It's time for Phillies' Aaron Nola to ditch this pitch

Nola has had a solid season so far, but it could be even better if he finally decides to stop throwing the cutter.
Philadelphia Phillies starter Aaron Nola
Philadelphia Phillies starter Aaron Nola / Rich Schultz/GettyImages
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The expectations were high for Aaron Nola after receiving a seven-year contract worth $172 million this offseason. Quite frankly, for the most part, he has met those expectations. Through 17 games, he has pitched to a 3.43 ERA but has a 1.04 WHIP and a 2.4 bWAR while contributing to the best starting pitching rotation in the league and a first-place Philadelphia Phillies team.

That being said, as the 31-year-old, 10-year veteran has come to be known for, he has been fairly inconsistent. He still has issues giving up home runs, already surrendering 14 this year, and has a tendency to allow a big inning or two when he can’t find his stuff.

But when you dig into his starts, and more specifically his pitches, the culprit is pretty easy to pinpoint.

It's time for Phillies' Aaron Nola to ditch this pitch

The struggles with his cutter are blatantly obvious and are directly contributing to the issues Nola has had in 2024.

According to Baseball Savant, after introducing the cutter in 2021, he threw it just 1.5 percent of the time. Opponents hit just .167 against it with a .250 slugging percentage. Nola relied heavily on his four-seam fastball in 2021, throwing it 37.4 percent of the time.

Year after year, Nola has increased the usage rate of his cutter. He threw it 6.5 percent of the time in 2022, 7.5 percent in 2023 and finally, in 2024, it has jumped to 10.8 percent of the time.

Alternatively, the four-seam fastball has seen decreased usage since 2021, going from a 37.4 percent usage rate to 25.3 percent in 2024 and being surpassed by the knuckle curve as his most thrown pitch.

The problem doesn’t lie with how much the cutter has been thrown but with the result of the pitch and what the hitters are doing with it.

Each year that Nola has thrown the cutter, hitters have gotten a better look and have done more damage. In the same way the usage rate has increased, so has the damage being done. In 2022, batters had a slugging percentage of .385 against the pitch, and that increased to .508 in 2023.

This season, hitters have a .353 batting average and a .735 slugging percentage against the cutter. That is almost unfathomable and is likely one of the worst pitches in MLB. In comparison, Aaron Judge, arguably the best hitter in baseball, is batting .316 with a .708 slugging percentage.

This means that when Nola throws his cutter, every batter turns into a better version of Judge.

The cutter's run value tells the same story. So far, it has provided a -6 run value. Compare that to his best pitch, the knuckle curve, which has a +7 run value.

Despite throwing the cutter just 10.8 percent of the time, Nola has served up three home runs, which is tied for the most for any pitch he throws.

Nola’s teammate, José Alvarado, is known for having one of the best cutters in the game. He throws his 39.5 percent of the time and batters are having almost no success against it, hitting 0.91 against the pitch with a minuscule .114 slugging percentage.

A lot of Phillies pitchers have introduced a cutter under Caleb Cotham. Unfortunately, Nola hasn’t had much success with it. It’s time to up the usage rate of his pitches that add more value and do away with the cutter for good.

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