On Monday, Joel Reuter released his lists of the Top 25 Starting Pitchers of the 2021 Season, and two Braves were included. The first was Charlie Morton, coming in at #21. Here’s what Reuter had to say about the veteran of Atlanta’s staff:
Signed to a one-year, $15 million contract to provide a veteran presence atop the young Atlanta rotation, Morton did just that in his age-37 season. The right-hander went 14-6 with a 3.34 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 216 strikeouts in 185.2 innings, but a fractured right fibula knocked him out of Game 1 of the World Series. The Braves signed him to a one-year, $20 million extension in September that includes a $20 million club option for 2023.
I’m not sure what happened, but around 2017, which was his age-33 season, something clicked for Morton. He’s aged like fine wine, and his 2021 campaign continued to prove that. He was able to stay healthy all year, and in his last 25 starts to end the season, he posted a 12-4 record with a 2.88 ERA. In all honesty, Morton should probably be higher on this list.
Coming in nearly ten spots lower at #12 was none other than World Series Game 6 winner Max Fried. Here’s what Reuter had to say about the Braves superstar southpaw:
Fried led all qualified starters with a 1.74 ERA in 93 innings after the All-Star break. All told, he had a 3.04 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 165.2 innings, but his second-half surge vaults him into the top 15 in these rankings. His top-of-the-rotation production coincided with Atlanta’s seizing control of the NL East race.
As Reuter mentioned, Fried was his best when it mattered most, finishing with a 1.74 ERA after the All-Star break. His postseason wasn’t as dominant, but when the Braves needed him most in a series-clinching Game 6, he shut down the best offense in baseball over six innings. It felt a bit like poetic justice after Fried struggled to close out the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS and then lost Game 2 of the World Series. Nobody was more deserving of that moment on the Braves than Fried, who has quietly become one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last two seasons.
Reuter also included Ian Anderson as an honorable mention, but I can’t argue with him not making the final cut, especially since a shoulder injury cost him about a month of the season. However, if his postseason success in 2021 is any indicator, Anderson will be talked about as one of the best pitchers in the game this time next year.