Our next player preview looks at bullpen candidate Adam Liberatore.
The Dodgers could have three good lefty relievers this year, but Adam Liberatore will likely have to earn his spot in Spring Training.
When the Dodgers acquired Joel Peralta from the Tampa Bay Rays last offseason, they threw in a left-handed pitcher that most fans had never heard of. Adam Liberatore seemed promising enough with solid minor league numbers, but he was never really a heralded prospect. Liberatore made his major league debut last April and ended up appearing in 39 games for the Dodgers last season. He faced slightly more left-handed hitters than righties, but fared almost equally against each side of the plate. Righties and lefties each OPS’d .671 against Liberatore, but his strikeout/walk numbers fared better against lefties.
In all, Liberatore finished the 2015 season with a 4.25 ERA/3.40 FIP in 29 2/3 innings with 29 strikeouts and nine walks (along with four intentional). He didn’t allow a run in his first 10 appearances, but had a few outings later on in the season in which he allowed multiple runs in an inning or less.
2016 Role and Steamers Projections
For all the flack the Dodgers’ bullpen takes, it has a lot of names in the mix and Liberatore could find himself flying between LA and Oklahoma many times this season. He’s likely the third or lefty in the pen after J.P. Howell, and Luis Avilan, so barring injury, he could see limited time in LA.
Steamers projects 25 innings out of Liberatore this year with an improvement on most numbers. They project his FIP to increase to a still-solid 3.48, but his ERA is projected to fall to 3.27. His strikeouts are projected to be up (9.32/9 innings as opposed to 8.80 last season), but his walks are projected to increase a bit as well (3.24/9, 2.73/9 in 2015).
These numbers would probably be a sort of best case scenario for Liberatore, and if he can keep his hits in check he should be a solid option out of the Dodgers’ bullpen.
What Could Go Wrong?
Liberatore is a relatively safe bet, but there’s not a whole lot of upside either. That being said, his downside is also not very great and he should continue to be an effective lefty reliever.
His BABIP against lefties was .304, which isn’t great for a left handed pitcher. It could be partly due to luck, but he only forced weak contact against left handed hitters 8.4 percent of the time, which is a really low number. Most of the contact generated was medium, but lefties hit the ball hard against Liberatore 38.4 percent of the time, which is bordering on unacceptable out of a LOOGY. We don’t know that Liberatore will be limited to LOOGYness yet, but if he can’t at least get lefties out more effectively, he could have an uphill battle to be a constant in the bullpen.
What Could Go Right?
Last year, Liberatore allowed a high percentage of hard-hit balls (38.1 percent) and still put up decent raw numbers and above average adjusted numbers. If he can get batters a bit more off-balance and force some weaker contact, his numbers should look a lot better.
Liberatore will likely be behind three other lefty relievers on the depth chart, but the other two guys should be in a competition all season. J.P. Howell is statistically one of the best lefty relievers in baseball and is especially dominant against lefties, but after him neither of the other guys are clear-cut above the rest. Avilan was great at getting out of trouble last season and is young enough to imagine him staking a step forward.
The competition behind Howell (who is a free agent after the season) is wide open, and a good season out of the team-controlled Liberatore could be huge for the Dodgers moving forward.