Braves LHP Max Fried won 17 games in his first full season starting in the Majors last year, helping the Braves win the NL East title for the second consecutive year. But while some of his numbers didn’t look great from his 2019, the young lefty showed last season that he can be an impact starter in the Majors.
Max Fried in 2019
Fried finished sixth last season in wins (17) and second in the National League (only Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg had more wins (18) in the NL)). However, wins aren’t a true indicator as to how good a pitcher is. If you still believe that it is, just look at Jacob deGrom, who’s won two consecutive Cy Young awards while winning only 21 games over those years. But if you take wins out of the equation, you’ll find a starter who did perform quite well in his first full year.
Fried finished in the top 30 (30th to be exact) in K/9 (9.43) last year among starters who threw at least 120 innings, and a lot of his success can be attributed to his curveball. Fried’s curve does not have true 12/6 drop (more of an 11/5 drop), but Fried’s breaking ball not only has a lot of spin to it but also a significant amount of downward movement to it. The 26-year old’s curve has, on average, about 12% more vertical drop than a typical MLB curveball. That movement he gets on his curve, along with his command of it, makes it a dangerous weapon against both left-handed and right-handed hitters.
Fried recorded 68 of his 173 strikeouts (39.3%) off the curve, and that figure was the seventh-highest in baseball last year. In addition, Fried finished twelfth in both Swinging Strike% (15.9%) and Whiff% (37.9%) off the curve. Those are certainly solid numbers for a pitcher in his first full season in the Majors.
In addition to his curve, the former first-round pick also possesses a slider that was quite effective for the 26-year old in 2019. The lefty’s slider, which sits in the mid-80’s, is a harder breaking ball that also has a good amount of movement to it. That pitch also induced a good amount of strikeouts, as 46 of Fried’s 173 K’s were off the slider. Not too bad for a guy who didn’t throw a slider in an MLB game until 2019 (via Baseball Savant).
Let’s Talk About Ground Balls and Expected Stats
Fried’s 4.02 ERA wasn’t the prettiest stat from 2019, but there are some numbers that show that the 26-year old may have been a bit unlucky last year. For one, Baseball Savant‘s expected stats point to some poor luck for Fried last season. Opposing batters had a .268 AVG last season, as well as a .315 wOBA. However, Fried’s xAVG was .254 last year, and his xwOBA in 2019 (.297) also was lower than his actual wOBA.
Another number that backs up the notion that Fried was unlucky last year was his ground ball numbers from last year. Fried had the seventh-highest GB% rate in the Majors last year (min. 400 AB), and his 54.6% GB% rate was actually higher than the one fellow Braves pitcher and noted sinkerballer Mike Soroka put up last season (52.9%). However, if you look at both of their BABIP numbers from last year, one Braves pitcher seemed to get the short end of the stick.
Soroka last year had a BABIP of .280, and opposing hitters had a batting average of just .206 off ground balls in 2019. Fried, meanwhile, had a BABIP of .338, while opposing hitters had a batting average of .261 off of ground balls.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of how Fried stacked up against other ground ball pitchers (min. 400 AB):
|Number||Player||GB%||AVG on Ground Balls||Mean Exit Velocity on Ground Balls (MPH)||BABIP|
Now, it is important to note that Fried did have the second-highest mean exit velocity on this list. That does lead me to believe that some, but not all of Fried’s pedestrian numbers on ground balls were of his own doing. Nevertheless, it is interesting that while most of these pitchers had low opposing averages and BABIP numbers, Fried did not, which could be, in part, because his infielders behind him didn’t do him many favors.
What Could Fried Look Like in 2020
While it’s tough to speculate right now (especially due to the coronavirus pandemic) as to what Fried’s 2020 season could look like, it’s safe to say that Fried has some of the best stuff in the game today. The lefty’s arsenal stymied hitters in 2019, and as long as he stays healthy (which is something Fried has struggled with in the past), 2020 could be the year where he establishes himself as one of the premier pitchers in the game. And with all of the young starters the Braves have, Atlanta could be well-positioned to succeed for years to come.
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