Michael Fulmer slowed down and had his best outing of the year.
There was a lot going on during the Detroit Tigers 12-1 ambush of the Brewers last night, so we understand if you forgot about Michael Fulmer.
Victor Reyes set a new career high for RBIs. JaCoby Jones saw his season end prematurely for the second year in a row. Grayson Greiner hit a homer off a shortstop. Daniel Norris looked great for three innings, and he pitched well in two of them…a lot of things happened.
Losing Jones is significant, but what Michael Fulmer showed yesterday may prove to be just as important for the Tigers in the future.
Michael Fulmer’s Night
Michael Fulmer has obviously been struggling this year. His ERA is 7.27, his average fastball is down 2.5 mph from 2018, and his 57.7% strike rate is well below his career average of 64.5%.
To be clear, what we saw last night was far from vintage Fulmer. His control wavered, his stuff was diminished, and he likely benefited from a friendly umpire and a poor Brewers lineup.
Yet he managed to pull things together and strike out six batters over three scoreless innings. He ran seven 3-ball counts, and fell behind 8 of the 13 hitters he faced. Two batters worked a walk, but Fulmer came back to record 5 strikeouts and a groundout against the others.
That’s no way to live as an MLB pitcher, but it suggests Fulmer’s competitiveness and ability to focus are still intact. That’s important, because his plus stuff isn’t likely to return.
Michael Fulmer has changed his mechanics. They may look similar, but our friend Brandon Day from Bless You Boys astutely pointed out the difference:
And that makes a ton of sense. Michael Fulmer had surgery on his right knee in 2013, and then again in 2018. His attempt to take pressure off his back knee in 2019 likely led to his subsequent Tommy John surgery. Fulmer probably could go back to pitching the way he used to, but he’d be putting himself at risk for more knee trouble.
All pitchers have to learn to pitch with diminished stuff eventually. It’s a difficult process, and for every Frank Tanana or Bartolo Colon who figure it out, there are 50 Jeremy Bondermans who don’t.
Michael Fulmer Eases Off the Gas
It’s perhaps telling, then, that Fulmer saw his best results with his slowest fastball of the year.
Michael Fulmer Fastballs (4-seam, 2-seam, sinker)
There’s a definite downward trend in xwOBA there. It might not be due to lowered velocity so much as the accompanying improved command. That sounds odd, given Fulmer’s continued control issues, but when he threw strikes last night they were in good spots. Just 13.8% of his pitches ended up over the heart of the zone, his lowest percentage this season.
It was just one outing. Michael Fulmer still hasn’t thrown more than three innings in any game this season, and his secondary pitches have been inconsistent. But regaining fastball command would go a long way toward making Fulmer a viable big-league pitcher again. And in a year when the Tigers are surprise contenders, that could be enough to land a playoff berth.