Max Fried is developing into a legitimate top-of-the-rotation arm, but is still seemingly underappreciated as he shares a clubhouse with superstars like Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Mike Soroka. With all the fanfare around those three talents, Fried has quietly produced 2.9 bWAR thus far in 2019, and has helped stabilize a rotation that has been in constant turmoil since Spring Training. Let’s dive into what makes Fried successful, what his success means going forward, and why he can stop pinch-running for the rest of the season.
When watching Max Fried, the first thing that stands out about the lanky left-hander is his wicked curveball. The pitch rates among the best in baseball, with opposing batters managing just a 0.194 xwOBA against Fried’s curveball this season. That could partially be attributed to a spin rate that falls in the 91st percentile for curveballs league-wide, but also an improved command of the pitch in 2019. With high spin and good command, batters have an average exit velocity of just 83.3 MPH, which has greatly aided Fried in his ability to limit damage.
In addition to a filthy curveball, Fried possesses a slider that elicits similar results. Against the slider, opposing batters have produced a .244 xwOBA and 83.3 MPH average exit velocity this season. The curveball is the calling card for Fried, but the slider has been a very reliable secondary weapon. Fried relies heavily on those two offerings as his fastball has graded well below-average in 2019, allowing a .364 xwOBA and 91.6 MPH average exit velocity. Those numbers in a vacuum are cause for major concern, but when factored in with two solid offerings, Fried still manages to be very effective, as his 3.6% barrels per batted-ball event ranks seventh in baseball (min. 150 batted-ball events).
Fried has been among the most valuable players on the 2019 Braves, and as noted above, has helped to stabilize a rotation with major concerns top-to-bottom. Wins may be devalued as a pitching statistic in modern baseball circles, but Fried has posted a 14-4 record this season along with a 3.84 ERA and 3.49 xFIP, which suggests that despite his impressive results the 25-year-old has actually been somewhat unlucky to this point. If some positive regression comes for Fried, the left-hander could see even better results down the stretch, and potentially push for 20 wins.
Going forward, an effective Max Fried is obviously a huge boon for the Braves. Having a left-handed pitcher to complement the right-handed Mike Soroka atop the Atlanta rotation for the next several seasons could give the Braves a dangerous combination for the postseason. It also could convince the Braves, for better or worse, that investing heavily in a free agent starting pitcher may not be in the best interest of the club from the standpoint of needs relative to dollars spent. Fried developing into a mainstay would allow the Braves to further invest in their potent offense, which has been among the best in baseball throughout the season.
Speaking of offensive investments, Fried should no longer be the top pinch-running option for the Braves following their acquisition of Billy Hamilton earlier this week. Deploying a young ace as a pinch-runner on a semi-regular basis is obviously not ideal, but Fried actually moves quite well, producing a 25.9 ft/sec sprint speed in his limited opportunities. The penultimate moment for Fried as a base runner came on May 5 in Miami, when Fried dove head-first into home plate to score the go-ahead run on an Ender Inciarte double. Fried clanged his pitching hand off the shin guard of Marlins catcher Chad Wallach, which was among the scariest moments of the season for Atlanta, but came away unscathed. Getting back to the point, the addition of Hamilton should all but end those pursuits for Fried over the remainder of the season.
The purpose of this post is, if nothing else, to throw some love in the direction of Max Fried. The young left-hander has been a godsend for the 2019 rotation, and should be a mainstay going forward as the Braves look to fill in their pitching staff for the future. When looking at current and future stars for the Braves, Fried often gets overlooked due to the sheer talent that exists within the Atlanta clubhouse, but his numbers suggest that he could join Acuña Jr., Freeman, and Soroka as not only a future All-Star but as a building block for a budding dynasty. Keep doing your thing, Max.