Aaron Nola hasn’t been at his sharpest for the Philadelphia Phillies in his first two starts in August. And yet, Nola has just a 1.50 ERA in two starts this month, with the Phillies having won both of his starts. Nola’s ERA on the season now sits at 2.28, which is rather remarkable when you consider that he’s pitched in 154.0 innings across 24 starts in 2018. And while the trio of Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin could all stand in the way of Nola winning the National League Cy Young Award, he’s unquestionably having one of the finest seasons in Phillies history.
Consider this: Nola’s 2.28 ERA after 24 starts bests (by a large margin, in some cases) the numbers of many of the greatest seasons that Phillies starting pitchers have ever had:
A few things stand out on this chart. First of all, Nola’s 2.28 ERA is lower than Roy Halladay’s was at this stage of his 2010 National League Cy Young Award winning season. It’s 20 points lower than Steve Carlton’s was after 24 starts in 1972, a season when he would finish with 27 wins, a 1.97 ERA and an off-the-charts 12.5 bWAR. The other thing that stands out is just how remarkably good Grover Cleveland Alexander was, which is often forgotten in discussions of the greatest Phillies of all-time.
Of course, while some believe Nola’s been so important to the Phillies that he should draw National League MVP consideration, he hasn’t been asked to carry the same workload that Carlton and Halladay, among others, did. Through 24 starts in 1972, Carlton had already logged 196.1 innings. In 24 starts in 2010, Halladay had already thrown 185.0 innings, which wasn’t commonplace at the time. Nola has totaled 154.0 innings in 24 starts. He has zero complete games and has lasted eight innings “just” twice in 2018. Pitchers are used entirely differently than they were just eight years ago, let alone in 1972. Still, for Nola to be mentioned in the same breath as Carlton and Halladay – who, in a year, will both likely be Hall of Famers – gives you an idea of how impressive his 2018 season has been.
Another area where Nola has excelled in has been his ability to limit the amount of walks he surrenders. Nola has walked just 43 batters in 2018. That’s less than these Phillies starters had walked through 24 starts in some of the finest seasons in club history: Carlton in 1972 and 1980 and Curt Schilling in 1997.
Nola has also already posted a 7.2 bWAR, which is the highest total a Phillie has put up since 2011, when Cliff Lee slightly edged out Halladay for the team lead with an 8.9 bWAR. Nola’s 7.2 bWAR already tops the totals posted for the entirety of some of the greatest Phillies seasons in recent memory:
These seasons aren’t handpicked to fit a narrative. Lee was an All-Star in 2013. 2011 is arguably the finest individual season of Hamels’ career. 1997 and 1998 were the finest individual seasons of Schilling’s eight-and-a-half season tenure in Philadelphia. And 1977 and 1982 were seasons in which Carlton won Cy Young Awards. WAR isn’t the end-all-be-all, but it is another valuable measure for determining the success of an individual’s season. And it’s telling that in just 24 starts, Nola has already topped the bWAR of some of the greatest full seasons in franchise history.
Could Nola hit a wall in his final six or seven starts of the 2018 season and see his bWAR regress? He could, although there’s no reason to think that will be the case. More likely than that is that he continues to add to his total. Lee’s 8.9 bWAR in 2011 is the highest total that a Phillies pitcher has posted since Carlton’s 10.2 mark in 1980. So Nola has a chance to at least approach the highest bWAR that a Phillies pitcher has totaled in the last 38 years.
One final statistic that illustrates why Nola has been so successful is that he’s keeping the ball in the ballpark. His HR/9 is down from 0.96 in 2017 to 0.47 in 2018. 0.47 is the third lowest HR/9 in the sport, trailing only the aforementioned deGrom and Cleveland Indians star Trevor Bauer.
Nola’s HR/9 total doesn’t top just some of the better marks in today’s game, but the marks posted in some of the very best seasons a Phillies pitcher has ever had:
And Nola – once thought to be a safe pick in the MLB Draft – is doing this in just his age-25 season. It’s possible we are witnessing the first Cy Young Award caliber season from a pitcher that could turn into one of this generation’s best arms.
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