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September 09, 2018

Does Aaron Nola have better chance at MVP than Cy Young award?

Phillies MLB
050918_Aaron-Nola_usat Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola throws a pitch during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Bank Park.

Aaron Nola has been the gem amid an otherwise frustrating season for the Phillies this season.

Even at his worst, in a four-run outing against the Mets earlier this weekend, the undisputed ace of the Philadelphia staff struck out 11 batters and gave Philly a chance to win. Of course they didn't.

The Phillies have been faltering as of late, going 11-19 over their last 30 games (fifth worst in baseball in that span) and falling 3.5 games behind the Braves (as of Sunday morning) in the NL East race. Nola remains 16-4 with a 2.29 ERA and is in the mix for Cy Young honors in the NL. 

 PitcherRecordERA  Strikeouts Innings
 Max Scherzer17-6 2.31 271 202.2 
 Aaron Nola16-4 2.29196188.2
 Jacob deGrom8-81.68230188.0


All three pitchers from the NL East have a compelling case, particularly deGrom who has a chance to be the first pitcher with less than 16 wins to win the award since Felix Hernandez in 2010 (he was 13-12). 

Nola's case relies on his esteemed success despite the defensive struggles of the Phillies (102 errors, second most in baseball), as the team has given him very little help, even costing him wins and other important statistical value. Nola also is the only contending pitcher on a team with a chance to make the playoffs. This actually provides him an interesting NL MVP argument.

Is any other NL player more valuable to their respective team than Nola is to the Phillies? If that's how you judge your MVP, Nola deserves a good hard look. 

There is no clear favorite in the National League, in contrast to Mookie Betts in the AL. If you're using WAR (wins above replacement) as your metric, as many do, here's how the NL shakes out:

Player WAR  Stats
Max Scherzer9.617-6, 2.31 ERA
Aaron Nola9.4 16-4, 2.29 ERA
Jacob deGrom8.58-8, 1.68 ERA 
Lorenzo Cain6.0 .306 BA, .398 OBP
Paul Goldschmidt5.5.298 BA, 33 HR 
Javier Baez5.4.298 BA, 30 HR 
Freddie Freeman5.3.305 BA, 21 HR 
Christian Yelich 5.3.316 BA, 28 HR 
Matt Carpenter 5.1.272 BA, 35 HR 
Nolan Arenado4.8.297 BA, 31 HR 


By contrast, in the American League, Betts' WAR is 9.4, Mike Trout's is 8.6 and Matt Chapman's is 8.0. 

WAR, as an aside, is determined by combining several metrics that include batting average (or opponents batting average), runs allowed or scored, and several other measurements to come up with a number like those listed above. A WAR of 1.0 is considered to be playing baseball at replacement level — the value of an average player.

Nola is winning games at as good a rate as any player in baseball for his team. Not a single NL position player is even close with just Scherzer ahead among pitchers. If the Phillies make the playoffs and the National do not (and trailing the Braves by more than seven games they are much less likely to), there is a realistic scenario where Scherzer wins the Cy Young award for best pitcher and Nola wins the MVP for best player.

Just take away those nine wins above replacement Nola generated and the Phillies are below .500.

If Nola has a strong finish — he will start Wednesday and should have three or so starts after that — he will have put together one of the better pitching seasons in recent memory. Based solely on the metric of WAR, Nola's 9.4 mark will be higher than every single player from a year ago (Jose Altuve had 8.3, Corey Kluber had 8.2 in 2017). 

If he stays at 9.4, he'll have a better WAR than every other pitcher since Zack Greinke in 2009 and could be the first pitcher to win MVP since Clayton Kershaw in 2014.


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