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The Mets’ offseason is bound to be a busy one. Between Javier Baez, Marcus Stroman, Michael Conforto, and Noah Syndergaard, multiple players on the roster will either need a new deal or will find one on the open market.
And owner Steve Cohen, team president Sandy Alderson, and whoever the Mets end up making head of their baseball operations will be scouring the free agent and trade markets to create a roster built to break their postseason drought.
But there is one free agent from the Mets who isn’t being brought up enough. And this man should be on the priority list to re-sign this offseason.
Aaron Loup was one of baseball’s best relievers this past season, and it’s a shame he didn’t make the All-Star team because his numbers were elite. Through 56.2 innings pitched out of the ‘pen, he owned a 0.95 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, allowing just six earned runs.
And this came from a 33-year-old who signed a simple one-year, $3 million deal after pitching with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020 during the shortened season. After tossing the pill like that, Loup said he hopes to re-sign in New York.
“I am hoping they intend to sign me back,” Loup told The New York Post in September.
Consistent bullpen arms aren’t as easy to come by these days, and the fact that Loup is a left-hander makes him even more special.
So, while the Mets ponder their grand offseason plan, here’s why Loup returning to play in the blue and orange needs to be a priority. The advance stats say it all:
Sinker/Cutter Combo is Lethal
First, let’s take a quick look at what he possesses in his pitching repertoire. Loup, with a borderline sidearm delivery, likes to run a sinker/cutter duet when he hits the rubber. But while most pitchers rocking a cutter use it more as a fastball with velocity in the 90s and with tighter, late break, Loup’s acts like a slider would. It doesn’t entirely sweep across the zone, but his arm angle and slower velocity (84.7 mph average) gives it a longer break and keeps hitters off balance.
Mix that in with the sinker and you can understand why 53.2 percent of batted balls off Loup are grounders, with 34.8 percent of them topped off the bat, per Baseball Savant.
Also, Loup’s sinker owned a -13 run value this season, which was ninth-best in the league for pitchers throwing the same pitch. This basically shows exactly how effective it is, as run value takes into account the event that pitch is thrown based on runners on base, outs, and the count of each batter.
More on the cutter: Loup’s placement and control of it is quite impressive. Looking at the heat map of all 274 he threw this season, it stays low with the hottest point being low and away for righties and in to lefties. Of course, there’s going to be times where it finds the heart of the plate, but because it’s offspeed compared to others, he doesn’t always get beat on it.
And as sinkerballers normally fare in MLB, Loup doesn’t allow the ball to leave the yard. His 2.1 barrel percentage, or a batted ball with the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle – generally leading to homers – was in the top one percent of baseball in 2021. You can also see he allowed a single homer all year.
With the rare selection to go changeup or curve, Loup’s arsenal is one that he has been able to master, and it generates outs at an efficient clip.
Right or Left Doesn’t Matter
The word “lefty specialist” gets thrown around with a lot of left-handed relievers, but it shouldn’t with Loup and it makes him an even more valuable piece to any bullpen.
Against lefties, he does have better numbers, with a .167 average and .226 on-base percentage against 93 batters faced in 2021. However, with 125 righties stepping into the box against him, he had a .211 average against and .290 on-base percentage.
Of course, these aren’t lights out numbers against righties. But Loup gets the job done no matter what side of the plate his opponent stands. And in MLB where pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, the Mets didn’t have to worry about bringing in Loup at the perfect time.
Whoever ends up managing the Mets this season should have that option, too, when wanting to call on the veteran.
NL East Dominance
Division games are the biggest no matter what time of the season it is. And Loup stepped up when the Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, and Washington Nationals were in the other dugout.
Loup had a 1.49 ERA over 27.1 innings pitched against NL East opponents in 2021. His worst mark was a 2.84 ERA against the Braves, but even that isn’t bad at all.
You want pitchers who can come in and shut down those who are vying for the same division title, and Loup got the job done.
Last Key Stats
Combing through the rest of Loup’s production this season, two key stats stuck out to this writer.
The first is something that all bullpen arms look at after the season: how they produced with runners in scoring position. Obviously, they can sometimes take the mound in those situations.
Loup handled his with a .183 average against in 74 plate appearances. Slugging percentage sat at .200, which was due to one double in those situations.
The second stat is what Loup did when he was at Citi Field, which was a 0.57 ERA in 32 games (31.2 IP). Maybe that’s why he’s adamant about wanting to remain in New York.
There’s many tough decisions to make for the Mets this offseason, starting with their front office and who will be leading the team on the field.
But when that’s all settled and it’s time to set the roster, Loup should be an easy target to re-sign to maintain his presence in the bullpen.