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2020 Season Preview

Phillies Nation 2020 Season Preview: Aaron Nola


The 2020 regular season is scheduled to begin in late July, which means it’s finally time to talk some baseball! To prepare you for the season, Phillies Nation will be taking an in-depth look at all of your favorite players. Here’s a review of Aaron Nola’s 2019 season as well as what to expect from the Phillies ace in 2020.

2019 Review

2019 Stats: 34 GS, 202.1 IP, 12-7, 3.87 ERA, 4.03 FIP, WHIP 1.265, 7.8 H/9, 1.2 HR/9, 3.6 BB/9, 10.2 K/9

After finishing third in National League Cy Young voting in 2018, Aaron Nola appeared poised for greater things in 2019.

Aaron Nola is under team control until 2023. (Cheryl Pursell)

He began the season by taking his 2018 numbers to the bank, signing a four-year, $45 million dollar extension with a 2023 club option. He’s by far the most valuable player to emerge from the rebuild and the Phillies made it a priority to keep him in red pinstripes for the foreseeable future. 

Unfortunately, 2019 did not pan out the way Nola and the Phillies expected. He got off to a poor start in April, allowing at least five earned runs in three of his first four starts. His command wasn’t there and he struggled to throw deep in the games. Through his first 15 starts of the season, Nola failed to pitch six innings or more eight times. After a few bounce-back starts in late April and early May, his struggles continued into June. 

But as the summer days grew hotter and longer, Nola began turning up the heat and pitching longer into games. His first signature performance came just before the Fourth of July in Atlanta. He threw 117 pitches and struck out eight against a scorching Braves lineup that looked overmatched. Through July and August, Nola had a 2.52 ERA and looked like the ace the Phillies needed him to be:

https://twitter.com/phillies/status/1146220207008038914?s=21

Then September came around and for the second consecutive season, questions on Nola’s ability to pitch down the stretch arose. The Phillies lost Nola’s last eight starts of the season and by the time he was ready to make his last start against the Nationals, the team was eliminated from the postseason. Nola, who is known for his poise and composure while pitching, left the mound for the final time cursing at a crucial non-strike three call. The image epitomized not only Nola’s late-season struggles but the woes of the 2019 Phillies season.

2020 Preview

The most important storyline regarding Nola’s 2020 season is his personal well-being. On Saturday, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Breen reported that Nola, along with Adam Haseley and Christian Bethancourt, were placed on the COVID-19 injured list. Hours later, the report was modified. Nola, Haseley and Bethancourt are not on the list but are being kept away from the team. The three players either tested positive for the virus, showed symptoms, have a missing or inconclusive test or came in contact with an infected person.

Breen noted that Nola, Haseley and Bethancourt could be added to the COVID-19 list at a later time. NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury reported that both Nola and Haseley are working out locally.

The more time he misses, the more likely it seems someone other than Nola will start on Opening Day. Of course, health is priority No. 1 when it comes Nola, Haseley, Bethancourt and the four players added to the COVID-19 list.

If and when Nola returns, he won’t be alone at the top of the Phillies rotation. The expectation was for Jake Arrieta to pair with Nola after the Phillies signed him in 2018, but that has not worked out. Zack Wheeler’s arrival after signing a lucrative five-year contract means the Phillies could come into the season with a formidable 1-2 punch at the top, barring the availability of either pitcher to begin the season.  

The problem is that two of the Phillies three competitors in the division have a better top of the rotation. It can even be argued that the team has the fourth-best rotation in the NL East with the dropoff between the top two and bottom three starters frequently cited as the team’s most glaring hole. 

Of course, a strong season from the top of the rotation can mitigate some of the issues felt at the bottom. The question is whether or not the Phillies will get production from a healthy Nola in a shortened season that mirrors his 2018 season. The last two Septembers have been a struggle for the 27-year-old. For this season, fatigue should not be a factor when it comes to his performance at the end of the season.

He’s known for finding another gear when the summer heat kicks in. Luckily for the Phillies, a majority of the 2020 season will occur during the hottest, most humid time of the year. Nola also made some adjustments in the first part of spring training that could help him along heading into the abbreviated 2020 season.

He made working on his changeup a priority during spring training I. While his whiff percentage on changeups last season remained relatively the same compared to 2018, his average spin rate on the changeup increased slightly. The latter could be attributed to the lower seam height and slickness of the 2019 baseball. Nevertheless, Nola was not as precise when it came to locating the pitch in 2019 compared to 2018. Nola attributed his struggles with the pitch with his inability to consistently get ahead in the count:

Nola’s changeup location in 2018 (left) vs. 2019 (right). (Statcast)

“I didn’t get ahead and I didn’t throw my changeup in an even count for strikes as much as I did the year before,” Nola said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Bob Brookover. “When I had a 1-1 count and threw a changeup it would go to 2-1 and when it was 1-0 it would go to 2-0. I think that was the separator [between the two seasons].”

It’s unclear whether a pitcher like Nola will have enough time to craft a pitch in three weeks, especially considering the fact he is missing time in camp. From both a personal and competitive aspect, Nola’s absence from camp is devastating for the Phillies. The possibility of Nola missing a large portion of the 2020 season could significantly hurt the Phillies’ chances of competing for an NL East title.

Check out our previous 2020 season previews

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