The Argument Against Max Fried

Max Fried is good. He’s really frickin’ good.

ERA Leaders Since 2020
1 Corbin Burnes 37 226.2 12.79 2.30 0.36 .303 77.0% 48.2% 2.34 1.74 2.48
2 Walker Buehler 41 244.1 9.36 2.32 0.96 .240 79.4% 43.3% 2.62 3.34 3.63
3 Brandon Woodruff 43 253.0 10.74 2.17 0.96 .263 80.7% 43.8% 2.70 3.03 3.12
4 Zack Wheeler 43 284.1 9.50 1.96 0.60 .293 75.1% 51.5% 2.82 2.75 3.07
5 Max Fried 39 221.2 8.45 2.44 0.69 .276 77.6% 52.1% 2.84 3.26 3.60
34 qualified pitchers

The question isn’t a binary one of whether or not he’s a really good pitcher, but — for our purposes — whether or not his run prevention is sustainable enough, given his pitch-to-contact style.

I started with the ERA because he’s been very good to us, lately. But we should scrutinize how likely that ERA is to stand up. We should be viewing Fried as deceptively volatile.

His K/9 since 2020 is 24th of the 34 qualified pitchers and his CSW% is 25th. Hey, we’ve had success with contact-heavy pitchers in the recent past — notably Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman, and Adam Wainwright. It isn’t impossible for fantasy goodness from a guy who doesn’t mow down hitters in a sexy manner. But his 87.4% contact rate in the zone is sixth-highest over that span and this is a big concern because he only averages about 5.2 innings per start.

If Fried were getting volume, we could throw caution to the wind and say 190 strikeouts is 190 strikeouts — even if it took him 200 innings to get there. In the second half of 2021, Fried’s groundball rate went from 45.0% in the first half up to 57.7%. And with it, his ERA was only 1.74 and he pitched 93.0 innings as a reward, as the Braves said, .237 BABIP be damned.

So, Fried can get there. But we’re relying very heavily on balls in play going our way for a lot of months (if not years in dynasty) in one big chunk on 30 starts. And he needs to be elite to get innings.

This is why projections see that the sixth or seventh round is a bit of a reach in a 12-team redraft. Every model we track is rough at the moment without schedules, but they all have his 2021 .278 BABIP bloating near or over .300. THE BAT has his ERA as high as 4.05 for it with a .312 BABIP. They have him with a strong shot at 180 innings, but — again the K/9 tells us that Fried needs to work really hard to get us there on strikeouts.

And the strikeouts aren’t just a singular category on which I’m fixating. Once contact is made, Fried loses a lot of control over his destiny. With a strikeout, he’s in control. This is where the volatility comes in. Do we believe Fried’s low 3.04 ERA from 2021 of the 3.50 xERA? Or THE BAT’s 4.05? Or ATC’s 3.44? I’m not saying to believe THE BAT to make a hyperbolic argument. I’m saying to believe them all because Fried has a wide range of outcomes.

Another dynamic where strikeouts are so valuable: trade baiting. If Fried is just O.K., good luck getting a damn thing for him because people trade for strikeouts and volume a lot more than BABIP-dependence. Fried’s team winning a lot of games helps and getting a quality start in two-thirds of his starts in 2021 helps — from our end. It’s just a tougher sell than lesser real-life pitchers like Jose Berrios or Frankie Montas. Because Berrios and Montas have that higher strikeout ceiling and can be had cheaper.

Frankly, once we draft Fried, we’re stuck with him — for better or worse. On the better side, he’s compiling outs in few pitches and accumulating the wins or quality starts at a low ERA and we’re comfortable with the volume giving us strikeouts. The worse side is one where he’s just fine and no one wants him; not even us.

Alex Sonty is a professional DFS and poker player, while contributing to RotoGrinders and FanGraphs, as well as serving as a part-time political science professor in Chicago, IL. He’s been playing fantasy sports since 1996 and entered the DFS realm in 2014, currently playing high-stakes MLB and NFL cash games and GPPs. He is a Chicago Tribune and SB Nation alum, while holding a J.D./M.A. and L.L.M. from DePaul University.

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Joe Wilkeymember
9 months ago

By comparing him to the 33 other pitchers with the most IP since the start of 2020, though, you’re inherently making him look worse. The total K/9 of that group of 34 is 9.29, a full 0.34 above league average, and the league average includes relievers. The total CSW% of the qualifiers is 28.77%, a full 0.93% above league average, also including relievers.

His HR/9 is third in that group, mainly because he has the fourth highest ground ball rate, his barrel rate is 7th best, and he has the 5th lowest launch angle.

I agree that he has more volatility because of a strikeout rate that is roughly league average, but when you pair that with a walk rate that is notably better than league average and a groundball tilt which minimizes HR, he’s still someone I would own for the right price. I don’t think a sixth or seventh round price tag is that exorbitant, that range is going to have a certain level of uncertainty in one way or the other.