Fried learned signature curve from ... an outfielder?

Cy Young runner-up cites former MLB player Reggie Smith as key mentor

November 17th, 2022

Opponents didn’t have much success against Max Fried’s curveball this past season. According to Baseball Savant, opponents went 21-for-121 (.174) with 50 strikeouts, the most strikeouts off any pitch thrown by the Braves’ left-hander.
While appearing on Wednesday night’s Cy Young presentation show on MLB Network, Fried credited former Major Leaguer Reggie Smith with helping him develop that curve. Smith never pitched in the big leagues; he was a productive outfielder with the Red Sox, Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants during the 1960s, ‘70s and early '80s. But starting at age 7, Fried attended the Reggie Smith Baseball Academy in Encino, Calif., and learned a lot from Smith.
“[Smith] is an outfielder, but he [is] someone who [is] a big mentor to me,” Fried told MLB Network. “He is someone who shaped my pitching and baseball playing. He was showing me different grips [on the curveball]. He is probably one of the smartest baseball people I have ever been around. 
“He was an All-Star outfielder, but he has a wide range of knowledge of baseball -- pitching, understanding pitchers and how pitchers attack hitters. To be able to have that perspective growing up, trying to soak up all that knowledge, it really helped me out.”

When reached by phone, Smith confirmed that he taught Fried the curveball, but he taught it in a way in which Fried wouldn’t hurt his arm. Smith remembered Fried as the type of kid who wanted to do well all the time.

“If he didn’t do well, he was embarrassed by it,” Smith said. “It’s not like he would have a tantrum, but you could see [the disappointment] in his face.”

The way Smith sees it, if a pitcher throws the curveball properly, there is less stress on the arm than from throwing a fastball.

“I wanted him to maintain his arm in a natural throwing motion. That’s what we worked on,” Smith said. “Max was able to learn more than one type of curveball. But more important than that, other than teaching him the curveball, it was [teaching him] when to use it.”

Fried had a season to remember in 2022, going 14-7 with a 2.48 ERA en route to finishing second in the National League Cy Young Award voting behind Marlins right-hander Sandy Alcantara. Fried also finished second on the Braves behind Austin Riley in Wins Above Replacement (5.9, per Baseball Reference).

“I’m very proud of Max,” Smith said. “We stayed in contact during the season. If I see something or he has something he wants to bounce off me, [we talk]. He also checks on me to see how I’m doing. That’s how good a heart and passionate that he is. He checks on me to make sure I’m doing OK and vice versa.”