Phillies Featured Player: Starting Pitcher Aaron Nola

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Mar 28, 2017; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Spectrum Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 28, 2017; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Spectrum Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Can Phillies starter Aaron Nola return to early-2016 form after missing the second half of the season with an elbow strain?

The Phillies didn’t waste any time getting Aaron Nola to the majors after drafting him in 2014. He stormed through three levels of the farm system in just over a calendar years, making his debut in July of 2015.

In his first 25 career major-league starts, Nola was everything you’d hope for from a first-round pick. He had an 11-6 record, 3.12 ERA, 8.85 K/9, 1.97 BB/9, 1.09 WHIP, and a ground ball rate just over 50%. With that stat line, fans’ hopes were riding high.

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Then it all crashed down for Nola after that. In his last eight starts in 2016, Nola’s ERA ballooned to 9.82 and his WHIP rose to 2.06.

Nola landed on the disabled list at the end of July due to an elbow strain and was eventually ruled out for the season. The team determined the injury wasn’t serious enough for Tommy John surgery – despite what another post here at TBOH might indicate – instead opting for a plasma-rich platelet injection and rest for Nola.

With Nola’s season debut set for Saturday, his health is coming back into the spotlight. Is his elbow back to 100 percent? If it’s not, will the Phils go with surgery? If it is, will it stay that way? There’s so many variables in play with Nola’s health that no one really knows what will happen.

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Alex Chamberlain of Fangraphs is “all in” on Nola’s 2017, pointing towards some underlying stats that explain away his struggles towards the end of his 2016 campaign:

"I’m going all in. To hell with his injury scare and miserably bad summer; not even a dip in velocity can explain a .451 BABIP and 49.4% strand rate over a 33-inning span. The bad luck he suffered is almost unheard of — he only gave up three home runs in that span, so it’s not like hitters were pummeling the ball, either — and it has completely soured him for many. Not me!…He’s a special talent; the swinging strikes aren’t there, but the called strikes are, all with plus command and excellent ground ball skills. Had he qualified for the ERA title, his xFIP and FIP would have ranked 3rd and 4th, respectively, and he would have easily finished top-10 in WAR. The kid’s a stud."

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The starting rotation is expected to be Philadelphia’s strength this season, but a huge part of that expectation is seeing Nola return to his early-2016 form. For now, he is part of the team’s long-term plans, but his health will determine whether or not he actually will be.

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