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Maximizing Max Fried

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What Max Fried needs to do to have a breakout 2020 season

Divisional Series - St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves - Game Five Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Max Fried broke into the starting rotation in full in 2019, with an up and down season. Despite the highs and lows of his season, he was a productive player, pitching 165.2 innings on a 4.02 ERA and posting a good 3 WAR season. Looking at his other stats paints a picture of a player due for some positive regression, as Fried had a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.72 and an xFIP of 3.32. On top of these numbers, he put up a highly impressive 9.4K/9 and lowered his walk rate to a solid 2.55BB/9, both numbers that are easily better than the league average. Fried clearly can be a very good pitcher based on these numbers and produce at a higher level than he did last season, but it’s easy to watch him pitch and salivate at the potential he has. Still only 26, he possesses some special talent, known for his high spin-rate curve ball and his ability to reach back for 98 on his fastball. Fried has the stuff to become a truly special pitcher, so let’s take a look at what he needs to do to take the next step and become a front of the rotation starter.

The Fastball

Divisional Series - St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves - Game Five Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Fried’s 4-seam fastball is somewhat of a weird case. He has above-average velocity, especially as a lefty, sitting in the mid-90s, with the ability to reach back for high 90s which leads many to wonder why he doesn’t throw it more. The problem is that his fastball is by far the least effective pitch that he throws with any frequency. In 2019 he threw his four-seamer just over 53% of the time. For a pitch he throws that much, batters had a lot of success against it, slugging .459 against it, which is far higher than against any of his other frequently used pitches. The expected stats more or less support the idea that batters were able to get hard contact off of his 4-seamer. One thing that’s easy to point to as a potential cause for this is the low spin rates that Max gets on his fastball, which land in the 15th percentile. Furthermore, his four-seamer moves 22% less vertically and 56% less horizontally than league average. Basically, this is a long way of saying that Max Fried’s fastball is very straight. Getting his spin-rates up on his 4-seam and/or adding a 2-seam could help Fried miss bats more with his fastball and have some more overall success. He certainly has the arm strength to have an effective fastball.

The Curveball

Max Fried’s most famous pitch is his curveball, with top notch spin rates and filthy swing-and-miss movement. In 2019 Max’s curve dropped nearly 8 inches vertically more than the average curveball, and typically had a spin-rate between 2800-2900 RPM. He threw it nearly 25% of the time and unsurprisingly had a lot of success with it, holding opposing batters to only a .212 batting average and a .327 slugging percentage. The advanced metrics suggest that the contact he allowed off of his curveball should have resulted in even stingier results, showing a .173 xBA and a .232 xSLG against his signature pitch. This pitch also produced a stunningly high 37.9% whiff percentage from opposing batters. These are obviously incredible numbers, and hopefully Max will receive some positive regression in 2020 and have even more success with his vaunted curveball.

The Slider

The slider was a new addition to Max’s arsenal in 2019, and a highly successful one at that. He threw the slider 15.9% of the time in 2019. Fried’s new weapon was devastatingly deceptive, moving 4 inches more than league average vertically, and more than double the league average horizontally (12.7 inches of horizontal movement vs the league average of 5.8 inches). This is truly incredible movement on a slider, especially for a guy who had never really used it a lot. He threw the slider 15.9% of the time in 2019, but threw it more times against left handed batters than he threw his curveball. Fried had success with his slider that was comparable to his success with his curveball, holding opposing batters to a measly .200 BA and .331 SLG, with the expected stats predicting about the same outcomes as reality. This pitch made a huge difference for Max last season, replacing the changeup, which he had struggled with, as his third pitch. The slider wasn’t just a viable third option for Max, it was a potent weapon for him, especially in getting out lefties.

Miscellaneous Skills

MLB: AUG 13 Mets at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beyond pitching, Fried is a very good athlete and was far better than the average pitcher in many areas outside of pitching in 2019. One of these areas was hitting, where Max posted a slash line of .196/.262/.268, good for a whopping 40 WRC+ (100 being league average for normal batters). Compared to the league average WRC+ for pitchers batting of -18, however, Fried was absolutely raking, showing a good eye ( 7.7% BB%) and a surprising ability to get on base. This will likely only matter for a few more years until the DH comes to the NL, but is still relevant for now. Max was also a decent defender at his position, producing 6 defensive runs saved in 2019. Additionally, Max was an emergency baserunner for Atlanta last season and seemed fairly spry, producing an equally iconic and terrifying moment scoring the winning run in Miami while sliding into home leading with his pitching arm. This moment produced a twitter gem from Rob Friedman, who perfectly encapsulated how Braves fans felt watching it.

Achieving Maximum Fried

Now that you have a full picture of what Fried can do, I’ll tell you how I think he can Maximize (please laugh) his talent. As should have been clear by the statistics, Max’s problems generally came from giving up solid contact to his fastball. As I discussed earlier, this is likely due to the lack of movement he gets on that pitch, so I’d like to see him try to increase his spin rates on it, or incorporate a sinker/2-seamer to try to prevent batters from being able to tee off on his fastball as much. It also might be worth just throwing his fastball a little less and giving batters a heavier dose of his potent off-speed stuff, since he has two separate plus breaking pitches in his curveball and slider that have absolutely filthy movement. With a combination of some positive regression and making one or both of these changes, Fried has the ability to become a true top of the rotation arm and I’m really excited to see what he can do in 2020.