Atlanta Braves: The Change That Made Max Fried an Ace

HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 02: Max Fried #54 of the Atlanta Braves celebrates with teammates after their 7-0 victory against the Houston Astros in Game Six to win the 2021 World Series at Minute Maid Park on November 02, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 02: Max Fried #54 of the Atlanta Braves celebrates with teammates after their 7-0 victory against the Houston Astros in Game Six to win the 2021 World Series at Minute Maid Park on November 02, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /
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On his birthday, we take a look back at the evolution of Max Fried and what has made him the ace of the Atlanta Braves. 

When you think about the rebuild of the Atlanta Braves in what ultimately led to a World Series championship in 2021, perhaps the biggest move was acquiring Max Fried.

The 7th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, Fried was solid but not all that impressive in the first two-plus seasons of pro ball before finding out he needed Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2015.

In the offseason, while he was recovering from TJ, the Padres dealt him to the Atlanta Braves along with Dustin Peterson, Jace Peterson, and Mallex Smith for Aaron Northcraft and Justin Upton.

The Braves took a chance on Fried and the early results weren’t great.

Coming back from TJ in 2016 he had a 3.93 ERA at Rome in 103 innings. Then mostly at Double-A in 2017, he posted a 5.54 ERA in 92.2 innings. Still, the Braves gave him a chance as he debuted at the big league level in 2017 and held his own with a 3.81 ERA in 26 innings.

Back at Gwinnett in 2018 the results still weren’t great with a 4.61 ERA and 1.447 WHIP in 66.1 innings.

But again, he posted solid numbers at the big league level with a 2.94 ERA in 33.2 innings.

That set him up to be in the starting rotation full-time in 2019 when he won 17 games and showed glimpses of what he could be, but still posted a subpar ERA of 4.02 and a WHIP of 1.334.

Entering 2020, many people — including myself here — thought Max Fried could be a darkhorse candidate to win the NL Cy Young.

And had he not missed time in that shortened 2020 season, he might have won the award. As it was, he finished 5th in the NL Cy Young voting after posting a 2.25 ERA in 56 innings with a WHIP of 1.089.

He followed that up by going 14-7 in 2021 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.087 WHIP in 28 starts and 165.2 innings

And then, of course, what he did in the postseason — especially Game 6 of the World Series.

Atlanta Braves — What Changed With Max Fried?

When you look at the first three years of his career when he was bouncing back-and-forth between starter and reliever, he had a 3.83 ERA and 1.371 WHIP in 225.1 innings with a BB/9 of 3.2 and K/9 of 9.5.

Certainly respectable numbers, but not near what any of us believed he could be.

Obviously, your tendency changes from starter to reliever, but in those first three seasons, he was throwing his 4-seam fastball well over 50 percent of the time.

It’s not like Fried’s fastball on its own is elite, we all know the curveball is what makes him special. So when a major league hitter knows that over 50 percent of the time he’s getting a 93 MPH fastball, it’s not that hard to figure out.

And that’s why batters hit nearly .280 against his four-seam fastball in his first three years. He also had a BABIP of .330 in those first three seasons.

Compare that to the 2020 and 2021 seasons where batters hit just .231 against his fastball and his BABIP was to a more normal level of .273.

What changed? It was the slider.

Again, his curveball is what makes him one of the best pitchers in baseball. Batters are hitting just .160 against that pitch in the last four seasons and he consistently has a Whiff% in the mid-30s with the curveball.

https://twitter.com/PitchingNinja/status/1483430560701820938?s=20

But in 2019 he started incorporating a slider. And in that season he threw it 16 percent of the time, batters hit .200 against it, and it had a Whiff% of 28.6.

His fastball usage in 2019 was still really high at 53.1 percent. But then in 2020 that dropped to 41.8 percent and his slider usage went up to 20.7 percent.

That then gave Max Fried two put-away pitches in the curveball and slider and a third pitch in a different velocity quadrant.

He has the four-seam and sinker that he throws in the mid-90s, the slider in the mid-80s, and the curveball in the mid-70s.

Three different pitches all perfectly 10 MPH apart — that’s tough to figure out as a hitter.

Here’s a great example of what that slider does to his fastball.

And then add in the curveball movement and you get swings like this from really good hitters.

https://twitter.com/PitchingNinja/status/1300839032209932288?s=20

It’s not just that he throws three different pitches, a lot of pitchers can do that, it’s that he can command all of them and do so in different velocity ranges.

Next. When Will Braves Top Prospect Be Ready?. dark

Once he started throwing the slider in 2019 and then incorporating it more in 2020, it became pretty obvious why Max Fried is one of the best pitches in all of baseball.