Aaron Nola is 22 years old and just nine starts into his big-league career. He still has a lot to learn. At the same time, his approach is akin to that of a veteran. Drafted seventh overall last year by the Philadelphia Phillies, the Louisiana State University product has a mature mindset that belies his age.
Nola features two- and four-seam fastballs, a changeup, and a curveball. Each offering is of solid quality, but more importantly, he knows how to employ them. The right-hander isn’t a flamethrower — his fastball is averaging 91.7 mph — but that’s not his game. Mixing and matching, and commanding to both sides of the plate, is his M.O. Unlike most youngsters getting their feet wet at the highest level, Nola is more of a pitcher than a thrower.
Nola — who has won five of his seven decisions and has a 4.02 ERA — talked about his game when the Phillies visited Fenway Park over the weekend.
Nola on simplicity and preparation: “Nothing in baseball is easy or simple. Everybody out there has a plan, and mine is to get guys out any way that I can. Everybody has their way of approaching pitching, and the game. But while a lot goes into it, you do want to try to simplify pitching. Over-thinking can get in your way.
“There’s a lot more information available up here. Nothing is really a secret anymore. We all study hitters, and the hitters study us. Especially when you haven’t pitched against a team — it’s good to look at the information to see what their approaches are. I definitely use it.
“In the end, it all comes down to seeing the hitter in his at-bat — seeing what his tendencies are and how he’s approaching you that day. You look at (reports and video) but it’s also a new day. I have my strengths and he has his strengths. You have background information, but you have to go along with the game. And your relationship with your catcher is important, too. You need to be going down the same road.”
On not identifying as a power pitcher: “I don’t think I’d call myself that. There are a lot of guys in the game who throw a lot harder than I do. I try to put my focus on commanding all of my pitches and executing as best I can. I just want to get outs, and I’m trying to get early outs.
“I’m not going to overpower guys. Some nights I feel better than other nights — my fastball will feel like it’s coming out a little better — but commanding the ball and mixing my pitches is more important to me. My goal is to to that every time out.
“There’s still a lot more for me to learn. It’s cool talking to guys like Aaron Harang and the other veterans. They used to be in my position, and have seen so much since then. I’m learning from those guys, and from watching and studying the game.”
On learning to pitch: “Back in college, my pitching coach, Alan Dunn — that’s when I really started to take in information. He played, and he coached minor league and major league baseball. I learned a lot from him, both about mechanics and the mental side of the game. Then, coming up here, there’s everything I’ve learned from the coaches and my teammates.
“Watching the game up here is a lot different than watching the game in college. You and the catcher — all of the background information. It’s not like in college where the coach is calling the pitches. That’s one big thing. Here, you really need to learn the game and learn the hitters. That’s been a big jump for me.
“I’m pretty comfortable shaking off in some situations, although I haven’t done it too much. I’ve been on the same page with my catcher. But if I see something in an at-bat, I feel like I can shake off and go to another pitch. If I execute it — if I command it well — I should have success with it.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.