Led by Max Fried, Braves should once again have stellar starting rotation

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The idea is simple: When you have a great starting rotation, you have a chance to win every night. It’s a relatively reliable path to piling up victories.

ExploreFried a finalist for 2022 NL Cy Young award

The execution is difficult, because only a select group of teams find themselves in that position each season. Building a dominant rotation is tough because you need at least five good pitchers – and almost certainly more than that for depth purposes.

The 2023 Braves are one of the teams that can expect to win every night because of their rotation.

“We got a lot of talent,” Kyle Wright said.

Of course, it starts with Atlanta ace Max Fried, who is coming off a season in which he finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting. On Saturday, a panel of arbitrators ruled in favor of the Braves in Fried’s salary arbitration case, and Fried will be paid $13.5 million instead of the $15 million he sought.

ExploreParticulars of the Braves vs. Fried salary arbitration case

A quick reminder here, for those who may not be experts on salary arbitration: It is simply part of the business, and Saturday’s decision doesn’t mean Fried and the Braves are at odds, or that he’s mad at them, or that they are undervaluing him. It won’t create bad blood and doesn’t decrease their odds of signing him to a long-term extension. Nothing changed – arbitration is just part of the process for players in baseball’s current economic landscape.

Last season, Austin Riley “lost” in arbitration – he wanted $4.2 million, but got $3.95 (a smaller gap than in Fried’s case) – and signed a long-term extension months later. The Braves had five arbitration hearings a year ago and won 101 games.

And so Fried will soon head to North Port, where he’ll begin another season as the team’s leader in the rotation. Two topics you’ll hear from now until the end of 2024: Will the Braves extend Fried? How much money will it take?

“My goal with these guys is that you only hear about it when we put out a release, we try to keep that stuff quiet,” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said during a fan Q&A session at Braves Fest in January. “But I’ve said this: Our 2025 rotation is a big concern of mine, as much as we’ve got to worry about ‘23 and ‘24. I believe our two best seasons, during the (regular) season, were when our rotations were the deepest: 2019 and 2022. We had really deep rotations, that’s going to be a priority.”

Even if he declines to go into potential contract situations publicly, Anthopoulos has praised Fried multiple times this winter. And why wouldn’t the Braves want to keep the left-hander? A season ago, he posted a 2.48 ERA over 185 1/3 innings. He’s one of the game’s top pitchers. He might have won the NL Cy Young had Alcantara not had a ridiculously good season.

For now, Fried will sit at the top of a rotation that will include Spencer Strider (another pitcher with ace potential), Wright and Charlie Morton. The top competitors for the fifth spot seem to be Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson and even Bryce Elder.

“Our starters are a pretty tight-knit group,” said Strider, who finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting (behind teammate Michael Harris) in 2022. “We learn a lot from each other and having consistency there is good for all of us, I think. And hopefully everybody stays healthy. Everybody has the ability to go out and pitch seven, eight scoreless and always give us a chance to win. I think that can be the strength of the team.

“We’re pretty well-stacked everywhere. But I think we consider ourselves kind of the – not the backbone necessarily, but the game can be won and lost on the mound for sure, and we all take pride in the fact that we can give us a chance to win.”

Strider is correct: The Braves are one of baseball’s best rosters because they have a potent lineup and a deep bullpen (with multiple late-inning options) to go with their rotation. But pitching and defense often separate the good from great in this sport. We consistently see dangerous lineups undone by mediocre starting pitching from their own teams.

ExploreBraves hope motivation from last year’s exit leads to different outcome

The Braves’ outlook is positive. Nothing is a given, but you can feel safe about your optimism for this rotation.

In 2022, Braves starting pitchers ranked ninth with a 3.72 ERA. It took the Braves a bit to stabilize the fifth spot in the rotation, and from July 1 through the end of the season, their starters were fifth in baseball with a 3.29 ERA.

The Braves had a chance to win every night.

It’s fair to expect the same this season. Fried is back, Strider enters his second year and Wright looks to build off a successful campaign. Plus, Charlie Morton could bounce back. And the Braves have multiple options for the final rotation spot, then depth behind it.

Each season, every team dreams of having a rotation that will give it a chance to win most nights.

But the Braves aren’t dreaming – this should be a reality for them.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Braves

“Obviously, it starts with Max,” Wright said. “Max has been incredible. He’s kind of our leader, kind of makes us go. And then Strider might have 400 strikeouts this year, (with him) starting (in the rotation) in the very beginning. Like I said, I’m excited to see him have a full year starting from the very jump. Then obviously, you got Chuck, who’s been the same and he’s gonna give us a lot of wins. We have a lot of other guys too.

“I know we’re excited about the talents there, and just gotta try to continue to put it together.”

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