The Phillies need Aaron Nola to show more of his 2018 self after a down year
Aaron Nola was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball back in 2018. This is simply not debatable. He posted a 2.37 ERA, 0.975 WHIP, won 17 games, placed third in the NL Cy Young voting, made his first All-Star game, and even received a few MVP votes.
After a year like that, both fans and analysts alike expected Nola to perform even better the following season. Surrounded by a far superior defense along with some nice new shiny bats to provide better run support (cough cough Bryce Harper), the stars were seemingly aligned for the 26 year old to snag his first career Cy Young award.
Alas, things did not go necessarily to script, as Nola put up his worst statistical season since 2016. He finished the year posting a 3.87 ERA, 1.265 WHIP, and a win-loss record of 12-7. He also set career highs in home runs allowed (27), walks allowed (80), runs allowed (91), and hits allowed (176).
Nola’s biggest flaw in 2019 was his overall lack of consistency. Despite putting together a few really good stretches, 2.52 ERA through the months of July and August for example, Nola failed to pitch at an ace-level for more than a few weeks at a time. He had two specific horribile spells that come to mind, posting a 6.66 ERA in April and a 6.51 ERA in September.
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However, in an attempt to somewhat defend the Phillies’ young ace, he was absolutely pitched into the ground this season. Nola led the entire MLB in games started and led the entire National League in batters faced. With the Phillies clawing for a Wild Card spot late in the season, former manager Gabe Kapler relied heavily on Nola, sometimes even going as far as pitching him on four days rest.
This late schematic change no doubt played a role in Nola wearing down towards the end of the season. Entering September his ERA sat at 3.45, Nola’s rough final month saw it experience an increase of 0.42. Whether due to coaching or not, had September gone a bit better for Nola we’d probably be talking about him in a far more positive manner.
Despite an overall underwhelming year for the right-hander, there were a few positive takeaways we can appreciate. As previously mentioned, Nola was one of the “most used” starting pitchers in the MLB. His ability to stay healthy and remain an option for the team speaks volumes about his dedication to keep his body in shape. This especially hits home given that his fellow pitcher Zach Eflin frequently took games off due to a “heavy body”.
On top of that, Nola also set a career high in strikeouts. His total of 229 Ks in 2019 saw him rank 14th best in the entire MLB. This put him above elite level pitchers like Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, and even Clayton Kershaw.
Last season was a disappointing season for Nola, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. For a guy who many perceived as one of the best pitchers in the league two years ago, you simply expect more.
The Phillies have already fired and replaced both their manager and their pitching coach. With a better and more experienced coaching staff, along with some more capable teammates around him, fully expect Nola to return to ace form in 2020.