Throwing another wrench into any NLDS roster predictions, the Dodgers announced yesterday that left-handed reliever Adam Liberatore will undergo surgery on his left elbow today. The arthroscopic debridement of the elbow is the same procedure that was performed on Hyun-Jin Ryu recently and caused Alex Wood to miss months this year, but thankfully they’re saying it shouldn’t keep him out into 2017.
Liberatore finished the season with a quality 3.38 ERA and 2.89 FIP over 42.2 innings for the Dodgers, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Through July 22, Liberatore was a horse in the bullpen for the team, putting up a 0.55 ERA in 33 innings, allowing just a .492 OPS against. However, in his next two appearances on July 24 and 29, Liberatore recorded only one out while giving up four runs on a hit and three walks before heading to the disabled list with left elbow trouble. While he made a return in late August, he was clearly not the same pitcher, posting a 9.64 ERA in 9.1 innings and allowing a .959 OPS against.
While Liberatore’s velocity wasn’t down, his control was significantly worse and his command in the zone seemed to disintegrate, which in retrospect could be explained by continued difficulty with his elbow. While Liberatore was never going to post a sub-1 ERA, when healthy he did show significant strides this year, flashing peripherals in the mid-2 range that made him project as more of a late-inning relief option rather than just a lefty specialist. Hopefully he can get all the way back, as he was an important part of the Dodgers bullpen this year and projects to be so next year as well.
Obviously this news means that Liberatore will not be on the NLDS roster, and while I probably wouldn’t have included him anyway, him definitely being off the table opens the door for others. Pitchers who might be on the bubble like Alex Wood, J.P. Howell, Luis Avilan, Jesse Chavez, and perhaps even Josh Fields could be potential replacements that wouldn’t have made the NLDS roster before. Looking at those names, Liberatore addressing the problem now might even be a bit of a blessing in disguise since all of his potential replacements have been better over the second half of the season than he was with the balky elbow.
Here’s hoping whoever ends up getting Liberatore’s spot ends up taking advantage of the opportunity.