Player Analysis: Austin Nola

For the second article under our new player analysis column I am analyzing Austin Nola. I chose him based on a suggestion from twitter. This brings me to say that if you’re reading this and want to suggest a player for us to analyze let us know! You can reach out to us in the comments or on twitter.

Background

Austin Nola is a first baseman for the Seattle Mariners who is currently 30 years old. 2019 was Nola’s first year in the bigs after a long journey through the minors. Nola was drafted in 2012 by the Miami Marlins in the fifth round out of LSU. Nola first made it to the AAA level in 2015 but didn’t make his major league debut until four years later. He made his major league debut on June 16th and remained with the big league club for the rest of the season. He isn’t a free agent until 2026 so he has quite a while left in Seattle.

What He Brings to the Table

The biggest thing that Nola has going for him is his versatility. Last season he played at 1B for the majority of the time but he also made appearances at C, 2B, 3B, and RF. So, he can fill in where needed. By no means is he an excellent defender as he recorded a 0.1 Defensive WAR last year but he can play several positions which is value in itself.

Nola also has the ability to bring a solid bat to the lineup. He doesn’t have much of a powerful presence at the plate but he does get on base a decent amount. Overall, he is a well-rounded hitter with a .796 OPS last season.

Image via The Seattle Times

How He Can Improve

Nola’s biggest struggle is his lack of power. His slugging% in 2019 was only .454 which doesn’t provide a lot of value to any lineup. However, I think that this may be an issue that gets resolved rather quickly. Between off-speed pitches, breaking balls, and fastballs he struggles to barrel up fastballs more than any other pitch. It’s bad too as he only recorded a barrel% of 0.9% on fastballs in 2019. In comparison to the two other types of pitches he sees, he recorded a 4.9% barrel% on breaking balls and a 10.3% barrel% on offspeed pitches. This seems like a clear indication that he struggles with velocity at the major league level.

So, this type of problem can improve over time as he adjusts to the major league level. It makes sense that this adjustment will take time especially after spending so much time at the AAA level. However, there are no numbers to back that theory, just speculation.

One thing that he can do to improve at hitting fastballs is by improving his approach. He has great plate discipline on all pitches except for fastballs. Chase% is an excellent measurement of this skill, so to help put Austin Nola’s chase% into context I lined it up next to Mike Trout’s chase% chart.

Data via Baseball Savant

First off I want to make it completely clear that I am not comparing Austin Nola to Mike Trout. The reason I am putting these numbers side by side is to provide context to these numbers. I know that not everyone has a great understanding of what a good chase% looks like, including myself.

So, what we can take from this is that Nola is good at not chasing off-speed and breaking ball pitches. However, when it does come to fastballs, he struggles with them. So, that would be part of the problem of not being able to barrel up those pitches.

Conclusion

Austin Nola is an asset for the Seattle Mariners as a team during a rebuilding process. He provides cheap value and could continue to improve. The 2020 season (if it happens) will be a clear indication as to how valuable Nola can be. After this year he will have more than a full year under his belt which is plenty of time for him to adjust to big league velocity. If 2021 rolls around and we haven’t seen any improvement in his numbers then we will know the type of player that he is and a clear picture as to what his ceiling is.