Philadelphia Phillies’ starting pitcher Aaron Nola has had interesting, but confusing, young career to date. The seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, Nola was considered as polished a pitching prospect as you’re likely to see. While Brandon Finnegan was the first 2014 draftee to reach the Majors – notably pitching in both the College World Series and Major League World Series in the same season – Nola was close behind. After only 164.2 innings in the Minors, he debuted on July 21, 2015 and took no time to adjust. Known for his deceptive delivery, advanced command, and a strong fastball/curveball combination, he appeared to immediately live up to his mid-rotation projection.
However, a visualization of Nola’s 188.2 Major League innings would probably resemble something like a performance rollercoaster, and could be split into three different periods, each relatively equal in chronological time.
A lot of really great writing has been done about Nola’s career so far, and I’m going to reference a lot of it here. However, looking at Nola’s 2016 season line, I haven’t been able to square how well he did in almost all areas with how many runs were scored while he was on the mound. For instance, Nola’s 55.2 percent groundball rate was among the 10 best in baseball, minimum 100 innings pitched. His 19.1 percent K-BB rate was one of the 20 best rates. He didn’t even have an unusually high home run rate – it was exactly league average. It’s hard to be a pitcher with both a great FIP and groundball rate and still allow an above average number of runs.
So, let’s take a look at Nola, and not only take a look at what’s happened during each of these three periods, but also at what makes him successful in the first place. First, a quick acknowledgement to Mike Fast, whose old blog inspired some of the visualizations and tables below. His three part series analyzing then-player, now-manager Brian Bannister was particularly influential.
Let’s begin by taking a look at each period of Nola’s Major League career individually.