Detroit Tigers: Michael Fulmer will benefit from 82-game season

As of May 5th, Michael Fulmer was reported that he was not ready to face live batters. With the proposed MLB season by the owners having spring training start in June and the season starting in July, Fulmer could have the ability to get back into the rotation.

As Chris McCosky reported last week in the Detroit News,  Michael Fulmer is ready to start throwing again but with no one to throw to live due to the pandemic, this makes matters difficult. As McCosky highlights the interview Tigers broadcaster Dan Dickerson had with Fulmer:

“I’m 100-percent pain-free and happy with the way everything is going.”

The Recovery Process For Michael Fulmer

As our own Jon Welter discussed a while back in our 40-man preview,  his fWAR was among pitchers with at least 200 innings pitched from Fulmer’s debut through the end of the 2017 season, Fulmer’s 6.7 fWAR ranked as the 14th highest. His value to the rotation is pretty clear.

Every pitcher who has Tommy John surgery, the process of recovery is different per case. According to a study that was conducted in 2017 by the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, four-seam fastballs and sliders showed decreased horizontal breaking movement after surgery, and curveballs show more increased downward movement after surgery. To put it into simple English, pitch selection may not change but the movement is different.

Fulmer’s spin rate in 2018 per Baseball Savant, was 2521. As Brandon Day of Bless You Boys pointed out a few years back very well, the Tigers’ pitching coaches working on implementing the slider more paid off as that it was the highest whiff percentage in 2017 (31.9%) and it increased in 2018 to 35%.  What does all this mean in terms of post-surgery? His slider horizontal movement or inches of break was 8.0. That was 3.8 versus the league average, making him one of the better pitchers in that category before his surgery. If his slider’s movement is expected to decrease, then what he could he throw instead?

One of the pitches that Fulmer threw in a very limited time window was a curveball. While he threw only 12, he threw it around 2500 RPM, which is considered very good. If this “spring training” starts in June which by then would be 15 months after his surgery, could we see the Tigers ask him to throw the curveball instead of the slider with the combo of his sinker and the four-seam fastball?

The most innings Fulmer has even thrown is 164 in 2017. In an article from Global Sports Matters, it showed the first year after Tommy John surgery, there is a decrease in innings pitched. With speculation of doubleheaders and a starting staff of Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris, Spencer Turnbull, Ivan Nova, and Fulmer, you have at least have a staff that keeps you in games. (put Jordan Zimmermann in long relief to answer the question of “what about Zimmermann?” As far as how many innings he should pitch post-surgery.  If there are 82 games, (pardon my rough math skills) per each starter would be about 16 starts. So if he goes out and says throws six innings per start, you are looking at about 96 innings pitched.

He could throw less, depending on how he feels. Before we start the “let’s trade Michael Fulmer because of trade value” narrative, it’s just common sense to see what he has first. The Tigers have a crop of young pitchers waiting in the wings but until we see them on a major league field, a rotation of Fulmer, Boyd, Turnball, and Norris to start the 2021 season is not a bad way to go.