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Evaluating Austin Nola’s 2021 season

Austin Nola is out for the season with a thumb injury, so let’s take some time and discuss how he did in 2021.

MLB: Houston Astros at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the season, the Austin Nola trade looked good for A.J. Preller and the San Diego Padres. After he was acquired from the Seattle Mariners before the 2020 trade deadline, Nola earned the respect of a lot of Padres fans because he played through a broken foot.

A year later though, the returns on the Nola deal don’t look as great. He could and probably will make the trade look better down the road because the Padres still have him under control for the next four seasons. But as for this year, Nola was a disappointment.

The Padres announced on Friday that Nola is being placed on the 10-day IL with a left thumb strain. Nola suffered the injury while trying to make a tag on Brandon Belt in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to the San Francisco Giants. He will be having surgery immediately with the hope of being ready for 2022 Spring Training. Webster Rivas is being called up to replace Nola.

In just 56 games this season, the 29-year-old was worth less than one win above replacement, hitting two home runs and driving in just 29 runs.

Injuries unfortunately played a huge factor in Nola’s 2021 campaign. He wasn’t available on Opening Day because of a fractured finger in his left hand. Then after 18 games (where he held a .217 batting average), Nola hit the IL yet again with a knee sprain.

When he returned from his second trip to the IL, he’d finish his 2021 season by starting 33 games, hitting just one home run and totaling just two more RBI (18) than strikeouts (16). To be fair, Nola wasn’t known for his power in Seattle (where he homered only 15 times in two seasons), but his slugging percentage dropped 96 points from 2020 to 2021.

I want to talk about a positive, though, instead of only focusing on Nola’s disappointing offensive performance in 2021. He was a significant reason why Blake Snell got back on track in the second half of the season.

Snell gave up three or fewer runs in each of his last seven starts to end his season (excluding his last start in Los Angeles where he exited with a groin injury in the first inning). Nola caught every single one of them.

“It’s been nice having Nola behind plate,” Snell said in August about pitching to Nola. “It’s nice when I don’t have to do anything,” Snell said. “He puts the fingers down, and they work. It’s what I want, and we just move from there. It’s just nice to be able to pitch to a guy I’ve built a lot with. It’s comforting. He knows me really well. I know him really well. We work with each other really well. It makes pitching a lot easier even when it’s really hard.”

Hopefully, Snell will continue having success in 2022 with Nola behind the plate and not on the IL. If Nola can stay healthy next season, there isn’t a reason why he shouldn’t be able to have a 2020-type season.