Austin Nola graduated from a sleeper entering 2020 hoping he'd garner eligibility at catcher to a top ten player at his new position entering 2021 drafts. Despite being traded, Nola gained the respect of his pitching staffs while slashing .273/.353/.472 with 24 runs, seven home runs and 28 RBI in 48 games spanning 184 plate appearances. He lowered his strikeout percentage as a hitter with more exposure and increased his walk rate.
Armed with strong discipline metrics, Nola hopes to build on his 2020 breakout in the upcoming season. According to Statcast, Nola recorded 129 batted ball events last year with ten barrels (7.8 percent), an 89.7 MPH average exit velocity and 43.4 hard hit percentage. His spike in barrel rate more than doubled compared to his 3.4 barrel percentage in 2019. He kept his zone contact percentage stable while increasing his chase contact rate without sacrificing batting average. In fact, Nola fared better in the chase and waste zones than in the heart of the strike zone last year:
When viewing his expected statistics which rate quality of contact, Nola owned a .279 expected batting average (xBA), .463 expected slugging (xSLG) and .343 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). Here's his zone profile from 2020 which indicates Nola's more likely to replicate his batting average than take a step forward in terms of power production:
Within his batted ball data, Nola registered a 39.5 percent ground ball rate with only a 15.5 fly ball percentage but upped his line drive percent by 12 points to 38 percent last year. Nola increased his average exit velocity, barrel percentage, hard-hit rate and expected slugging.
Due to a limited major league sample, expanding his results from the second half of last year through and including 2020 yields these results:
- Nola 2H 2019-through-2020: 110 games, 422 plate appearances, 57 runs, 16 home runs, 57 RBI, one stolen base; .269/.347/.462, 9.5 BB%, 20.6 K%, .194 ISO, .343 wOBA
Compared to his peers at catcher, Nola ranks as follows in this time frame among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances:
- Third in runs
- Tied for seventh in home runs
- Fourth in RBI
- Tied for tenth in batting average
Accounting for his new home, here's Nola's spray chart from these 110 contests displaying all of his line drives and fly balls with San Diego as the backdrop:
If the major leagues “deaden” baseballs, pull side home run hitters should not suffer too much regression in power which bodes well for Nola. Given all the numbers, here are his projection sets from six systems for 2021:
Although all options forecast migration to the mean in batting average, Nola reaching .260 or better could increase his counting statistics. Pay for the ATC projection set and profit if Nola hits 15 or more home runs with a .260-ish average.
THE BAT X and THE BAT courtesy of Derek Carty
ATC courtesy of Ariel Cohen
ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski