Written by: Aaron Azodi
The Philadelphia Phillies were the third worst team in the majors last year, only managing a meager 66 wins. While many things went wrong for them, there were two major positives that came out of their putrid season. The first is Rhys Hoskins, the highly touted first baseman who blasted into the big leagues with 18 homers in only 50 games. The other positive came in the form of a 23, now 24-year-old starting pitcher, Aaron Nola.
Taking a look into his pre-2017 breakout year, Nola had shown signs of a quality pitcher, but was too young and unpolished. In his rookie season, Nola put up very respectable numbers, going 6-2 while throwing 77.2 total innings with an ERA of 3.59. He was also very good at keeping his walk rate down, as he only gave 19 free passes for the season. In his sophomore year, Nola showed signs of promise, but was a little more hitable. Over the 111 innings he threw in 2016, he totaled more strikeouts than innings pitched,striking out 121 batters. The problem was that his ERA and WHIP both took healthy steps back from his short rookie year, as he had a 4.78 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP (1.20 in his rookie year) thanks in part to a 9.41 H/9.
Then came the 2017 season. Nola was expected to be a number 2-3 starter for the Phillies, but what they got was much more. He tossed 168 innings, kept a very respectable ERA of 3.54, and threw 184 K’s. His WHIP came back down to 1.21 leading him to a 12-11 season despite being on a team that only put together 66 wins. Although he regressed in a couple of areas (BB/9, HR/9), he still showed some real signs of a true #1 pitcher. Most importantly, he is far and away the ace of a young up-and-coming Phillies team, so while the wins may not be the most consistent, his production should be.
Injuries were a bit of a problem for Nola, especially in 2016. His strained right elbow was the biggest factor for him only throwing 111 innings that year, but that injury seems to have diminished. He threw for 168 innings last year without having an elbow problem, which is a great sign. He did go on the 10-day DL once this past year, but it was in early April, and it was just a minor injury (lower back strain). This injury seemed to have had no effect on his delivery as he produced great overall numbers after that.
I believe that Aaron Nola is poised to have a breakout season, even better than last year. Barring injury, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him as a top-12 starting pitcher by season’s end. The Phillies have nowhere to go but up, and they will now be able to deploy Hoskins, and newly acquired Carlos Santana, for a full season, allowing for more run support. The fact that he was able to muster up a winning record despite the team’s woes was very promising.
Nola is also a year older with more experience, and is still only 24. Looking at early rankings from different sources, I’ve seen him anywhere from 20 to 30 among starting pitchers. I think that is too low, especially in dynasty formats. For this season I have Nola ranked around #15. Most have him ranked near arms like Alex Wood or Jose Quintana, who are solid guys, but not capable of finishing in the top tier amongst starting pitchers. I have him ranked more along the lines of guys like Chris Archer or Robbie Ray, who have similar upside should a few more things go their way. In keeper leagues I would consider ranking him even higher, as the upside is just too good to pass up on.
I see an ace for years to come, and health permitting, there is a ton to love about him. The Aaron Nola train is about to take off, so don’t get left behind.
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