Analysis

Why the Phillies should extend Aaron Nola

Aaron NolaSince 2015, only 22 qualified pitchers have carried a FIP of 3.50 or lower. Aaron Nola is 17th at 3.38.

If we’re talking about xFIP (which projects a home run rate), Nola is 13th with a 3.33 mark.

Also since 2015, only 23 qualified pitchers have kept a K/9 of 9.00 or higher. Aaron Nola is 17th, again, at 9.41.

In fWAR, Nola is 30th at 8.0. But take into account his 60 starts are second-fewest of the 30 pitchers with a fWAR of 8 or higher (only James Paxton has fewer starts with 57) and one can imagine a healthier Nola over three years would have rated somewhere in the middle of the pack, closer to a fWAR of 10.5-11. In fact, a fWAR of 11.1 would’ve put him, yup, in 17th place.

We can go on about how well Nola has pitched since making his major league debut in June 2015. He’s not in the top tier of starting pitching just yet, but he’s arguably just below that threshold, hanging with the likes of Carlos Carrasco, Jose Quintana and Chris Archer. And, at 24, Nola is nearly peerless. Only Noah Syndergaard at age 23 is younger and has his kind of resume (although “Thor” has been demonstrably better over his career).

All this to say we’re at the point in Nola’s career where we can argue that he deserves a contract extension. He’s still making rookie money and won’t be arbitration eligible until next season, so without an extension he’d earn somewhere around $600,000. The Phils can opt to go this route for 2018, which would be understandable since he’s yet to remain healthy for a full season, but it might be wise for the Phils to offer a long-term deal to their one and only sure thing on the mound.

Look around. Jerad Eickhoff had a terrible 2017 and needs a rebound. Vince Velasquez might get one more chance to start. The other options are question marks, at best. Nola is the only rostered starting pitcher the Phils can ink onto the opening day rotation. Not only is he a stable option, but when on, he’s arguably a top-15 pitcher in baseball.

Again, the Phils may be wary about offering Nola long-term money because he hasn’t yet showed he can stay on the field for a full season, but this aspect may make it easier to achieve a team-friendly deal. Imagine a five-year deal – in year one Nola gets $2 million, in year two $4 million, in year three $10 million, in year four $10 million and in year five $14 million. That’s five years and $40 million, a steal for a young pitcher teetering on the ace level.

Nola is the first solid homegrown starter the Phils have employed since Cole Hamels. He’s as close to a sure thing as we’ve had since him, too. His value is obvious. The health is slightly questionable. But the risk isn’t that great. Signing Nola to a contract extension would be a good move this offseason.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ken Bland

    November 28, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Can’t say I agree with the timing of this. The premise is good, the timing isn’t. I’d start thinking in terms of a package in the second half of 2018 with the idea of negotiating an agreement next off season. It’s pretty rare in any sport that a young player getting their career off to a powerful start is rewarded with so much time left in arbitration years, and free agency is not until 2022. Another year of success would establish a higher base of confidence.

    The argument about a lack of pitching amongst Nola’s teammates is a little flawed. Nobody in their right mind disputes that the Phils had poor starting pitching in 2017 aside from Nola who turned in a B+ year, and I wouldn’t really quibble with A-. I wouldn’t pretend to be expert enough to suggest how it happens, but out of Eickhoff, Pivetta, Lively, Velasquez, Thompson, 1, maybe 2 of these guys is going to blossom and be a good MLB pitcher. True, the reports are good on candidates lower in the system, which is still maybe a distance off, but while acquiring a pitcher or two for 2018 would be wise, I’d at least lean toward a year from now that Nola has company spurring optimism for the future.

    I’m probably more interested to see when Hoskins is extended. My expectation is that will be a good decision.

  2. Vernon Dozier

    November 28, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    I’d be more inclined to trade him while his value is high. Since the day he was drafted, he’s been considered a Tommy John surgery waiting to happen by people who analyze pitching mechanics. Nola missing so much time over the past two seasons has done nothing to make me think those people aren’t correct.

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