What Do The Tigers Have In Michael Fulmer?

Michael Fulmer shut out the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon for his first career complete game & has temporarily taken over as the MLB leader in ERA.

Fulmer has been fantastic since increasing the number of times he throws his Change Up after his 4th start of the season when he had been struggling at getting Major League hitters out.

Since that time, an increase in the Change Up from about 6% of his pitches to over 21%, Fulmer has been dominant with 100 IP over 15 starts, 81 strike outs to just 23 walks, an ERA of 1.43 & a much needed boost to the rotation the Tigers were desperate for.

Even his advanced numbers, for the most part, are incredibly favorable, for a 23 year old rookie: a FIP of 3.17, his BB/9, HR/9 & WAR are all impressive. However, some of the numbers seem as if they are bound to fall back to a more “average” range & that will increase his more basic numbers, like his Wins, ERA & WHIP.

So far this year (we’ll use his numbers SINCE he increased his Change Up usage), Fulmer has a BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play)  of .208, the league average is between .290 & .310, with MOST pitchers falling into that range (the lower the number, the more luck is involved in creating it).

By comparison, Justin Verlander has a .265 BABIP this year & .288 for his career, so there is less of a chance for a “regression” from Verlander this year, than there is for Fulmer. This does not mean that Fulmer isn’t going to continue to pitch well, but it is likely that more of the balls hit off him that are turned into outs so far this year will start becoming hits & he’ll face more hitters, give up more runs & pitch fewer innings.

Fulmer also has a LOB% (Runners stranded on base – not based off box scores, rather it is based on walks plus hits) is 88.2%. Anything over 80% is considered “Excellent” but this is another category where the further you are away from “Average” the more likely you are to move back towards the middle, in this case, regress.

To put his LOB% in better context, the only pitchers with at least 30IP on the season & percentages over 88 are hard throwing, high strike out Relief Pitchers & Los Angeles Angles Starter Nick Tropeano. If this starts to regress back towards 80% or lower, this means more hits while runners are on base (which is more likely because of his BABIP) and more runs scored against him.

Fulmer’s advanced numbers all point to a decline in his standard pitching numbers, (W/L, ERA, WHIP) as time goes on. As he approaches his innings limit this year (about 160, he’s at 135 now, including minor leagues) he could start to see a few more balls finding holes & a few more runners crossing the plate.

This would be expected & shouldn’t be seen as a concern for the Tigers or Fulmer’s future, but as a normal progression in a rookies career.

Michael Fulmer has experienced great success for the Tigers as a rookie and should still be seen as a very important part of the Tigers starting rotation going forward, but talk of a Cy Young Award is beyond premature & unless he improves his strike out numbers (7.5 k/9) & proves he is just as effective at preventing runs when his luck is lowered, he will still be a work in progress.

For now, look for Fulmer to remain on pace to be a solid 2nd or 3rd starter in a good starting rotation for his career expectancy, but unless he has another drastic change (like his Change Up Usage %) don’t expect Fulmer to be the ace of a World Series challenging staff, rather an important depth piece to one.

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