Buy ‘Em or Deny ‘Em: Can Aaron Nola Rebound in 2020 Or Will He Again Fall Short?


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


  1. RP: Unrelated question, but one I’m sure all AL-Only fans are confronted with: What to do with Lindor from a keeper perspective?

    Here’s my situation: I’m in 5×5 8 keeper AL only auction league with 10 teams. I have Lindor at $30 and would normally not hesitate to keep him, because if not for the threat of trade, he goes for somewhere between $35-42 in the auction. In most years, he’d be trading at the top, but in this particular year, league wide, people have really solid offensive players to keep at good prices (Sano $1; Yordano Alvarez $10, etc) and Trout and many other top players will be thrown in the auction pool, so almost certainly top offensive player pricing will come down a bit.

    Thoughts on what to do with Lindor? Is the risk just too much for the carrying cost of $30?


    • I’d still keep him, because it’s still a fair value and it’s a bit of a guess that pricing will come down. In fact, if people have cheap keepers and more money to spend can argue that the prices will be inflated more than usual


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