the pitch produced last season. Placing a focus on once again locating the sinker on the inner-third of the plate should help Civale improve his performance against right-handed hitters as it would keep hitters off balance, generating more weak contact on the sinker and allowing the four-seamer to play up and generate more swing-and-miss due to the added deception.

Despite the struggles against right-handed hitters, Aaron Civale has been a solid starting pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays and despite underperforming lofty expectations that he had entering the season, he has performed at a similar level as last season. While the cutter-curveball combination has been effective against left-handed hitters, increasing his sweeper usage and improving the location of his sinker should help his performance against right-handed hitters. It will be interesting to see who will be the “odd man out” of the Rays rotation once Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs return from injury and while Civale should get an extended stay in the rotation given his peripherals, he could be a dominant multiple-inning reliever given the plus secondary pitches he possesses in his arsenal.


Kyle Manzardo

Drafted by the Rays in the second round of the 2021 draft, Kyle Manzardo had been at the top of various prospect rankings due to his plus-hit tool and ability to tap into his power by frequently pulling the ball in the air. Ranked as the 28th best prospect in all of baseball according to FanGraphs in their 2023 update, Manzardo fell off of the Top 100 over the offseason due to concerns about his decrease in contact ability last season. After a hot start to the season in Triple-A followed by a major league call-up in May, Manzardo appears to be back on track as the Guardians’ first baseman of the future.

Kyle Manzardo: Statistics (2023-24)

As shown by the table above, Manzardo struggled to produce offensively at Triple-A last season with a 101 wRC+, which is well below the lofty offensive production needed to clear the bar as a first baseman. While it is understandable that this concerning level of offensive production caused prospect evaluators to have some pause when projecting Manzardo’s future, it should be noted that he ended the 2023 season on a hot streak, producing a 123 wRC+ over his last 92 plate appearances after being traded to Cleveland.

Manzardo continued this momentum into the 2024 season, producing a 147 wRC+ over 128 plate appearances in Triple-A to start the season, showing an improved strikeout rate and ability to tap into his power, earning a promotion to the major leagues on May 6th. Manzardo is still making adjustments to major league pitching, currently producing an 88 wRC+ over a small sample size of 58 plate appearances.

The main difference that I noticed between Manzardo’s production at Triple-A and MLB was the increase in strikeout rate and decrease in walk rate. With his swing rate increasing from 40.5% to 45.5% and his chase rate increasing from 24.7% to 28.9%, I wonder if Manzardo is “pressing” at the plate, which is common among hitters when they first get called up as they are anxious to make an immediate offensive impact.

I would expect that these figures will decrease as Manzardo becomes more accustomed to major league pitching, and his walk rate and strikeout rate should regress closer to where they were during his stint at Triple-A. Projection systems agree with this analysis, as Steamer and ZiPS project Manzardo for around a 10% walk rate and 22% strikeout rate over the remainder of the season. THE BAT X is more bearish on the plate discipline, projecting a 7.5% walk rate over the remainder of the season.

One area that Manzardo has excelled at in his short major league stint has been pulling the ball in the air, as he is currently running a pulled fly ball rate of 15.8% (albeit a small sample of 38 batted ball events). Since Manzardo doesn’t have extraordinary raw power, he will need to pull the ball in the air with frequency to get to his power which makes it promising that he has been able to achieve this so far in his major league career. Opposing pitchers have taken notice of Manzardo’s approach to pulling the ball in the air, as it appears that pitchers have been attacking him with mostly low-and-away pitches.

As shown by the heat maps above, pitchers have been largely attempting to attack Manzardo low-and-away, with Manzardo being able to make contact on pitches that leak back into the inner third of the plate to generate offensive production. On pitches that remain on the outer third of the plate, Manzardo has run into some swing-and-miss issues which could be a cause for his increased strikeout rate at the major league level. To cover this part of the zone, Manzardo will need to make an adjustment to either lay off these pitches more frequently early in counts or make a swing adjustment to make contact on these pitches more frequently with two strikes.

I am confident in Manzardo’s ability to make an adjustment in this part of the zone because he has already shown an ability to make effective adjustments throughout his professional career. One example is the aforementioned improved performance in Triple-A over the past season and a half. Another example is how he was able to improve upon the weakness he had against high four-seamers last season. As discussed in an interview at the Arizona Fall League, Manzardo experienced a weakness against upstairs fastballs throughout the 2023 season.

As shown by his heat maps during his brief major league tenure, it appears that Manzardo has resolved this hole in his swing, providing optimism that he will have the ability to make necessary adjustments to his offensive approach as needed throughout his career.

Overall, I am bullish on Kyle Manzardo’s future. While he is not destined to become a superstar or a perennial all-star, I do believe that he has the ability to be a productive everyday first baseman throughout his major league career. His plus-hit tool and plate discipline provide a solid foundation for his offensive approach, and his displayed ability to frequently pull the ball in the air provides optimism that he will be able to tap into his power consistently. Given this offensive skillset, it is reasonable to project Manzardo as the Guardians’ first baseman of the future.

Concluding Thoughts

With this trade, Cleveland aimed to reload by acquiring a Top 100 prospect like Kyle Manzardo, while Tampa Bay acquired Aaron Civale in an attempt to bolster their starting rotation for a postseason push. While I would be confident in considering this trade to be a win-win for both sides, I would give Cleveland the slight advantage in this trade as its outcome has landed closer to Cleveland’s objective than Tampa Bay’s.

After being acquired by Cleveland, Manzardo improved his Triple-A offensive production and appears to be on pace to be the Guardians’ first baseman of the future. Civale has maintained the level of production he experienced last season so far in 2024, however, there are a couple of adjustments that he can make to improve his production against left-handed hitters.

Perhaps Tampa Bay felt confident taking a risk in trading a first base prospect like Manzardo for a starting pitcher like Civale since the Rays currently have Yandy Díaz under contract through 2026 and it appears that Xavier Isaac will soon be one of the top prospects in all of baseball, indicating that the Rays have a surplus of first basemen. Plus, there is still a scenario that exists that Civale improves against right-handed hitters and Manzardo fails to clear the offensive bar for a first baseman, resulting in Tampa Bay coming out on top. This trade still fascinates me almost a year after the transaction was completed, and the impacts of this trade provide insight into how long-lasting the effects of a trade deadline transaction can be.

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Featured Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Adam Salorio

Adam Salorio is a Going Deep Writer at Pitcher List, and a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. When he's not talking about or researching baseball, you can probably catch him at a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login