Expected to take another step forward in 2019, emerging as one of the true fantasy aces, Aaron Nola ultimately took a step backwards. Does that mean it’s time to move on or could he reestablish himself after posting an underwhelming 3.87 ERA and 1.27 WHIP?
The fact is that those expecting him to replicate his 2018 success would’ve been misguided, as he benefited from a .251 BABIP and 82.5% strand rate. Both of those marks were more believable in ’19 (.295 and 76.8%, respectively), so it’s fair to consider last year’s marks more in line with expectations.
From a skills standpoint, they were all there once again:
- Strikeouts – 10.19 K/9
- Control – 3.56 BB/9
- Groundballs – 49.7%
Of course his control and SwStr% (12.4% to 11.0%) were both steps backwards, bringing his ceiling into question. His Whiff% on both his changeup (17.59% to 15.05%) and curveball (18.65% to 16.95%) regressed, and while it didn’t impact his strikeout rate that could come next. While we’d expect an improvement in his control, if opponents are laying off his strikeout pitches he may never return to elite marks (2.46 BB/9 in ’18).
Those pitches being less effective in getting swings and misses also likely led to the increased Hard% (41.9%), and in turn the increased home run rate (1.20 HR/9). The Hard% got progressively worse as the season moved on:
- First Half – 38.1%
- Second Half – 46.8%
However even that skews things, as the first half was “dragged down” by a 29.8% mark in April. He posted a 38.0% mark or worse in every other month as opposing hitters consistently teed off on his fastball (.502 SLG) and sinker (.455 SLG).
So what’s the answer to the outlook? Can he return to be the ace we thought was emerging in 2017 and 2018? It’s possible, but there would need to be a significant change:
- Can he rediscover his control… Maybe, but not necessarily
- Will his strikeout rate regress… Probably, though he should remain a strikeout per inning pitcher
- Can he limit the hard contact… Hopefully
That’s a lot of questions, though the downside remains a solid #2 starter. Maybe he’s not a Top 10 option, but he’s locked in as a Top 25 (and should be a Top 20). At the right price he’s absolutely worth selecting, just don’t pay the premium you were willing to a year ago.
Source – Fangraphs