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Aaron Nola was awesome at the All-Star Game

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Last night, the nation saw what we’ve seen all year — Aaron Nola is stud.

89th MLB All-Star Game, presented by Mastercard Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

For the better part of 48 hours, the entire Phillies universe has been focused on one thing — the pursuit of Manny Machado. That’s a shame, for two reasons.

One, the Phillies aren’t getting him (stupid Los Angeles Dodgers).

Two, it overshadowed the fact that Aaron Nola was pitching in the All-Star Game last night.

Did you remember that? Did you remember that Aaron Nola, one of the 10 best pitchers on the planet and five best pitchers in the National League this season, was going to pitch an inning for the National League All-Star team last night in Washington, DC?

Well, pitch he did. Nola got the 5th inning of the AL’s 8-6, 10-inning victory, and he didn’t squander his opportunity to show the world that he is a beast.

His first opponent was Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez, who came into the All-Star Game hitting a robust .221/.259/.394 with 13 home runs so far this year. Sal, meet Aaron’s curveball.

Like dangling a string in front of a kitten.

Up next, Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, who hit 23 dingers in the first half and was sporting a wOBA of .471 that was the best in all of baseball.

Forget the curveball, Aaron. Give him the heater.

Yeah, that’s a 96 mph fastball with run, something Nola didn’t have when he was first drafted — something that has helped make him a true No. 1 starter.

Nola then proceeded to give up a single to Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, but we all know he did that just so he could fact the greatest player in the world, Mike Trout.

Trout showed everyone why he is the greatest player in the world by not striking out against the filth of Aaron Nola.

And thus, Nola’s night in the nation’s capital was complete, with two strikeouts, a single, and foul pop against two of the best hitters the sport has to offer.

As noted by ABC’s Jeff Skversky, Nola became the first Phillies pitcher to strike out multiple hitters in an All Star Game since Randy Wolf in 2003!

(Incidentally, Remember Randy Wolf? Dude had a 10-4, 3.31 ERA, .204 opp AVG, and a 106/41 K/BB in 119.2 innings at the break that season h/t to Jeff Israel for those stats.)

Nola’s improvements in 2018 are not mysterious.

In his first season, 2015, Nola threw his changeup 11.6% of the time. It dropped to 8.7% in his injury-shorted 2016 season, and bumped up to 15.6% last year. However, this season he’s thrown it 20.5% of the time, clearly gaining more confidence in the pitch. That confidence has allowed him to stop throwing his fastball quite so much, down from 64.0% of the time in ‘15 to 50.2% this season.

That changeup has also helped limit the damage left-handed hitters can do against him. Last season, lefties had a wOBA of .318 against him and a slash line of .255/.325/.415 with 8 home runs allowed. This season, they have a wOBA of .242 with a slash of .194/.273/.255 and 2 dingers allowed.

A slugging percentage drop from .415 to .255 is monstrous, and a number Phils pitching coaches care deeply about.

That pitch, along with his devastating curveball and electric fastball, has helped Nola to be worth 5.9 WAR according to Baseball Reference, second-most in baseball, behind only New York’s Jacob deGrom and his 6.0 WAR.

That’s right, according to BRef’s WAR calculations, Aaron Nola has essentially been the second-best pitcher in Major League Baseball this season.

It’s clear Nola is the Phillies’ most valuable player, the player they can least afford to lose if they want to stay in contention in the NL East in the second half. It’s also clear that, if the Phillies do make the postseason, they have a true ace on their hands.

Something some of the best hitters in the American League found out last night.