While Philadelphia Phillies starter Aaron Nola is a native Louisianan, he is somehow not from New Orleans. He was born in Baton Rouge and attended LSU before being drafted in the 1st round of the 2014 MLB draft.
In 2018, Nola put up a pitching season for the ages. Nola’s 2018 was the highest wins above replacement by any player born in Louisiana. So let’s revisit what made Nola so good in 2018.
Nola started 33 games and threw 212 and one-third innings. He allowed only 149 hits and struck out an astonishing 224 opposing hitters, eighth in the majors. Opposing hitters only mustered a measly .197/.259/.311 batting line against Nola. In an offensive friendly era, Nola held hitters to only 17 home runs and was sixth in majors in home runs allowed per nine innings.
Nola thrived against high-level competition, holding Nationals superstar (and future teammate) Bryce Harter to just two hits in 17 plate appearances. All told, Harper hit only .125/.176/.313 against Nola. Nationals rookie phenom Juan Soto didn’t fare much better, hitting just .091/.333/.182 in 15 plate appearances. The Braves' rookie sensation Ozzie Albies similarly struggled, garnering only a .231/.231/.308 batting line in 13 plate appearances. At the end of 2018, Nola finished third in Cy Young voting behind winner Jacob deGrom and runner-up Max Scherzer and made the NL All-Star team.
Nola’s best game of the season game was against the New York Mets on July 9, 2018 at Citi Field. Nola threw seven innings and held the Mets to only one hit—a Wilmer Flores single to left field in the bottom of the first inning—and only one walk (to Mets outfielder Michael Conforto in the bottom of the seventh inning). He struck out 10 Mets, including center fielder Brandon Nimmo three times.
Even more impressively, Nola was his own run support. In the top of the fifth inning, Nola came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. He drove the first pitch he saw down the right-field line for a bases clearing double. Nola’s 3 runs batted in were the only runs the Phillies scored all game. According to win probability added (a statistic that measures how much a player helped his team win the game), Nola’s performance at the plate (.307 WPA) was nearly equal to his performance on the mound (.347 WPA).
Since arriving in the majors for good in 2016, Nola is seventh in wins above replacement among pitchers, nestled between future Hall of Famers Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw. Nola recently signed a four year, $45 million contract to buy out his arbitration seasons and first few seasons of free agency to remain in Philadelphia.
Nola already ranks 17th in WAR amongst pitchers from Louisiana and will be in the top 10 within two healthy seasons. If things go his way, he may even challenge Andy Pettitte and Ted Lyons as the best pitcher to come from Louisiana.