2019 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Max Fried

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.

2020 Outlook

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:

29 thoughts on “2019 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Max Fried”

  1. Thanks, Rob.

    Fried’s a keeper. So is Soroka. The other three rotation slots, not so much. I wish I had faith in Folty. I don’t.

  2. The only two justifiable reasons for not having Fried start a playoff game was that they were really trying to keep his innings down (a more urgent need than Soroka’s), or they wanted to opt for Keuchel’s experience. Either way, those won’t be issues next year. Next year, in a short series, you have to be looking at throwing Soroka and Fried each twice, which would have been much better that what we did this past year.

    The innings limit makes the most sense. His last 4 outings at the end of the regular season were very short: 5 IP, 2.1 IP, 5 IP, and 3.2 IP in relief when it was decided he wouldn’t start in the playoffs.

  3. People are sleeping on Folty because they’re focused on exactly how bad his last performance is. He pitched 7 innings of shutout ball in the playoffs, and consistency for pitchers is overrated. I bet he helped us more in that game than he hurt us in game 5.

    This isn’t to say he’s a TOR starter, but it is to say that we should expect him to be a worthwhile pitcher going forward, particularly given how he looked after he came back from the minors.

  4. Consistency for pitchers is overrated? So you’re good with handing a rotation spot to a guy who had a 6.37 ERA in 59.1 IP in 11 GS earlier last season? I find Folty to be electric when he’s on. But the Division Series was a microcosm of Folty’s 2019, and in some ways, his entire career. He’s electric, but extremely erratic.

    Folty’s a guy that, at this point, has a 4.27 ERA, 4.27 FIP in 682.2 career IP. Newcomb has half of those career innings, almost a half run better in the ERA department (3.87), a little better on FIP (4.17), and he’s in the bullpen with seemingly no discussion on him regaining a starter’s role.

    I think people can make too much of Folty’s game 5, and I’m trying not to do that, but you can go in the other direction and make too much of his game 2. You can make too much of those terrible 11 starts earlier in the season, and you can make too much of the 10 games he started after his minor league assignment.

    He’s an enigma. It’s a fun discussion.

  5. Here’s the Fangraphs article I had in mind when I said the thing about pitcher consistency being overrated:

    https://blogs.fangraphs.com/finding-value-in-pitcher-inconsistency/

    I guess I’m pretty confident in the conclusion that article comes to: roughly, you win some reasonable percent of starts where your pitcher gives up a ton early, but you lose basically no starts where the SP goes deep and keeps them scoreless.

    Now, the emotions we tie to those starts are awkward, and clearly they don’t track win percent very closely: bad starts where we lose early feel really really really bad. But, remember, all I’m saying is that Folty should be in our rotation, not that he’ll be the best pitcher there (though one of the reasons he /should/ be in our rotation is because he /might/ be one of the best pitchers there).

  6. I am not much of a commenter here, but an avid reader. I love this place…..Game 5 did me in and I had to go on a Braves/Baseball vacation. The underachievement hurt too much to come here and read everyone’s takes. I am still not partaking on the rest of the playoffs. We could have taken those Gnats……I’ll happily wait until Braves spring training next year. But, I think I am ready to come back to this beautiful place called Braves Journal to get my hopes up for next year- haha

  7. David, glad to have you on board with the commenting. Watching the Braves lose to the Cardinals in such a demeaning fashion then watch (well… I didn’t) the Nats, whom we’ve handled quite well this season, roll over the Cardinals like they were the Orioles, was most disheartening. The offseason brings healing, but more than that, being able to reflect on the seasons that some had will motivate the fan to believe once again. With what will likely be 0 limitations, Fried, if he can stay healthy, is ready for the next step to frontline starting pitcher in 2020.

  8. If anyone here, outside of Snowshine and myself, are prospect gurus and study the Braves MILB program and would like to participate in a group ranked prospect list, please let me know. Thanks!

  9. The Braves have holes. If JD goes elsewhere, we have no bat to take his place. Johan Camargo lacks Riley’s power but is superior in all else. Third base could become a black hole.

    Acuna is the only real outfielder we have. A Duvall/Joyce platoon could fill one slot, but do we really want to trust Austin Riley in left? How long will it be before Pache and/or Waters can handle a daily big league position?

    Beyond Soroka and Fried, whom we hope can repeat this year’s production, we have promise in Folty and Newk. Neither has shown any of the consistency I desire, though consistency is not a big deal to other fans.

    Catcher is Tyler Flowers and untried kids. The pen may be settled. Perhaps not.

    The right side of the infield seems set, if Freddie stays healthy and Ozzie’s for real. The left side? If JD comes back, if we get playoff Dansby.

    AA has work to do. It will be an interesting winter.

  10. I am and have always been a big Fried fan since watching him pitch a couple of years ago in relief. He was a first round pick, he was excellent in all his minors stints, and he has excelled mostly in the majors. Except for the fact they keep using him in relief (especially this year), he should be considered a current and future TOR. He is Glavine with more velo and a less flexible strike zone to deal with.

    Soroka and Fried are bonafides. We need one more. Folty should be it if he can get his head out of his ass long enough. He has shown what he is capable of. How many years did it take before Smoltz was considered TOR? How long was he considered a head case? Until he won 25 games and a CYA, it was always when, when, when. Smoltz excelled in the playoffs, though, always, and Folty has not gotten to that level of performance although he has flashed it.

    With regards to Fried, though, how many years was Glavine on vs. off. Sometimes his ERA was 3.00 and sometimes 4.00. He did have his CYA seasons and Fried has yet to do that. but it could easily be in his future.

    That video makes me really sad that Touki has not developed into that TOR, too. I would like it so much if one more of the young guys breaks out next year. With as many as we have, how can one not? Touki, Wright, Wilson, Davidson, Anderson, Weigel. Then Muller, Ynoa, de la Cruz. My word, there are so many so close.

  11. @coop As I said before, the front office is going to have move the needle. It will not suffice to shuffle some names around and cruise into the season at $120M. They can decide to let JD walk and figure out 3B, but as you wisely pointed out there is room for major improvement in the corner OF spots. There’s room for big improvement in the starting rotation. This team has got a lot of pitching prospects that it can deal, and it should have plenty of budget to work with.

  12. Roger, I read the Smoltz comparison when discussing Folty a lot, and it just doesn’t fit, in my opinion. By Smoltz’s age-26 season, he had amassed 16.1 bWAR. He had 2 sub-3 ERA seasons, 4 total sub-4 ERA seasons. Someone older than I, please tell me when Smoltz had this “headcase” reputation, but I’m seeing that by as early as his early-20’s, he was a reliable, if not elite, starting pitcher.

    Folty is almost 28 years old, and we still don’t know what he is. In Soroka Years, he’s like 94 years old. If Atlanta goes into next season banking on Folty being your 3rd starter, then shame on them. I know I’ve gone back to being negative about Folty, but I’m sorry, but game 5 is just as much Mike Foltynewicz as game 2. The first half was just as much Mike Foltynewicz as the second half. With Folty, all you’re doing is spinning the chamber, in my opinion.

  13. Smoltz had serious inconsistency issues early in his career to the point that he began seeing a sports psychologist in june 1991. As his 2nd half that year was one for the ages going 12-2 down the stretch, the psych seemed to work.

    The flaky reputation came from Smoltz being both highly intelligent and a practical jokester which meant others also played jokes on him — like when Glavine told the media that Smoltz missed a start because he burned himself while trying to iron a shirt while wearing it (he actually was being treated for bone spurs and loose bodies in his elbow).

  14. @10: The worst part is that a good chunk of Nats fans — in my estimation — are fans by convenience and happenstance. A good swath of the fanbase are DC-based journalists, talking-heads, politicos, lobbyists, and think-tankers. They aren’t the stereotypical long-suffering diehards waiting for a champion unlike a lot of fanbases.

  15. Game 5 is 1-0 after the first inning if Freeman doesn’t boot the double-play ball. Does the narrative truly depend on such a fine line? Fried sucked in that game too, fwiw.

    I’ve defended Folty here endlessly, and I will continue to. He’s one of our 5 best starters right now. AA has a lot of work to do in order to make that not the case.

  16. The more I think about it the more I think we should let Teheran go. The in house replacements just have more upside.

    Soroka
    Fried
    Folty
    Newcomb
    Wright/Wilson

    With Anderson, Davidson, Touissaint, and Muller waiting in the wings.

    Peanut gave the Braves a 65% chance of retaining Markakis and a 100% chance of retaining Flowers in his mailbag.

  17. @20 As good as Julio is during the regular season at eating innings, I don’t think the Braves can reasonably keep him and justify it easily. The money used to pay him could easily be used in many other places, and any number of youngins could replace him as an end of rotation guy (the ones you mentioned being the prime candidates).

  18. @18 Hence the word insufferable. As I sit here staring at the new Eisenhower Memorial which is now blocking my view of the Capitol building.

    @14 @15 snowshine said it best. It’s a loose comparison. After all, Smoltz is a HOF’er and Folty is likely not. Don’t take me wrong, Smoltz was always “good” which Folty has not always been, but everyone expected more. They didn’t get “more” until he was 28/29 (29 being the CYA year). His ERA+ took a noticeable jump in ’95 as did his K/9 along with a noticeable reduction in walks. Before then he had led the league in walks once and led the league in WPs three years in a row. After his CYA year, in between injuries, he retained those improvements and was always elite.

    The other potential good part of that comparison is my belief that Folty could be an elite closer. Smoltz did that too.

  19. A good swath of the fanbase are DC-based journalists, talking-heads, politicos, lobbyists, and think-tankers.

    I think this is unfair. Obviously, more people in these categories live in DC than live in, say, Atlanta, but DC is a big city and huge suburban and exurban metro area with millions of people who are none of those things, and with sports teams in all four (or five) major professional leagues. There’s a century of baseball history in Washington proper, and a lot of Nats fans are people who grew up as Orioles fans and were ecstatic when a team came to town.

    Sure, there are a lot of bandwagon Nats fans, but there are a lot of bandwagon Braves fans, too — Atlanta is a ride-or-die college football city that roots for the pro teams when they’re good. (Of course there are diehards like the people on this blog, but I don’t need to remind you how much stadium attendance falls off when the team stinks. I love the Braves with all my heart, but the team would have to pay me money to watch a Lance Cormier start.)

    In DC, as the Skins have shed fans in droves, I think a lot of people have easily and happily shifted over to full-time rooting for the Nats and Caps.

  20. Would Donaldson return with a front-loaded 3/75 deal? Say 30 mill the 1st season, 25 the 2nd, and 20 the 3rd. The Braves could afford that if they have 40-50 million to spend this offseason.

  21. He’s one of our 5 best starters right now.

    I agree with you, but I think you’re putting him in the 5th spot based on upside and not based on a reliance on him. Hence why I think you should decline Teheran’s option (or accept it but be looking to trade him in the early-ish part of next season). But correct me if I’m wrong, krussell, but I think you’re thinking that you can rely on him to be something close to a TOR next season, and that’s where I disagree.

    He’s a weird bird. He’s not what you think of when you think of a 5th starter. A Tanner Roark or Julio Teheran. But he’s not reliable enough to say that you’re going into a season with him being one of your best starters. He really just doesn’t fall into a mold because of both his upside and volatility.

  22. Taking a break from Player Reviews tomorrow and taking an extensive look into the future 40-man roster moves coming this fall/winter. First thing tomorrow AM!

  23. @19, isn’t it amazing how once a narrative forms, everything that occurs is viewed through that lens? Folty has a rep for being erratic so Game 5 proves his unreliability or volatility, but Fried is a steady, established performer even though he was far worse in the exact same game. IIRC it was Fried who walked the pitcher with the bases loaded.

    That’s not meant really as an indictment of Fried – he had a very good year and I like him as a rotation mainstay for some time to come. But he’s never put together a year as good as Folty’s 2018. Folty had a volatile, inconsistent 2019, in part due to injury but results are results – but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s in our 2020 rotation, and not as the #5.

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