How Fried avoids the walk; the standings
Winning streak snapped, the Braves return home for their first game against a contender in quite some time. Here’s some stuff to chew on.
Can Fried keep avoiding walks?
Max Fried is a really fun guy to have on your favorite team, because every year, he takes on a different mantle of pitching styles and mixes, while remaining highly effective — it gives you a ton of stuff to watch for. This year, Fried is once again doing something interesting — he’s basically succeeding through minimizing walks. His 4.0 percent walk rate is the 10th-best among any starter with 30 or more innings. The way he’s getting to it, though, is pretty interesting.
Max Fried generally transitioned to a successful pitcher by being able to throw more in the zone. Yet, in 2022, he is running his lowest zone rate ever, and a bottom-20 zone rate among the 30+ IP starters. This seems to be in direct conflict with him not allowing walks, but he’s managed to do so by combining two things: one of the majors’ highest chase rates (fifth in MLB); and, average z-contact. Essentially, Fried’s M.O. these days is to force the PA to end before he can walk you. He’s not really managing contact in any special way, with an xwOBACON that is basically league-average (compared to 2020 and 2021, both of which were more contact management-y years for him). He just wants you to get yourself out, whether that’s by chasing something you shouldn’t be swinging at, or doing mediocre damage in the zone.
Why bring this up? Because the matchup with the Giants is an interesting one in this case. Fried elicits a high swing rate for the reasons above. But the Giants have MLB’s second-lowest overall swing rate, and second-lowest chase rate. They’re also bottom 10 at swinging at strikes. Unlike the Braves’, whose approach is “I can do damage on most strikes so I will swing really hard at most strikes,” the Giants’ approach is “I will pick a select type of strike I can do damage on, try to obliterate that, and otherwise just not swing.” The teams are actually identical in CSW% (the percent of pitches that are either called strikes or whiffs), but they get there in very different ways.
So, what will win out? Will Fried walk guys because the Giants won’t chase? Will the Giants be enticed by Fried in a way they’ve resisted so far? Maybe Fried will just change his approach and pepper the zone. Stay tuned.
Watch the standings (duh)
After a long stretch where the Braves played non-contenders and hoped that other contenders lost, things come to more of a head tonight. At this point, the NL playoff race is essentially eight contenders fighting for six spots; the other seven teams appear irrelevant right now. The Braves and Giants are currently tied record-wise while holding the second and third Wild Card spots; they have a half-game on the Brewers and Cardinals, who are also currently tied, and a 2.5-game lead on the Phillies. Both Braves-Giants and Brewers-Cardinals are series that take place starting tomorrow.
The Braves can therefore build a sizable cushion in terms of playoff likelihood if they succeed in this four-game set, and one of either the Brewers or Cardinals dominates their series. After all, while their sights are likely set on chasing down the Mets, the Braves don’t actually have to outrun their divisional opponents — they really just need to outrun the Phillies and whoever doesn’t win the NL Central to make the postseason, or one of the three NL West teams. The next few games give them a good opportunity to do so, if they can continue rolling.