Hello. I am back with another edition of Sunday notes. Today I want to talk about Aaron Nola and the draft. And maybe something else if I can remember what it was. My plan is to continue to write at least once per week during the season, likely on Sundays, but it will depend on my work travel schedule. I may also pop up with a mid-week entry or something else, but for now, Sundays will work best for me. Thanks as always for reading.
As we all know, our new savior pitched 3 innings last Friday against the Yankees. During the winter, the Phillies made “news” by not inviting Nola to big league camp, instead opting for him to spend time on the minor league side. They decided to bring him over for an appearance with the big league team, the same way they did for Cole Hamels when he was first drafted, and then he had “the inning” that everyone talked about until he made it to the majors. So everyone was hyped to see Nola pitch. I missed it live, but found highlights, and I’ve taken those highlights and created some gifs to discuss what I saw. (if the gifs are too small for you, you can open them in a new tab and they should be a bit bigger)
As has been discussed since he was drafted, Nola has a funky low 3/4 delivery, meaning his release point is much lower than normal for a righthanded starter. The lower release point allows him to put more movement on his pitches, and I believe it is the key to his changeup, which I will get to in a minute. His motion is fairly unconventional, but he’s had no history of injury or arm trouble or anything like that, so the Phillies should probably leave it alone.
Nola was unfairly compared to Mike Leake around draft time, because he was very polished, had excellent command, and didn’t throw 97. Aaron Nola is not Mike Leake. Nola’s fastball appeared to have sat in the 92-94 range, which is consistent with what he did in college, and once he is warmed up and in midseason form, I think he’ll bump up to 95-96 when he needs it. As you can see here, his fastball has a bit of late action coming back over the inside corner. This one registered 94. If he can throw 94 mph darts to any spot he wants, he is going to be tough to hit.
Typically, a righthander with a low release point struggles against lefthanded batters, because the ball leaks back over the plate and becomes more hittable. This is mitigated with a solid changeup. And if the above is any indication, Nola’s changeup will be a legitimate weapon. This one comes in at 82 mph and the bottom completely falls out. However, if you watch where it is caught, it is right at the bottom edge of the strikezone, maybe a tick lower. That might get called a strike if the batter doesn’t helplessly flail at it. Now, look at the fastball clip above and the changeup clip in sync. You can see the arm slot is the same, the arm speed is the same, and the difference is 12 mph. That is nasty.
I’m not entirely sure if this is a slider or curveball. It has quite a bit of vertical drop but also moves horizontally away from the righthanded batter. This will obviously be required against righthanded hitters, though he did also throw a few changeups to righties, and he clearly has confidence in the pitch. This slurve, or whatever it is, came in at 79. And as you can see again, he does a good job maintaining consistent arm speed and slot on the delivery, so he isn’t tipping his hand.
Hitting a baseball is pretty hard to do. As a batter, you are looking for a weakness. A pattern, a trait, something that gives you an edge to know what is coming. When a pitcher maintains the same arm speed and arm slot for his pitches and he can throw them where he wants, it makes things significantly harder for the hitter. Is Nola one of the Phillies 5 best starters right now? Probably. Is it wrong that he is starting in the minors? I don’t think so. The Phillies can give him 2 months to get into a rhythm, get comfortable going every 5 days, and work on the last things he may need before he is ready. If they hold him in the minors until late June, he will pass the Super 2 deadline. Which buys the Phillies more control at lower dollars. It also gives the Phillies time to showcase the dreck in the big league rotation and try to flip someone for some kind of value. If Nola stays healthy, he’ll be a rotation staple for the Phillies for the next 7 years.
On the draft, I just have a few quick thoughts.
* In my first piece on the draft, I mentioned how every year scouts say the current crop is weak, but as the draft approaches, more guys pop up and the draft looks okay. This year, it doesn’t appear that is happening, at least so far. Mike Matuella has injury issues, Brady Aiken just had TJ surgery, and Dillon Tate has really been the only pop-up guy so far, and his profile has a few potential red flags. Yuck.
* Speaking of Brady Aiken, if he is there at #10, the Phillies should absolutely positively take him. Had he not been hurt, he’d have likely gone in the top 4 picks, possibly even #1 overall. Tommy John surgery isn’t an automatic minor issue where everyone comes back at 100% and starts dominating. Dylan Bundy is a good recent example of that. That said, the success rate is very high, and Aiken is a true potential #1 starter. At #10, it is unlikely there will be a more talented player on the board. The Phillies window to win isn’t next year or the year after. Draft Aiken, rehab him, let him take his time, and once he is back, he is going to move quickly. Aiken/Nola at the top of the rotation is a really good start.
* I’ll continue to shill for Alex Bregman and Dansby Swanson. Both guys look to be relatively safe bets, both would be elite defenders at 2B, and both have excellent hit tools. I think it is likely that Swanson will be gone before #10. But who knows, really. Aiken is my preferred choice at 10 for now, but I’d be happy with either of these guys.
* It is still early in the season for the northeast kids, so my hope is that in a few weeks, we start reading about pop-up guys in the northeast who have come out throwing 97 and look like big time top 10 arms. For now, things do not look good for this draft.
Until next time…