Fantasy Baseball: What Should We Expect From Aaron Nola?

After a great start to 2016, Nola's campaign ended with two bad months and a season-ending injury, making him a difficult player to project for 2017.

The Philadelphia Phillies have one of the most intriguing pitching staffs in baseball heading into 2017.

Pitching coach Bob McClure has shown a track record of turning pitching staffs around, and he’s done an admirable job since joining the Phillies for the 2014 season, starting to work similar magic with the rebuilding franchise.

Last year, in the first half of 2016, the young staff blistered its way to an eighth-place ranking in team xFIP (3.92) before injuries to Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola led to a tough finish. Overall, the 71-91 Phillies weren't very good, but they showed some promise, especially on the hill.

We've highlighted two of the more veteran hurlers slated for rotation roles in Philly, but let's take a look at Nola, the team's promising young ace, and see what his fantasy outlook is for 2017.

The Bad and the Ugly

Coming off an impressive cup of coffee to end 2015 -- Nola went 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA over 77 2/3 innings across 13 starts -- things were looking up for Nola at the start of 2016.

But while last year started well (which we'll get to in a minute), it didn't end so hot. Overall, Nola posted a 4.78 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP across 111 innings, but June and July were absolute disasters -- he put up a 1-5 record and 9.82 ERA over those two months.

Innings ERA WHIP BB% K% Hard-Hit Rate BABIP wOBA Allowed
June 19 10.42 2.58 8.2% 20.9% 35.1% .528 .462
July 20 6.300 1.45 7.9% 24.7% 37.3% .362 .324

There's a lot going on here, and almost none of it is good for Nola's fantasy numbers. However, while it's certainly not pretty, he may not have been throwing as badly as the traditional stats say.

Nola's hard-hit rate allowed in the first two months of the year was 19.1% and 27.3%, respectively, so that shot up during these two months. His strikeout rate dropped a tad, but it was still pretty solid. It's just that when guys hit the ball, they hit it hard fairly often.

A rising hard-hit rate should lead to a higher BABIP against, but a mark of .528 is still terribly unlucky. Nola also got some bad luck with his strand rate, as it fell to 55.8% and 55.9%, respectively, in June and July -- a drop of nearly 10 percentage points from where it was over the first two months of the year. For reference, among qualified pitchers in 2016, Mike Leake had baseball's lowest strand rate at 65.6%.

But maybe the reason for this rough stretch was a balky elbow. In early August, the Phillies placed Nola on the disabled list with an elbow injury. Was Nola pitching injured? Who knows. Either way, he didn't make another start in 2016 as the Phillies kept him on the shelf for the remainder of the year.

The Good

Given the tough two-month stretch and season-ending injury, it’s easy to forget how good Nola was in the first two months of the year.

Innings ERA WHIP BB% K% Hard-Hit Rate BABIP wOBA Allowed
Mar/Apr 33 3.55 0.88 4.7% 29.1% 19.1% .247 .234
May 39 2.31 0.97 4.5% 24.8% 27.3% .255 .248

He notched impressive numbers across the board early on. His strikeout rates and walk rates were approaching elite levels, while hitters were having a tough time squaring up pitches. In addition to the low hard-hit rate allowed, Nola induced ground balls at a healthy rate of 53.5%.

His start to the season was the complete opposite -- almost across the board -- of what we saw in his final two months, which makes it hard to know what to expect in 2017. The upside he flashed, though, can't be ignored, especially when it's backed by the solid numbers he put up at the end of 2015.

And while the elbow injury is always a bit frightening, Nola completed a throwing program in the offseason and appears ready to go. If we take him at his word, he feels close to 100%.


Knowing how to value any pitcher coming off an injury can be tough. Figuring out the value of any young pitcher is a chore in its own right. When you combine the two, it makes for some muddy waters.

But those first two months from Nola were pretty spectacular, as he was one of the league's best pitchers over that period. While the sample size was small, for some context, Nola's strikeout rate would have placed him ninth among all qualified starters in 2016, and his ground ball rate would have ranked sixth.

He currently slots as the 39th-ranked starting pitcher in consensus rankings over at FantasyPros, and the challenge to properly rank Nola shows since his rankings vary pretty widely. Among pitchers, he's ranked as high as 25th and as low as 59th, giving very little clarity to his value.

Nola is talented -- there are no issues there -- and he's shown he can put up good numbers when healthy. However, his health isn't guaranteed, and Nola did end his 2016 campaign with a bad two-month stretch.

If you can tolerate the risk, Nola could be a worthy high-upside gamble in the middle rounds.