Aaron Nola generated 26 whiffs from Giants hitters last night on his way to piling up 12 strikeouts over seven innings of one-run baseball in what was nothing short of a brilliant performance. In many ways, it was more of the same for Nola, who has been outstanding all season.
Before I commence statistically validating my adoration of his performance or inevitably and awkwardly fawning over his physical appearance, allow me to lead with this searing take: Aaron Nola wakes up this morning as not only one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball, but also as perhaps the most underrated athlete in the city of Philadelphia. If you think that’s hyperbole, fine, but you are wrong.
First, the stats: He’s posted a 2.05 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, .197 BAA, and 2.55 FIP. He leads ALL National League players with a 2.4 WAR, and is third in all of baseball behind only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.
Really, the one oddity of Nola’s dazzling start to his season had been his uncharacteristic 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s not entirely a bad thing. As Major League Baseball continues its upward trajectory towards historically high strikeout rates, Nola’s starts have been consistently clean and efficient, as he’s generated one of the best weak contact rates among any pitcher so far. But just in case you weren’t sure if he had the ability to throw the baseball by opposing hitters, his effort last night should satisfy your skepticism. That aforementioned unusually low K/9 rate jumped by nearly more than an entire strikeout to 8.03 after last night. In fact, Nola has generated a career-best 11.9 swinging strike percentage over his first eight starts.
He relied heavily upon his change-up, using it in 24 of his 109 offerings, to completely confound San Francisco’s offense. If Nola can use the change-up, which he is relying upon a career-high 20.7% of the time this season, with similar effectiveness moving forward, my guess is that we won’t hear any more valuations such as, “Well, I don’t know, he’s really good, I guess, but is he an ace?” Not only is he an ace in the traditional sense, but he’s also entering the Cy Young conversation. Max Scherzer and Carlos Martinez have been out of their minds this season, and I’m not implying that Nola is ahead of either, but he at least has some real estate in their neighborhood. That is an indisputable claim.
Look at the drop Aaron Nola is getting on his changeup tonight. No wonder he has 11 Ks through five innings. pic.twitter.com/doH6wL2SS9
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) May 9, 2018
But what about my assertion that he is underrated in this city? Now, these exercises aren’t exactly the scientific method, but if I asked you for a list of Philly’s best/most popular athletes, who would you put near the top? Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Carson Wentz, the 53-man roster that won the Super Bowl, and, I guess, maybe Claude Giroux, or whatever young Flyer that will inevitably disappoint?
Or let’s try this: If there was a car dealership that needed to hire an athlete to awkwardly smile on screen and lie to people about how the team at “Whatever Buick GMC” in some PA suburb is going to help you “score” the best deals, they would probably do just as well by hiring Kamu Grugier-Hill as they would if they tabbed Nola. I’m sure some boner in the comments section will interpret this as a “please like my sport” post or dismiss baseball as irrelevant, but there was a time not so long ago when several of Philadelphia’s marquee athletes were baseball players. You recall Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins, no? Even secondary players like Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz were part of the upper-crust.
It’s not the fans’ fault. Since Nola’s arrival, the Phillies have been a non-factor and a tough watch, but with the team a mere half-game out of first place this morning, I think it’s a safe assumption that with a sustained performance into June and July by both he and his teammates, that we’re careening towards “The summer of Aaron Nola.” And while his rise will undoubtedly coincide with his team’s ascension, it’s probably time, independently, for the masses to acknowledge just how good he is.
As for the fawning, let me just say that he’s an absolute delight to study. A total treat. Nice complexion. Admirable facial stubble. There’s this, I don’t know, wholesome boyish quality about his demeanor, but there is also a different quality, one that hints at a mysterious and fierce side hiding behind his eyes, eyes that if they stared me down would cut directly into my soul. I’d willingly comply with their demands.
Let’s put it this way, and I hope local marketers are paying attention: If Aaron Nola told me that I absolutely needed to get behind the wheel of a 1991 Isuzu Trooper with 238,000 miles, I would be so down for it.
I guess that got a bit weird, didn’t it?