LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Manager Gabe Kapler had an announcement to make Friday afternoon at Champion Stadium, but before he blurted out the obvious, he paused for dramatic effect:
Aaron Nola will start for the Phillies on Opening Day.
“I thought long and hard about that one,” Kapler joked.
Nola was the only choice. The 25-year-old went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA in 33 starts last season, finishing third in the race for the National League Cy Young Award. He ranked second in the NL in ERA and opponents' OPS (.570); third in innings pitched (212 1/3) and wOBA (.251); fourth in wins (17) and fifth in strikeouts (224) and opponents' batting average (.195).
Among 88 MLB pitchers who faced at least 600 batters, Nola ranked sixth by allowing a barrel -- a batted ball with an ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle -- just 3 percent of the time, according to Statcast.
He finished first in the Majors with a 10.5 pitching WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. Mets ace, and 2018 Cy Young Award winner, Jacob deGrom, finished second (9.6).
“I think what it is is a deserving pitcher and a deserving person,” Kapler said. “It’s really nice to see someone who is ultra-prepared, who doesn't give an inch away, earn two consecutive Opening Day starts.”
Nola is positioned to make more than just two consecutive Opening Day starts. He signed a four-year, $45 million contract extension in February, carrying him through the 2022 season. The Phillies have a $16 million club option with a $4.25 million buyout for 2023.
The Phillies have not had a pitcher make three consecutive Opening Day starts since Roy Halladay (2010-12). No Phillies pitcher has made more than three consecutive Opening Day starts since Steve Carlton made 10 (1977-86).
“Nothing would surprise me with Aaron Nola,” Kapler said. “He’s the type of personality and the type of talent that you bet on.
“We start by evaluating talent, and then the next thing we evaluate is aptitude and what somebody can do with that talent. That’s sort of what gives us excitement about the growth. The fact that Nola is a very, very young pitcher, so there’s not a lot of wear and tear. The fact that he takes extraordinary care of himself. And the fact that his aptitude is off the charts, coupled with what he did last year, gives us a lot of optimism that there’s improvement there, there’s ceiling there; he hasn’t had his best year necessarily.”