Phillies Should Lengthen Leash on Aaron Nola

ethanwitte
Sep 26, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) throws to the Washington Nationals during the second inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) throws to the Washington Nationals during the second inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Philadelphia Phillies most talented starting pitcher in 2016 is likely to be a 22-year old in just his 2nd big league season.

This spring, right-hander Aaron Nola enters his first spring training as a member of the Phillies starting rotation. Last year, Nola was a non-roster invitee who earned some experience with the big club before heading down to the minors to continue refining his craft.

But this spring is different. Nola finds himself as arguably the most talented hurler among those at big league camp in Clearwater. With that comes some lofty expectations.

Some fans are already pining for Nola to be named the Opening Day starter, while others express caution when discussing his potential for the season. Either way, his right arm is one of the more valuable assets the Phillies have as their rebuild continues, and it would be wise to be cautious with it.

But how cautious is too cautious?

In the past decade or so, there has been much talk about the need to limit the innings of starters who are inexperienced in the pro ranks. Sports Illustrated author Tom Verducci came up with a theory that he calls “The Year After Effect” on overused young pitchers, which involves monitoring the workloads of those young arms (if you aren’t familiar, read here for his choices for 2016).

To quote Verducci from the article just linked, his quick explanation is this:

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"“I look at major league pitchers in their age-25 season or younger who increased their previous high in innings by more than 30%. It doesn’t mean these pitchers will definitely get hurt; it means they packed on innings at an especially high rate and bear watching this year.”"

He’s not guaranteeing an injury will happen, but studies have shown that the increase in risk for an injury does rise as the innings totals rise with them. While not named on Verducci’s list, it makes one wonder if the team will be cautious with Nola this year, bearing in mind his ability, youth and importance to the future of the franchise.

So, do the Phillies indeed need to be cautious with Nola in the 2016 season?

In 2015, Nola threw a total of 187 innings: 77.2 in the majors and 109.1 in the minors. Whether or not you believe that minor league innings are different from major league innings, the total remains the same.

Prior to that, in 2014 (his draft year), Nola threw 171.2 innings, 55.1 in the minors and 116.1 in Baton Rouge for the Louisiana State Tigers. That’s an increase of 8.9% over the previous season. The Phillies were obviously watching his workload last year. In those major leagues innings, Nola only threw more than 99 pitches once….when he threw 100.

He probably did get a little tired down the stretch a year ago. Nola posted two outings in September in which he allowed six runs to the opposition. But again, much to manager Pete Mackanin‘s credit, the skipper wasn’t willing to jeopardize the future of Nola simply for the sake of a few extra turns through the rotation.

Nola is fully capable of handling whatever workload is afforded him in 2016. There’s no reason to limit his innings, other than the simple fact that the team may just not want to use him in games that become blowouts. With his talent, those kinds of games should be few and far between.

To answer the question posed before regarding how cautious might be too cautious, let’s hope that Mackanin is again cautious with Nola, yet realizes there will be times when the leash needs to be lengthened a bit on his young talent. After all, the only way to become a dependable workhorse is to be given the chance to be that workhorse.

Next: JRoll Signs With Chisox

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