Max Fried, Aaron Nola set to tangle once more on Saturday

Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Two
Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

It’s not exactly Hamilton/Burr or Capone/Ness, or maybe even Strider/Wheeler, but it’s something.

Once upon a time, Max Fried was the frontline pitcher of the Braves, and Aaron Nola was the main arm on the Phillies.

Since becoming a full-time starter in 2019, Fried has compiled 15.1 fWAR in 650 13 innings, with a 69 ERA-, 76 FIP-, and 78 xFIP-. He’s been a top-15 pitcher in that span, whether you look at production or peripherals.

From the start of his first full season in 2017, Nola has compiled 30 fWAR in 1,233 13 innings, with an 85 ERA-, 77 FIP-, and 78 xFIP-. He’s been a top-15 pitcher in that span by peripherals, and fourth overall in production due to his durability and longevity. At this point, you see the parallels, right? Those numbers are eerily, uncannily similar.

Here’s another similarity: both are, perhaps, in the process of being supplanted by an outstanding rotation-mate. Fried had a bit of a lost season in 2023, hitting the Injured List three separate times, while Spencer Strider reeled off a dominant season in which he set all sorts of strikeout records. Nola was his usual durable, high-quality self in 2023, but for just the second time in seven seasons, was outperformed at the top of Philadelphia’s rotation, by Zack Wheeler (who also did so in 2021, though Nola got back on top with his incredible, 6+ fWAR 2022).

So, with that, the stage is set for another showdown between these two aces-who-may-not-be-the-best-pitcher-on-their-team-at-this-point. Perhaps surprisingly, they haven’t gone head-to-head all too much before — just twice in 2021 and once in 2020, and none in the two recent NLDSes between these two clubs — the Braves won two of the three, with Fried handily outpitching Nola in the two wins, and battling him to more of a standstill in the third, a 3-2 walkoff loss on Opening Day 2021.

Last offseason, Aaron Nola re-upped with the Phillies on a pretty hefty, $172 million, seven year deal. Fried would probably enjoy snagging a contract like that for himself in his upcoming free agency, but first, he needs to prove he’s fully healthy and can stand up to the grind of a full season. There’s little question about Fried’s quality of pitching — even in his injury-hampered 2023, his pitching was pretty much the same (if not better than) his 5 fWAR season in 2022: a 69 FIP- in 2022 and a 73 FIP- in 2023; a 78 xFIP- in 2022 and a 71 xFIP- in 2023. Even more impressively, Fried was able to do this despite missing a bunch of time with an elbow issue — something that often leads to lowered effectiveness for pitchers in addition to the missed time. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his career, Fried’s projections for 2024 are in the top 15 among all pitchers.

Nola, meanwhile, is coming off a 2023 season in which a combination of an elevated HR/FB rate and his lowest strikeout rate in a full season knocked his performance down somewhat, leading to “just” a 3.9 fWAR season. There doesn’t appear to be a smoking gun in either his pitch mix, shape, or command, so it’s probably just the normal year-to-year variation that occurs, but it’ll be interesting to see whether he can recapture his dominant form from 2022, or whether those days are now gone. Still, Nola has something akin to the third-best projection among starting pitchers going into the season (behind Strider and Wheeler), so today may not be a walk in the park for the Braves.

Game Info

Game Date/Time: Saturday, March 30, 4:05 p.m. ET

Location: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA

TV: Still in Bankruptcy Sports South, FS1


Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan

XM Radio: Ch. 179

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Title: Max Fried, Aaron Nola set to tangle once more on Saturday
Author: Ivan the Great

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