Max Fried Talks Pitching (and Hitting)

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Max Fried hadn’t yet established himself when I first talked to him for FanGraphs in April 2018. While highly regarded — the San Diego Padres had drafted the southpaw seventh overall in 2012 out of Los Angeles’ Harvard-Westlake High School — he had just a smattering of innings under his big league belt. Fast forward to today, and Fried — acquired by the Atlanta Braves in a December 2014 trade the Padres presumably wish they hadn’t made — is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Moreover, he has been since the start of the 2019 season. With the caveat that pitcher win-loss records need to be taken with a large grain of salt, the 30-year-old hurler has gone 66-23 over the last five-plus seasons; his .742 winning percentage ranks first among his contemporaries (min. 50 decisions). Fried’s ERA and FIP over that span are 3.00 and 3.20, respectively, and in the current campaign those numbers are 2.93 and 3.22.

His hitting also bears mention. In 2021, the last year before the National League adopted the DH, Fried had the highest batting average (.273), on-base percentage (.322), wRC+ (77), and wOBA (.289) among pitchers with 40 or more plate appearances. While not exactly Wes Ferrell, Fried could more than hold his own in the batter’s box.

How has the Atlanta ace evolved as a pitcher since we spoke six years ago, and does he miss stepping up to the plate with a piece of lumber in hand? I broached those topics with Fried on Wednesday afternoon at Fenway Park.

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David Laurila: You were relatively new to the big leagues when we first spoke. Outside of being older and more experienced, what has changed since that time?

Max Fried: “Honestly, I would say it’s just experience, just constantly evolving and taking from what I’ve learned over the years. A lot of it has been commanding my pitches better, throwing them for strikes and keeping guys off balance.”

Laurila: Baseball Savant has you throwing seven different pitches. Is that accurate?

Fried: “I would say it’s variations of pitches. A lot of the time I’ll throw a pitch and it gets misclassified — a certain pitch will be called something else. I’m still the same pitcher — I’m fastball, slider, curveball, changeup, sinker — but sometimes the slider gets a little bit cutter-y and sometimes it gets a little bit sweeper-y. That’s kind of been the case my whole career. My slider has been anywhere from 90 to 78 [mph]. It has kind of always fluctuated, and they decided to classify those three as different pitches.

“It’s case by case. Sometimes I want something a little bit harder and sometimes I want something a little bit bigger. I’m playing around with it. Of all my pitches, the slider is the one with the most variability.”

Laurila: In a nutshell, outside of manipulating your slider you’re essentially the same pitcher now as before…

Fried: “I think I’ve always been this type of pitcher, I just hadn’t figured out what works for me. I’ve always been a guy that’s played around with my velocity — the velocity on my fastball, on my curveball, with all of my pitches. It fluctuates based off of trying to keep hitters off balance. More than anything, it’s embracing that, embracing the nature of who I am. So, I’m kind of evolving, but at my core I’ve kind of always been this guy.”

Laurila: With that in mind, to what extent are you pitching to your strengths as opposed to attacking weaknesses?

Fried: “I’m just pitching to what the game tells me at the moment. A lot of times it’s trusting what my catchers have. There’s so much information now, but at the same time, for me it’s more about feeling out what’s going on in the game, as well as how I’m feeling.”

Laurila: With information in mind, Spencer Strider is, for lack of a better term, a pitching nerd. How do the two of you compare in that respect?

Fried: “I would say that he… Spencer has a really good understanding of the analytics, and he uses that to his advantage. And he’s obviously got insane, stand-off-the-page metrics, whereas I don’t necessarily have metrics that might stand out to you. What I do have is a lot of different pitches that move a lot of different ways. I try to use that to my advantage.”

Laurila: Sequencing is presumably pretty important to you…

Fried: “Sequencing. Pitch movements. Pitch speeds. A lot of it is just being able to
give the hitter different looks.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts on pitching?

Fried: “I think that pitching is different and unique to each individual. At the end of the day — at least to me — pitching is about keeping the hitter off balance enough to be able to get him out as quickly as possible. If you’re able to keep guys off balance, and keep them off the barrel, then you’re going to have more success. You’re going to be able to go deeper into games. That’s the nature of what I try to embrace.”

Laurila: Changing direction, [Atlanta catching coach] Sal Fasano suggested that I ask you about hitting. How much do you miss hitting?

Fried: “I miss it a ton. It’s one of the elements of the game that… I understand why it happened, but for me, selfishly, I miss it because it gives you a good perspective on how hard hitting is. What you’re able to hit, what you’re not able to hit, what the inside pitch looks like, what the outside pitch looks like. Having that perspective of standing in the box and knowing what a pitcher is doing to you, in the same game that you’re pitching, gives you that perspective. Sometimes you’re out there on the mound throwing the perfect pitch and it’s getting hit, so yeah, the perspective on how hard it is to actually hit.”

Laurila: The pitching aspect aside, how much did you actually enjoy hitting?

Fried: “I grew up hitting more than I pitched. My whole life, I would play the outfield, first base, and hit. Then I would be pitching. The core of who I was as a baseball player was being a position player, and then I would be pitching as well.”

Laurila: Was there interest in you as a position player during the scouting process?

Fried: “There were teams interested in me as a hitter, but I think that with me being left-handed and projectable, throwing hard — there wasn’t a Shohei Ohtani out there kind of paving the way for me as a two-way. At that time it was just, ‘You have a better chance, and more opportunity, to get to the big leagues quicker as a pitcher.’”

Laurila: You didn’t get to hit much in the minors, but when you did — the same was true in the majors — you didn’t get overmatched. You held your own.

Fried: “I took pride in it. Obviously, it’s hard to hit once every five days, but
I tried to make the most of it. My job in the nine hole, especially when I was hitting in front of Ronald [Acuña Jr.], was to hopefully get on base for him to hit a double or a home run to drive me in and add some cushion.”

Laurila: Position players often embrace taking the mound when the circumstances call for it. Would you relish an opportunity to do the opposite, to walk up to the plate with a bat in your hands?

Fried: “I’m always looking, every game, to see. I got some pinch-hit opportunities in 2021, so if we ever have a rare game where we use every guy on the bench, I’ll be the first one going over to [bench coach] Walt [Weiss] to see if he needs me to get my spikes on and loosen up. I haven’t taken BP in awhile, but if I get the opportunity I’ll be ready.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Jewish Pachemember
13 days ago

Fried has the ideal pitcher demeanor. Always cool, calm, collected, but can kick up the intensity whenever the situation calls for it. He’s going to deserve every penny he gets this offseason but it’ll be tough to watch him leave

Last edited 13 days ago by Jewish Pache