A LOOGY, or lefty one-out guy, was once a near staple of the most successful major league bullpens. Now, we’re finding that they’re not all that important.
At one point, every dominant major league relief staff had a left-handed specialist capable of entering the game at any point and neutralizing the stinging bat of a powerful left-handed hitter. Sometimes referred to as a LOOGY, the term can be traced back to minor league writer John Sickels.
As baseball strategy changed shape and magnitude throughout the decades, this eerily specific job became more and more in demand, with hurlers netting monster deals simply for their ability to get one guy out. For a while, Aaron Loup was that man for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Recently, I came across a brilliantly written analysis of the death of the LOOGY by Rob Schaefer of The Ringer. In it, Schaefer details the slow decline of what he calls “LOOGY seasons”, a season in which a specific pitcher appears in 20 or more games and averages fewer than 1.20 innings per appearance. Additionally, a pitcher must have less than 0.2 saves per appearance to qualify as a LOOGY.
By looking at numbers, and interviewing LOOGY Boone Logan (formerly of the Milwaukee Brewers), it was found that left-handed specialists just aren’t as useful as they once were. Flamethrowing relievers who can throw multiple innings are becoming more and more trendy as skippers try and strategically manipulate their roster to ensure maximum efficiency.
Loup has had six LOOGY seasons since joining the Blue Jays, according to Baseball Reference, but his innings pitched numbers are slowly declining. Really, it’s not so much because of the way Loup has been pitching, but rather the way the game is evolving.
First, it’s important to actually state the numbers. Since 2012, Loup’s number of innings pitched, in chronological order have been 30.2, 69.1, 68.2, 42.1, 14.1, 57.2, 30.1, with the 30.1 inning season being the current one, which is only about halfway done. His 2016 season, in which he pitched only 14.1 innings, was shortened due to an arm injury.
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Still, one can notice that Loup hasn’t been pitching as much as he once did. Now, can some of that be attributed to the decline of his overall effectiveness on the mound? It sure can. Since 2014, Loup’s ERA has been significantly higher than it was before his best season. It’s simple, he’s regressing as a pitcher, and it’s a natural baseball phenomenon.
But even though Loup himself has regressed considerably, it doesn’t fully explain the fact that he’s pitched in fewer games. This year alone, he’s seen his appearances drop month by month, potentially as a result of the aforementioned extinction of the left-handed specialist.
He’s also seen a chunk of his appearances go to either long relievers like Joe Biagini and Jake Petricka, who are capable of pitching multiple innings, or flamethrowers like Carlos Ramirez (now in the Athletics organization) and John Axford. Teams are less concerned about matchups, and more concerned about pure skill and ability, something that LOOGYs generally aren’t known for.
It’s not unequivocally certain that Loup’s lack of action has been as a result of the shifting trends – it’s just food for thought. Maybe, just maybe, Aaron Loup has become a victim of the times, rather than a victim of his own poor performance.