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Detroit Tigers 40-man roster preview: Michael Fulmer, bullpen ace

Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer walks to live batting practice during Detroit Tigers spring training on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at TigerTown in Lakeland, Florida.Tigers3
Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer walks to live batting practice during Detroit Tigers spring training on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at TigerTown in Lakeland, Florida.Tigers3 /
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Michael Fulmer has made a smooth transition from AL Rookie of the Year winning starting pitcher to bullpen ace for the Detroit Tigers

It’s incredibly rare for a relief arm to have four reliable pitches, especially those who are not in some sort of piggyback/long man/bulk-type role, but it’s exactly what the Detroit Tigers are planning to have in the back end of their bullpen with Michael Fulmer.

No, Fulmer isn’t the ‘closer,’ but those titles are meaningless to AJ Hinch and his staff anyway, and Fulmer will undoubtedly tag-team with the closer of record Gregory Soto to help his team escape jams throughout games. Michael Fulmer is no longer just a guy who does plumbing in the offseason or a player recovering from Tommy John surgery–he is an integral part of the success of the team.

Michael Fulmer contract status

Fulmer enters his age-29 season under contract for $5 million, according to Spotrac. After the season, Fulmer will be a free agent and, assuming he continues on his current path, will be due for a sizeable raise on a multiyear contract.

Detroit Tigers brass is taking the correct approach here on letting things play out. The relief pitcher category is one of the more risky bets in terms of performance and Fulmer has had a history of arm and knee issues, all of which could drastically alter his market next winter. For Fulmer, it’s a bet on himself and a reward that will ultimately land him a deal upwards of $10 million per year on the open market.

Michael Fulmer’s game

As we alluded to earlier, Fulmer is an anomaly in that he has the conventional four-pitch starter mix out of the bullpen. In terms of mentality, though, he has that bulldog tenacity that teams look for when constructing the back-end of their relief corps.

For Fulmer, his sinker/slider combination is his bread-and-butter; both of which generate swings-and-misses north of 30 percent of the time. Since his move to the bullpen, his slider has gained significant velocity–averaging 91.9 mph last season and getting as high as 94 mph.

Outside of those, his changeup is his primary offering against left-handed hitters and his curveball was only getting worked in toward the end of the 2021 season.

2022 ZiPS projections

 My Take

Fulmer’s stuff is devastating and assuming health, which FanGraphs is, Fulmer should have another strong campaign similar to his 2021 1.6 fWAR showings. That said, and as I alluded to, relievers are incredibly volatile, and given the somewhat pedestrian movement profiles he has across the board on his offerings, it is understandable why one might predict some regression.

I’m a believer of Fulmer out of the pen and believe his broad arsenal will help to insulate him from some of that volatility. Look for Fulmer to have a repeat season in 2022.

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