Can Michael Fulmer Build on his Excellent Rookie Year

Right-handed pitcher Michael Fulmer joined the Detroit Tigers in 2015 as part of the trade that moved Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets. At the age of 23, Fulmer made his major-league debut for the Tigers on April 29, 2016, finishing the season with an 11-7 win-loss record, 3.06 ERA (135 ERA+), 1.119 WHIP, and AL Rookie of the Year honors.

What he throws. Fulmer throws a four-seam fastball (“FF”) and a two-seam fastball (“FT”) (also called a sinker). The two fastballs have good separation in terms of speed and movement: His four-seam fastballs average 95.4 mph, maxing out as high as 98.4 mph, while his sinker averages 95 mph but has much more horizontal movement (7.6 inches on average, compared to 1.9 inches for the four-seam) and less vertical “rise” (7.4 inches for the sinker vs. 9.8 for the four-seam). He also throws a changeup (“CH”) and a slider (“SL”), but unlike many starters, no curve:

Michael FulmerPitch usage and trends. Fulmer’s most commonly used pitches are his four-seam fastball (38.3% of pitches) and his slider (25.6%), but both his sinker (18.8%) and changeup (17.3%) see frequent use as well. He doesn’t change his repertoire drastically in different counts or to right- vs. left-handed batters; to left-handed batters and when ahead in the count, he throws somewhat more sliders and fewer changeups. The righty also tends to throw more sinkers (“FT”) when behind in the count:

Michael FulmerFulmer’s first four games in the majors were mediocre at best (6.52 ERA, 1.966 WHIP in 19 ⅓ innings pitched). In those games, Fulmer used his changeup much less, and his slider more than during the rest of the season. His velocity was also somewhat lower in those games (his four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph, vs. 95.4 mph over the rest of the season). Once his velocity ticked up and he began using his changeup more, he pitched effectively in the remaining 22 games:

Michael FulmerPitch value. Fulmer’s most effective pitch is his changeup, which is well above average in terms of total bases per 100 pitches. He also locates it well, with a lower than average frequency of balls per 100 pitches. His slider is also effective by TB/100, but is more likely than average to be a ball, especially against lefties. His four-seam fastball and sinker are both about average overall, though they also show some platoon splits, being more effective against left-handed than right-handed batters. Overall, Fulmer’s platoon splits were not extreme; left-handed batters had a .621 OPS against him, while RHB had a .684 OPS:

Michael FulmerPitch location. Fulmer’s four-seam fastball and sinker have good contrast in their location, with his four-seam fastball typically being up and in to left-handed batters, up and out to righties, while his sinker is lower and outside to lefties/inside to righties. His slider to left-handed batters is often outside the strike zone, down and in, while to RHB the pitch is more likely to be within the strike zone, near the outside edge:

Michael Fulmer


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Featured image courtesy of Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports.

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