The Phillies travel to Washington tonight. Bryce Harper will face his former team for the first time. Will there be cheers? Will there be boos? Who Knows!?! What we do know is the drama should be palpable down there as Phillies fans will no doubt make the trip to cheer on their squad and talk some shit to Nationals fans. Should be good times.
Harper’s return is going to bring the buzz, but the Phillies had an opportunity to also turn this game into a marquee matchup between two of baseball’s best pitchers by pitting Aaron Nola against Max Scherzer. For Phillies fans that care about narrative, this game will be a missed opportunity to watch two elite arms go head-to-head, but for fans that care about the long-term health and success of the team, they should have no issue with Zach Eflin making his season debut tonight. We’ll get to why in a minute.
After six strong innings on Opening Day, Nola could have made his next start with the standard four days of rest, begging the seemingly fair question—if other teams are doing it, and the Nationals are doing it, then why aren’t the Phillies doing it? Angelo Cataldi lamented this very question on the WIP Morning Show earlier today, but here’s my question—who cares what other teams are doing? Gabe Kapler’s only job is to consider what is best for his team and, in turn, make decisions that are likely to yield the most favorable outcomes.
Let’s sidestep the surface argument that it’s April 2 and only the fourth game of the season, so there’s no need to play this one like it’s the fourth game of the NLDS, even though that’s a perfectly sound argument. Let’s instead look at the data for a more tangible answer. Here are Nola’s 2018 rest splits:
- Four Days: 13 games, 7-4, 2.71 ERA, .201 BA, 11 HR allowed, .359 SLG% .611 OPS
- Five Days: 17 games, 10-1, 1.83 ERA, .186 BA, 4 HR allowed, .261 SLG% .521 OPS
And here are his career rest splits:
- Four Days: 41 games, 17-18, 4.73 ERA, .256 BA, 30 HR allowed, .426 SLG% .735 OPS, 1.281 WHIP
- Five Days: 43 games, 23-7, 2.29 ERA, .210 BA, 21 HR allowed .309 SLG%, .580 OPS, 1.036 WHIP
I’m not sure that I have to explain the above numbers, but I will. Nola’s ERA was almost nearly a full run lower and opponent OPS dropped by nearly 100 percentage points when he had an extra day of rest last season. Throughout the course of his career, Nola’s ERA drops by nearly two-and-a-half runs with that extra day.
Could the Phillies trot him out there tonight to appease the shallow thinkers that absolutely need a marquee pitching matchup to pair with Harper’s D.C. return? Sure. But anyone with long-term perspective about a 162-game season or that simply does some quick surface research can see that holding Nola back an extra day is a sound decision by Kapler.