Atlanta Braves Max Fried: not a friend of fantasy baseball

Max Fried #54 of the Atlanta Braves during Game Six of the World Series. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Max Fried #54 of the Atlanta Braves during Game Six of the World Series. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Fangraphs wants to argue that Atlanta Braves starter Max Fried isn’t your best choice for a fantasy-baseball pitcher. Whatever.

The other day, I tried to use Austin Riley‘s 2021 season stats as a springboard for the inadequacies of the BABIP stat.  The Atlanta Braves third baseman tends to make that case due to his high exit velocity… at least when he does indeed make quality contact with the baseball.

The flip side of this argument… or maybe I should say the “FIP” side of this argument involves the kind of starting pitchers that the Atlanta Braves tend to gravitate to… regardless of who may be in charge of baseball operations.

Back in the day, names like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were involved. In the next generation, it was Tim Hudson.

Julio Teheran was another in this mold, though not as consistent as these others. Today, it’s Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and Charlie Morton.

With these pitchers, it’s all about weak contact — the very opposite of the BABIP conversation. But with these pitchers, they aren’t strikeout artists. Instead, they are consistently getting hitters out-of-sync and making awkward swings.

The modern-day stat wielder is often baffled when looking at the stat lines of these guys, because their ERA’s are low while their FIP is higher.

In his heyday, Maddux would often have a FIP half a run higher than his ERA. Glavine was the same. In fact, Glavine’s 1997 and 1998 FIP was a full run higher than his ERA.

That brings us to the 2020 and 2021 results of Max Fried and a discussion about him on the fangraphs site today:

  • 2020 ERA: 2.25. FIP 2.81
  • 2021 ERA: 3.04. FIP 3.50

Fangraphs notes that in these years, Fried is 5th best among qualified ERA leaders in baseball. For my money, that’s what matters the most as a starting pitcher:  run prevention.

But their argument is more about your next fantasy team and how you should be drafting. But that’s a different game than the one MLB plays on their fields, for the goals are different.

In Roto leagues, strikeouts are vital. So are wins, innings, and yes: run prevention. In that game, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) matters more than ERA.

My argument over FIP has always been that it ignores — by design — balls put in play by hitters. That stat tends to ignore the finesse pitcher while it also ignores at least 2/3rds of the outs they record in each game (since such pitchers tend to strike out only 5 to 9 hitters per outing).

So yes: if you’re playing Roto baseball this year, then you should probably ignore the entire Atlanta Braves staff… and that’s the real point of the fangraphs piece that is doing its hand-wringing about Fried today and where he ought to be drafted.

FIP is calculated by (rightly) punishing pitchers for giving up home runs and walks while rewarding strikeouts: (13*HR + 3*BB – 2*K) / IP + a seasonal constant.

Other hits? Not considered. Groundouts? Flyouts? All of these outcomes are fieldable balls in play, so no.

This is a great formula for fantasy baseball, but only a few elite pitchers truly have everything going that FIP likes.

It leaves out the Frieds and Andersons in this world. Granted: if you have a lot of pitch-to-contact guys, you will need a great defense behind them. If they lose their “edge”, then things can go wrong in a hurry. Julio Teheran was such a pitcher.

But the Braves are well-equipped for such a staff. Happily, their brand of pitching works for the bottom line — run prevention.

Next. The Calendar is getting into critical days. dark

So fantasy players can shop elsewhere. We’ll just watch these guys put up more zeros… with fewer strikeouts.