The mass had grown disheveled and restless, as for thirty long days and thirty long nights, they were without a savior at the catcher position. Many of prophets had come and gone, Omar Narvaez and Mitch Garver were two of the most prominent, but they have been exposed as false prophets up to now. So the aimless walk through the catcher landscape has been a challenging and arduous one. But then thunder banged the ear drums, water flattened the disheveleness, and fire glistened off the pupils as a voice echoed throughout the universe: Seek forth the highest mountain and I will provide salvation. Filled with a vigor that hadn’t been felt since draft day, the mass walked, and walked, and walked, so much that Forrest Gump looked down upon them and nodded in approval. Upon reaching their destination, a swirling wind enveloped them while lightning was radiating from the mountain top. Then…..Austin Nola descended down the face of the mountain with two tablets. On one were his stats for this season with the expression Catchers Ain’t Got No Face at the bottom, while on the other tablet was written: Thou shall not covet any other catcher. It has been written.
Nola is 30 years old, 6′ 0″, and 195 pounds. The Miami Marlins selected him in the fifth round of the 2012 MLB draft. He spent seven years with the organization before opting for free agency, which is when he signed with the Seattle Mariners. Drafted as a shortstop, Nola became a catcher in 2017, then played first base with the Mariners.
The plate discipline has always been his calling as a hitter, as the strikeout rate never surpassed 20% in the minors and the walk rate was around the 10% mark. Power and average were the issues, though, as the ISO was routinely under .100 while the batting average had a wide range of sub-.200 to .280 as the high. Then something clicked when he arrived in Seattle. In Triple-A, he started hitting for more power, as the ISO spiked to .194. The FB% remained the same, but he started hitting fewer ground balls and more line drives. The approach was a balanced one, as he sprayed the ball to all fields. When he got to the Show, though, the fly ball rate increased 5% and he started to pull the ball more. He ended with 10 homers, 37 runs, and 31 RBI in 267 plate appearances with an 8.6% walk rate, 23.6% strikeout rate, .185 ISO, and .269/.342/.454 slash. The signs were there.
So far in 2020, Nola is slashing .315/.358/.562 with 5 homers, 14 runs, and 17 RBI in 95 plate appearances with a 4.2% walk rate, 15.8% strikeout rate, and .247 ISO. Is this sustainable?
The BABIP is .333, so some regression in the batting average could be in store, but it’s not an egregious number so I don’t think the bottom falls out. He’s hitting fewer ground balls, more line drives, and the same amount of fly balls compared to last season. He is pulling the ball more substantially, more than 10% than 2019, so the power looks to be real.
According to the Statcast data, Nola is 74th percentile in exit velocity, 66th in hard hit percentage, and 72nd in xSLG. He is only 41th percentile in barrel rate though.
Looking at the plate discipline numbers gives me a hard on. 5.8% swinging strike rate to go along with a 22.6% chase rate. The contact rates are all very good: 87.2% in the zone, 86.3% in general, and 84.1% outside the zone. That O-Contact% is probably an outlier, as it was 60.6% last season, so there’s downside in that department. He’s only swinging at 41.9% of pitches in general.
Things look legit to me.
Is he Aaron Judge? No, but he possesses power. More importantly, though, is that he plays a lot and won’t kill you in batting average. He also hits in a decent spot in the batting order, so counting stats and plate appearances could be more than the other corpes littering the landscape. TREASURE