When the Mets signed Aaron Loup to a one-year, $3 million deal back in late January of this year, it didn’t exactly feel like a major move. The 33-year-old lefty was coming off a very good short 2020 season with the Rays, but given the nature of the 60-game season, it was hard to buy into that performance over the course of just 25.0 innings. And while he’s never had a truly awful year in the majors, he had accumulated a 4.18 ERA from 2015 through 2019.
Any doubts about Loup were quickly proven wrong. Through the months of April and May, Loup had a 2.77 ERA and 1.55 FIP, numbers that would have looked great at the end of the season if he had merely maintained them. But from the beginning of June on, Loup was simply outstanding. In 43.2 innings the rest of the way, Loup had a 0.41 ERA and 2.71 FIP as the Mets deployed him in all sorts of relief situations and twice as an opener. In total, Loup finished the year with a 0.95 ERA in 56.2 innings of work, and he made his love of beer known by bringing a can of Busch Light along with him to his media sessions on Zoom.
Loup’s season serves as a reminder of just how random relief pitcher performance can be. In terms of stuff and pitch usage, there weren’t any major changes to what he had already been doing coming into the year. It’s worth noting that Loup threw his sinker 51 percent of the time this year, the first time he threw it more than half of the time since he drastically reduced its usage from 65 percent in 2018 to 43.4 percent in 2019, per Brooks Baseball. And that change coincided with increased usage of a cutter, which was his second most-thrown pitch at 33 percent this year.
With those pitches in his arsenal, Loup was good against hitters from both sides of the plate. Left-handed relievers are expected to be good against left-handed hitters, and he was, holding them to a .167/.226/.214 line with a .201 wOBA. But Loup held right-handed hitters to a .211/.250/.257 with a .250 wOBA.
Heading into the offseason, it’s hard to imagine that Loup would command a major contract despite having such a good year. It would also be unreasonable to expect that he would replicate the type of season he had in 2021 in the years ahead. If the Mets were to bring him back, though, he’d be a welcome piece in their bullpen.