2022 was very, very good to Aaron Nola. He established himself further as one of the top arms in the game, he exorcised his September demons and for those who may not familiar with him around the country, he introduced himself to the larger national stage.
All in all, a pretty, pretty, pretty good season.
2022 stats: 32 GS, 205 IP, 168 H, 75 R (74 ER), 19 HR, 29.1 K%, 3.6 BB%, 3.25 ERA (2.58 FIP), 6.0 bWAR
What more can you say about Nola in 2022?
He had a few stinkers, as most pitchers are wont to do, but his consistency was needed for a team that lost their co-ace for much of the stretch run. His rankings in the statistics you look at most for pitchers were among the best in the game.
- bWAR - 6.0 (4th in MLB)
- WHIP - 0.96 (7th in MLB)
- BB/9 - 1.27 (2nd in MLB)
- K/9 - 10.32 (9th in MLB among SP)
- IP - 205 (2nd in MLB)
- K - 235 (4th in MLB)
- K/BB - 8.10 (1st in MLB)
It’s just so impressive to look back, statistically, at his season and see where he ended up. He sometimes gets lost in the conversation about top starters in the game, but this past year should put him back in that conversation.
One could argue that Nola looked pretty bad in the NLCS and World Series and you wouldn’t get much pushback from me. 13 innings pitched in three starts in the two series and he allowed 14 runs to the Padres and Astros. It was pretty shocking to see him perform so poorly, but I think we can all admit - Nola was almost totally spent by that point.
By the time he toed the rubber in San Diego, he had thrown 217 2⁄3 innings to that point, the most in his career. It wasn’t so far over his previous high of 212 1⁄3 years back, but considering he had pitched in what felt like a playoff atmosphere for the month prior to that if you factor in the game he needed to win just to get to October, the emotional and physical toll on his arm was showing. Might you expect he dig a little deeper, use that extra adrenaline jolt to carry him through his starts? You could, but that can only do so much. Eventually, you’re going to be on fumes and for Nola, those fumes just weren’t enough to get him across the finish line still at the level he had pitched at all year long.
Ah, the meat of the post.
Arguably, the biggest question left this offseason for the team to answer is what they are going to do about Aaron Nola in the future. We are all aware that this is his final season under contract with the team and that there is mutual interest in working out something beyond the 2023 season.
For the Phillies, the obvious fit of Nola atop the rotation with Zack Wheeler for the foreseeable future would make sense for their World Series aspirations. After all, we saw what having two aces in a staff can do during the Wild Card round, as well as the Divisional Round. It’s been a key component of playoff teams for eons and has become more critical as playoff series get shorter and shorter.
For Nola, his value to the team is almost the living embodiment of the Jack Nicholson tirade in “A Few Good Men”, his being able to recite to Dave Dombrowski and friends, “You WANT me on that wall, you NEED me on that wall...” While he can aggravate at times with his home run proneness, it’s getting hard to argue that he isn’t in the top tier of pitchers in the game.
But at what price? Words have been written already about how much the team should be offering in an extension offer and there will undoubtedly be more written as the class 2023-24 free agents dwindle in both quantity and quality. The team would clearly like to have him back at the right price while Nola would like to cash in one final time before his prime years start appearing in the rear view mirror with greater frequency. It’s an interesting debate that might be a little muddied by what the team is doing with their top prospects.
Last year, Mick Abel and Andrew Painter were being moved through the system with haste, the team in need of some reinforcements late in the season. There was a fleeting thought to giving them a start or two in September, but those dreams met the realities of a pennant race and innings limits, the pair too valuable to thrust into that kind of spotlight and risk some kind of damage. But what if there was an ulterior motive to them moving along? Clearly, they were both ready for the push the team was giving them, but what if they were also being moved in hopes of being ready to join the major league roster in time for a possible Nola departure? The team is pushing up against the second tax threshold this year, a year after breaking into the luxury tax threshold for the first time. Is it possible they are looking to replace Nola with both of the kids so that they can have a little more palatable bottom line without sacrificing, in their eyes, in terms of pitching talent and ability? Without them throwing a pitch in a major league mound yet, that feels like an awfully risky move to make. There are all sorts of things that could go wrong with the pair - injury, ineffectiveness, steps backwards in development. If they are counting on them to both be at, or near, Nola’s level in 2024, it just doesn’t feel like the wisest thing to do.
So, as the team moves into the coming season, the possibility of a Nola extension will be discussed and discussed often. It’s really one of the only things “hovering” over the team outside of the regular worries a team has. They should smarten up and offer him the money. But will they?
Final grade: A
He was great for most of the year, but we were all mostly pointing at the calendar with added vigor, saying, “Do it in September, Aaron, and I’ll be happy.”
Well, that criticism of his game can be laid to rest.
Nitpicking at his World Series performance might knock him down a peg for some and that would be defensible. For me, an A is pretty much exactly where it should be for his whole season.