Aaron Nola is tired of hearing about his September struggles; is this the year he finally turns it around?
It’s no secret that Phillies starter Aaron Nola has struggled over the month of September during his 6 years in red pinstripes. With fall approaching and the Phillies in playoff position yet again, can Nola overcome his late-season demons and help break the longest playoff drought in the National League?
The career splits are eye-opening. Take a look at Aaron Nola’s career pitching ERA by month and you can almost convince yourself that the 4.60 in September/October is a typo. Nola may not always be the perfect model of consistency, but ask any Phillies fan and they would gladly admit that Nola is an above-average pitcher with the ceiling of a pitcher who can be an All-Star or even annually receive Cy Young attention.
“I don’t really look at the Septembers. I try to pitch as best I can no matter what month it is,” Nola said. “I’ve been hearing it about it from all different angles about September, and honestly, I’m kind of tired of it. Get ready for the next start and it was a good team win today.”Aaron Nola on his pitching woes in the month of September
Aaron Nola in September? Well, that’s something else entirely.
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These are not small sample sizes either. With six season under his belt, Nola now has effectively pitched an entire seasons worth of innings during each month of the year. So what is the reason behind Nola’s annual autumn collapse?
Aaron Nola was born and raised in Baton Rouge, LA, played baseball at LSU, and outside of a few weeks a year in Philadelphia after spring training, probably never really experiences any kind of cold weather. Not to mention that September in Philadelphia isn’t exactly frigid. A quick Google search into climate for Philadelphia shows an average high temperature of 78 for the month and a low of 60.
Nola also pitches well in the months of April and May which are undoubtedly much colder than September in which more than half of the month is officially still in summer.
So, if the weather conditions fail to explain Nola’s struggles, is he simply not clutch?
Without actually going in-depth on what clutch actually means or represents, Nola’s numbers in ‘medium leverage’ or ‘high leverage’ situations are slightly higher but not enough to warrant an almost two run increase in ERA. The numbers are also only slightly increased when Nola pitches with runners on base or with runners in scoring position.
So if it’s not cold weather and it’s not the mental pressure of a pennant race getting to Nola, how do we explain him pitching more like a 5th starter than ace? Based on the quote above Nola is clearly aware of his performance issues down the stretch and I would imagine probably wants to shut his critics up. Do a quick search of ‘Aaron Nola September’ and you will find dozens of articles from 2019, 2020, and 2021 on this very topic.
Should Rob Thompson avoid pitching Nola on short rest?
Most pitchers (including Phillies ace Zack Wheeler) perform on average much better when pitching on 5 days rest or more. In the past, the Phillies have asked Nola to pitch with less rest to cover up their pitching deficiencies during the playoff chase. When Nola only gets four days of rest, his ERA jumps up to 4.34, compared to 2.71 when rested for five days.
Thankfully the Phillies have greatly improved their starting rotation this season and especially after the acquisition of Noah Syndergaard at the trade deadline. The Phillies front office and analytics team clearly understand the rest issue as just a few weeks ago Rob Thompson chose to pitch Bailey Falter in the series opener in Atlanta so Zack Wheeler could pitch the next day on 6-days rest.
If we can’t clearly identify any statistical outlier as the cause of Nola’s September struggles and he is aware of his history, should we be more optimistic that this is the year he finally turns it around?
Outside of making sure Nola is properly rested, all Phillies fans can do is pray that this year will be different. Since we have been doing it for more than a decade now, what is one more year?
Mandatory Photo Credit: Philadelphia Phillies