Max Fried is off to a great start this season, with his latest effort coming on the biggest stage in the game, Sunday Night Baseball. In Cleveland, he held the opposing team to two runs over 6 1⁄3 innings, while striking out six and walking three. For the season to date, he has an outstanding 1.73 RA9 and has already accumulated 1.1 WAR.
Obviously, Fried is not going to finish the season with a sub-2.00 RA9, or even a sub 3.00 RA9. He had a 4.67 RA9 for his career in the minors, and while sometimes pitchers can find a whole new level in the majors, it is not terribly common. Furthermore, he is benefiting from a .247 BABIP and a high strand rate, not to mention the fact that he has barely struck out 17 percent of batters faced.
It is too early in the season for DRA, but we can see that his 3.13 FIP is far higher than his actual runs allowed. On the bright side, his walk rate is below seven percent, which is good for anybody but especially so for a pitcher who walked nearly 11 percent of the hitters he faced in the minors.
Fried was drafted out of high school in 2012 by the Padres. He was considered by many to be the top left-handed pitcher in the draft, even among the more advanced college arms, so the Padres decided to make him the seventh overall pick and award him a $3 million signing bonus. He was considered a top-100 prospect, but he missed most of 2014 and all of 2015 because of Tommy John surgery.
Only a couple of weeks before Fried got the surgery in August 2014, the Padres hired A.J. Preller as their new GM, and as you might recall, the following winter is when he made the best effort anyone could to make the team competitive. It ultimately failed, as the 2015 Padres finished with only 74 wins, but the best part of that effort came from acquiring Justin Upton from the Braves. Unfortunately, Preller had to include Fried in the deal. One could see the rationale behind trading away a pitching prospect who was going to miss the entire 2015 season in order to win now, but this move could come back to haunt Preller.
Fried came up through the system as a lefty with a fastball in the mid to high nineties and a hammer of a curveball. The downside is that there is effort in his delivery that might make him destined for the bullpen, and his changeup was not great, leaving him without a weapon to get right-handed hitters out. Also, as I mentioned earlier, he struggled with his command.
The Braves were aggressive with him in 2017, starting him out in Double-A and eventually promoting him to The Show in August of that year. He debuted in the bullpen, but did end up making four starts by the end of the season. He actually performed better in the rotation than in relief, though he struggled overall with a 5.19 RA9 and poor peripherals. He improved to a 3.21 RA9 last year with the Braves continuing to use him in a mixed role between the rotation and the bullpen, and he only pitched 33 2⁄3 innings. Short of a catastrophic injury, he will surpass that innings total shortly.
The funny thing about Fried is that he has small reverse splits, with a .313 wOBA versus lefties and a .301 wOBA versus righties. Obviously 107 left-handed batters faced in a career is far too small of a sample size, but he did show this trend in the minors as well when he returned from Tommy John surgery. What makes this especially surprising is that this is true despite the fact that right-handers have teed off on his changeup.
While Fried’s current reverse splits are likely just a small sample size thing right now, it is possible that it could turn out to be real. It is a pretty small split, and as I mentioned when looking into James Paxton’s reverse split, he does share a similarity with him: the great curveball. Fried has a negligible split on curveball in terms of batting average, but there is a big difference in slugging, per Brooks Baseball. Lefties have slugged a whopping .463 against Fried’s curve, while righties have slugged only .291.
The Padres’ starting rotation is off to a surprisingly good start, thanks mostly to Chris Paddack, but if they miss the playoffs, it will probably be because the rotation failed to deliver in the end, leading Preller to wish he had not traded away Fried in an naive attempt to compete in 2015. As for the Braves, Fried could end up being a difference maker in the ultra-competitive NL East, even if he does predictably end up regressing quite a bit.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.