San Diego Padres: Austin Nola has been quite the upgrade

Austin Nola has been a major upgrade behind the plate for the San Diego Padres.

We already know that if there’s someone San Diego Padres general manager AJ Preller wants to add to his roster, he’s going to get his guy. He acquired a number of those guys at this year’s trade deadline, but let’s focus on one in particular, Austin Nola.

Traded along with pitchers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla for prospect outfielder Taylor Trammell, utility man Ty France, reliever Andres Munoz, and catcher Luis Torrens, Nola’s production at the plate hasn’t slowed much from his hot start with the Seattle Mariners.

The second-year catcher was slashing .306/.373/.531 with five home runs, five doubles, 19 RBI, and a 146 wRC+ in 29 games before the trade. His 1.2 Wins Above Replacement was one of the best marks for a catcher as the unique journey for the 30-year-old Nola continued.

Since joining the San Diego Padres, Nola has not only brought a bit of offensive production at the plate, but his defense has been what’s opening eyes.

Twelve games into his Padres career, Nola is hitting .220 with a .319 OBP, and a 106 wRC+. He has been worth 0.4 fWAR, about the same pace from his time in Seattle.

Again, even if AJ Preller wants to trade four current/future major leaguers for someone who just learned to catch and didn’t make the major leagues until his age-29 season, you trust the process.

In his first start behind the dish for San Diego, Nola caught a seven-hit shutout against the Colorado Rockies, since then, the magic has continued. Four of his ten starts behind the plate have resulted in shutout wins for the Padres.

Pitchers own a 1.88 ERA with Nola as their catcher (5.98 in Seattle) and he has thrown out four of six runners on the basepaths (67% success rate) after gunning down just one of 15 attempted base stealers while with the Mariners (7%).

Nola has been quite the upgrade from Austin Hedges, who was forced to start the majority of games for San Diego after an injury to Francisco Mejia. Hedges is now essentially the third-string catcher in Cleveland where he is 1-7 with four strikeouts in just three appearances since being traded almost three weeks ago.

While in San Diego, Hedges threw out baserunners at a 46% clip and pitchers owned a 4.88 ERA with him behind the plate. Heralded for his framing abilities and value as a defensive backstop, Hedges was worth a combined -0.8 bWAR between 2019 and 2020, hitting .176 in 102 games last season and just .156 this year with the Friars.

Austin Nola has not only provided a significant offensive boost for the San Diego Padres, but he’s surprising everyone with his defensive abilities as well. Mike Clevinger was a huge addition for AJ Preller, but this Nola trade is quickly producing some serious value.

Even Dan Altavilla is having an immediate impact, throwing three scoreless innings with no walks and four strikeouts as part of a Padres bullpen that is getting more healthy and dominant by the day.

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There’s some serious magic brewing out west and if you aren’t already paying attention to the San Diego Padres, perhaps you should.