2024 Phillies Player Spotlight: Aaron Nola

With the 2024 MLB season bearing down on us. We here at EOP will spotlight a Phillies player every week until the start of the 2024 season. We will highlight their 2023 season, strengths, weaknesses, and 2024 projections. This week we will highlight pitcher Aaron Nola.      

2023 Season

Two simple characteristics make Nola an incredibly valuable pitcher: (1) He is good enough to start a postseason game, and (2) he is outrageously durable. In an era of truncated outings and ballooned bullpens, pitchers like Nola who can work deep are supremely rare.

Nola was one of only 13 pitchers in 2023 who averaged at least six frames per start. That type of innings-muncher enables a team to save its middle-relief arms for other games. And throughout a 162-game season, that’s a big deal.

2023 was an odd season for Nola, whose higher-than-normal 4.46 ERA was the result of a new career high in home runs allowed (32). Dig in a bit deeper, and it becomes clear that his struggles with the long ball came primarily against left-handed hitters.

In 2022, Nola kept lefties at bay, restricting them to a paltry .200/.247/.310 with just eight homers. But 2023 was a different story. Left-handed bats hit .240/.291/.444 against Nola and ripped a whopping 16 homers. Twice the tater counted in approximately the same number of matchups against lefties; that’s a huge reason why Nola’s overall numbers backed up in ‘23.

Some of it is bad luck. Anytime a pitcher’s home-run rate doubles like that, misfortune is certainly a part of the story, especially when there’s no decrease in fastball velocity.

 There was a lot of damage against Nola’s four-seam fastball in the middle part of the season, even though there weren’t any discernible changes to the speed or shape of the pitch. That means Nola’s midyear struggles were likely about sequencing and command of the four-seamer. Not too much of a concern moving forward. 

His overall profile — average velocity, great command, a deep arsenal of pitches — still points to a pitcher who should age well into his 30s. Still, his numbers against opposite-sided hitters are something to keep tabs on.

Strengths

Aaron Nola is no weakness when he is pitching like Aaron Nola. But that has not been the case for much of this season, with the 30-year-old posting a 4.46 ERA, third highest of his career. The Phillies need him to return to form and combine with Zack Wheeler as a formidable one-two postseason punch.

He threw 193 2/3 innings across 32 starts, so durability was not an issue. He struck out 202 batters and maintained his excellent BB% (5.7) for a WHIP of 1.15. His ERA, however, was an unseemly 4.46, and he gave up a career-high 1.49 HR/9. Nola’s ERA and FIP suggest improvement in ERA for 2024, and he has started precisely 32 games each of the last three seasons. In the offseason, he signed a seven-year, $172 million contract with the Phillies.

Weakness

The problem is easy to identify. Over the past eight seasons, only four pitchers were weaker at holding at first base than those baserunners who had a chance to steal second. That’s according to the newest stat cast metric, which tracks how well a pitcher prevents runners from advancing from first to second (on steals or balks) and how much they contribute to outs (on caught stealing or pickoffs), or from preventing runners from trying to go at all (holds).

All the bases taken against Nola in that time began to pile up – 33 of them in those runner-on-first, no-one-else-on situations, when only 16 would have been expected given the specifics of the runner and other Stat cast inputs. That gap of 17 between actual and expected is the sixth largest, which is a big problem, and they look like you’d expect, be they balk or stolen bases against.

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2024 Projection

Nola will be a vital part of a very talented Phillies yet shallow rotation. He will likely improve on some of his lackluster numbers from 2023. The biggest issue for the 30-year-old was his tendency to surrender the long ball last season. By the end of the season, Nola seemed to find his groove. 

While his numbers are not always consistent, one thing is Nola’s ability to eat innings. Since 2021, the Phillies’ right-hander has pitched the third most innings in baseball behind Sandy Alcantara and Gerrit Cole. He has also not seen the injured list since 2021. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Phillies can expect the same reliability from their freshly re-signed starter.

With a brand new seven-year contract, Nola — who is typically stoical and even-keeled — can pitch without the distraction of becoming a free agent this season. Given his calm demeanor, it’s impossible to tell if the impending contract uncertainty had any bearing on his 2023 performance. But it would be a natural human reaction to feel some pressure when the unknown is looming.

Being a creature of habit and the speedy agreement between the player and club, it’s evident that Nola wanted to remain in Philadelphia. He is comfortable here, and he and his wife plan on welcoming their first child this year.

With the comfort of pitching in a place he loves and having familiarity with the front office, the coaching staff, and the fans, Nola can enter 2024 without distraction. Look for the longest-tenured Phillie to improve in 2024 and be an integral part of a team looking to avenge the sour ending of last season’s NLCS defeat.

Matt Bednarczyk
Matt Bednarczyk

Matt Bednarczyk is your host of Talking Philly Sports With Matty B. He is a proud retired US Army Sergeant First Class, he is also a combat veteran with over 80 months served in Afganistan, and Iraq . Huge Hockey Fan. Matt is a lifelong 4 for 4 Philly sports fan. Born and raised on the Mayfair and Tacony neighborhood lines of Northeast Philly. He brings over 40 years of Philadelphia Sports passion and provides a realistic look at our Major Sports Teams and the most passionate sports fans on the planet. Look for his show live on Edge of Philly Sports.

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