Adam Liberatore has been good this season, but can he keep it up?

In the offseason, I wrote about the Dodgers needing a left-handed fastball-slider reliever to pair with J.P. Howell and, before he imploded, Luis Avilan. There were some decent free agents, but the trade market looked like the best bet.

I did mention Adam Liberatore, but wasn’t completely convinced he could be the guy. Turns out, he has been the team’s best left-handed reliever to date.

In 24 innings, he has a 0.75 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 26.3 K% and has yet to allow a home run. He has benefited greatly from a .250 BABIP and 92 percent strand rate, but he has still been plenty reliable this season. And while a preliminary glance at his numbers show he has been hell on lefties (.140 batting average against), he’s actually been hell on right-handers — .229 BAA, but he has a 40 percent strikeout rate against righties, compared to 16.4 percent against lefties.

A deeper dive into the overall numbers show that he probably won’t be able to sustain this kind of dominance throughout the course of the season. From last season, his swinging strike rate (10.4 to 9.6 percent), ground ball rate (41.5 to 39.7 percent) and average fastball velocity (93.8 to 91.7 MPH) are all down from last season. His average launch angle allowed is up 3.4 degrees (11.5 to 14.9), meaning hitters are elevating the ball a little more. Hitters also have a 0.7 MPH increase in exit velocity from last season (89 to 89.7 MPH).

His fastball usage is down a bit, while his slider and changeup usages are up. His whiff rates are trending the wrong direction, for the most part:

  • Fastball: 10.2 to 7.7 percent
  • Slider: 18.5 to 11.3 percent
  • Changeup: 21.05 to 22.2 percent

But whatever he’s doing, he has been quite effective. It might be mostly luck, but Liberatore has, arguably, been one of the top three relievers in the Dodger bullpen this season.

FanGraphs values his fastball as 7.5 runs above average in fewer innings this season than last (29 2/3), when it was valued at 2.9 runs above average. The slider has gone the wrong way (0.5 to -1.2), while the changeup has remained basically the same (0.7 to 0.8).

It has been quite the odd season for Liberatore. It’s hard to see him sustaining this kind of success for the duration of the season. More likely, he regresses to the mean a bit and closer to the pitcher he was last season. That would actually be fine, as a 3.40 is perfectly acceptable for a guy of Liberatore’s ability.

Liberatore has been good this season. He’s not as good as the numbers indicate, but with Howell struggling mightily this season, Liberatore has been quite valuable. Could you imagine having to rely on Howell and Avilan? Me neither.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.