Aaron Nola Is Already Really, Really Good
The Philadelphia Phillies selected Aaron Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. After dominating Minor League hitters in 2014 and part of 2015, the Phillies called Nola up for the end of their 2015 season.
Nola pitched very well during his first opportunity in the bigs, making 13 starts and throwing 77.2 innings. At the end of the year, he owned a record of 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA and a 111 ERA+ (a score of 100 represents an average pitcher, the higher the better).
As Philadelphia entered the 2016 season, many in baseball understood this would be another rebuilding year for the team. Aaron Nola was expected to show encouraging signs of future stardom, but also struggle a bit, as he's just 22 years old and continues to adjust to Major League hitters.
Boy, did he prove that notion wrong.
Over the first month of the season, Nola has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. He's made six starts so far, thrown 40 innings, struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings, owns a 2.93 ERA, and has registered a 145 ERA+. Check out where he ranks in some of the most important pitching categories.
Batted Ball Profile
Nola has been successful due to his ability to get a lot of soft contact. He gets batters to hit the ball softly 22% of the time, which is actually more often than he allows hard contact (21%). That soft-hit rate falls right in line with two other pitchers you may have heard of: Madison Bumgarner (22.5%) and Chris Sale (21.9%).
Also, Nola is very good at forcing batters to hit the ball on the ground. This season, batters are hitting ground balls 50% of the time.
The young Phillies’ right-hander lives off of three pitches predominantly: a fastball, curveball, and changeup. Nola has thrown his fastball 59.5% of the time this year, which averages 90 MPH. He throws his curveball 33.7% of the time and his change-up 6.8%.
Here’s an example of the bite on his curveball.
Over his last three outings, Nola has pitched against the Brewers, Nationals, and Cardinals; the Phillies are 3-0 in those games. All he’s done in that span is throw 21 innings, allow just one run, and strike out 21 batters while walking only four hitters.
Bill James created a stat called "Game Score" that evaluates how good a pitcher’s start was. Any score above 50 is good and below 50 is not so good.
Over his last three performances, Nola has registered game scores of 70, 79, and 79. Keep in mind those two 79-point outings came against the Washington Nationals, who are 18-8 and atop the NL East, and the St. Louis Cardinals, who have scored 153 runs this year, tied for the most in baseball.
A Very Bright Future
Nola is ahead of schedule and is already one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. You always hear “pitching wins championships”, and Philadelphia is setting themselves up nicely, as their rotation currently ranks eighth in baseball in earned runs allowed.
The Phillies have assembled a very quality and young rotation, and led by Nola, this will be a team on the rise.