Don't have an account?
Join the Best Live Fantasy Chat Community!

Lost password? [X]

Receive free daily analysis:


Already have an account? Log in here.


Forgot Password


The Mystery of Aaron Nola's 2019 Campaign

As we creep towards the end of the first month of the season, questions are starting to arise for fantasy baseball owners. Hitters are getting closer to having 100 plate appearances, and pitchers are now making their fourth starts of the season. We now have enough data where we can start looking for signs of concern among our star players.

Aaron Nola is one such player whose performances so far this season merit concern. Nola started strongly with a six-inning, one-run performance against the Braves. However, there were signs of concern even then, as he walked a major league career-high five batters. Since then he has given up 15 earned runs, allowing 19 hits and striking out 11 in 13 1/3 innings. The slight positive is that he has only walked six hitters in those 11 innings. However, he currently has a career-high 12.6% walk rate, and close to a career-low 21.8% strikeout rate.

The question is whether this start is a sign of a troublesome season or just an early blip. If it is the second of those, then he could be a buy-low right now, but if it is the first, then now might be one of the last chances to sell him for any sort of value. Let's take a look at some of the numbers behind the performances.

Editor's Note: Get our 2020 MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our draft kit, premium rankings, player projections and outlooks, our top sleepers, dynasty and prospect rankings, 20 preseason and in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research and tools. Sign Up Now!


Previous Seasons

We have never quite seen a start like this from Nola before. The table below outlines some of the top level numbers from his first four starts in the last four seasons.

2016 26.0 13 4.50 29.1 4.9 1.04
2017 23.0 9 3.52 20.8 8.3 0.39
2018 24.1 6 2.22 16.1 9.7 0.37
2019 19.1 16 7.45 21.8 12.6 2.33

A couple of things stand out immediately. First, outside of 2016, Nola has actually been a slow starter when it comes to strikeouts. However, in both 2017 and 2018, he ended the season striking out more than a batter per inning, with a K% over 25. It is also clear that his walk rate is higher this season than it has been in any of the others. However, in both 2017 and 2018, his walk rate in the first four starts was higher than it was over the course over the entire season (7.1 and 7.0% respectively), and slowly improved over the rest of the season.


Getting Hit Hard

The other major standouts this season are his ERA and HR/9. Both are way higher than any of his other season starts, and you would struggle to find many four-start stretches where he did this badly in his entire major league career. The reason for those inflated numbers can be found in his Statcast batted ball profile. Over the course of his major league career, Nola has a 4.8 Barrel%, 86.1 MPH Exit Velocity and a 7.7 degree Launch Angle.

This season he is allowing a 10.5 Barrel%, a 90.0 MPH Exit Velocity and a 9.3 degree Launch Angle. All of that translates into an xSLG and an xwOBA higher than anything we have seen in his major league career. Overall, his hard hit rate is nearly 10% higher right now than what we have seen in previous seasons.


Release Point

A change in release point is not necessarily the reason for a major change in performance. However, it is a tangible change in the way he is pitching, and given that his velocity has not varied on any pitches, it is the only one we have right now.

His horizontal release point is closer to the middle of the mound than it has been the majority of his career. The chart above is broken down into monthly averages, and the change between March and April this season is interesting to observe. Let's take a look at how his vertical release point has varied.

Again, the vertical release point on all of his pitches this season are higher than they have been through large portions of his career. The Fourseam results especially are higher than most times in his career. All four of his pitches show the difference between March and April this season. Given that he produced a realtively solid performance in his March start, and has struggled in April it is worth taking note of. However, it is a small sample size, and there was a similar trend in change in release point at the start of last season.

If the trend continues between the different release point and the poor performances then it could be a real reason for concern. It will be interesting to see if the pattern changes in a similar way to what it did last season.


The Positives

As well as presenting the overriding negatives of what we have seen so far, I have also touched on some positive notes. Nola has been a slow starter in the past, and his release point changes we have seen this season mirror the pattern we saw at the start of last season. In 2018, Nola was one of the best pitchers in the game, so there is certainly hope for a turn-around.

Another massive positive is that some of Nola's underlying numbers suggest improvement is coming. His SIERA is down at 4.93, which is higher than his career average but much lower than his current ERA. Additionally, he currently owns a 27.8% HR/FB rate, which is double his career rate. The final element involves a new metric introduced by Alex Fast from Pitcher List, called strikes + whiffs (CSW). In that article, Fast demonstrated that CSW can be a predictor of future improvements, and that is a good thing for Nola this season. The league average for CSW is 28.7%, with anything over 30% being considered good. This season Nola has an average CSW of 30.1% through his first four starts. That number is slightly below his career average (30.55%) but it is in the right ballpark, and it is still in the good category.



I want to make it clear that I do have serious concerns about Nola. The concerns started when he walked five in his first start and they have then snowballed since then. After every start, I have had discussions with people about when we start taking serious notice of these numbers. Each start since that first start has just further validated my concerns and this last start finally meant the sample size was big enough to dig deeper.

The numbers above more than validate the concerns. There are clear indicators that Nola is struggling to open the season, with the walk rate, hard hit rate and the HR/9 being the biggest concern. Another element of concern is the strength of the NL East this season. The Braves, Nationals and Mets have all looked to have good offenses this season, and Nola is going to have to face those teams plenty this season.

However, there is also enough in the numbers above that give me hope he can turn this around. The similarities in release point and early season performances work in his favor, and the fact that his HR/FB rate is due for major regression. Additionally, his CSW rate shows encouragement that his strikeout rate will improve.

The intriguing thing here is that I could make the case for both selling Nola and buying low on him. If the walk rate and hard-hit rate are the issues, then this could just be the start of a season which spirals into further despair. However, if this is just another blip to start the season, then Nola could be a great value right now, especially if the Nola owner is experiencing a rough start to the season on the whole.

Judgement: Buy-Low

More 2019 Fantasy Baseball Advice

More Recent Articles


Fantasy Football Starts and Sits: Conference Championships Matchups Analysis

Welcome to our NFL Conference Championships matchups analysis and start/sit column for fantasy football. We'll be covering both of the AFC and NFC contests from the Sunday slate, helping you make the best decisions for your DFS contests this weekend. Be sure to check back regularly because this article will be updated as news comes in regarding injuries... Read More

Conference Championships Fantasy Football Staff Rankings

Below you will find all of RotoBaller's fantasy football weekly rankings, tiers, player news and stats for the 2019 NFL season. Our Ranking Wizard displays our staff's rankings for various league formats, all in one easy place. Here's what you'll find: Weekly PPR Rankings Weekly Half-PPR Rankings Weekly Standard Rankings Dynasty League Rankings     Fantasy... Read More

Running Back ADP Winners and Losers: 2019 Season Review

I've always believed that it is easier to lose a fantasy championship than to win it on draft day. It makes sense, a sure-fire player is expected to reward his owners with a lower risk-factor than the other way around and thus they're always drafter earlier. If they end up as a season-long dud, though,... Read More

Dynasty Players to Sell in 2020

Pierre Camus and Chris Mangano share their top sell candidates for dynasty football leagues in the 2020 fantasy football preseason. Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well! Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210,... Read More

Biggest Surprises of 2019: Tight End

The 2019 NFL season was anything but predictable. I mean, the Tennessee Titans made the AFC title game! Andrew Luck retired right before the season! [Insert one of many, many other things here, because all lists need three items but I couldn't decide between all the possible third options.] One position where things at the... Read More

Wide Receiver ADP Winners and Losers: 2019 Season Review

I've always believed that it is easier to lose a fantasy championship than to win it on draft day. It makes sense, as sure-fire players are expected to reward his owners with a lower risk-factor than the other way around and thus they're always drafter earlier. If they put up a season-long dud, though, you'll... Read More

Biggest Busts of 2019: Quarterback

The 2019 NFL season is over, and it's time to look back on what happened. 2019 was a year where some quarterbacks -- Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen -- leaped up to the top of the fantasy charts, while other guys faded from where they were expected to perform. Today, I want to talk about three... Read More

Four and Out: Fantasy Outlooks for Divisional Round Losers

For the four teams that were eliminated in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, the offseason has begun. For many fantasy football owners, the days have already started counting down to next season. Owners in dynasty leagues have started to mull over their decisions.  How some guys perform in the playoffs can certainly alter... Read More

Quarterback ADP Winners and Losers: 2019 Season Review

I've always believed that it is easier to lose a fantasy championship than to win it on draft day. It makes sense, as sure-fire players are expected to reward their owners with a lower risk-factor than the other way around and thus they're always drafter earlier. If they put up a season-long dud, though, you'll... Read More

Biggest Busts of 2019: Wide Receivers

After a very interesting season of fantasy football action, many owners were left with a bitter taste in their mouth from a few of the “elite” NFL wide receivers. While Michael Thomas dominated and Julio Jones was his usual reliable self, not all was good if you played it safe by taking a receiver early.... Read More

Quarterback Risers and Fallers: 2019 Season Review

This article will examine the biggest risers and fallers at the quarterback position, which proved to be the most impactful in fantasy leagues as is often the case. Of the top-25 players in fantasy this season, 18 of them played the QB position and none of the 18 scored less than 280 fantasy points on... Read More

XFL Fantasy Football Rankings (Preseason)

As of this writing, there is exactly one month until XFL regular-season action begins. On February 8, the latest upstart professional league will kickoff (again) with spring football. It goes without saying that we hope it goes better than the first time, back in 2001, and lasts longer than the AAF. Before you settle in... Read More

Wide Receiver Risers and Fallers: 2019 Season Review

We continue our series covering the biggest risers and fallers of 2019 with the wide receiver position. I'll look at both 2018 and 2019 statistical outcomes from every player, contrast their performances, calculate differences in each category and come up with the most prominent names going forward. This past season, receivers didn't dominate in fantasy,... Read More

2020 Early Sleepers and Draft Targets: Running Back

It is going to be almost impossible to win your fantasy football league in 2020 without a strong set of running backs, even in today’s pass-happy NFL. While quarterbacks and wide receivers have gained importance in fantasy football in recent years, building your fantasy roster around your running back corps is still one of the... Read More

Top Rebound Candidates for 2020

Is it way too early to be thinking about fantasy football for the 2020 season? Yes. Are we going to do it anyway? You bet we are. While coaches, coordinators, players, and rookies will change some things, you're still going to be able to get an idea of where certain players are going to be... Read More