Aaron Nola: Changed and Better Than Ever

Down, but not out

(Philly.com)

Everyone knows the Phillies are rebuilding. It’s a bleak time for any franchise, but it generally looks even worse especially considering the Phillies are supposed to better than their record right now. The few bright spots? Well you really have the Aaron’s to thank: Alther and Nola.

For today, I’ll focus on Nola because he’s been outstanding this year. An 18.3 K-BB%, 74 ERA-, and a 73 FIP- over 105 IP; that’s damn good. Last year Nola came out strong showcasing impeccable command while getting a high number of grounders. Nola is known for his sinker and curve combo because it’s so much of what made him successful last year. But he’s actually toned down the sinker usage quite significantly.

(FanGraphs)

Pay particular attention to how the 4-seam and sinker change dramatically. He essentially ditched it last year and brought it back this year to welcome results. This year his GB% dropped from 59.2% to 49.7%, but he still sits in the 80th percentile amongst qualified starters. He also sits in the 80th percentile for K-BB% amongst starters with a 18.3% mark.

Nola has managed to be elite at generating grounders and whiffs despite a new approach when it comes to fastball and sinker usage. But more importantly Nola has upped the change usage this year and for good reason.

The change:

And here’s how it looks paired with his sinker:

It’s an 8 MPH differential on average and about four more inches of drop. That’s a dirty pairing, especially if the batter isn’t always sitting on the sinker or curve. The change has been Nola’s best pitch by SwStr% (16.3%) and GB% (72%). Nola has clearly become more comfortable with the pitch this year. From CSN Philly after his start on July 21st:

“My changeup … I’m feeling consistent with it right now,” Nola said. “It’s evolved. I really didn’t have much of a feel for my changeup [when I first came up]. It’s a thing I worked on in spring training a lot this year, threw it in counts when I usually wouldn’t. That’s what spring training is for and I think it helped.”

Nola has been balanced in his offerings for even counts and early in count especially, planting in the back of the hitters mind that he’ll go to anything when he’s got two strikes.

(Baseball Savant)

Even with a mid-90s four-seam fastball like his paired with the change is quite a combo for attacking hitters in two-strike counts. And any of his pitches pair nicely with a curve like this:

He’s got options.

Nola was deadly enough with his sinker and curve alone, but with a steady mix of all his pitches, he has managed to keep his best pitches as effective as they always were and has made his worse pitches better. He’s pitching as good as he was during his peak last year but he’s established a more sustainable model for success in the future. Nola will evolve and tweak from here but he’s putting together ace stuff.