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Aaron Nola is an ace.
Aces are stoppers. An ace is the pitcher the entire team looks to to end a losing streak and, once again, the Phils’ wiry right-hander ended a Phillies losing streak and on Wednesday night kept them from being swept by the lowly Miami Marlins.
Nola pitched into the 8th inning and gave up no runs on four hits, one walk and seven strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 2.17 on the season. That ERA ranks 6th among qualified starters in the National League, and he’s 4th in fWAR (1.2), 10th in FIP (2.98), 6th in WHIP (0.92), and 8th in batting average against (.194).
His strikeout-rate is down compared to last year (26.6% to 20.4%), but his walk rate has also dropped (7.1% to 6.4%), and he leads all pitchers in hard-hit rate, allowing a “hard” hit ball just 21.6% of the time. That’s all part of the plan, as noted by Ben Harris of The Athletic this week. Nola is trying to generate early and weak contact, focusing on pitch economy and quick innings.
Take note, rest of baseball.
On Wednesday, Nola was dialed in as he rarely has been before, albeit against a not-very-good Marlins squad.
Aaron Nola retired 17 consecutive batters at one point tonight. Last #Phillies pitcher to set down at least 17 in same game: Cole Hamels in his no-hitter on 7/25/15— Scott Lauber (@ScottLauber) May 3, 2018
Remember that Hamels feller. We’re gonna talk about him more in a minutes. And Nola has done it in different ways than usual.
.@Phillies starter Aaron Nola may be changing his approach— Sports Info Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) May 3, 2018
Threw 30% changeups in last night's start
28% in previous start
2 highest changeup rates of career
First 4 starts
50% strike rate with changeup
72% strike rate with changeup pic.twitter.com/qPyu5Flros
Heaven help the rest of the National League if Nola has found another pitch with which to get hitters out.
One would imagine a contract extension is being talked about within the team’s front office officials, but whether Nola would consider such an extension is obviously an open question. Nevertheless, his first 67 career starts have been as much, or better, than anyone could have asked for. That begs the question — is Nola off to the best start of any Phillies home grown pitcher ever?
Obviously, when talking about homegrown pitchers, Cole Hamels’ name leaps to the forefront, so here are the numbers comparing both pitchers’ first 67 career starts.
Nola vs. Hamels 1st 67 Starts
Hamels is a potential Hall of Famer, and so far, Nola is right there with him.
Hamels has the edge in innings pitched, wins, strikeout-rate, ERA and opponents’ batting average, while Nola gets the nod with walk-rate and FIP. But they’re close in every category, and while Hamels was also healthier than Nola early in his career, Nola appears perfectly healthy now.
It would take a lot for Nola to catch Hamels and be rated as the “better” pitcher when all is said and done. Hamels has 13 years in the Majors under his belt, four All-Star appearances, four Top-10 Cy Young finishes, an NLCS MVP and a World Series MVP. Hamels probably doesn’t have the raw numbers to get into the Hall of Fame, but he’s certainly put up stats, and legendary postseason moments, that Nola will have a hard time matching.
Still, at this stage of Nola’s career, he’s right about where Hamels was, if just a little behind. Nola seems to be getting better, so this will be an interesting exercise to check in on at the end of this, and future seasons.
For now, Nola is simply the most underrated starting pitcher in baseball, and a true ace of a big league staff. And that’s pretty damn good.
On Episode 189 of “Hittin’ Season,” I talk about Nola with Phillies beat writer Scott Lauber of Philly.com. Also, I preview the upcoming Nationals series in Washington, what’s gone wrong for them, take a look back at the Miami series, and note how defensive shifting has hurt the Phils so far this season.