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Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Nola, historically speaking

Friday 13 July, 2018 | RSS Feed

Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Nola, historically speaking

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As suggested by some, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola is about mid-way through his age-25 season and working on a “big step forward” year. Now at 12-2, Nola recently engendered a fairly large protest when FOX Sports MLB (@MLBONFOX) posted a poll on Twitter July 10 asking who should start the All-Star game for the National League. The choices were Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Jacob deGrom and “Other.”

No Nola. The Phillies Twitter account (@Phillies) gently suggested an omission by a tweet with a puzzled-looking emoji. Others commenting were not so gentle. One suggested Nola being neglected in favor of Lester was “so weak“and a “JOKE.” Another observed, “I’m not sure what Nola has to do to get the respect he deserves in this and the Cy Young race.” A third used a captioned-photo approach: “me waiting for u to show aaron nola some g*d damn respect” under a picture of Nola’s manager, Gabe Kapler, in street clothes, watching some game somewhere, expectantly.
Other comments were a bit more vulgar. It was somewhat amusing, and the point was made over and over.

Scherzer (11-5, 0.89 WHIP), of course, is likely to start since this year’s All-Star game is in Washington, DC.

However, it might be time to see how Aaron Nola stacks up against the all-time Phillies great pitchers at age 25. As Phillies fans know well, that list is fairly short because of the Phillies’ weak…um…twentieth century. The list includes Grover Cleveland (Ol’ Pete) Alexander, Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton. Two other greats, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee also leap to mind despite their shorter tenures with Philadelphia in their later career years.

Of course, there are variables involved here, the era pitched in and ordinary practices then, other teams pitched for by age 25, and so forth, but here are the numbers.
Wins and Losses by the Ends of Age-25 Seasons
Alexander (with Phillies from age 24): 47-20 (.701)

Roberts (with Phillies from age 21): 91-57 (.615)

Halladay (with Blue Jays from age 21): 37-24 (.607)

Nola (with Phillies from age 22, in progress): 36-24 (.600)

Lee (with Indians from age 23): 17-12 (.586)

Carlton (with Cardinals from age 20): 57-53 (.518)

A number of things are notable here, first and foremost, the seeming fact Alexander and Roberts must have pitched in a “different time,” one allowing starters to amass more decisions more quickly than Carlton, Halladay, Lee and Nola. Note that Ol’ Pete’s 47 wins were gathered in only two years (28 in his age-24 season), for example. Carlton seems a bit of an outlier from both the pair of older or two more modern pitchers by dint of sheer talent.

In other words, most fans know about the rise of relief specialists, probably properly dated from Allie Reynolds’ 1953 season, when the career-long starter-reliever started only 15 of his 41 games and saved 13 games.

The current army of MLB relief specialists – as opposed to “failed” starters used often to “eat innings” (closers excluded) – began to build in numbers about the time Steve Carlton began his MLB career in 1965.

Second, it might be observed three of these six were not even Phillies by age 25, but playing for Toronto, Cleveland and St. Louis seems no particular advantage or handicap relative to Nola’s experience with very weak Phillies teams until this year. In fact, Carlton’s Cardinals went to the World Series in 1967 and ’68.

Where is Aaron Nola in terms of ERA and WHIP?

Aggregate ERAs and WHIPs by the Ends of Age-25 Seasons

Alexander: 2.68 ERA and 1.193 WHIP

Carlton: 2.98 and 1.251

Roberts: 3.05 and 1.176

Nola (in progress): 3.51 and 1.172

Halladay: 4.11 and 1.393

Lee: 4.88 and 1.423
Items to note here: By his age-25 season, Cliff Lee was still four years from his Cy Young award; Roy Halladay was famously sent back to the minors for parts of his age-23 and age-24 years, but Lee also spent time in the minors in his age-24 season. Aaron Nola spent part of his age-22 and age-23 seasons in the minors, the latter in two rehab starts.

Carlton spent parts of his age-20 and 21 years in the minors; Roberts spent only part of his age-21 season in the minors; Alexander never returned to the minors after his debut at 24.

So, halfway through his age-25 season, Nola is fourth on this list in terms of ERA and first in WHIP. We could go on all day with this, introducing more modern measures such as WAR and FIP. (His current career FIP is 3.18; others can burn out calculator batteries extracting the others’ figures through age 25.)

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