Coming off an otherworldly 2018 season in which he finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting, the Phillies inked RHP Aaron Nola to a four-year, $48 million contract extension. After one of the better seasons in franchise history, expectations were sky-high for Nola entering 2019. He failed to meet said expectations from the onset, and a while he had a hot stretch in July and August, he was truly unable to regain his 2018 form consistently in 2019.
Despite some struggles, Nola is still by far the best player to come out of the Phillies farm system this decade and remains an integral part of the team’s core. Here are three numbers that show just what plagued Nola in 2019:
4.89 – ERA over his first 15 starts of the season
For the first two-and-a-half months of the season, Nola was simply ineffective. He served up home runs at an alarming rate, and he rarely looked like the ace of a team.
During this stretch, opponents hit .271 with a .448 slugging percentage against Nola. He allowed 1.44 home runs and four walks per nine innings, both far higher than his previous career averages of 0.9 and 2.5 respectively.
Nola did recover from these struggles nicely, however. Over his next 14 starts that dated to the end of August, he pitched to a 2.21 ERA, the fifth-best mark in the majors during that stretch. He allowed 0.86 home runs and 2.69 walks per nine during the stretch, both big improvements from his first 15 starts of the season.
Nola struggled again in September. His mid-summer stretch was superb, though, and shouldn’t be discounted despite his general inconsistency in 2019.
34 – Games started
While Nola was unable to meet his level of production from 2018, he still stayed on the field. This was imperative considering the plethora of injuries that the Phillies faced, and gave Nola his second straight season of 200+ innings pitched.
Nola is the first Phillies to pitch back-to-back 200 inning seasons since Cole Hamels did it in 2013-14, and is one of just six pitchers in baseball to do it over the last two seasons. The importance of health and being able to pitch every fifth day cannot be understated, and over the last two seasons, he has been able to stay off the injured list.
6.92 – ERA after the fifth inning
Several times in 2019, Nola was cruising through the first five or six innings of the game, but was just unable to finish his starts. Batters had an .841 OPS against him the third time through the order, and beyond the home runs and walks, it was the biggest difference between Nola last season and this season.
Nola had only a 2.41 ERA after the fifth inning in 2018. Batters had a .540 OPS against him the third time through the order, and his effectiveness deep into games is a big part of what made him special.
Nola was absolutely spectacular in 2018, and only a small group of pitchers can replicate that production year in and year out. But, considering his ace status, he simply has to be better and more effective at pitching deep into games.
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