As we move toward the 2016 season, let us take a look at each player on the roster and what a reasonably successful season would look like. We'll start with Aaron Nola.
PlayerName: Aaron Nola
Position: Starting pitcher
Age: Will be 23 in June
Experience: 13 starts/.076 seasons.
What we saw in 2015The seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft delivered in a big way in 2015. After starting the season, and dominating (1.88 ERA. .887 WHIP), in Reading, Nola made his way to the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. His stop their was brief.
He made his Major League debut on July 21 and impressed the rest of the way, going 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 1.197 WHIP, 3.58 K/BB. He also proved durable, completing seven or more innings in a start five times.
The lanky righthander uses his 3/4 deliver effectively pitching to both sides of the plate.
A heralded prospect who was the No.39 prospect according to Baseball America and No. 37 according to MLB Pipeline before the 2015 season began, he's pegged to be a No.3 starter who could possibly be a No. 2.
Nola threw 187 professional innings last year, a year after throwing a combined 171.6 between Louisiana State and the minors.
Important goals for 2016Innings: The Phillies need Nola to eat some innings and gain some experience. If he can top 190 innings in the big leagues next year, that's a good thing for Philadelphia. The Phils have to be hoping for a full season of at least 30 starts from him.
If he can make it out of the sixth in a majority of his starts -- and through seven innings in about 30 percent -- that means he pitched effectively.
No one expects the Phillies to compete next year, but if Nola can make this step forward in 2016, expectations should rise for 2017.
Throwing strikes: Nola's 3.58 strikeouts-per-walk was a nice number in 2015. He doesn't walk many batters, having walked one or fewer batters in seven of his 13 starts as a rookie. He had a minor league mark of 1.5 walks per nine frames, so it's been a consistent trait for the young starter.
If he can keep his 2.2 walks per nine at that level, or cut it down to about 2.0, he'll have had a strong season.
Quality Start Percentage: Say what you will about the quality start stat (a start of six or more innings and three or fewer runs), but your young pitcher with a No.2 or No.3 projection should get slightly more than 52-54 percent of his starts to qualify. Last season, because he only last five innings several times, only 46 percent of his starts reached that level. If he can get a bit more than 50 percent - again 52-54 percent is a good goal - to hit those benchmarks, he'll have progressed a lot. It's true that, hitting that number is likely a byproduct of the first two goals here, but it's still a good stat to look at in 2016.
Snappy Slider: Nola gets a lot better results than his stuff would have you believe, which might be why a No. 7 overall pick who has a professional mark of 20-9/2.90/1.102 in more than a year is slotted as just a No. 2 or No.3. His low-90s fastball habitually stays low and moves decently late. His change-up is effective and his slider is at least average. If he can get just slightly better results with that third pitch, he really could step up his results.
AnalysisI love watching this kid pitch. I think there's something special there, and it won't shock me if he has a very good career in Philadelphia.
But we're judging a lot on a first half. Pitchers can put up good numbers in their first 15 starts or so.
Maybe you remember Mike Grace. Maybe you don't. But as a kid who grew up in the Scranton Area, I thought he was going to become a staple in Philly.
He got called up as a 25-year-old in 1995. By the end of 1996, he'd put together a n impressive line.
In 14 starts, he'd pitched 91 innings (that's an average of more than 6.3 innings per start.) and had a 3.45 ERA and 3.91 FIP. This was during the steroid era. He averaged 8.1 hits, 2.0 walks and .9 homers per nine innings. Sure, he just struck out 5.5 batters per 9, but he looked solid. He'd make six effective starts in 1997, going 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA.
I didn't think he'd be an ace by any means. But I thought he'd be a good presence in the rotation for another couple of years.
Instead he went 5-11 with a 6.32 ERA and was out of baseball before he turned 30.
Now, I don't think Nola is the next Grace, but there's a chance he won't live up to his 2015 stats.
This year will be a huge season for him. I'm still betting on big things and if he hits the numbers above: 190 innings, a 2.0-2.2 BB-per-9 innings rate, 52-54 percent of his starts being quality starts, I'd start talking long-term deal.
That's if I were the GM.