I feel like we’ve been waiting a long time to see the unleashed Max Fried. He’s a first round pick in 2012, we picked him up in the beginning of The Great Rebuild in the Justin Upton trade, and we sit here in 2019 waiting for him to have the training wheels taken off at the big league level. No one’s babying him, though, as there has been good reason to protect him.
After picking him up, he missed the 2015 season recovering from Tommy John. But throughout parts of his 2016 through 2018 campaigns, he was either being eased back after Tommy John or dealing with nagging blisters. As a result, he never put in that full minor league season that you’d want from a prized pitching prospect. In 2016, 103 IP. 2017, 92.2 IP. 2018, 77.2 IP. So you get to 2019, and the Braves aren’t yet able to allow him to let loose. One of the least-mentioned things about what went wrong in the playoffs was the underutilization of Fried.
He still got a lot done, however. He established himself as a lefty of the future by making 30 starts as a fixture in the rotation. His 9.4 K/9, 1.1 HR/9, and 2.6 BB/9 were all encouraging numbers for a kid who was more or less pitching in his first full big league season. He got hit a little hard (over a hit per inning), but FIP (3.74) liked him a little better than his ERA (4.04). But perhaps more importantly, he got that full season in with 165.2 IP. He was also the only pitcher to pitch a complete game (I know, I know, rain-shortened).
He’s also got more than enough of an arsenal to take the next step. Statcast has him in the top 40 in average spin rate on his curveball, his average 4-seamer is around 94mph and can touch up to 98, and he’s also got a slider, sinker, and change-up. At some point, you have to think that maybe he’s controlling the blisters, and with a little bit of luck, he’s someone who could have a big year next year.
If you’re wondering how Atlanta might replace some of their pitchers who were either ineffective or are now free agents, increasing Fried’s workload a little bit might offset some of that. He threw less than 90 pitches in 14 of his 30 starts, so there are opportunities to get more mileage out of him. He was often taken out of games when the game was in hand to keep his innings down. He’s an efficient enough pitcher where if you let him throw 90-100 pitches just about every time out, he might be able to give you another 20-25 innings and push towards the 190 inning threshold. Regardless, it’s very possible he takes the next step and becomes a legitimate #2 or #3 starter.
I leave you with a No Laugh Challenge between Max Fried and Touki Toussaint: