Detroit Tigers: A last chance for Michael Fulmer in 2021

Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, 2021 is an important year for Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer.

Ignoring his 2020 numbers for a moment, last season could be considered a success for Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer. But can the 27-year-old righty turn his small 2020 success into a full rebound season in 2021?

Per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, the Detroit Tigers were able to avoid arbitration with Fulmer on Monday afternoon as the two sides agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.1 million for the 2021 season.

Despite going 0-2 with an 8.78 ERA, a 2.06 WHIP, and allowing eight home runs across 27.2 innings, Fulmer didn’t miss a start last season, his first season back on the mound after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

After missing all of 2019, Fulmer was able to make Detroit’s Opening Day roster due to the delayed start to the season. He would go on to make all 10 of his starts without any setbacks, a small yet notable success for a pitcher just recently making his way back to the mound after TJS.

While there were small reasons to celebrate, there’s no denying Fulmer’s 2020 numbers were dreadful. A career-low 14.7% strikeout rate combined with a career-worst 8.8% walk rate weren’t pretty, as hitters feasted on Fulmer’s offerings, specifically his most oft-used pitch, his sinker.

Averaging just 93 mph, more than two ticks below his 2018 95.7 mph velocity, opponents hit .451 with a .647 slugging percentage against Fulmer’s sinker, while whiffing just 6% of the time. If there was one bright spot, it was Fulmer’s slider, which recorded a 36.7% whiff rate.

Fulmer now gets a full offseason to prepare before joining an interesting rotation in Detroit. With a plethora of young arms consisting of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Alex Lange, and Beau Burrows coming up through the system, this could be the final opportunity Michael Fulmer has to hold his place on the roster.

A Rookie of the Year winner in 2016 and All-Star in 2017, Fulmer will be another year removed from TJ surgery, a time when most pitchers begin to regain their form and rebound. As previously mentioned, his slider showed real promise, and he even starting flipping in a curveball sparingly, not allowing a hit against the pitch in a very small sample.

If some of his velocity can return and Fulmer follows the trend of pitchers looking more like their old selves in year two after TJ surgery, the Detroit Tigers could have themselves a valuable rotation piece in 2021. Otherwise, next season could be his last in a Tigers uniform.