clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Aaron Loup needs to throw his secondary stuff for strikes

New, 7 comments

Aaron Loup struggled with his control for the first time last season. Where did all of the strikes go?

Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Simply put, the Blue Jays need Aaron Loup to be good this season.

Although the bullpen isn't quite as bereft of talent as some prognosticators would have the Jays fanbase believe, there are a fair amount of question marks in the relief core. The team can't afford for Loup to be one of them.

However, regardless of what the Jays can afford, the 27-year-old's 2014 was a bit suspect. Loup did post a very solid 3.15 ERA, but his 3.83 FIP and 3.92 xFIP were uninspiring, leading to a career-low 0.5 WAR. For the most part his faults were cushioned by a .246 BABIP that he is unlikely to repeat.

The season was not without its positives as Loup did manage a career bests in velocity and strikeout percentage, but he had one major issue: his control. The southpaw walked 10.6% of the batters he faced, despite walking only 3.8% in his previous two season.

In theory what Loup does best is keep the ball in the strike zone and on the ground and last season he stopped doing one of those things. That's particularly troubling for a guy who's likely looking at a pretty high-leverage role for the Blue Jays in 2015.

So, how did he slip up in 2014? The most obvious thing that would cause Loup to throw fewer strikes would be some kind of issue with his sinker. He throws his sinker the vast majority of the time and if he lost his feel for the pitch somehow it would definitely explain the huge spike in walks.

Time Period

Sinker %

Zone%

O-Zone Swing%

Expected Strike%

2012-13

74.3%

48.1%

30.6%

64.0%

2014

68.9%

45.4%

26.3%

59.8%

There was undoubtedly a drop off in Aaron Loup's ability to find the zone with his sinker and get hitters to chase it. These losses are marginal but they add up on a pitch he throws around 70 percent of the time. It hard to find something correctable here as the difference appears to be an execution issue rather than an approach issue. Sinkers are designed to be thrown low in the zone pretty much no matter what.

It should be noted that it might not hurt Loup to go back to his previous frequency of sinkers because the pitch still generates a lot of strikes, especially compared to his other offerings.

The thing is that Loup's off-speed pitches are almost never thrown in the strike zone. The Brooks Baseball Zone Profile below shows the location of all of his curveballs and changeups since he entered the league in 2012:

This strategy makes sense by and large. Hanging curveballs and changeups is a really good way to get taken out of the park and Loup doesn't want to take any chances. He throws his off-speed stuff low and out of the zone where it is more likely to be whiffed at than clobbered.

Sometimes the results are very pretty. Multiple times last season Loup got out of jams by making batters look foolish on curveballs and changes well out of the zone. Like this changeup against Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph:

This change against Alcides Escobar:

Or this game-ending hook against Yangervis Solarte:

These are all great pitches, but in order to throw them effectively you have to keep hitters honest. If your off-speed pitches are always out of the zone then opposing batters are going to clue in and lay off. That hasn't happened to Loup yet, but he's probably pushing the envelope.

Time Period

Change + Curve %

Zone%

O-Zone Swing%

Expected Strike%

2012-13

25.7%

22.2%

38.1%

51.8%

2014

30.1%

16.6%

37.0%

47.6%

Loup threw more changes and curves than ever last season and put even fewer of them in the zone, a recipe for an increase in walks. Hitters may still be chasing his stuff, but there is going to be a tipping point where he isn't doing enough to prevent his opponents for taking everything off-speed.

Because Loup lacks a strong ability to miss bats command is going to be the cornerstone of his game. In order to avoid putting men on base he will likely have to throw his off-speed pitches in the zone more consistently, even if he runs the risk of getting hit hard from time to time.

At the end of the day Aaron Loup is going to live and die by his sinker, but if he could throw more of his secondary stuff in the zone he could make life easier for himself, and the Blue Jays by extension.