(WARNING: opinionated article!) In 2018, the Phils ace from Louisiana, Aaron Nola, finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. Last season, Nola had a little bit of a down year, posting a 3.87 ERA in 34 games, and ended up not even being considered for the Cy Young award. In this article, I’ll go over why I expect a Cy Young year from Nola.
To start, let’s go over why Nola had such a down year last season. In April, Nola had an ERA over four. Though he did lower the ERA over the season, he still finished just under four. He also gave up an alarming amount of homeruns last season, with 83. To give some perspective, in 2018 he gave up just 27, and in 2017 just 17. One thing I noticed throughout the 2019 season was that Nola seemed to be trying to execute his pitches perfectly. In 2018, he looked a lot calmer and loose.
Why was he tight? I think it had to do with part of the fact that the Phillies had such high expectations heading into 2019. After signing Bryce Harper and trading for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura, everyone in Philadelphia was thinking, “NLCS, possibly World Series.” I think that in Nola’s first start on Opening Day, the offense was magnificent. But when it came to his third and fourth starts of April, it seemed like he started to fall apart. It coincidentally came around the same time that the offense slowed down from their “beginning of the season high.” Watching him, it looked as if he was trying to execute all of his pitches so perfectly that he was missing his spots and hanging breaking balls, which would make up for the 83 homers he allowed.
Why was Nola trying to execute his pitches perfectly? I think it had to do with the fact that he had realized that he was all the Phils pitching staff had. Jake Arrieta was having another down season with an injury, and Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez were, as usual, having up-and-down seasons. So knowing he was all the rotation had, he was trying to put extra speed on his fastball and more spin on his slider, therefore hanging his breaking pitches and missing his spots with his fastball.
Now that I’ve gone over why I think Nola had a down season last year, let’s get into why I think he should perform much better, and why I have such high expectations for his season. As everyone knows, the Phillies signed right hander Zack Wheeler to a five-year deal this past December. If we look at Wheeler’s 2019 stats, he posted a 3.96 ERA with an 11-8 record with the Mets. Not great stats, but good enough to be a solid two in the rotation (especially with the Phillies). But even a pitcher that good, will take a lot of pressure off of Nola’s shoulders. This way he won’t be trying to carry the pitching staff all by himself. So I think just having Wheeler in the rotation to back up Nola will take enough weight off Nola that he’ll loosen up a bit and hopefully have a 2018-like season. That’s why I expect a near-Cy Young season, if not a Cy Young season.