Tigers rookie Michael Fulmer needs to dominate in final two starts to earn AL ROY

NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.

It’s hard to imagine where the Detroit Tigers would be without the impressive rookie campaign from 23-year-old Michael Fulmer. Posting a 10-7 record, a 3.03 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, Fulmer is unquestionably one of the better rookies in all of Major League Baseball in 2016.

And for about for about 3-4 months, Fulmer seemed like a shoo-in for the American League ‘Rookie of the Year’ award. Now, it’s not so guaranteed for him anymore. He may very well could be the front runner, and should be in the eyes of many, but he could have the award taken from him right under his nose. And the culprit that would be committing the act? New York Yankees rookie catcher Gary Sánchez.

Sánchez was one of the many young ‘Baby Bombers’ that were promoted to the big league club in the Bronx after the Yankees decided to wear their sellers cap and trade off viable assets to contenders in exchange for replenishing the farm system. Little did ANYONE know that the young guns would help rejuvenate the Yankees and propel them right back into the playoff picture with just a little more than a week remaining in the regular season. A big part of that has been Sánchez, who in 44 games has clubbed 19 homers…. Let me say that again, 19, 1-9, home runs in 44, 4-4, big league games. No player in major league history has ever reached that total faster than Sánchez.

Michael FulmerIt’s because of that historical feat, the Yankees being relevant in late September after being dead in the water two months ago, and likely some east coast bias and the fact he plays for the richest and most recognizable franchise in American sports, that Sánchez could very well be swiping the ROY away from Fulmer.

Fulmer was absolutely dominant in the first half, recording an ERA barely over 2.00 in 13 starts. And like Sánchez, he’s compiled some historical feats of his own in his rookie campaign. Earlier in the year he had a span of four starts (May 27-Jun 12) where he allowed no earned runs and three hits or fewer. Only two pitchers have accomplished that since the late 19th century when baseball moved the mound to its current 60-feet-6-inches. The other one? Last year’s 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta.

The four consecutive shutouts from the rookie Fulmer made him just the second rookie starting pitcher ever to do that, the first since 1911. That dominant stretch was part of his 33.1 scoreless inning streak that still stands as the longest such stretch this season in baseball, also the longest in Tigers franchise history by a rookie pitcher. He ended just two scoreless innings shy of surpassing Fernando Valenzuela in the record books for longest consecutive scoreless streak by a rookie pitcher (35 IP, 1981).

Fulmer was even in contention for the AL Cy Young Award for a while there, but him coming back down to earth as of late (4.00 ERA in 11 second half starts), coupled with his lower number of innings pitched and total strikeouts, have hurt his chances in the department when compared to some veterans, including his staff mate Justin Verlander. He’s not-surprisingly tailed off some, likely because of him pitching way more than he ever has in his career.

Video shows A.J. Hinch berating umpire after being ejected

But he’s going to have plenty of chances to win the Cy Young in his career. What Fulmer does have a chance to do is earn an ERA title as a rookie.

He currently holds a slim 0.04 lead over Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka, who has logged 199.2 innings in 2016, quietly putting himself in Cy Young conversations as well. Should Fulmer walk away with the ERA crown, he’d be the first rookie pitcher in 40 years to do so, the first since the Tigers very own young phenom, the late Mark Fidrych in 1976 (2.74 ERA). It’s only fitting that Fulmer has to beat out not one, but two Yankees to earn titles in his rookie campaign.

Let’s go back to the ROY Award. Sánchez has played in just 44 games. I know, there’s people screaming at this notion as him being the favorite and wondering, “How can he be the favorite when he’s barely played a third of a full season as a position player?” Believe me, we’re all wondering the same thing. But given the reasons I stated previously — history context, team spark plug, Yankees favoritism — there’s also precedent in major league history for what Sánchez is attempting to do.

In 1959, former San Francisco Giants great and 22-year big leaguer Willie McCovey took home the National League ROY Award while appearing in just 52 games and recording 192 official at-bats. And if one looks at his numbers compared to Sánchez, one can see why Gary is getting all the love for the ROY talk.

192 AT-BATS 168
.354 BA .333
.429 OBP .411
.656 SLG .738
13 HR 19
38 RBI 38

Whether you agree or disagree that a small sample size is not enough for a rookie to even be considered, and the majority of Tigers fans, if not all of them, would agree it should play a factor, the fact that any sort of precedent exists in this day and age and what Sánchez has done for the Yankees of all teams, makes this a topic of debate.

So what does Michael Fulmer need to do to earn that ROY honor? Simple, he needs to just dominate over his final two starts and help push the Tigers into the playoffs and in turn, keep the Yankees away from contention. Fulmer takes the ball on Friday night against the Royals, and then will again next Wednesday in the third game of a four-game home series against the Indians. In those two games, IF Fulmer is to win AL ROY, he’ll have to virtually shut down the K.C. and Cleveland bats entirely. So far, he’s registered a 2.75 ERA in three starts vs. the Royals, but the ERA is approaching 7.00 in three starts vs. the Tribe.

Cementing that ERA title would definitely help his case, without question. But he only does that if he takes care of business and helps Detroit pick up a couple wins in his starts. Sánchez is on a torrid pace and looks like a runaway train. But if Fulmer does what he has done for much of the year, that ROY is as good as his.

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