Phillies 2018 report card: Starting pitcher Aaron Nola

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 12: Starting pitcher Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park on June 12, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 12: Starting pitcher Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park on June 12, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /

Aaron Nola had one of the best single seasons in Phillies franchise history on the mound this year. The righty more than established himself as an ace.

Remember when former Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called Aaron Nola a “solid number three” starter? This was after Nola finished the 2017 season with a 2.49 ERA, 150 strikeouts, and 1.00 WHIP from June on. Almost everyone could see he was developing into a top-tier starter. This year, Nola truly took the leap forward into the elite echelon of pitcher.

Nola started off the year at the center of a controversy, but not for anything he did. He was cruising on Opening Day, allowing just one run on three hits in 5.1 innings. However, manager Gabe Kapler opted to go this bullpen in what became an infamous series for the team. After that debacle, Kapler kept a much longer leash on Nola, and it definitely paid off. He pitched six innings in all but seven starts this year, going at least seven innings 15 times.

In 33 starts, Nola posted a 2.37 ERA, 3.01 fielding-independent pitching, 27.0% strikeout rate, 7.0% walk rate, and 0.97 WHIP. Opposing hitters batted just .195 against him. He led the team with 5.6 Fangraphs wins above replacement and 10.0 Baseball-Reference wins above replacement. He is the first Phillie with 10 bWAR since Steve Carlton in 1980.

After his strong season, Nola is in contention for the NL Cy Young award. While the award will likely go to deGrom, Nola was in the conversation all season long and is almost assuredly a finalist. I already gave him TBOH’s Cy Young award.


Just about everything Nola did this season was a positive. Among NL pitchers, he finished the year first in pitching wins above replacement, second in ERA, innings pitched and win probability added, third in WHIP and innings pitched, fourth in wins, fifth in strikeouts, and eighth in walks per nine innings.

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As mentioned previously, Nola’s single-season WAR total is the highest since Carlton and tied for seventh-highest among all pitchers in franchise history. Nola also ranks fourth all-time in single-season ERA+, which take a pitcher’s ERA and compares it to the league average for that season. For reference, Nola’s 2018 ERA+ is better than Carlton’s in 1980, Roy Halladay’s in 2010 and 2011, Bobby Munoz in 1994, and Cliff Lee’s in 2011.

Beyond just better numbers, Nola saw an uptick in his stuff. According to Brooks Baseball, Nola’s four-seam fastball increased from 92.54 to 93.45 mph this season, topping out at 96.76 mph. His curveball also dropped almost a full inch more compared to last year. His four-seam fastball, sinker, and changeup all generated more whiffs than last season. Nola’s fastball ranked eighth and curveball ranked third in Fangraphs corrected pitch value.

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Finding negatives with this season is hard to do. The only real gripe against Nola’s season is his month of September when compared to the rest of the season. In six starts, he had a 3.72 ERA, 4.87 fielding-independent pitching, and 1.02 WHIP. Two of his four four-run starts came in September.

The big issue was surrendering home runs; Nola allowed nine. Up until September, he had allowed just eight. That led to home run rates of 2.23 per nine innings and 32.1% of fly balls in September, well above average.

Even with that many to end the season, he only finished the season allowing 0.72 home runs per nine innings and a 10.6% home run to fly ball ratio, both of which were better than last year and below league-average. I’m really just grasping at straws here.

A+. . Starting Pitcher. Philadelphia Phillies. AARON NOLA

To give Aaron Nola anything but this grade is just silly. He was not only the best pitcher on the team, but he also had one of the best seasons in franchise history and should be a finalist for the Cy Young. We got ourselves an ace here.

Will he return?


Nola should be the ace of this rotation for years to come, no matter who signs with the team. The front office and fans should rest easy knowing that they can build a rotation around Nola, instead of still needing someone to build around.

The better question is when to lock Nola up. After his elbow injury scare in 2016 and some issues early last year, Nola has had a clean bill of health. He is the only starter in the rotation – and one of a handful of players on the team – who you feel fully confident about their future moving forward. Nola still has one year before arbitration eligibility, but giving him an extension now can avoid that messy process and also potentially save the team a lot of money before he hits free agency.

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Of course, Nola would have to want to sign long-term, but he seems more than happy in Philadelphia. If there is a deal to be made, I’m sure both sides will work hard on it this offseason.