Scratch Max Fried off your prospect lists. He’s not a top 100 prospect in baseball and probably shouldn’t even be listed above anyone the Padres took in the first five rounds of the 2014 MLB Draft.
(For those of you entirely unaware of who Max Fried is: Max Fried was the Padres first selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He’s a left-handed pitcher who has shown up on numerous prospect lists since he was originally drafted.)
I don’t say this to be sensationalist and I’m actually not saying this because he blew out his arm. (Players frequently recover from Tommy John surgery, even at this stage of a career. Just look at current Padres pitcher Jesse Hahn.)
I’m saying this because pitchers who received a Cy Young vote since voting expansion (in 2010) almost unanimously had better numbers across the board than Max Fried at the same age and level.
Max Fried’s numbers
What’s funny about the bolded statement above is that Max Fried’s numbers don’t look all that bad. These are his career aggregates over two years:
An earned run average of 3.55 with a WHIP of 1.383 isn’t horrible at the Major League level, so you’re excused if your cursory view of his statistics makes you believe he’s still in decent shape, performance-wise, as a prospect.
Unfortunately, comparing A ball numbers to MLB numbers doesn’t actually make any analytical sense. Really, we should get away from doing this because it really doesn’t matter at all.
What actually matters is how current and past Major League pitchers performed when they were at the same minor league level and age as Max Fried.
Cy Young vote-getters, 2010-2013
Since 2010, baseball writers have had the luxury of putting down five names for the Cy Young award in each league. Prior to 2010, they only nominated three per league.
In 2013, 21 players received Cy Young votes. Of these 21, 10 entered baseball out of high school (or through a foreign academy) and can be compared with Fried: Anibal Sanchez, Felix Hernandez, Matt Moore, James Shields, Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, Jose Fernandez, Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, and Francisco Liriano. Going back to 2010 adds many more names to this list, all of whom can be seen below.
Here are their age 19* seasons, along with Max Fried’s. I went ahead and quickly added Excel’s color scale to make it easier to see which pitchers are successful in a given category (and therefore colored green) and which struggled in a given category (and are therefore colored red).
* – Sanchez and Rivera made their minor league debuts at 20. Liriano was hurt for his age 19 season, so his age 20 season was quoted.
Timeout. Take a look at how hard some of those guys dominated at age 19. King Felix had a 10.2 K/9 at AAA! Cole Hamels was striking out basically everybody and didn’t even allow a homerun!! HOLY SHIT, MARIANO!!!
There are only four pitchers with a worse BB/9 than Max Fried. However, the lowest K/9 for all of those other guys was a robust 9.9. Fried, meanwhile, struck out just 7.6 per nine innings. The most hits allowed per nine innings out of those four guys was 6.7. Fried allowed 8.1 hits per nine innings. The point here is that despite walking more batters than Fried, all those guys had great stuff, based on their low hits allowed totals and high strikeout rates; Fried has neither.
As a result of that point above, Max Fried owns the second worst K/BB ratio of all those guys at age 19, trailing only Rafael Soriano (who was one of those four pitchers mentioned in the previous paragraph).
In fact, the only guy on that list who, like Max Fried, doesn’t have a single green category is Jon Lester. So, while I guess it’s conceivable that Fried could become a Cy Young vote-getter based on history, it appears to be extremely unlikely.
Accepting Fried as a bust
Remember, I’m not saying that all guys who dominate at age 19 end up as Cy Young vote-getters. I’m saying that basically all guys who end up as Cy Young vote-getters dominate at age 19. Fried was far from dominant at age 19, and now he has to recover from a significant arm injury.
The only guy who had comparable numbers at age 19, Jon Lester, had a breakout season at age 20. Fried will spend age 20 and 21 in rehab or otherwise not playing.
The bummer is that it doesn’t appear that Max Fried did anything wrong. There hasn’t been a single report of Fried being a distraction on or off the field, or not spending enough time improving himself. Scouts believe he has the stuff (or at least the curveball to succeed), but some prospects just never put it all together. Unfortunately, that looks like it’ll be Fried’s bottom line.
Is Max Fried unequivocally, 100% a bust? No. Would I trade him for far less than was invested in him already (both monetarily and draft selection-wise)? Certainly. In those terms and in that vane, he’s a bust.
At the very least, Padres fans need to start coming to terms with the fact that he will likely never be a difference maker at the Major League level.