Braves: Max Fried is ready to carry the load

Braves pitchers who are due for positive regression

One night after a gruesome injury to Braves ace Mike Soroka, Max Fried reminded us that the Maple Maddux isn’t the only ace in the rotation. The lefty continued mowing down opponents with his mid-90s fastball and good-luck-hitting-me curve while also mixing in improved changeups and sliders, tossing six innings of one-run ball, allowing just four hits and two walks on 80 pitches.

The only run he did surrender should have been unearned too. Anthony Alford hit a hard ground ball to Austin Riley at third. It was a semi-difficult play, but one that Riley himself would say he should have made. Regardless, Fried has established himself as a top-of-the-rotation option early this season, recording a 2.04 ERA in three starts, and the Braves are going to need him to carry them the rest of the way.

With Soroka done for the season after tearing his Achillies, it’s Fried and then hold your breath as far as the rotation goes. Sean Newcomb still looks like he’s best-suited for the bullpen. Touki Toussaint and Kyle Wright showed promise this past week, but who knows what to expect from them the next time out. Mike Foltynewicz is in Gwinnett camp; Cole Hamels is on the 45-day IL, and Felix Hernandez opted out of the season before it even started. If the Braves are going to do anything this season, Max Fried will have to pitch out of his mind, and so far, that looks to be a role he relishes.

Taking a look at some advanced metrics, courtesy of Baseball Savant, Fried is above average in every single category and borderline “great” in most. He’s also shown more willingness to utilize his slider, which has become a real weapon for him, throwing it more than his curveball — 23% to 20%. Last year, Fried only used his slider 15.9% of the time, compared to his curve, which he threw 24.9% of the time. It’s become a legit third option for him and has resulted in just two hits and six strikeouts this year. His curve, however, is still his baby. No player has recorded a hit against the offering, and it’s resulted in three strikeouts.

Early last season, Braves catcher Brian McCann compared Fried to Cole Hamels. At the time, many viewed that as a lofty comparison, considering he was just beginning his first year as a full-time major league starter. Now, that doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

Hamels may have figured things out a little earlier than Fried, becoming a significant piece to the Phillies rotation by the time he was 22. However, their peaks could be eerily similar, and Fried’s might even be better. Fried had an ERA of 4.02 in his first year as a starter in 2019, but his xFIP of 3.32— which is right around where Hamels sat for the best years of his career — suggested he was a bit unlucky, resulting in an fWAR of 3.0. We may only be three starts into 2020, but it’s overwhelmingly apparent Fried has taken a step forward.

Fried’s already posted 0.6 fWAR. Average that out over a full season of starts, and he’s a 6-7 WAR player. Now, it may be naive to think Fried would keep up at this pace over a 162-game schedule, and you’re probably right. However, it’s also worth noting that he’s been on a pitch count over these first three outings, preventing him from throwing more than 80 pitches. If Brian Snitker had let him loose, he’d probably already be worth 1 WAR. But regardless of the advances metrics, the simple eye test will tell you we are watching something special develop, and in a shortened season — with his best buddy on the shelf following a devastating Achilles tear — Max Fried is proving he’s ready to carry the load.

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