Aaron Nola needs to be an ace for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020.
The Philadelphia Phillies decided to make a splash in 2019 by signing Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract. The team had not made the postseason since 2011 and the young star was supposed to help get the team back into October.
The result was an 81-81 record, which marked a one-game improvement over Philly’s 80-82 record in 2018. Not exactly what ownership had in mind when signing off on such a major deal.
However, Harper still finished with a 4.3 WAR, good for second on the team behind J.T. Realmuto. It was the player who finished third on the team whose slight decline from 2018 may have been a bigger hit to the team’s success. That player was starting pitcher Aaron Nola.
Aaron Nola needs to be an ace once again.
Nola finished third in National League Cy Young voting back in 2018 and made his first career All-Star Game. The pitcher finished with a 17-6 record and an ERA of 2.37. He followed it up with a 12-7 record and a 3.87 ERA in 2019. That was not bad by any measure, and Nola still led all Phillies starting pitchers in wins, ERA, K/9 and so on.
Being just average atop the rotation won’t be good enough for the Phillies to compete. But if Nola can dominate like he did in 2018, he will have a much bigger impact in a short season than one single batter like Harper can have.
Nola enters the season as the third-highest paid pitcher in the rotation behind Jake Arrieta and new arrival Zack Wheeler. The former is owed $20 million, while the latter is getting $21.5 million in the first year of his five-year, $118 million deal.
Arrieta has not been great in two seasons with the Phillies. He has a combined 4.26 ERA in 55 starts and a lackluster record of 18-19. His strikeout numbers have plummeted and his WHIP has gone up since his days with the Chicago Cubs.
Wheeler joins the team on his massive deal after posting a 3.96 ERA with a 11-8 record last season with the New York Mets. He has a career 8.7 K/9, lower than Nola’s mark of 9.6. Nola’s career WAR of 20.1 in five seasons is also way better than Wheeler’s mark of 9.9 in the same amount of time.
2020 is going to be a unique season and we have been shown early glimpses of that as players are opting out and also missing time due to positive COVID-19 tests. Nola missed time with the Phillies after being held out because of potential exposure to the virus. Luckily, he has been cleared and is with the team.
Harper hit 35 home runs, drove in 114 runs, hit 36 doubles, and had an OPS of .882 in 2019. The result was a disappointing .500 record. The 60-game season in 2020 could see most divisions decided by just one or two games.
Nola coming out and being an ace could be the ultimate difference between getting back to the postseason and another frustrating finish.