Aaron Loup Has a Problem

On Wednesday, Aaron Loup threw this up-and-in fastball.

That pitch hit Freddie Freeman in the wrong spot, breaking his wrist in the process, and put the Braves best player on the shelf for the next couple of months. Freeman, for his part, did his best to give Loup the benefit of the doubt.

“He was just trying to get me out,” Freeman said. “The best possible way to get me out is to throw inside. I’d be the first one to tell you that. He was just trying to do his job, and one got away.”

It was nice of Freeman to state that he didn’t think Loup was throwing at him, especially since things could have easily escalated, as Freeman was the seventh batter hit in the Jays-Braves series. While Julio Teheran did predictably hit Jose Bautista, the second batter of Thursday’s match-up between the two teams, we didn’t get the big fight that everyone was expecting. Perhaps Freeman’s statement helped keep things from spiraling out of control.

Or perhaps Freeman just knows about Aaron Loup. Maybe Freeman doesn’t think Loup was trying to hit him because this is just what Aaron Loup does.

Since getting to the big leagues in 2012, Loup has hit 26 of the 1,007 batters he’s faced. But more impressively (for lack of a batter word), he’s hit 19 of the 406 left-handed batters he’s faced. To put that in context, here’s total HBP vs left-handed batters and the percentage of batters that have been hit by all pitchers with at least 10 HBPs vs LHBs since 2012.

If you’re wondering about those two marks on the far right, that’s A.J. Burnett and Charlie Morton, and now you know why the Pirates have had a reputation for pitching too far inside. But while Burnett and Morton have hit a lot of lefties over the last five years, they don’t hit the highest percentage of LHBs that they face. That would be Loup, and not by a little bit.

4.6% of the left-handed batters Loup has faced in his career have taken first base the hard way. Among the guys with at least 10 HBPs against lefties since 2002, he’s a full percentage point ahead of the next highest mark (Ross Detwiler, 3.6%). Of the 76 pitchers with 10+ HBPs against lefties since 2012, the average HBP% is 1.3%. Loup is four standard deviations from the mean of the group already pre-selected to have hit at least 10 left-handed batters in the last five years.

And while Freeman can talk about how Loup was just doing his job, the interesting thing is that there doesn’t appear to be an easy explanation for Loup’s ridiculous hit-by-pitch rate. He’s not a guy with great stuff he just can’t harness; a lot of his big league success comes from throwing strikes, in fact. His basic skillset is avoid walks and get groundballs. He’s the opposite of the Wild Thing archetype; he commands average stuff pretty well, and that’s why he’s a big leaguer.

Of course, Freeman noted that Loup was just pitching inside and one got away, so if Loup lived on the inside part of the plate against LHBs, perhaps that would explain the high HBP rates. Except, well, he doesn’t.

For comparison, here’s the league average since 2012 against LHBs.

Relative to the norm, Loup actually works more down-and-away from lefties than most pitchers. His percentage of inside pitches aren’t that distinguishable from the league average, and certainly aren’t anywhere near where they’d explain why his HBP rate is four times the norm.

And if you look at his actual location of HBPs vs lefties, it’s not like he’s just gotten hosed by having guys hang over the plate and take pitches that are close to being strikes.

Freeman’s HBP was actually one of the closest to the zone of the 19 lefties that Loup has nailed, and that’s because the pitch was actually supposed to be low and away.

Look at that target. Luke Maile asked for a pitch below the knees on the outside corner; Freeman actually got a pitch at his body, well inside. If he hadn’t committed to his stride into the swing, he could have gotten out of the way, which is probably why he said he doesn’t believe Loup was throwing at him; this isn’t where you put a ball if you’re trying to nail someone.

But since Loup drops down nearly to side-arm and is falling towards left-handed batters with his delivery, when he mistimes his release point, the ball ends up going right at the lefty in the batter’s box, regardless of where he was trying to aim. For reference, here’s his HBP of Nick Markakis on Monday.

Same thing; he’s not trying to hit Markakis, but he just misses his release point and the ball flies right at the left-handed hitter his body is aiming at. Loup’s delivery means that if he doesn’t successfully throw all the way across his body, the opposing hitter pays for it.

From Loup and the Blue Jays perspective, the occasional HBP is worth the reward; Loup has been a very good left-on-reliever in his career, allowing just a .264 wOBA to same-handed hitters. His delivery makes it difficult for lefties to pick up the ball, and since he’s not throwing top-shelf stuff, he probably needs that deception to have a big league career. And if one of every 20 lefties he faces has to wear one when a ball gets away, well, so be it.

So neither Loup nor the Jays really have much incentive to change anything. It’s their opponents that suffer the damage caused by Loup’s delivery, both in terms of lack of hits when he throws strikes and broken wrists when he doesn’t. In economics terms, Aaron Loup’s success comes with an externality, and short of charging the mound more regularly, there isn’t a lot that opposing batters can do to get him to stop hitting them so often.

If there’s a line at which a pitcher becomes dangerous to the sport, I doubt few would argue that Loup has crossed it. On average, he hits about three or four left-handed batters per year. Since he’s something of a LOOGY, he just doesn’t pitch enough to endanger enough hitters for there to be a push for someone to do something about it. But Loup’s existence does bring about an interesting question; at what point would a pitcher be considered too dangerous to opposing hitters to be allowed to continue pitching? If Loup were a starter with this HBP%, would that be tolerated, or would the Jays end up in so many fights that the situation became untenable?

That’s more of a hypothetical question, though, because starters don’t throw with Loup’s delivery, otherwise opposing managers would just stack the line-up with RHBs and score a million runs a game. Perhaps that’s the game’s way of self-policing.

But Loup’s delivery already cost the Braves their best player for most of the rest of the 2017 season. I don’t know that there’s anything that can really be done about it, short of Jose Bautista getting hit more often than he would like, but it would be good for the game if Aaron Loup could do a better job of getting a handle on his release point. If I was a left-handed hitter, I probably wouldn’t be all that excited about this guy being a Major League pitcher.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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37 Comments on "Aaron Loup Has a Problem"

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Damaso
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Damaso

“Relative to the norm, Loup actually works more down-and-away from lefties than most pitchers.”

This would mean that hitters would likely try to cheat a bit and dive in there early to get to the down and way pitch, no?

sabrtooth
Member
Member
sabrtooth

Addressed in the article along with the pitch location chart. That chart doesn’t look like plate-crowders paying the price.

Damaso
Member
Damaso

d’oh. correct you are.

Skin Blues
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Member
Skin Blues

Do we know what an average HBP spread looks like? Maybe for the average LHP that works inside more often, half of those HBPs don’t happen. There are 5 of them that aren’t even inside the batter’s box at all. An additional 5 instances are barely inside it. Perhaps 50% of his HBP wouldn’t occur if a batter was preparing for inside pitches as opposed to diving over the plate like Freeman was.

sabrtooth
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Member
sabrtooth

I’d like to see that. I assumed from that graphic that the boxes were the batter’s boxes, but it’s a little hard to tell.

HarryLives
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HarryLives

I don’t think those squares are supposed to represent the actual batter’s box. They’re there to orient the viewer as to point of view (pitcher vs. catcher).

HarryLives
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HarryLives

In what universe was Freeman “diving out over the plate”. The ball was way inside. It was just less way inside than the typical Loup pitch that hits lefties. I love that somehow this is Freddie Freeman’s fault, not the fault of the guy who’s prone to missing his pitch locations by two feet.

If you’re going to be an apologist, pick a better player than Aaron Loup.

bjsguess
Member
bjsguess

I don’t know about “diving” but Freeman absolutely started his swing. If he’s taking all the way or if he recognized the pitch earlier and bailed out (or even just stood still) this would have easily missed him.

It’s not Freeman’s fault (of course). But this was also avoidable … unlike many HBP situations.

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives

This is such a weird take. That ball was several inches off the plate up and in, and it was coming at 95 mph. He’s a lefty with a tough arm slot pitching against another lefty. It’s hard to pick that pitch up. Maybe Freeman thought it was a slider. Maybe he started and the pitch ran up and in a lot more than he was expecting. The pitch was well off the plate. Loup is well off the plate inside to lefties much more than other pitchers. What are we talking about here? Loup missed his location by three feet! It’s on Loup.

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