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Phillies young ace Aaron Nola named as a Cy Young Award finalist

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Phillies young ace Aaron Nola named a Cy Young Award finalist for first time

Major League Baseball announced the finalists for its 2018 major awards today, and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola was named as one of the three finalists for the National League Cy Young Award.

The 25-year-old Nola enjoyed a breakout campaign for the Phillies this past season. Becoming the team’s ace, the young right-hander went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA, 0.975 WHIP, 175 ERA+, and 3.01 FIP.
Nola allowed only 149 hits this year in 212.1 innings across 33 starts with a 224/58 K:BB ratio. His 10.5 WAR mark was the best by any pitcher in the game and the second-highest in all of baseball, just ahead of Mike Trout and just behind Mookie Betts.
The other finalists announced for the award were Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals and Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets.
Scherzer went 18-7 with a 2.53 ERA, 0.911 WHIP, 168 ERA+, and 2.65 FIP. Over 33 starts the 34-year-old allowed 150 hits in 220.2 innings pitched with a 300/51 K:BB ratio and 8.8 WAR mark.
The right-hander already has three Cy Young Awards on his mantle at home. Scherzer won the American League Cy Young Award with Detroit in 2014 before taking home the honors for the National League in each of the last two seasons with Washington.
The 30-year-old deGrom went 10-9 with a 1.70 ERA, 0.912 WHIP, 216 ERA+, and a 1.98 FIP. He yielded 152 hits across 217 innings over 32 starts with a 269/46 K:BB ratio and 9.6 WAR mark.
A two-time NL All-Star, deGrom was the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year. The righty finished seventh in 2015 and eighth a year ago in previous NL Cy Young Award voting results.

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.@AaronNola027 finished this season 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA and 224 strikeouts over his 33 starts.

Thank you, Ace, for one heck of a 2018!

This was easily the Phillies finest performance from a starting pitcher since Cliff Lee put together his last great season in 2013. In fact, Vince Velasquez in 2015 and Jeremy Hellickson in both 2016 and 2017 are the only Phillies starting pitchers besides Nola to finish with a winning season since that time.

After the Phillies had defeated the Nationals back on August 23 with Nola out-dueling Scherzer by tossing eight shutout frames, manager Gabe Kapler threw his support behind his own hurler for the honors. Matt Breen at Philly.com quoted the skipper following that game:

“Nola in my opinion is the Cy Young this year. Of course, Nola is our guy. But I watch him every time out there and just the dependability, the consistency, the creativity, the numbers. The numbers speak for themselves.”

An examination of some of those key “numbers” at the end of the season, stats that the voters will surely use to make their final selection, you can see that Nola may not be favored or expected to actually win the award.
However, that the Phillies now have such a young, legitimate ace to front their staff is encouraging. It will now be management’s job to bring in or develop another big arm or two in order to further enhance the team’s ability to rise to contending status.
Four pitchers have won the NL Cy Young Award while wearing a Phillies uniform. Right-handers John Denny (1983), Steve Bedrosian (1987), and Roy Halladay (2010) all took home the honors. Lefty Steve Carlton (1972, 1977, 1980, 1982) won the award four times during his Hall of Fame career.
The winners of the 2018 Cy Young awards in both the National and American Leagues will be announced on November 14 at 6:00PM EST.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Aaron Nola named as a finalist for National League Cy Young Award

Phillies should not shut Aaron Nola down with just two starts remaining

Nola has become an ace for Phillies
(Photo: By Arturo Pardavila III via Wiki Commons)
This 2018 season has been a true breakout campaign for Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola. In his fourth year at the MLB level, Nola has shown that he can be that rarest of commodities – a true ace.
The 25-year-old right-hander was chosen by the Phillies out of Louisiana State University with their first round selection at seventh overall in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft. As he developed professionally over parts of two minor league seasons, consensus expert opinions had him with the upside of a mid-rotation starter.
That is a fairly common tag hung on pitchers when scouts and other talent evaluators are not absolutely certain the pitcher has a top-of-the-rotation arm. However, that pitcher also has amateur and minor league performances and pitching repertoires which demonstrate a likelihood of reaching and sticking in a big-league rotation.
As a perfect example, Nathaniel Stoltz of Fangraphs summed up his own scouting report on Nola in August 2014 as follows:
…it’s hard to see him having more than a #3 starter’s ceiling. If he settles in at a #3/#4 level quickly, that won’t be the flashiest of payoffs, but it’ll also be hard to really take issue with his selection…There’s a solid chance he could get to that level of performance, but the line between it and interchangeable back-of-the-rotation, Kyle Kendrick sort of output is fairly thin, and he’s not guaranteed to end up on the right side of it.
Over Nola’s first two partial seasons with the Phillies, his results were indeed those of a solid #3 starter in the rotation. He went 12-11 over 33 starts during the 2015-16 campaigns, allowing 190 hits across 188.2 innings with a 189/48 K:BB ratio.
Last year, Nola reinforced that level of performance over a full season. In 27 starts during the 2017 campaign, Nola went 12-11 with 3.54 ERA and 1.208 WHIP. He allowed 154 hits over 168 innings with a 184/49 K:BB ratio.
Due to the fact that he was able to compete so effectively at just age 24, many began to adjust their evaluations up on Nola, feeling that he could develop into a solid #2 starter for a contending team.
One key for him to reach his potential was going to be for Nola to demonstrate longevity, that he could remain healthy over a full season.
His 2016 campaign was ended in mid-August when he was shut down for the year with a low-grade UCL sprain and flexor pronator tendon strain. In 2017 it was a strained lower back that kept him out of the Phillies rotation for a month from late-April through late-May.
In this 2018 campaign, Nola has ticked off all of the boxes and elevated himself to that “ace” or #1 starter level.
Following last night’s outing against the New York Mets, Nola has surrendered just 143 hits in 199.1 innings over 31 starts. He has a 16-5 record, and a dominating 210/53 K:BB ratio with a 2.44 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, 2.97 FIP, and a 173 ERA+ mark.
In his own piece on last night’s game, Corey Seidman of NBC Sports Philadelphia pointed out that no Phillies pitcher in over a century has pitched at least 200 innings in a season while holding opposition batters below a .200 average. Nola has held hitters to a .201 average over his 199.1 innings this year.

Seidman quoted Phillies manager Gabe Kapler on those numbers and Nola’s performance in this 2018 season:

“It speaks to durability. Look, if you’re the best option for your team, more times than not, the manager is going to give you the opportunity to take down an additional inning. Almost always, Nola feels like the best option to get the next three hitters out. Piling up 200 innings is a huge accomplishment.”

Nola was also named to his first National League All-Star Team back in July, and pitched the 5th inning of that mid-summer classic. Nola punched out the first two AL batters that he faced in Salvador Perez and Mookie Betts, gave up a base hit to Jose Altuve, then got Mike Trout to pop out for a shutout frame.
Here in the season’s final month, it appears as if Nola may have slowed down a bit. In three of his four September starts including last night, Nola failed to reach the 7th inning.
While that isn’t a big deal for most starting pitchers – after all, he did go five or more in each – it was different for Nola. He reached at least into the 7th in 15 of his first 27 starts prior to this month.
There have been some calls lately for the Phillies to shut Nola down for the season. The club has all but mathematically slumped their way out of both the divisional and wildcard races, trailing in each by five games in the loss column with just a dozen left to play.
Even if the Phillies were mathematically eliminated from postseason play, the club should not stop Nola’s season short. At this point he is only scheduled to make two more starts, both against the division-rival Atlanta Braves. Those should come this weekend in the Sunday series finale in Atlanta, and then on Friday night September 28 at Citizens Bank Park.
Two more starts and 10-12 more innings are not likely to do any harm. What they will do is give Nola the physical, mental, and emotional satisfaction of getting through an entire season in Major League Baseball.
At some point, perhaps as soon as next year, the Phillies will expect Nola to lead their rotation into and through an October playoff run. With just two starts left in this 2018 season, especially with both coming against their likely biggest rivals in battling for those playoff positions in the coming years, now is not the time to start babying the young ace.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as “No reason for Phillies to baby Aaron Nola at this point

Red Sox vanquished in ALDS, but they’ll be back

The Boston Red Sox should contend once again in 2018

The Houston Astros came from behind, scoring twice in the 8th and once in the 9th inning, then held off a last-ditch rally to down the Boston Red Sox by a 5-4 score on Monday afternoon.

The victory advances Houston into the American League Championship Series for the first time since the 2005 postseason. The defeat in front of more than 37,000 mostly disappointed fans at historic Fenway Park sends the host Red Sox home for the winter.

Over the last decade and a half, those Fenway faithful and the team they love have enjoyed the greatest period of sustained success in franchise history. In those last 15 seasons, the Red Sox have reached the postseason nine times, capturing three World Series titles.

But more importantly for the future of the team is that the prospects for long term future success appears to be just as bright as those recent victorious campaigns.

The Red Sox are blessed with one of the most talented group of young players in Major League Baseball. Half of their projected lineup of position players will spend all of the 2018 season at or below 25 years of age.

That core group and their 2018 season age includes shortstop Xander Bogaerts (24), third baseman Rafael Devers (21), left fielder Andrew Benintendi (23), and right fielder Mookie Betts (25) as everyday starters.

Boston will also be starting a 28-year old Jackie Bradley in his prime. Likely to see the bulk of the catching duties, Christian Vazquez will be just 27 years old.

The club has a couple of young wildcards who are likely to help in some way, at some point in the 2018 season. 24-year old Sam Travis could well push for more time at first base. And it could still all click for Boston’s 26-year old former first round draft pick, catcher Blake Swihart.

Bottom line, there are a ton of good, young, talented position players who will be returning to the Red Sox next season. Those players are likely to continue to get better with age and experience.

On the mound, lefties Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz and righty Rick Porcello will all pitch the entirety of next season at age 29. Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will turn just 25 years of age as the season opens.

There will be a group of talented right-handers, all no more than age 30, who will be returning to make up the bulk of the bullpen. These include Matt Barnes (27), Heath Hembree (29), Joe Kelly (29), and 28-year old Carson Smith.

The normally lights-out closer, Craig Kimbrel, will turn 30 years old at the end of May. He is due to become a free agent following the 2018 season, and will be an interesting situation to watch develop.

That young core is likely to continue to be supported by a group of strong veterans, most especially second baseman Dustin Pedroia, DH Hanley Ramirez, and pitcher David Price.

If there is a big question mark, it may be whether or not manager John Farrell will be asked to return following the disappointing playoff defeat. For me, it shouldn’t even be a question. In his five years at the helm in Boston, Farrell has guided the club to a cumulative 432-378 mark. The Red Sox have won three AL East crowns and a World Series under 55-year old. Farrell should definitely be back.

The Boston payroll will continue high, so the opportunity to add high-priced free agents is not likely here. However, there is already plenty of talent. The club is likely to look for little more than a more experienced lefty reliever this off-season. The minor league prospect talent could bring back something to fill any hole that may pop up during the year.

The Boston Red Sox are set to continue their recent string of successful seasons in 2018. Having won three of the last five AL East crowns, they will again be a top contender in the division next year. And with more experience under their belt, the young core should be expected to keep them a leading contender for years to come.

Jerad Eickhoff not as bad as the 2017 record looks

Most of the talk surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies these days rightly involves two main topics. First is just how bad the current group of placeholder players is performing.
The other major topic revolves around when the Phillies will begin to promote some of its better minor league prospects. And which of those prospects will get the call first?
Management is evaluating the current players to determine which will be here for the long-term. A look over the active roster shows that there are very few such candidates. Maybe three or four position players at best.
But on the mound, the Phillies developing pitching staff is a different story. A number of the current arms have a chance to stick around for the next few years.
One of those arms is starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff. The soon to be 27-year old right-hander is struggling through a difficult individual season.
Eickhoff enters his start on Saturday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks with an 0-7 record. He carries a 5.09 ERA, 1.528 WHIP, and an ERA+ mark at just 85 through 13 starting assignments. Eickhoff has allowed 81 hits over 70.2 innings with a 63/27 K:BB ratio.
There are a few encouraging signs, however, when you continue glancing at Eickhoff’s 2017 stat line. His 4.20 FIP mark is just a tick higher than the 4.19 he posted last year in what was considered a successful season. After yielding 30 home runs last year, his nine thus far in 2017 leave him on pace to allow a few less this season.
In nine of Eickhoff’s 13 starts he has gotten the Phillies into the sixth inning. He has allowed three or fewer earned runs in eight of those 13 starts.

ENCOURAGING RECENT OUTINGS

His two most recent appearances came on the road at Atlanta and Boston. He surrendered 11 hits over 11 innings with a 10/3 K:BB ratio.
However, one bad pitch resulted in a Dansby Swanson home run and cost him against the Braves. “I did a really good job except for the one pitch,” said Eickhoff per Philly.com’s Matt Breen. “That’s the most frustrating part. You look at the scoreboard and see three runs from that homer. That’s not any indication of how things have went.”
At Fenway Park, he was handed a 4-0 first inning lead. But then Eickhoff was tagged by Mookie Betts for three doubles in four innings. The young Boston star outfielder has victimized many big league pitchers already in his short career. “These guys did a really good job of getting us out to a good lead, and I was just trying to keep us in the game the best I could,” said the pitcher per Reuters.

LONG-TERM BACK-END STARTING PITCHER

Eickhoff, obtained by the Phillies from the Texas Rangers as one piece of the huge haul for Cole Hamels, is never going to be an ace. His strong performances in 2015 following that deal, and then last year, left some misguided fans and writers thinking that he had that type of potential.
The Phillies don’t need Eickhoff to be an ace. They need him to be what his talent and personality say that he should be, a solid back-end starting pitcher for the next four to five years.
Eickhoff has indeed been hit a little more this season, and his command and control have been off. Chuck Booth at FanSided’s Section 215 pointed out that the solution may be as simple as the reintroduction of the changeup to Eickhoff’s repertoire.
Whatever Eickhoff’s issues, he does not appear to be very far off based on what I saw in those last two performances. They were far more indicative of his bulldog ability to fight to keep the club in the game. He is certainly not an 0-7 pitcher, talent-wise.
As the Phillies continue to evaluate their future, my bet would be that Eickhoff finds himself a key piece. The role will be as a workhorse, back-end starting pitcher. Hopefully tonight’s outing at Citizens Bank Park proves to be a step back towards more consistent results of that type.

Red Sox 2016 POY: Mookie Betts

The Boston Red Sox finished 93-69, recovering from back-to-back last place finishes to win the American League East Division crown.
The BoSox were quickly swept out of the American League Division Series in three straight games by the eventual pennant-winning Cleveland Indians, with two of the three decided by a single run. 
While manager John Farrell and his team were disappointed in the postseason ending, this was a big year for a number of young players who are paving the way for future Boston success.

Red Sox 2016 Statistical Leaders

One of those youngsters was 23-year-old shortstop Xander Bogaerts. He hit .294 with a .356 on-base percentage, producing 21 homers, 89 RBI, and 115 runs scored.
26-year-old center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of the best defenders in the game today. This year he stepped up his offensive contributions with 26 home runs, 87 RBI, and 94 runs scored.
26-year-old third baseman Travis Shawchipped in with 16 homers and 71 RBI. Outfielder Andrew Benintendi is just 21 years old. He hit .295 with a .359 on-base percentage, roping 11 doubles while producing 14 RBI and 16 runs scored in just 118 plate appearances. He retains rookie eligibility for the 2017 season.
A trio of veterans produced big numbers for Boston this season. Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia manned the right side of the field, while David Ortiz wound down his possible Hall of Famer career with a final big year.
Ramirez hit .286/.361/.505 with 30 homers, 28 doubles, 111 RBI, and 81 runs scored. Pedroia hit .318 with a .376 on-base percentage. He cracked 15 homers and 36 doubles with 74 RBI and 105 runs scored.
Big Papi hit for a .315 average and led the club with a .401 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, 38 home runs, 127 RBI, 48 doubles, and a 1.021 OPS.

Red Sox Pitching Also Produced

On the mound, Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award. He went 22-9 with a 3.15 ERA and 1.009 WHIP. He allowed 193 hits over 223 innings with a 189/32 K:BB ratio.
Veteran David Price won 17 games while leading the staff with 35 starts, 230 innings pitched, and 228 strikeouts. Steven Wright went 13-6 with a 3.33 ERA, allowing just 138 hits in 156.2 innings with 127 strikeouts.
Closer Craig Kimbrel once again dominated as he registered 31 saves. Kimbrel allowed just 28 hits in 53 innings over 57 games with an 83/30 K:BB ratio.

Betts Is the Best

The top player this season for the BoSox was young right fielder Mookie Betts. Playing the season as a 23-year-old (he turned 24 last month), Betts hit for a .318/.363/.534 slash line. Betts was second on the club with 31 homers and 113 RBI, and led the squad with 42 doubles, 122 runs scored, and 26 stolen bases.
For his outstanding season, Betts was a first-time AL All-Star. He also won his first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards. He also finished as a solid runner-up in the AL MVP voting to Mike Trout.
Back in mid-August, Scott Lauber of ESPN quoted Boston reliever Robbie Ross after a typical Betts 2016 performance.
“He’s just got hands. Sometimes that’s all you need. Sometimes you need all the muscle and everything, but it’s just about connecting and gliding with that baseball…it’s the guys who are quiet and don’t try and hit for a massive amount of power that hit it in the upper deck, guys who stay through it and let the bat do the work. He’s throwing his hands through it, and it’s just jumping off his bat. It’s awesome.”
Betts underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last week, but is expected to be ready for 2017 Spring Training. For the 2016 season, Mookie Betts was the Boston Red Sox Player of the Year.