Braves: Max Fried despises hard contact, especially home runs

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For those of you somehow unaware, Max Fried has been outstanding this season. Hell, he was terrific last season; but in many different ways, he’s much better in 2020.

One of the reasons Fried is so good is because he wields an elite ability to generate weak contact from opposing batters — admittedly the objective of all pitchers. But in 2020, Fried is on a different level. 

Generating weak contact comes easy for Fried, like strikeouts for Cleveland’s Shane Bieber (MLB’s current strikeout-rate leader). And though strikeouts are most definitely exciting, it’s weak contact that usually allows starting pitchers to go deep into games and stay on the mound. In fact, it seems logical to assume that being consistent at generating weakly-hit balls would be more difficult than tallying strikeouts, for any contact is out of the control of the pitcher. 

Regardless, Fried has mastered the art of weak or soft-contact. Through Saturday, only the Twins’ Kenta Maeda has produced more softly-hit balls by opposing batters, as Fried has done so on 27.6% of his batted-balls. And since he’s initiated so many weak hits, it’s only natural to suspect that Fried has allowed minimal hard contact, and he has, currently sporting the second-lowest Hard% (24.8%) in baseball, behind Maeda again. 

But this is something you most likely already knew. And though this season is drastically shorter than normal, resulting in some freaky numbers due to small sample-sizes, Fried doesn’t have a 1.96 ERA this season purely from luck. He is one of the ten-best starting pitchers in the majors and among the five-best in the National League — and that’s not just my opinion; those are facts illustrated by the numbers.

But perhaps nothing is more impressive than what Fried has been able to do regarding home runs. 

He hasn’t allowed any…

Having tallied 55 innings in 2020, featuring 218 opposing batters, not one pitch from Fried has resulted in a home run. Among qualified MLB starters, no one else has been that fortunate this season, as Keuchel and the Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull are the closest, having allowed two apiece. Hell, zero homers allowed is even hard for MLB relievers to pull off, as there’s currently only 15 of them in baseball that have achieved the feat, and not one of those has pitched more than 22 innings this season (not even half as many innings as Fried). 

Not allowing a home run for a few starts is pretty cool. Obviously, you’re pitching well if you’re keeping the ball in the park for… let’s say… 20 or so consecutive innings (or roughly three-straight starts). But we’re already getting into historic territory with what Fried’s doing. 

In the sport’s entire history, only 26 other starting pitchers have tallied at least ten starts and 55 innings without giving up a long ball. Fried has done it in 2020 — 102 years after the last guy managed to do it, when 26-year-old lefty Dutch Leonard went homerless for 125.2 frames during the 1918 season while sporting a 2.72 ERA. 

(Fun fact about Leonard: he also allowed zero homers in 1913 — his age-23 rookie season — tallying 259.1 innings as a starter and reliever. That season doesn’t count in this because he wasn’t solely a starter.)

Sure, Fried’s 55 innings is the fewest on the 27-player leaderboard, but his 1.96 ERA and 2.62 FIP ranks ninth and 12th, respectively. 

Despite this type of homerless-run happening quite often before and just after baseball’s Modern Era, this doesn’t exist anymore. And think about all of the Hall of Fame starting pitchers that have played since 1918. 

Rule of thumb, if you see a fun fact or stat regarding a starting pitcher, and neither Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, or Pedro Martinez are included anywhere… said pitcher is probably pretty damn good. 

But the big question is can Fried finish the season with a zero under the HR column…

Well… it’s definitely doable, given Fried should only make one more start this season (most likely this coming Wednesday against the Marlins). He has faced Miami once so far in 2020 (Aug. 15) and had pretty good results (ND, 6.1 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 7 K). Although, Fried has faired well against literally every team this season, with his worst start coming against the Nationals (Sept. 5), when he allowed three runs and walked three. 

The chances appear high, at least. Ten starts in and Fried hasn’t left a cement-mixer hanging or accidentally thrown a center-cut fastball (or not one that an opposing batter has been able to take advantage of). And considering he currently ranks in the 97th-percentile in barrel-rate among all MLB starters (per Statcast), there seems to be a method to his madness. Hell, even if Fried allows a pair of grand slams this week against the Marlins, Fried will still most likely finish the year with baseball’s best homer-rate. At this point (unless he surrenders 14 homers against the Fish), he will certainly best rotation-mate Mike Soroka’s NL-best rate from 2019 (and remember, Soroka was a Rooke of the Year AND Cy Young candidate last season).

Shortened season or not, Fried is doing things that haven’t been done since 1918, and regardless of how long this homerless streak lasts, his run of excellence regarding the longball will go down as one of the top storylines from 2020.

 

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