What more will Max Fried show in 2021?

Credit: AJC

Here's a by-the-numbers look at the career of Braves starter Max Fried.

Credit: AJC

Braves left-hander Max Fried put himself in the Cy Young discussion for the first time last season. He’ll be in that conversation annually, according to his manager.

Fried, 27, arrived at spring training hoping to build on his 2020 success. While taking over for the injured Mike Soroka as the Braves’ ace, Fried assembled a breakout season that’s pushed him into the upper echelon of starters.

The southpaw went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 50:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the shortened season (56 innings). He finished fifth in National League Cy Young voting and helped the Braves to two postseason series victories after the team experienced a 19-year drought.

That’s the only stat that mattered to Fried. The Braves won when he pitched.

“The fact that when I took the mound, we were in a really good position to win,” Fried said. “For me, it’s forgetting about everything else, go out there and give us the best chance to win. That was my only concern last year.”

That sounds cliché, but take it literally: The Braves were a stunning 10-1 when Fried started (plus a 3-1 mark in the postseason). He carried a rotation that was decimated by injuries and, until Ian Anderson was promoted, had only one reliable starter.

Fried shouldn’t have as much of a burden on him in 2021. Soroka will return from his Achilles tear sometime early in the season, and Anderson is an established major leaguer. Seeking upgrades, the Braves added veteran starters Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to round out the group.

“Just getting to know them over the past couple days, they’re really nice, really hungry and ready to get started,” Fried said of the newcomers. “When you have two different guys, especially one righty and one lefty, there are things you can take from them. It’s going to be fun picking their brains and seeing the little things, whether it’s how they prepare for a start or in-game adjustments.

“It’s always a lot easier to get to know guys, pick them, and hopefully take a thing or two from them to implement into my game.”

While Fried provides excellent insight on other pitchers, he doesn’t delve too much into himself. When asked if there was any particular area he was targeting for improvement, he simply pointed to consistency.

“I still think I need to get way more consistent in executing pitches,” he said. “I felt I got better last year. Just getting back to attacking hitters, staying ahead, being on the attack, being more aggressive, being more consistent in my execution. If I’m executing my pitches, I know I’ll have way more success than when I don’t.”

If Fried continues trending upward, the Braves realistically could have one of the five best rotations in baseball - and the California-born lefty might be the key to it all. There are reasonable questions with the other starters – how Soroka will look coming back, whether Anderson can replicate last season, Smyly’s health and upside, Morton’s age (37) – but Fried has the fewest concerns.

The Braves need him to be Mr. Reliable again. And they seem confident he will be.

“Max is going to be a guy who puts himself in Cy Young conversations for the rest of his career,” Snitker said. “He’s come a long way. He’s a very disciplined, dedicated young man. He competes unbelievably well with great stuff.”

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