Detroit Tigers' Michael Fulmer named AL rookie of the year

Michael Fulmer started the season in Triple-A Toledo. He ends it as the American League rookie of the year.

Fulmer tonight became the Detroit Tigers’ first rookie of the year in a decade, besting New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez and Cleveland Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin, as voted by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

He received 26 of 30 first-place votes.

Fulmer, 23, posted a 3.06 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 26 starts. Only Toronto’s Aaron Sanchez (3.00) and teammate Justin Verlander (3.04) had better ERAs among AL starters.

“It’s still hard to wrap my head around a little bit,” he said last week. “It was a fun season.”

With the win, Fulmer becomes the fifth rookie of the year winner in franchise history, joining Harvey Kuenn in 1953, Mark Fidrych in 1976, Lou Whitaker in 1978 and Verlander in 2006. He was acquired in a trade with the New York Mets for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at the 2015 trade deadline.

In 159 innings this season, Fulmer struck out 132 batters. His year was highlighted by a five-start stretch from May 27 to June 17 in which he compiled a 33 1/3-inning scoreless streak, second-longest by a rookie starter in the past 45 years. He also threw a four-hit shutout of the Texas Rangers on Aug. 14.

After starting the season with the Mud Hens, the right-hander was called up to the big leagues in early May, after Shane Greene hit the disabled list. He quickly became a dominant force at the front of the Tigers’ rotation, equipped with a mid-90-m.p.h. fastball and wipeout slider. But it was the changeup that took his game to the next level.

Prior to his May 21 start against the Tampa Bay Rays at Comerica Park, he was throwing changeups in a bullpen session when something “clicked,” he said. (The development of that off-speed pitch had been the main reason the team assigned him to the minor leagues.) Against the Rays, he allowed one run on four hits in seven innings, striking out 11 with one walk.

And he never looked back.

Fulmer was lauded for his mound presence -- wise beyond his years -- and off-field work ethic. His big build allowed him to pitch past the innings limit that the team had set for him coming into the season. He seems to be on track for a 200-inning season in 2017.

Asked last week about his off-season focus, Fulmer said, “I think refining the changeup a little bit more. Learn to locate it a little bit better, especially down. I was kind of learning it real quick. But I think, ultimately, fastball and slider command, as well as the changeup command. It’s all gotta be a little bit better.

“I feel like there’s a lot of things I could have done better this year and also a lot of things I could have done worse, so I like to take the positives out of it and work on the negatives in the off-season and, hopefully, come to spring training stronger and better.”

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager was unanimous choice for National League rookie of the year. He hit a team-high .308 with 26 home runs.

Contact Anthony Fenech: afenech@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.

Detroit Free Press


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