Nola has done most of this damage with his changeup, which he is using much more than at any point in his career, calling on the cambio a whopping 30% of the time after using it at about a 16% clip in prior years. The changeup itself doesn’t appear to be any different than in the past, as its movement profile is similar to his career-best 2018 campaign (it had a little less sink in 2019). Nola’s release point is perhaps a little more consistent than last year, when he was getting underneath more changeups (hence less sink) and missing badly to his arm side, but unless something tactile about his release has changed (which is difficult to detect without the aid of a high-speed camera), the pitch appears to be the same. He’s just throwing it more (including to righties) and locating it more consistently, which Nola told the Philadelphia Inquirer he aimed to do back in February.
Depending on the observer’s previous opinion, this is either an encouraging development for Nola or a coronation of a pitch that looked like his best long-term weapon as an amateur and young pro, though changeup prognostication for Nola was rather disparate. My lengthiest Nola thoughts came just after his 2015 debut, when I noted, “Nola’s changeup, which he throws effectively to both right- and left-handed hitters, is plus because of terrific arm speed and horizontal movement,” while of-the-era FanGraphs analysis is here. Former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. discussed his two pre-draft looks at Nola on a recent NBC Sports podcast, stating he considered the changeup a developmental third pitch (he also talks about the pitching coach change).
All of which is to say that while I don’t think Nola or his changeup are different, his coaching environment and approach to pitching are, and I think he has actually leveled up as a result. He is tasked with carrying a pitching staff that currently sports baseball’s second-worst team ERA and by far its worst bullpen ERA (by a full three runs!). Perhaps Philly’s unusually high rate of seven-inning games will de-emphasize their bullpen to some degree.
Internal reinforcement candidates include freshly promoted 25-year-old reliever Connor Brogdon, who I’ve just added to the Phillies org list on The Board. Brogdon pitched across three levels last year and amassed 106 strikeouts in 76 relief innings. He sat 93-95 mph and touched 97 with plus spin and vertical movement, which helped him generate a 17% swinging strike rate on his fastball. He also has a plus changeup.
I’ve also added Ramon Rosso to The Board. He’s been an Honorable Mention on past Phillies lists but has had a velocity spike this year, with his cutting fastball sitting in the 94-96 range up from 90-93 last season. Offseason acquisition Cristopher Sanchez was also recently added to the 60-man pool. And as far as external acquisitions are concerned, the Phillies are in a somewhat unique situation because their offsite camp scrimmages are being broadcast by local television, giving opposing teams a better idea of what’s happening at their campsite than most others, which could grease the wheels of a trade.
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