Game 72, Mariners at Tigers
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Michael Fulmer, 4:10pm
Is this road trip over yet? Remember when fans were convinced the M’s biggest problem was playing at home? Good times.
The M’s, who now find themselves just a half-game up on the 3rd place Astros, face Detroit’s young Michael Fulmer today at Comerica Park. Fulmer, a right-hander whose fastball sits at 96, was the big prize the Tigers got from the Mets in the Yoenis Cespedes deal about a year ago. After slowly moving up in the Mets system since being drafted in the 1st round in 2011, something clicked and he posted great numbers at AA first in the Mets’ system, and then carried that success over to Detroit’s affiliate. While he gave up a few too many HRs early in the year in AAA, he’s been something of a revelation for Detroit, with solid K rates, and some poor contact leading to very few runs scoring against him – this is how he had a long (33 1/3 IP) scoreless IP streak earlier this year.
It’s funny – when he was in the minors, he was one of those prospects (James Paxton was another) that many saw as a future reliever. Good FB, good slider, command is so-so, and his change-up is worse than that. Lots of effort in the delivery, etc. In the Fangraphs’ article on the Tigers’ top prospects, Fulmer’s ceiling in the rotation was given as a #3 starter, with a better chance to be a late-inning reliever. I’m not trying to pick on Fangraphs, or the broad consensus about Fulmer’s strengths and weaknesses at the time or projected 5-10 years into the future, but I struggle to see that picture when I look at what he throws. His four-seamer, as mentioned, averages 96, with very little horizontal movement and lots of vertical rise. That great slider is thrown around 86-87, drops quite a bit compared to the fastball, and has little horizontal cut to it. But the “below average” change-up…now that looks like something. It, too, is thrown quite hard, at 85 or so, has 7″ of armside run, and even more vertical “drop” than the slider. It looks like a very solid splitter.
Of all Fulmer’s pitches, it’s that change-up that he’s thrown for strikes the most, it’s the pitch that’s gotten the most swings, and yet it’s the pitch that’s been put into play the *least*. When it is, it’s overwhelmingly on the ground. It’s his third pitch, and he uses it as such: he throws it mostly to left-handers, and he throws it most when he’s *behind in the count*. It’s amazing to me to look at the pitch results after looking at how he uses it. In 3-1 counts to opposite-handed hitters, and you have results like this? This is in no way a “below average” pitch. Luckily for the M’s, he doesn’t throw nearly as many of them. His slider’s a good pitch too, to be fair, and he’s comfortable throwing it to lefties, but man, that change looks intriguing. My broader question is: did Fulmer’s change-up suddenly get a whole lot better? Did he improve his arm action and/or command, and so the lingering worries about it are more outdated than out and out wrong? Or is there something about a change-up that’s harder to evaluate, especially when looking at a fireballing FB/SL guy’s third pitch? 2 strike sliders low and away *look* really good, and they are of course. But do evaluators overrate them vis a vis a solid change that can keep lefties off balance, even if it doesn’t make them look completely silly?
Anyway, Fulmer’s running reverse splits thus far. Well, he’s striking out a ton of righties, and walking too many lefties, but lefties just haven’t hit him very hard at all. Righties are pulling the ball against him at a rate 10 percentage points higher than lefties, and lefties have zero HRs against him. The change is something to watch, is what I’m saying.
1: Martin, CF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Lee, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Marte, SS
8: Clevenger, C
9: Aoki, LF
The M’s starter for Friday won’t be Tai Walker, who’s still struggling with tendinitis in his foot. And it won’t be new Rainier Zach Lee. Instead, it’ll be ex-Padres/Blue Jays soft-tossing lefty change-of-speed guy Wade LeBlanc, whom the M’s just acquired for “cash considerations.”
In addition, Tom Wilhelmsen is back in the M’s bullpen after signing a deal with Seattle. The Rangers dropped him from their 40 man the other day, and the bartender refused an outright assignment to AAA. The overworked bullpen needs help, and I think Wilhelmsen is much, much better than he showed in Texas, but I’d like to hear an actual explanation for what happened down there, whether mechanical or mental. To make room, Jonathan Aro’s headed back to Tacoma. The M’s will need to make another move to get LeBlanc on the active roster.
I’m going to be on a quick family trip for the next few days, so I can’t promise to get anything up. Hopefully a line-up or something, but even that’ll depend on phone reception. Hopefully the M’s will have figured out whatever it is that’s causing them to lose repeatedly by the time I’m back.