Blue Jays: Why the long leash for Aaron Loup?

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 9: Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, second from left, pulls relief pitcher Aaron Loup
SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 9: Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, second from left, pulls relief pitcher Aaron Loup /

The Blue Jays worked out an arbitration contract for Aaron Loup. Despite the value of left-handed pitching, does he bring anything to the bullpen?

The Blue Jays continue to work on their offseason checklist and managed to take care of a few items on Thursday, agreeing to contracts with Ezequiel Carrera and Aaron Loup. Carrera agreed to a one year 1.9 million dollar deal, while Loup received 1,812,500 million.

The latter has been a member of the bullpen since 2012 when he broke into the big leagues at the age of 24. He was a bit of an unexpected contributor for the Blue Jays, and thrived against left-handed hitters in his first few seasons. In fact, he posted a 2.64 ERA as a rookie in 30 appearances in 2012, followed that up with a 2.47 ERA across 64 games in 2013, and made 71 appearances for a 3.15 ERA in 2014. As a compliment to Brett Cecil, the Blue Jays had a nice one-two punch of lefty relievers.

Loup hasn’t been the same pitcher since that season, despite the fact that he had a bounce back year of sorts in 2017. He finished with a 3.75 ERA across 57.2 innings, which was a vast improvement from the previous season when he spent the majority of the year in Buffalo, and managed just 14.2 innings pitched. The Blue Jays decided to hang on to him in 2017, likely due to the fact that he had no minor league options remaining, and he managed to perform well enough to stick with the roster for the season.

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The problem is, Loup’s job is as a left-handed specialist and he hasn’t been that effective against lefty hitters recently. In fact, here are his numbers against righty and lefty hitters.

Against RH-  .250/.365/.356

Against LH-   .280/.356/.366

Would you have expected his numbers to be worse against left-handed hitters? Unfortunately, that’s the case, and neither slash line is terribly encouraging.

Manager John Gibbons must have figured this out at some point last season, because eventually Loup got to the point where he faced more right-handed hitters than he did against same side competition. He faced off against 157 right-handed hitters, and just 108 lefty’s last season, which I had to triple check before I believed what I was reading.

With all due respect to the Blue Jays veteran, why does he still have a job with the team with these numbers? Unless you’re of the closer/set-up man variety, left handed relievers are generally used as bullpen specialists. If Loup struggles this badly to get left-handed hitters out, then what use is he to Gibbons, other than eating some innings?

With the presence and emergence of Tim Mayza and Matt Dermody later in the 2017 season, Loup’s leash should be a lot shorter in 2018. By comparison, Dermody held lefty hitters to a .197/.227/.244 slash line against 44 batters, and Mayza posted a .206/.270/.235 line. If one or both can earn their way on to the big league roster, they could push Loup from the equation in a real hurry.

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I get that left-handed pitching can earn a longer leash for a big leaguer, but I would argue that it’s been extended way too far for Loup in Toronto. Despite the fact that he’s agreed to a new deal with the Blue Jays, I hope he has to earn his job this spring just like everyone else.