From now until the start of MLB free agency, we will be previewing free agents that the Nationals should target. First up is the New York Mets Aaron Loup.
The New York Mets entered 2021 with immense expectations and in true Mets fashion, they fell way short of metting. Steve Cohen became the team’s new owner and vowed to open up his wallet, which he did. New York signed catcher James McCann to a four-year deal worth $40 million, but most notably they traded for Franciso Lindor and gave him a 10-year extension worth $341 million.
Marcus Stroman also accepted the qualifying offer and they signed Taijuan Walker to bolster the backend of the rotation. After spending 90+ days in first place, injuries took a toll and the Mets spiraled down the stretch. Lost in all of the Mets splashy signings was the team bringing in veteran reliever Aaron Loup on a one-year deal.
Fresh off of an impressive World Series run with the Tampa Bay Rays, Loup transformed from a reliable option into one of the best lefty relievers in baseball. With Tampa, he posted a 2.52 ERA and 3.83 FIP in 25 innings. However, in 56.2 innings last year with the Mets, Loup went 6-0, with a 0.95 ERA, 57 strikeouts, and a 2.45 FIP. He went 0-4 in save opportunities, but recorded 17 holds.
New York signed Loup to a bargain deal while the Nationals rolled the dice on Brad Hand. This time around, the Nats should sign Loup to help bolster a bullpen that was one of the worst in baseball. Washington finished the 2021 season last in all of baseball in losses (42), tied for last in FIP (4.86) and blown saves (34), 29th in ERA (5.08), and fWAR (-0.2), and 28th in LOB% (67.7%).
A major part of Loup’s turnaround was due to fixing his ground ball rate and not allowing opponents to barrel up the ball. In 2018, Loup had a groundball percentage (GB%) of 49.2% At the same time, his barrel percentage was 4.1%. He missed the majority of the 2019 season due to an elbow injury, but in 2020 hitters were seeing the ball much clearer against him.
His Barrel% rose to 9.0%, while his GB% decreased to 39.7%. At the same time, his line drive percentage (LD%) rose from 22.5% in 2018 to 28.6% in 2020. Last year with the Mets, his GB% rose to 50.4% and his barrel rate (2.1%) was a career-best. He only allowed one homer on the season and lowered his LD% to 23.0%.
While Loup is mainly used against lefties, he doesn’t suffer from splits. Last year in 84 ABs, lefties hit a measly .167 against him, with one homer, 10 RBIs, and an OPS of .440. Righties hit .211, with seven RBIs, and an OPS of .547 in 109 ABs.
In a division that contains Bryce Harper, Freddie Freeman, and Francisco Lindor (switch hitter), the Nats need a reliable lefty who can get some massive outs. Loup proved he can do that with the Mets and wouldn’t come with a massive price tag.