2015 Phillies Report Card – Aaron Nola
For Aaron Nola, after being the college pitcher of the year in 2014, and the #7 overall pick in that summer’s draft, a ticket to the majors was printed on opening day of 2015. The date of arrival was the only thing left blank. Nola spent a couple months in AA and AAA before he got to write in “July 21”, and honestly, it’s pretty stunning how lax the TSA is with 2014 First Round draft picks. One of those guys could be an ISIS in disguise. (My money’s on Michael Conforto, mostly because he’s on The Mets, and I dislike them so much that I’d prefer to be marooned on top of a mountain with my religious sect than see them win a World Series. Go Royals, Boo Mets, as they say).
Aaron Nola put up a fairly strong pro debut in 2014, in which he pitched like he belonged in A+ and AA just weeks after being drafted out of LSU. He was tagged by most everyone as the Phils #2 prospect, behind only J.P. Crawford, and ahead of, almost exclusively, third baseman Maikel Franco. He was held out of big league camp, though he was brought over as an extra arm for three innings against The Yankees Grapefruit League team on March 27. Some around the game griped, but I didn’t think a lot about the move to keep him out of MLB spring training. And if it bothered Nola, he didn’t show it on the field, as he started hot at AA Reading, putting up a 1.88 ERA and 2.88 FIP in 12 starts before going to Lehigh Valley for six more at 3.58/3.16. By mid-July, it was pretty clear that the developmental path of the young righthander had reached the big leagues, and the man they call “Dry Land”, (they do, trust me. Mike Baumann told me so), was called up to make his debut against Tampa Bay on July 21.
That debut was impressive – he allowed just one run on five hits, a walk and 6 Ks, plus he collected his first big league hit. It really did energize the fandom for a minute, and Cole Hamels’ no-hitter to cap the subsequent weekend in Chicago would prove the peak of what was truly the most exciting span of Phillies pitching this season. Here’s a link to video of the PA where Nola collected his first K.
In all, Nola started 13 games for the 2015 Phils, posting a 3.59 ERA and a nearly identical xFIP, with a 4.04 FIP. He struck out 68 and walked just 19 in 77.2 IP, for a strong K%-BB% of 15.4%. One troubling item, and something that’s been on the radar with Nola from day one, is his home run rate. He gave up 11 bombs in his 13 starts, at a rate of 1.27/9 and a 15.1 HR/FB rate. That plays into the notion from many evaluators that Nola’s Achilles Heel may be that his stature and his 3/4 delivery can leave his pitches flat, and make him homer prone. Obviously it’s a small sample in a big league debut season, so no one’s closing the book on Nola as a front-line starter, but the tendency should be watched by evaluators and addressed by the coaching staff if it’s reasonable to do so without harming his game otherwise.
I’m quite hopeful that Nola’s development this year will carry over into next. His combination of fastball command and good secondary pitches that seem to be evolving has me hoping there truly is a #2 starter in Aaron Nola. His floor should keep him working every fifth day without fear of demotion for a long time.
Grade: A-, mostly dinged because of that homer rate.