Aaron Nola

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Aaron Michael Nola

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher Aaron Nola was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 22nd round of the 2011 amateur draft, but went on to college at Louisiana State University. He was then the #7 overall pick by the Philadelphia Phillies and scout Mike Stauffer in the 2014 amateur draft and signed quickly, being assigned to the Class A Clearwater Threshers to begin his professional career. He went 4-3, 2.93 in 12 games between Clearwater and the AA Reading Fightin Phils in his first professional season. He began the 2015 season back with Reading, where he went 7-3, 1.88 in 12 starts to earn a promotion to the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs on June 18th. In 6 starts in the International League, he was 3-1, 3.58 when the Phillies, who were struggling with the worst record in the majors leagues, announced that he would be called up to make his big league debut after the All-Star Game.

His debut came for the Phillies against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 21, 2015. In front of one of the largest crowds of the year at Citizens Bank Park, he gave up only 1 run in 6 innings while keeping opposite hitters off-balance with his assortment of pitches; unfortunately, his teammates were unable to score at all and he was saddled with a 1-0 loss. Ironically, the only run came on the first major league homer by his opponent that day, Nathan Karns. He did not quite match that, but did collect his first big league hit with a single off Karns in the 5th, one of only four by the Phils on the night. He was the first Phillies player to make his major league debut in the year after being drafted since Pat Combs back in 1989. He earned his first big league win in his next start, on July 26th, defeating the Chicago Cubs, 9-5, at Wrigley Field. He went 6-2, 3.589 in 13 games, all starts.

In 2016, Nola went 6-9, 4.78 in 20 starts in his sophomore season. On the positive side, he struck out 121 batters in 111 innings. He started 2017 slowly, missing a month of action in late April and early May, and after 9 games on June 16th, he was only 3-5 with an ERA of 4.76. However, he then began a stretch of 7 starts during which he never gave up more than 2 runs. He went 5-1 over that period, with an ERA of 1.49, giving an inkling that he could be a future ace. On July 26th, he set a personal best with 10 strikeouts over 6 scoreless innings in defeating the powerful Houston Astros, 9-0. With a 3-1 win over the New York Mets on August 12th, he improved to 9-7 and pushed his streak of starts of 6 innings and 2 runs or less to 10, something no other Phillies pitcher had done since at least 1900. He finished the season at 12-11, 3.54, striking out 184 batters in 164 innings over 27 starts.

Nola's solid 2017 season earned him the nod as the Phillies' Opening Day starter in 2018. It was the debut game for manager Gabe Kapler against the Atlanta Braves on March 29th, and Kapler faced some controversy when he removed Nola after just 5 1/3 innings nd 68 pitches, as he had given up just a run on three hits. The bullpen then imploded and Philadelphia lost the game, 8-5, the start of a rough first few days for Kapler. However, the Phillies quickly stabilized things, and Nola pitched like a true ace in the early going as he did not give up more than 3 runs in any of his first 9 starts, going 6-1, 1.99 in that stretch. On May 26th, he had one of the best starts of his career, as he took a no-hitter into the 7th inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. He had issued just a 1st-inning walk when he walked Justin Smoak and Yangervis Solarte in the 7th, then allowed a two-out single to Russell Martin that tied the game at 1-1. He probably could not have pitched any longer, however, as he had made a season-high 113 pitches. He ended up with a no-decision as the Phils won the game, 2-1. He celebrated being named to the All-Star team for the first time with a great performance against the New York Mets on July 9th. he pitched 7 shutout innings and struck out 10 batters while driving in 3 runs with a bases-clearing two-out double in the 5th. The 3-1 win was his 12th of the season. Now a front-runner for the Cy Young Award, he faced off against one of his main rivals, Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, on August 23rd. The duel was as good as advertised, with Nola coming ahead with a 2-0 win, tossing 8 scoreless innings while walking 1 and striking out 9 before turning the ball over to Pat Neshek.

On June 25, 2021, he tied a record set by Tom Seaver in 1970 by striking out ten straight batters in a start against the New York Mets in the first game of a doubleheader. The feat was matched on August 11th by Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers. It was a strange season for Nola, as he went 9-9, 4.63 in 32 starts, his final numbers belying how well he pitched. His K/W ratio was an outstanding 223/39 and his expected ERA was 3.35, giving the largest gap of any pitcher that season. Two factors helped to sink his numbers: playing before a very weak defensive team, and having many of his efforts sabotaged by a terrible bullpen. The batting average on balls in play against him was anormally high. It has been demonstrated that large variations in this statistic are almost entirely a result of luck. This explains in part why his rotation mates, who also had to deal with a bad defense and a weak bullpen, ended up with better-looking numbers. Even with this unusually high batting average, he allowed just 165 hits in 180 2/3 innings, a hit rate that, combined with very few walks, is not normally paired with such a high ERA, once again pointing to unusually poor luck.

Nola did bounce back in 2022, going 11-13 with an ERA of 3.25 in 32 starts. His ERA was back in a territory corresponding with the quality of his work, although his won/loss record did not, but he was still a major factor in getting the Phillies back into the postseason, and then in helping them to make it all the way to the World Series. He pitched 205 innings and set a personal best with 235 strikeouts. In the postseason, he acted as a co-ace with Zack Wheeler winning his lone start in both the Wild Card Series and the Division Series, pitching a total of 12 2/3 innings over the two games. In the NLCS, however, he was rocked for 6 runs on 4 2/3 innings in Game 2 on October 19th, but the Phils defeated the San Diego Padres in six games. He then started Games 1 and 4 of the World Series against the Houston Astros but did not pitch particularly well in either game, giving up a total of 8 runs in 8 1/3 innings. He had another very good season in 2023, going 12-9, 4.46 and striking out 202 batters in 193 2/3 innings. The Phillies returned to the postseason, and he again won both of his starts in the first two rounds to lead the Phillies to the Championship Series. In a closely-fought series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he won once and lost once, with a 3.48 ERA, as the Phils failed to make it back to the Fall Classic.

He became a free agent after the 2023 season and on November 19th became one of the first players from that class to reach a deal, signing for seven years to return to the Phillies, for a total of $172 million.

His brother Austin Nola is an infielder turned catcher who reached the majors in 2019. The two were on opposite sites in the 2022 NLCS in which Aaron's Phillies faced Austin's San Diego Padres.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • NL All-Star (2018)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (2022)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2018)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 3 (2018, 2019 & 2022)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 5 (2018, 2019 & 2021-2023)

Records Held[edit]

  • Strikeouts, consecutive, 10, June 25, 2021 (tied)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Christina De Nicola: "Oh brother! Nola bros set for sibling showdown", mlb.com, October 18, 2022. [1]
  • Brent Hershey: "100 Names to Know: Aaron Nola and Co. provide hope for Phillies", USA Today Sports, February 10, 2016. [2]
  • Pat James: "Here is how Nola is pitching like an ace again", mlb.com, August 6, 2022. [3]
  • Adam McCalvy: "'Humble' Nola becoming Phillies' big-time pitcher: Right-hander tosses 6-plus stellar innings in NLDS Game 3 win over Braves", mlb.com, October 14, 2022. [4]
  • Todd Zolecki: "Nola feels '100 percent' after injury-shortened 2016", mlb.com, January 17, 2017. [5]
  • Todd Zolecki: "Nola, Phillies commit for long haul with 7-year deal", mlb.com, November 19, 2023. [6]

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