Braves: Max Fried’s (shortened) 2020 season is much rarer than you may think 

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With the score tied 2-2 in the top half of the 1st inning, during the Braves’ matchup with the Marlins this past Wednesday, all of Braves Country held their collective breaths as the Fox Sports South broadcast cut to a conversation inside the dugout between first baseman Freddie Freeman and that night’s starting pitcher, lefty Max Fried. 

At that particular moment, we had not yet received a verdict regarding Fried’s exit, and given the team’s recent run of bad luck concerning the health of their pitchers, it only seemed natural that yet another Braves’ starter was headed for the injured list. As I stared at the TV screen, waiting for an update, all I could think was, “why can’t we ever have nice things?”

But for now, the Braves evidently can still have nice things. Fried is fine and only suffered a small tweak of his left ankle. Therefore, on Thursday, manager Brian Snitker assured us all that the team’s 2020 ace will start Game 1 of the Wild Card Series next week. 

All is now right with the world. 

But Fried’s 22-pitch effort earlier this week — as uncharacteristic as it may have been — will no doubt go down as his final outing of the 2020 regular season. With just three games to go on the docket, the Braves will cover him from head to toe with bubble wrap and point their attention to the postseason. Thus, with a 7-0 record during this unique and shortened season, featuring a stingy 2.25 ERA and just two home runs allowed through 56 innings, Fried’s 2020 campaign is complete and in the books. 

I know this year has been bonkers and will be nearly impossible to accurately quantitate. However, it doesn’t take hours of analyzing stat sheets online to conclude that Fried’s performance in 2020 was incredible. Just a glance at a few of his numbers will tell you the guy was on his game all year long. 

However, what Fried did this season is borderline Greg Maddux material, and is only possible if a pitcher is essentially at his best during every outing of the season. And though Fried’s campaign hasn’t been exactly normal, he still performed at a level that only eight other Braves pitchers have managed to reach since the Live-Ball Era (1920).

 

The Maddux Season

With at least ten starts and 50 innings-pitched as the qualifying threshold, since 1920, there have only been 12 seasons in which a Braves starting pitcher finished the year with a 2.25 ERA or lower, and Hall of Famer Greg Maddux has pitched four of them himself. In half of those campaigns, Maddux led the National League in ERA, so it’s not as if those are just some arbitrary combination of numbers (despite it being a trio of figures almost exactly put up by Fried in 2020). 

And the rest of the pitchers on the list aren’t slouches either, featuring two more players that reached the Hall, in Warren Spahn & Phil Niekro, with Spahn’s 2.10 ERA during that 1953 season also pacing the NL. 

Then there’s both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who current Braves fans should remember rather vividly. Medlen and Beachy actually pulled off such a performance in the same season, as they each posted a 2.00 ERA or better during the 2012 campaign:

  • Kris Medlen – 12 starts, 138 IP, 1.57 ERA, 4.4 WAR
  • Brandon Beachy – 13 starts, 81 IP, 2.00 ERA, 2.0 WAR

That’s what’s interesting about this list (and is what makes baseball the greatest sport ever created). From one through twelve on the leaderboard, the list features pitchers from totally different ends of the spectrum career-wise. You have the three aforementioned Hall of Famers that reside near the top, having tallied much more WAR in their respective seasons because… well, they were better pitchers; but then you also have a few one-hit wonders like Medlen and Beachy, as well as 1992’s Pete Smith and 1958’s Joey Jay (who was an All-Star with the Reds in ’61). And though he certainly looks damn good right now, we still don’t know for certain exactly which end Fried will end up on. 

Only time will tell whether or not Fried’s 2020 season was more of an outlier or simply Year 2 of what wound up being a prolific major league career. The early signs are looking good for him, that’s for sure, as he’s currently trending as a 3-WAR pitcher since 2019, which is essentially an annual All-Star in most seasons. However, even if 2020 was simply Fried at his peak, followed by a quick descent to mediocrity from here on out, he’ll at least be able to look back at this season claim that he was as dominant as Greg Maddux… even if it came during a shortened season. 

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