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Blue Jays 2015 Year in Review: Aaron Loup

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Coming into 2015, Aaron Loup looked like a dependable presence in an inexperienced and shaky bullpen. From 2012 to 2014, Loup was one of the Blue Jays’ best relievers. He decimated lefties and held his own against righties. Overall, he had a 2.77 ERA/3.27FIP, 1.109 WHIP and a 3.4 WAR in that span. The Blue Jays were counting on Loup continuing that success in 2015; it didn’t happen.

Loup’s 2015 wasn’t horrendous, but it was a huge step backwards for him. Loup’s season was anomalous in that his underlying numbers looked great, but the runs just kept coming. He simply couldn’t be trusted in important situations. It came to the point where Loup’s struggles necessitated a stint in the minors.

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After his call-up, Loup’s fortunes improved somewhat. However, by that point he was being used as a LOOGY and in low leverage situations. He was included on the playoff roster but essentially only out of necessity. Loup will be looking to regain the formula which made him so effective in recent years.

The Good:

Loup is still young for a reliever and his track record doesn’t suggest that 2015 is his norm. He has time to sort himself out. The offseason will give him a chance to reset, digest and correct mistakes.

Most importantly, Loup’s underlying statistics strongly suggest that 2015 was an aberration. His 9.78 K/9 was the highest of his career and his 1.49 BB/9 was well below his career average. His 3.72 FIP was lower than 2014 and his 2.89 xFIP was a career low. 2.43 SIERA was a career best as well.

Loup was still highly effective against lefties. He didn’t allow a home run against a lefty, had a whopping 19.0 K/BB and a 1.91 FIP. Loup also seemed to be the victim of some bad luck as evidenced by a BABIP that jumped up to .339 from a career average of .294.

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The Bad:

Almost all of Loup’s stats in 2015 hovered around his career norms. One abnormal stat made the detrimental difference: His 20.7% HR/FB. That caused his HR/9 to double from his career average of 0.64 to 1.28. And, consequentially, his ERA ballooned to 4.46.

I postulated an explanation for the HR/FB at the time of Loup’s demotion that still makes sense now that the dust has settled on 2015. Loup threw his fastball less and his change-up and slider more. The speed of his slider and change-up increased. The speed increase on his change-up was effective (2.1 change-up runs above average) but the slider suffered (-5.0 runs above average). The slider didn’t have the bite that it did in years past and it either got crushed or ignored. Keegan Matheson detailed how Loup improved after returning to Blue Jays with his normal, slower slider but by then the season was nearly over. (After his recall, Loup didn’t allow an earned run)

Some blame could be attributed to the coaching staff who failed to either recognize or deal with Loup’s pitch issues. They also kept putting him in high leverage situations after it was clear that it wasn’t working and his confidence was shot.

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The Future:

It was a rough year for Aaron in nearly every respect. On top of all the baseball issues, dealing with the birth of a premature child during the postseason couldn’t have been easy on him. In spite of all his struggles this season there is no good reason why 2016 should follow the same pattern. If he were to replicate his 2015 stats with the exception of some better luck and a slower slider, he’d have the best season of his career in 2016. Some small adjustments and wiser usage should make Loup one of the Blue Jays most effective relievers again.

Loup is controllable until 2019 and won’t be making much more that he did this past year. He remains a good value asset and does have options remaining. At this point, he remains one of the Jays only two viable lefty reliever options. Barring a very unlikely trade, Loup will be back with the Blue Jays in 2016 and it would greatly benefit the club if he could return to his 2012-2014 form.

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