Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The question mark: 2017 Player Preview for Aaron Nola

Aaron Nola could be a future ace. Through his first 25 starts, he looked the part. The young right-hander had tossed 155 frames of 3.12 ERA, with 153 strikeouts against 18 home runs and 34 walks.
Then he turned into a 6-foot-2, 195 pound batting tee. From June 11 to July 28, he gave up 54 hits and 14 walks in 33 innings. What was strange was that he only gave up three home runs and struck out 36 batters.
This is the sixth in a series previewing the 2017 Philadelphia Phillies. The previous post looked at Vincent Velasquez. This post looks at the impact of Aaron Nola's health.
Nola's health is likely the key to where the Phillies finish in the standings.

The Phillies rotation could be very good. If they're able to trot out Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Vincent Velasquez, Clay Buchholz and Aaron Nola on a regular basis, it could be a stable, reliable rotation that shocks people.
The Phils are lucky in that they also have a stable of young guns waiting in the minors: Mark Appel, Ben Lively, Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin.
We basically know what we should get out of Hellickson and Eickhoff this year - 200 innings apiece of 3.75 ERA, a 4.10-4.30 FIP and few free baserunners. Velasquez probably pitches 150 innings, some of which will be electrifying. Buchholz has a chance to be a good fourth or fifth starter.
But what can we expect of Nola, who missed the final two months of 2016 with an elbow injury that had fans fearing Tommy John surgery?
I'm willing to bet there's a correlation between how many games the Phillies start and where they finish in the win column. If he makes 0-10 starts, they're probably win 62-67 games. If he makes 11-20 starts, they can probably win 68-72 games. If he starts 21-30 games, they might win 73-77 games. If he starts 31-33 games, they might win 78-80 games.
Nola is that important because if he's starting that many games he's A. healthy and B. helping the bullpen.

Resting the bullpen

In Nola's first 12 starts in 2016, Nola made it to the seventh inning seven times. He pitched fewer than six innings just once. Go back to 2015 and look at those numbers. As a rookie, he tossed at least six frames in seven of 13 starts.
If he's healthy, you can't help but think Nola would make it through six in at least 70 percent of his starts and through seven in about 55 percent of his starts. That's likely giving the arms more rest than Jake Thompson and crew will be able to provide.

How effective can Nola be?

I don't put a lot of stock in Spring Training stats, but reviews have been fairly solid for Nola. He's throwing back around his normal speed. He's definitely shown some rust, giving up more hits than innings pitched. But he's been stingy, allowing just 1 walk in 7 1/3 innings pitched. He's also struck out nine.
Nola's next spring training start will be important as he'll be stretched out a bit more than he has been.
Look to see how he finishes that outing.
Of course, it won't tell you what his 2017 season will be like. But each test he passes in Spring Training will be a valuable moment for the Phillies.
The more Nola pitches, and the better he pitches, the better off the Phillies will be.