The term “lefty specialist” has a certain connotation to it. That is, it’s a lefty who has a nasty breaking pitch (usually a slider) that is hard for opposing left-handed hitters to contact. Also, they don’t typically throw that hard, but there are some who do.
The Dodgers traded Paco Rodriguez in the Hector Olivera deal. When they did so, they traded their best left-handed reliever with a fastball-slider combination. They got back Luis Avilan, who relies mostly on the changeup but also has a curveball. Ian Thomas is similar in that regard, but that could change if he’s shifted to the bullpen full-time. J.P. Howell has himself a curveball that is under appreciated, but no slider to be found.
The best fastball-slider lefty reliever they have is Adam Liberatore, who turned in mixed reviews in his first MLB season. His almost 94 MPH fastball is complemented by his low-80s slider. FanGraphs rated the slider at 0.5 runs above average — so, basically average. Avilan’s curveball was -3.3 overall and -0.9 with the Dodgers. Howell curveball is a 2.8 that he throws 34.5 percent of the time, while Thomas had a -1.6 curveball but a 1.0 slider. If he does end up in the bullpen at some point, I’m betting he ditches the curve and focuses on improving his slider.
What I’m trying to get at is the Dodgers might be in need of a left-hander who has a good fastball-slider combo. That would be ideal. Getting a left-hander who is adept at getting lefties out would be just fine, too. Unfortunately, not enough southpaws (not just relievers) have the confidence to throw a changeup to a left-handed hitter, so it either makes them a one-pitch pitcher or they risk getting beat with a fringy breaking ball.
The Dodgers have been rumored to be interested in Jake McGee, a guy I wanted them to get before the 2014 trade deadline. Now, he isn’t known for his breaking pitch (his curveball was 0.8 RAA in 2015), but he has a hard-to-hit fastball. He has thrown the fastball 94 percent of the time on average the last three seasons and does not struggle against left-handed hitters. He generally throws his fastball in the 95-97 MPH range, but he experienced a velocity dip in 2015 (down to 94.5). But, it wasn’t because of the arthroscopic surgery he had on his left elbow last offseason. He had knee surgery in August and his velo was down to 90-92 MPH, which would account for the overall dip.
There’s also that Aroldis Chapman guy who is sure to be traded. Does he even need to throw anything but a fastball? If either of these guys were acquired, they wouldn’t really need a fastball-slider reliever. Hell, they probably wouldn’t another reliever period.
On the free-agent market, some guys might fit the criteria and could be affordable.
Of the guys available, the best sliders come from Tony Sipp, Oliver Perez and Franklin Morales. None of them are bank-breakers and all come with their own deficiencies. The options aren’t great and the Dodgers might be better off going with an in-house option.
If they don’t acquire a lefty reliever with a good slider, it’s possible Liberatore gets a long look at the opening day bullpen. Having a lefty who can throw a good slider against left-handed hitters is far from a bad thing to have. And I know we’re all waiting for Howell to pumpkin, because everything is seemingly going against him being as good as he’s been the last few seasons. Maybe he’ll prove everyone wrong, which would be for the best.
There are only so many spots in the bullpen, but as has been proven time and time again, reliever depth is a must in the bigs. Having a little pitch variety doesn’t hurt, either.