Walks a pet peeve for Blue Jays’ lefty Loup

Aaron Loup has walked just eight hitters in more than a year at the MLB level. (AP/Paul Sancya)

It’d be tough to post a 2.17 ERA at the big league level with less fanfare than Toronto Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup.

Yet the 25-year-old Raceland, La., native has done everything the Blue Jays have asked of him: limit walks, hits and home runs, generate ground balls and keep opponents off of the scoreboard.

“It’s been great,” Loup says. “It’s been everything I wanted it to be and a little bit more. I’ve had a lot of success here early and hopefully we can keep it going.”

Loup, who debuted last July 14, has a career 2.17 ERA in 78.2 innings. That’s pretty good, but it’s not what separates Loup from his peers.

The left-hander has faced 305 hitters since last July, allowing just eight walks. Among pitchers with at least 70 innings since 2012, Loup has the lowest walk rate in the major leagues; he walks just 2.6 per cent of opposing hitters.

“That’s one big pet peeve of mine is I hate to walk guys,” he said. “One thing growing up that my grandfather and my dad always taught me was locate my fastball and not walk guys, so that’s one thing I pride myself on and try not to do.”

Put another way, Loup issues walks less frequently than free swingers like Alfonso Soriano, Jeff Francoeur and Delmon Young draw them. When you consider that two of the eight walks he has issued were intentional, his walk rate is even more exceptional.

“He’s got incredible fastball command,” Blue Jays bullpen coach Pat Hentgen explains. “His fastball command is up there with the best on the team. That’s the big reason why.

“He keeps things simple, he doesn’t over-think. He stays aggressive. He’s got a lot of guts, goes right after hitters and you combine all those things and you’re going to have the success that he’s had.”

Loup is aware that he’s stingy with the free pass, but he doesn’t get caught up in the specifics of his walk rate.

“I know it’s not many because I don’t like to walk them, but that’s one thing — I try not to look at my stats too much,” he said. “Maybe once right at about this time at the All-Star break and once at the end of the season and other than that I don’t pay too much attention to it.”

Since Loup debuted in 2012, he has issued six unintentional walks in 73 games. To put that in context, consider that in the time since his debut an MLB pitcher has walked six or more batters in a single game on 55 different occasions.

Loup posted a 2.64 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 30.2 innings last year — an impressive showing for a 24-year-old pitching at the MLB level for the first time. This year, his numbers are even stronger; he has a 1.88 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 48 innings.

Loup attributes part of his continued success to his increased familiarity with his teammates and his surroundings.

“The more I’m around the guys you get a little more comfortable and get a bond and connect with the guys playing behind you,” he said. “I think that helps a lot and just having confidence in what I’m doing helps.”

In a season filled with disappointments and injuries for the Blue Jays, Loup’s fastball command stands out as an encouraging development.

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