Max Fried is the “Ace” this Braves rotation needed

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All offseason: a primary concern was finding a “true” Ace that could lead the rotation along with Mike Foltynewicz. Several names in both free agency and trade talks were thrown around like Corey Kluber, Dallas Keuchel, Sonny Gray, and Madison Bumgarner, but the Braves front office held off on making any moves in hopes that a couple of their electric rising prospects could turn the corner and be placed at or near the top of the rotation. For the most part, these ultra-talented arms have proved they still need more work, except for one: Max Fried.

Fried made his fourth start of the year yesterday – this time on Sunday Night Baseball for the whole world to see. As might have been expected based on his previous performances, the bright lights only gave Fried a little extra motivation to shut down an Indians lineup that has struggled to this point in the season. He didn’t allow a run until the seventh inning when Francisco Lindor homered, but by that time the Braves were already up 11-0. He finished 6.1 innings, allowing two earned runs with six strikeouts, pushing his record to a perfect 3-0 on the season.

Mike Foltynewicz has yet to make his season debut. The rest of the Braves starting pitching has been hit or miss. But Max Fried, he’s lived up to the Cole Hamels comparison that Brian McCann gave to him after his first start of 2019.

Among left-handed starters, Fried has the third highest-average velocity on his fastball behind pretty two damn good starters in their own right – James Paxton and Blake Snell. That pitch is where everything stems from for Fried. If his fastball is humming for strikes, Fried’s unbelievable curveball is that much more difficult to stay back on. In 2018, that curve featured the fifth highest spin rate in the MLB among pitchers who used it at least 150 times per Mark Bowman, and in 2019, the pitch’s spin rate is in the 93rd percentile, according to Baseball Savant.

Here are ten Max Fried curveballs in 15 seconds:

How beautiful is that? The 19-mph gap between his fastball and curveball is just the icing on the cake. When the heater is working, hitters don’t stand a prayer’s chance against the curve.

Before the season began, Freddie Freeman crowned Fried as one the best pitching prospects he had ever seen, saying “Left arms like that don’t come around very often.” That’s high praise from one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball, and Fried has lived up to Freeman’s testimony.

Unlike the other young pitchers who have been given their opportunities at the major league level, Fried seems to have mastered the ability to spot his fastball wherever he wants. He’s a maestro at working both sides of the plate and attacking hitters – a mentality Fried says he learned from pitching in the bullpen.

“I’m not going to lie, going to the bullpen is something that helped me a lot with my mentality,” Fried said. “It helped me go after guys. It was like I said, ‘Here’s my stuff, hit it if you can.’ I’m going to try to adapt that to my starting routine too.”

That kind of confidence has been overly evident in his four starts this season. He’s throwing first-pitch strikes to a career-high 63.5% of his batters faced; which has allowed him to finish six innings in all four starts without reaching 100 pitches. Fried is dominating, and the Braves (rightfully) haven’t even let him off his leash yet.

It’s easy to overreact when a prospect gets off to a blazing start, but here’s a bold prediction: Max Fried will be the #1 starter if the Braves happen to make it back to the playoffs in 2019. Frankly, outside of possibly Foltynewicz, there is not a starter on staff with better stuff. And Folty has yet to prove he can throw strikes with consistency from start to start. That has been Fried’s specialty, and there is enough evidence dating back to last year that suggests this is no fluke. It’s time for everybody to hop on board the Max Fried train.

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