The Chicago White Sox are looking to compete in the AL Central in 2020. Carson Fulmer may be a bit forgotten but could be a huge piece of the bullpen puzzle
Last season, the Chicago White Sox got borderline Cy Young performance from a former first-round RHP who had been a major disappointment. Lucas Giolito threw 176 innings with a 3.41 ERA and a stunning 5.1 fWAR season as a post-hype prospect.
The Chicago White Sox have another first-round RHP draftee who is entering post-hype status in Carson Fulmer. Once the Ace of NCAA champion Vanderbilt, Fulmer has become forgotten in the obscurity of the White Sox bullpen since being drafted 8th overall in 2015. Spring Training has finally arrived and optimism is abound. Today, we are going to turn Fulmer from a forgotten prospect into a dynamic 2020 breakout reliever.
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Looking at the pitcher Fulmer is now, there is one clear issue and that is his control. Last season, Fulmer had a 15% BB rate which pushed his career BB rate at 14.2%. It isn’t impossible to exist as an MLB reliever with sky-high walk rates but if you look at this list, you have to strike a ton of guys out too. Fulmer doesn’t do that yet as his career K rate is only 18.4% which means his K – BB rate is only 4.2% in the positive.
It’s not all bad for Fulmer though his batted ball profile is quite good. This past season he had a 44% ground ball rate and a 17% infield fly ball rate. He also averaged a tick under 94 on his fastball. Fulmer throws his fastball 44%, cutter 33%, curve 8%, and his change-up 15%. By spin rate, his fastball is above average but his cutter is flat-out elite. His curveball also has an elite spin rate so the raw parts of Fulmer’s arsenal are good, the execution hasn’t been there yet.
We are going to use a hybrid path forward to make Fulmer an impact reliever where he goes part Astros and part Kenley Jansen. To start, we going to simplify Fulmer’s arsenal by ditching his change-up. For the Kenley part, we are going to make Fulmer throw his cutter more than every other pitch. It’s the best pitch of his arsenal and it has a .288 xwOBA. For context, known gloveman Jose Iglesias had an xwOBA of .289. Instead of throwing it 33%, were going to make him throw it 65% of the time.
By horizontal movement, Fulmer gets 4.7 inches of break on his cutter which is top 20 in baseball. Looking at this heat map, he lives on the fringes and out of the zone. Since it is now his primary pitch, Fulmer is going to need to shift its usage, Jansen provides a blueprint of how he could better use it but he should mirror Wade Davis since they throw virtually the same pitch.
Now for the Astros part of the transformation, since Fulmer has a high spin fastball and curveball, he can tunnel the pitches together. With the remaining 35%, he can split FB/CB usage right down the middle. Looking at Fulmer’s current FB/CB mix, he’s living right in the middle of the zone where no pitcher is good enough to exist. If Fulmer could get his fastball to the top third of the zone and break curveballs off that plane, he would be much more effective.
This approach allows Fulmer to mix and match his pitch plan based on the type of hitter or situation he finds himself in. The cutter can generate swings, misses, and generate weak contact while the FB/CB tunnel can create swings and misses.
By simplifying and throwing his best pitches more, we might have found a solution to make Fulmer break out in 2020. The Chicago White Sox are trying to compete and we just built them a new relief ace from a player they already have in-house. It can be easy to forget about prospects when they come up and don’t immediately go Juan Soto on the league. Sometimes they just haven’t figured it out yet. Carson Fulmer is one of those guys and he could be an arsenal change away from being the White Sox best reliever.