Fewer games could increase the chances for Phillies ace Aaron Nola to win the Cy Young
With the Phillies currently on pause due to COVID-19, a lot of questions have begun surfacing on how the remainder of the season will be played out. At the very least, it looks like baseball in 2020 will be shortened down to fewer than the standard 162 games.
While, of course, nobody wants less baseball, this actually puts a few players around the league in a prime position to capture some silverware at the end of the season. After coming extremely close during 2018, things are setting up for Aaron Nola to have a pretty easy path to a Cy Young award in 2020.
“Aaron Nola can’t pitch in the cold!”
I’m sure you’ve all heard this statement thrown around when discussing the Phillies 26 year old ace. Last year, the phrase was routinely thrown out to discuss Nola’s rough start to the season. While it’s primarily used by fans in more of a joking manner, there does appear to be a trend when it comes to Aaron Nola and his recent starts.
With that in mind, I went back and looked over Nola’s performances from the last three seasons. This includes his 2017 campaign where he went 12-11 with a 3.54 ERA, his 2018 All-Star season where he placed third in the Cy Young voting (2.37 ERA), and of course the 2019 season where he won 12 games again but posted a 3.87 ERA.
With the “cold weather” theory being put to the test, I categorized the three seasons in terms of the temperature during each month. March, April, and September classifying as the “cooler” months, while May, June, July, and August were considered “warmer”.
These are the results:
Warm months: 2.73 ERA, 402.2 innings
Cool months: 4.82 ERA, 180.1 innings
Now while you may be quick to point out the difference in innings pitched, don’t forget to take into account the fact that this is across three full seasons. Nola has routinely struggled during the cooler days of spring, but then almost always comes to form during the 90 degree days of summer. 180+ innings is plenty to make a conclusion off of.
A lot of factors could be playing into this quite drastic difference. For starters, Nola could simply just feel more comfortable in the heat. He grew up in the swamps of Louisiana and pitched at LSU as well.
Other factors could include the way his pitches move in the heat, opposing batters getting tired faster in the heat, how the temperature affects Nola’s body, etc. Regardless of what the reasoning is, the numbers pretty clearly indicate that Nola’s pitching performance goes up with the temperature.
“He’s got some help”
While I did include September in the above-mentioned metric, a majority of Nola’s late season struggles can be pinned on overuse. Gabe Kapler has relied heavily on the right-hander over the last couple of years.
Nola led the MLB in games started last year, and faced an incredible 852 batters, leading the National League.
The Phillies adding a certain pitcher by the name of Zack Wheeler should seriously help Nola in this regard. Gone should be the days where Nola is expected to pitch every fourth day down the stretch. Instead, he and Wheeler can tackle these late stretches together, leading to a healthier and much higher performing Nola.
Noah Syndergaard is out for the year due to Tommy John surgery. Hyun-Jin Ryu is pitching in the American League. Frequently injured Stephen Strasburg pitched in a career high 245.1 innings last year. The best pitcher in baseball Gerrit Cole, of course, stayed in the AL by signing with the Yankees.
The list goes on and on. A lot of Nola’s direct competition for the award simply won’t be around in 2020. Whether it’s due to injury or full-on not playing in the NL anymore, Nola already has to rank as one of the favorites regardless of how the season plays out.
Now obviously the reigning Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom hasn’t gone anywhere, and he’ll be looking to capture his third straight award. While there’s no direct reason for DeGrom to struggle in 2020, the loss of both Wheeler and Syndergaard should at the very least put some extra pressure on DeGrom to win games. This could result in some unforeseen mishaps from the Mets’ ace.
Combined with the reasons mentioned above, if Nola can find a way to return to his 2018 form, he should be in a prime position to capture the first Phillies Cy Young since the late Roy Halladay won one in 2010.