Atlanta Braves: Will Max Fried take even another step forward in 2020?

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ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 04: Max Fried #54 of the Atlanta Braves throws a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth inning in game two of the National League Division Series at SunTrust Park on October 04, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Max Fried took a significant step forward for the Atlanta Braves in 2019. Can he take another step this season and establish himself as a top of the rotation starter?

At first glance, it might be fair to say that Max Fried’s ascent into a formidable starting pitcher for the Atlanta Braves last season was surprising.

But it really isn’t.

While the sample size was small, consider his career up to that point: 2-3 with a 2.96 ERA in nine starts.

Sure, the expectation was that he would eventually be in the mix for the rotation, but now the expectation has skyrocketed into becoming the No. 2 in the 1-2 punch with Mike Soroka.

After going 17-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 2019, the next step would suggest a viable No. 2 starter, which is not out of the question.

Fried also had a WHIP of 1.334 and a FIP of 3.72. He struck out 173 batters while walking 47.

More so, if you take out June and July, his numbers would be even better. In those months he had an ERA of 5.55 and opponents batting average against of .314, even though his record was 4-1.

In April, May, August, and September, Fried went 13-5 with a 3.96 ERA and opponents were batting .251 against him. With those numbers, he surely would have made the All-Star team, because he was close enough as it was.

Surprisingly, the projections for 2020 think Fried will actually be better than Soroka.

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Baseball-Reference projects Fried to go 11-7 with a 4.04 ERA and 1.319 WHIP in 138 innings, while striking out 9.7 per nine innings and walking three per nine innings.

Steamer’s projections are better: 12-9 with a 3.60 ERA and FIP in 172 innings, with the K’s and walks similar to Baseball-Reference.

I will be the first to admit that I just never saw Fried on the same level, or even a level below of Soroka, but I am slowly but surely changing my tune.

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With so many questions about the rotation outside of he, Soroka and Foltynewicz, Fried emerging as the No. 2 would go a long way in ensuring the Braves get back to October.

The safe bet would be to expect that to happen.