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2021 Player Preview: Aaron Nola

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Is there another Cy Young-caliber season in the immediate future for the Phillies’ ace?

Baltimore Orioles v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

What could go right in 2021?

There’s no doubt about the fact that Aaron Nola is the Phillies’ ace. The 2018 NL Cy Young finalist, and former first round draft pick, has established himself as one of the top pitchers in the National League over the past few seasons. So what could go right in 2021 for Aaron Nola? That’s an easy question to answer: He could have yet another Cy Young-caliber campaign. He is more than capable of making that happen, especially with such a strong offense and a much-improved bullpen behind him.

What could go wrong in 2021?

In the words of Michael Scott: I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious. For that reason, I’m not going to really discuss what could go wrong for Nola in 2021. I certainly won’t mention that, although he is coming off a pretty good 2020, his most recent full season was his disappointing 2019 campaign, in which he struggled quite a bit. Like I said, I’m not going to mention it. But if I were, there might be a little reason to be concerned about that.

There’s also the worry that Nola is now working with his fifth pitching coach in the last five years. This isn’t exactly an individual concern, rather it’s more of an overall organizational issue. But there is still apprehension that the issue could have a negative affect on the outcome of Nola’s 2021 season.

What could have a major impact on Nola in 2021?

The Phillies had the 5th best offense in Major League Baseball in 2020, with an average of 5.10 runs scored per game. This was an upgrade over 2019’s 14th place finish (4.78 runs per game). Despite having such a strong offensive lineup, Aaron Nola did not receive a whole lot of run support. The Phillies scored two or fewer runs in half of his games and averaged just 4.73 runs over all 12 starts.

For comparison: Zach Eflin received an average of 6.89 runs per start, Zack Wheeler received 5.99 runs, Jake Arrieta received 5.47 runs, and Spencer Howard received 5.40 runs. Only Vince Velazquez (4.34) received less run support from the offense than Nola.

The hope for any team is that their ace starter can make up for a disparity like that. But at some point, the Phillies’ offense has to step it up and support him as well. If Nola receives more runs from his offense, it’s highly likely that he will remain in games longer and will have more wins as a result.