The Braves entered the 2019 season with a wealth of question marks in their starting rotation, but had several young arms who could potentially provide answers from the outset. Among those who stepped up, Max Fried was maybe the most pleasant surprise. While toiling between Triple-A Gwinnett and the Atlanta bullpen, the left-hander showcased his electric stuff but never established himself as a mainstay in the rotation until this season. Ascension from the “Gwinnett shuttle” to dominant major league starter was hardly a linear transition, but it came at a time when Atlanta needed it most.
What were the expectations?
Entering play this season, Fried was a major question mark with regards to his expected output. Fangraphs predicted 0.6 WAR for Fried in 2019, with a 3.58 ERA in 60 innings. This projection was based on Fried appearing in 23 games with just eight starts.
What went right in 2019?
Compared to his expected output, everything went right for Fried this season. The left-hander went 17-6 with a 4.02 ERA, and according to FIP and xFIP, Fried was actually better than his run prevention statistics might suggest, as he posted a 3.72 FIP and 3.32 xFIP. Those numbers may foretell even greater success in the future, which would be an incredible development for the Braves.
Fried was not originally designated to start for the Braves this season, as his first two appearances came as a reliever in Philadelphia. In his first start, which came against the Cubs on April 4, Fried pitched six shutout innings with five strikeouts, cementing himself as a member of the starting rotation. The Braves were hampered by bouts of ineffectiveness from other starters throughout the season, but Fried establishing himself as at least a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm played a huge role in Atlanta repeating as division champions.
What went wrong in 2019?
Though the totality of his work in 2019 looks solid, there were several instances of Fried melting down this season. The left-hander posted a game score under 30 in six of his 30 starts and was wildly ineffective when summoned from the bullpen in the first inning of Game 5 during the Division Series. Outings of such an egregiously bad nature can be palatable over the course of the regular season, but allowing four runs in less than two innings was backbreaking for Atlanta in the postseason. Working through bouts of command issues, batted ball oddities, etc. will be the next step in the development of Fried.
What to expect in 2020?
As noted above, progression is hardly linear, but if Fried can at least duplicate his success from this season the Braves could have the makings of a dominant starting rotation. Improved batted ball fortunes would give Fried a boost, and continued command improvement could aid those efforts tremendously. Fried was a very pleasant surprise in 2019, but will be among those whom the Braves count on most next season. Buckle up because with his stuff Fried is a candidate to continue his ascension moving forward, and 2020 could be a huge season for both he and the Braves.