A pitcher with the Detroit Tigers has been one of the top rookies in the American League this season, and should be the AL’s Rookie of the Year Award winner.
It has been a full decade since the last Detroit Tigers player won the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
That year, 23-year old right-handed starting pitcher Justin Verlander went 17-9 over 30 starts with a 3.63 ERA to take the voting by a comfortable margin over the Boston Red Sox 25-year old reliever Jonathan Papelbon.
Verlander has gone on to a fantastic career with the Tigers over the last dozen seasons. He won 24 games and the 2011 Cy Young Award as part of 173 career victories. This season, Verlander is again a leading Cy Young favorite.
Now a decade later, the Tigers again have a right-handed starting pitcher up for the award. In my opinion, he deserves to be the winner.
Michael Fulmer turned 23-years old back in spring training, the same age as Verlander when he won the top rookie honors.
Fulmer was the New York Mets pick during the supplemental first round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft at 44th overall out of a Oklahoma high school. He then went to Detroit in a 2015 trade deadline deal for Yoenis Cespedes.
Called up by the Tigers at the end of April, Fulmer won seven of his first eight decisions and was 9-2 by the MLB All-Star break.
Though he only won twice more over the balance of the regular season, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Fulmer tossed eight Quality Starts over 13 outings in the season’s final two and a half months.
In the end, Fulmer’s numbers show an 11-7 record, 3.06 ERA, 1.119 WHIP, 3.76 FIP, and a 135 ERA+ mark. He produced a 132/42 K:BB ratio, allowing 136 hits in 159 innings over 26 starts.
When it came time to vote in the IBWAA 2016 Awards, Fulmer was an easy choice for me as the American League Rookie of the Year.
I named New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez as the runner-up on my ballot, with Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara in 3rd place.
In the recently announced BBWAA finalists for the award, both Fulmer and Sanchez are listed. That group named outfielder Tyler Naquin of the Cleveland Indians over Mazara as their 3rd nominee.
I chose Fulmer for two main reasons. First, he was a part of the Tigers rotation since the end of April.
The youngster had to perform all summer long in a key position for a team that was battling for a postseason berth throughout, and was a main reason they were able to hang close.
He also had to perform on the mound in the American League, where the presence of the Designated Hitter in every lineup lengthens things against even the weakest clubs.
Sanchez was also outstanding, banging 20 homers with 42 RBI and 34 runs scored over what amounts to one-third of a season. He also produced a strong .299/.376/.657 slash line.
While it isn’t Sanchez’ fault that he wasn’t promoted for good until early August, that does remain the fact.
For me, what Fulmer achieved in helping his team remain in the hunt as a rookie starting pitcher was more valuable over a longer period of the season than what Sanchez produced in two months.
In the end, perhaps Sanchez will prove to be the better player. But that isn’t what this award is about. It’s not about speculation, it’s about production on the field as a rookie. Sanchez was really good. Fulmer was more impressive.
Perhaps the whole “New York’ thing pushes Sanchez to the win when the IBWAA and BBWAA awards are announced over the next couple of weeks. That would be a shame. Michael Fulmer deserves to be the AL Rookie of the Year.