On Sunday, June 3, the Blue Jays complete their three-game set against the Detroit Tigers. The matchup features a battle of the 2016 ERA race—Michael Fulmer against Aaron Sanchez.
In 2016 Aaron Sanchez won the ERA crown with an ERA of 3.00. However, just behind Sanchez, Michael Fulmer finished the season with a 3.06 ERA. There was some controversy as the Tigers did not play the final game of their season. Some questioned if Fulmer would have passed Sanchez if he had been able to start the 162nd game. However, it’s all academic now—Sanchez will forever be the 2016 ERA champ. As well, the rookie of the year award was a good consolation prize for Fulmer.
Neither Fulmer nor Sanchez has come close to their 2016 numbers. The Tigers starter has struggled to a 2-4 record, 4.60 ERA, 1.368 WHIP, and 97 ERA+. Also, the right-hander has been worth a somewhat disappointing 0.5 fWAR this season.
The former rookie of the year loves working off of the fastball, mixing between a straight four-seam fastball and a sinker. Also, the righty offers a slider and a change-up.
Fulmer has offered up sinkers 33.9% of the time this season. Averaging a quick 95.92 mph, the sinker has some good arm-side sink and run. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the sinker has not produced as many ground balls as it has in the past. Through 11 starts, the sinking fastball has produced worm-burners on just 44.16% of balls in play. As well, the pitch has allowed a poor .320 AVG against.
The right-hander breaks off a hard 85 mph slider 27.4% of the time this season. Despite the quick speed, the slider has some great downward breaking action. The slider has produced the second most swing-and-miss in Fulmer’s repertoire, a decent 33.1% of swings. However, the slider has clearly not been spotted well as the pitch has allowed three home runs against and a below average .188 ISO against.
The young righty has straightened up batters with a four-seam fastball 23% of the time this season. Just a bit faster than the sinker, the four-seamer clocks in at an average velocity of 96.21 mph. Impressively, the four-seamer has produced a great .094 BAA.
Fulmer has changed speeds on batters 15.6% of the time this season. The off-speed pitch averages a quick 87.4 mph with regular change-up sink and a touch of arm side fade. The change has been hit incredibly hard, producing three home runs, a .611 SLG, and .306 ISO against.
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Also similar to Sanchez, the right-hander tries to create outs on the ground. This season, along with his struggles, Fulmer has struggled to produce as many ground balls. In 2016 and 2017 the righty produced groundballs 49% of the time. However, this season his groundball rate has dropped to 45.4%.
Also concerning to the Tigers, the young pitcher has allowed a fair amount more hard contact than in previous years. From 2016 to 2017 Fulmer’s soft contact rate dropped, but his hard contact rate stayed around 30%. This season Fulmer’s soft contact rate is down considerably, while his hard contact rate has jumped to a concerning 38%.
While striking out batters at a decent rate of 20.1%, Fulmer has walked a fair amount of hitters as well. The righty holds a below average BB% of 9.3% and a 3.56 BB/9. Both of these numbers are also considerable jumps from previous years.
As a team, the Blue Jays have struggled against the Oklahoma native. Through just 46 career at-bats, Blue Jays hitters have struggled to a .152/.235/.152 slash line. All of Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, Kevin Pillar, Justin Smoak, and Devon Travis have taken the collar against Fulmer in limited experience. Just Kendrys Morales has hit Fulmer well, achieving a .385/.500/.385 slash in 13 at-bats.
The Blue Jays did not do themselves any favours losing the first game against a very beatable pitcher. In order to salvage a win in this series, the Blue Jays will likely need a strong start from Aaron Sanchez.