Jays From the Couch looks into the (team friendly) contract agreement between the Toronto Blue Jays and Aaron Loup
Late Thursday night, the Toronto Blue Jays came to terms with Aaron Loup on a one-year, $1.8125 million contract. Now, this wasn’t surprising news, nor was it met with much fanfare. Loup is on his last year of arbitration and has been around forever. These aren’t the moves fans get excited about. Nevertheless, I felt that it was worth offering my take as to why the longest-tenured Blue Jay is better than he tends to be given credit for.
Let’s start with his overall numbers from 2017. In terms of surrendering runs, Loup posted an ERA and a FIP that were both better-than-average. He struck out batters at a higher rate than the average reliever. His walk rate wasn’t much higher than average, but I thought it was cheating not to include HBP into the mix. This was one area where Loup stood out in a negative way. That said, Loup’s six HBP were only second most within the Jays bullpen, after Ryan Tepera‘s eight.
Loup’s strength in 2017 (beyond striking out a quarter of the batters he faced) was generating weak contact. More than half of the balls in play that he surrendered were grounders, the least dangerous type of ball in play. He surrendered hard contact nearly a third less often than the average RP. His strong xBA and xwOBA on batted balls imply that the contact he gave up (in terms of launch angle and exit velocity) was much less likely to turn into a base hit or extra bases than average. Finally, he gave up barrels (that oh so dangerous batted ball type) about half as often as the average reliever.
What makes his strong ERA particularly impressive was the sheer amount of bad luck he suffered in 2017. Loup ranked in the top 20 among relievers in terms of BABIP, xBA-BA and xwOBA-wOBA. So, 1) an unusually high number of the balls in play that he surrendered turned into hits, 2) far more of the batted balls turned into hits than their launch angle/exit velocity would’ve suggested and 3) the batted balls he surrendered turned into extra base hits far more often than their launch angle/exit velocity would’ve suggested. Good and unlucky? That’s a positive sign for his chances of maintaining his performance in 2018.
As a left-handed reliever, Loup will also be judged by his performance against left-handed batters. [Now, this might not be totally necessary with the balanced splits of the current Jays bullpen—the 2017 Blue Jays bullpen ranked in the top eight in ERA, FIP, wOBA and xwOBA vs. left-handed batters.] Loup stands up well to said judgment. In lefty on lefty matchups, his ERA, FIP and K% were each better than average. [Though Fangraphs cautions against the usefulness of ERA split by handedness. They only make it available via the split tool.]
His total walk rate against lefties was average. He gave up a lot more grounders than most and a lot less hard contact, which jibe well with his better than average barrel rate and xwOBA on batted balls. The only negative that jumps out is the base hit-inducing contact he gave up against lefties (relatively high xBA). He wasn’t giving up many batted balls of the extra base variety (low xwOBA and barrel rate), so perhaps a good chunk of those grounders he surrendered against lefties were hit hard enough to make them likely to get through the infield for singles.
Fortunately, Loup’s skills extend to right-handed batters as well, a very useful trait for any left-handed relief pitcher. Last season, he was trusted to face 157 righties, the 15th most among all left-handed relievers. That trust was justified. While his ERA against righties was worse than average, ERA isn’t really a useful stat for handedness splits. [Let’s say three righties get three straight singles. Then, a lefty hits a grand slam. The pitcher’s earned run count vs. lefties increases by four and his struggles against righties are disregarded.] Otherwise, he’s above-average across the board, aside from the aforementioned HBP problem.
His season was certainly not without its warts: in addition to ranking eighth in the majors in terms of HBP, Loup was tied for first in relief appearances in which he unsuccessfully faced one batter. He had nine of those, same as former Jay Mark Rzepczynski. But if you put the good in with the bad, you have a solid relief pitcher on a contract with both little cost and little term. Loup played a supporting role in what was a top-notch 2017 Toronto Blue Jays bullpen. His strong performance (3.66 FIP) helped drive the bullpen’s strong performance as a unit (4.02 FIP, 11th best in the majors).
He isn’t the type of player that will put a team over the top, but Aaron Loup is the type of player that can generally provide solid results coming out of the ‘pen (a necessity for any team with playoff hopes) for a reasonable price.
*Featured Image Credit Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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