Before the 2023 MLB Season started, I wrote an article in an attempt to examine Aaron Nola’s value and why I thought it made sense to lock him into a long-term deal. The long-tenured Phillie and Dave Dombrowski broke off negotiations in Spring Training, agreeing the re-evaluate after the season.
This typically is a strategy that has positives and negatives for both the player and front office, as both teams are gambling on their current season to help make the long-term decision.
The Phillies made the same decision with JT Realmuto, which eventually led to a long-term deal. Aaron Nola was taking a gamble on himself, hoping to return to Cy Young form, which would have netted him an even higher AAV, putting him in the upper echelon of starting pitching contracts. Unfortunately, the gamble has not worked well for Aaron. Nola has set a career-high in home runs allowed, seemingly always leaving a hanging curveball over the plate, and we still have a month of baseball to go.
On Monday, August 28th, Nola took the hill in a pivotal Game 1 against the Giants as the Phillies look to continue to gain ground in the NL Wild Card race. It was another shaky start, with Nola allowing 2 runs in the first 3 innings; however, he rebounded well to blank the Giants the rest of the way, finishing with 7 innings pitched, 2 earned runs, 4 hits allowed, 1 walk, and 5 Ks. Nola has struggled with a 6.75 ERA over his previous 4 starts and currently holds a 4.49 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP and 165:40 K:BB ratio across 160 innings pitched.
I decided to investigate Aaron Nola’s Statcast and Baseball Savant pages and have found a few outliers that show where he has struggled this year. Nola is allowing a career-high in Barrel %, currently at 8.4%, Nola’s career average is 6.1%, with the MLB Average being 6.9%. For context, MLB rules define a barrel as “a batted ball requiring an exit velocity of 98 mph. Nola’s K% is sitting at 24.9%, a career-low compared to his career average of 27.2%. But what stood out to me was that Nola’s always had a nasty sinker that he typically used as an outpitch.
This year, opponents are hitting a blistering .282 against the pitch. For context, this same pitch allowed a batting average of .176 last year. All these statistics show that Nola has been missing his pitch locations, which have led to balls being barreled up, showing in the drastic differences in his K%, Barrel %, and loss of dominance on his sinker.
Since his call up to Philadelphia, Nola has done everything the team has asked and exceeded expectations.
Most recently, Nola finished 4th in Cy Young voting, where he finished 3rd in the National League in Ks as well as top 5 in WHIP in the NL.
This wasn’t the first time that Nola has flashed brilliance, also finishing top 3 in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018, representing the Phillies at the All-Star Game, as well as finishing with a 2.37 ERA in over 200 innings. The Phillies rewarded this previously with a 4 year extension which leads us to where we stand currently.
If we let Nola hit the market, he will be priced similarly to where Carlos Rodon just landed, 6 years, $162million with a $27million AAV.
The Phillies find themselves in a strange place with Aaron Nola, based on his rough 2023 season. Can this all be blamed on the new pitching rules, with the pitch clock affecting his timing? That’s one possibility. But the Phillies are in win-now mode and need Nola now more than ever. We need Aaron to find his footing and get back to dominance as this team embarks on its post-season run.
Dombrowski and Montgomery have gone all in on this team, with our team budget at record highs.
Nola will need to show he’s still got it to earn this next contract, or we may be in the market for a new number 2 pitcher.