2019 Bust Alert: Why Michael Fulmer Is A Hands Off “Investment”

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Obviously getting 3 W could skew your opinion of a pitcher, but look no further than Jacob deGrom as proof that it’s a relatively meaningless statistic (not completely, but it’s not entirely in a pitcher’s control).  Beyond the victories Michal Fulmer is coming off a disappointing season and it’s fair to wonder the type of upside he has moving forward.  While he may be looked at positively in general, is that justified given these numbers:

132.1 IP
3 Wins
4.69 ERA
1.31 WHIP
110 Strikeouts (7.48 K/9)
46 Walks (3.13 BB/9)
44.2% Groundball Rate
.288 BABIP

Where are we hanging our hats based off those numbers?  It would be easy to argue that both his control (2.53 career BB/9) and groundballs (47.7% career) are better than he showed last season.  Injuries plagued him throughout the season, though having missed time with an oblique injury and having his season ended prematurely with a torn meniscus doesn’t necessarily explain the struggles.

There wasn’t a dramatic change in his repertoire, throwing his sinker nearly as much as he did in ’17 (37.02% vs. 35.48%), so it’s interesting that his groundball rate had the type of regression that it did.  Even in 2016 and 2017 the marks were solid, yet unspectacular (49.1% and 49.2%), so seeing him have some home run issues isn’t a stretch.

Fulmer has never appeared to be much of a strikeout pitcher despite averaging 96.61 mph on his fourseam fastball in ’18.  He doesn’t have that true wipe-out pitch he can depend on (17.14% Whiff% on his slider was his best mark in ’18), though his SwStr% does indicate a little bit more upside:

  • 2016 – 10.4%
  • 2017 – 9.3%
  • 2018 – 10.5%

Then again, with the consistently mediocre strikeout marks can we really expect a sudden jump? 

The lack of control last season was a surprise, and there were signs of getting back to elite levels (2.15 BB/9 or better in three months).  We already have discussed potential home run issues and the lack of strikeouts, but the biggest concern is the sudden leap in his Hard%.  He consistently struggled, with a 38.8% in the first half and 43.6% in the second, bringing a season mark of 39.5%.  He was better in his first two seasons (30.4% and 30.0%), but has the league caught up to him?

That concern, which should lead to a regression in his .288 BABIP, looms large.  If he can’t limit that hard contact, when coupled with the other numbers, there’s every reason to believe that the struggles will continue.  Whether he’s in Detroit or not, mediocre strikeouts coupled with a 4.00+ ERA and a WHIP that could be north of 1.30 is simply not an investment we’d want to make.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

1 COMMENT

  1. Fulmer couldnt feel his fingers last season. He just regained feeling this offseason.
    Hard to find guys that have upside of 190 IP with 350 ADP
    Improving K%, If he can improve his change up he will be top 50 pitcher this season.
    Now that we know he was pitching without feeling the baseball, i’m betting on him with a 28th round pick that he improves ERA, WHIP, K’s
    I see him having 170-190K 3.60-4.00 Era 1.19-1.24 Whip
    If im dead wrong, and a guy that throws 96, and now can feel the ball is terrible, I drop him like majority of the guys I draft in the last 5 rounds of a draft.

    I think he will be a major trade target at the deadline. And hopefully adds 5 Wins to his low wins total

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