The Dodgers bullpen was one of the main strengths of the 2017 Dodgers and a key component in their run to the World Series. While the Dodgers did lose Brandon Morrow, they should get a healthy Adam Liberatore for 2018.
Although he was limited to just three innings in 2017, Adam Liberatore still has a chance to play a major role in the Dodgers bullpen. Arm and knee injuries have slowed Liberatore throughout his Dodgers tenure, but when he has been healthy he has been a very good left-handed reliever. Although the Dodgers acquired Scott Alexander and Tony Cingrani will return, there is still a spot as a situational reliever for Adam Liberatore.
One of the big things that Liberatore brings to the table is that he is very tough on left-handed hitters. While Scott Alexander is a very good reliever, he actually does better against right-handed hitters. In his career, Alexander has held righties to a .249 average and .657 OPS while lefties have fared better with a .286 average and .709 OPS. Liberatore, on the other hand, holds lefties to .208 average and .577 OPS which is much better than Alexander.
The Dodgers also have Tony Cingrani, but Cingrani is still a work in progress for pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. Cingrani has a big arm but has not lived up to the expectations the Reds had for him, so he will try to slide into the role of a southpaw middle reliever with the Dodgers. If the Cingrani project ends up taking a scary route, then Liberatore will end up being a very important reliever to the Dodgers in 2018.
It’s easy to forget the brilliant 2016 season that Liberatore had because he was absent for basically all of the Dodgers memorable 2017 season. In 2016, Liberatore nearly made the all-star team as he posted a 0.61 ERA prior to the all-star break. For the entire 2016 season, Liberatore held lefties to a .171 average and did not allow any home runs to a left-handed batter. He also set a club record for pitching appearances without giving up a run at twenty-four. That is the kind of dominance that Liberatore can have when he is fully healthy.
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The way things currently stand Liberatore and Fields will likely battle for a single spot in the Dodgers bullpen but there is still a good shot for Liberatore to make the team out of spring training. While the Dodgers would have three southpaw relievers if they carried Liberatore on the roster, Scott Alexander is able to get right-handed hitters out so he could slide into Brandon Morrow’s old role as the go-to eighth-inning setup man. If Alexander settles into that role as expected, then the Dodgers could use an additional lefty reliever in their bullpen.
When you look at Alexander’s stats, the Dodgers wouldn’t be getting their full use by limiting Alexander to a left-handed situational reliever. Since he can get right-handed hitters out better than left-handed hitters, the Dodgers should utilize Alexander as a setup reliever with Cingrani and Liberatore in the fold as the shutdown LOOGY relievers. Liberatore was once buried on the depth chart but after the injury and departure of Grant Dayton coupled with the trade of Luis Avilan, all of a sudden there is a potential key role for Liberatore.
Due to the fact that Liberatore and Fields have one option left, they will likely be duking it out for the final spot in the Dodger bullpen. Even if Liberatore doesn’t make the team out of spring training, it would be surprising if he isn’t called up to the Dodgers at some point this season. If and when he is, don’t count out the electric lefty who was brought over to LA by Andrew Friedman.