We learned Monday that Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer is the 2016 American League rookie of the year. While not a unanimous selection like his National League counterpart, Corey Seager, he still claimed the award in convincing fashion:
Fulmer is the fifth Tiger to win the award, joining teammate Justin Verlander, Lou Whitaker, Mark Fidrych, and Harvey Kuenn. The connection between Verlander, who won his rookie of the year exactly ten years ago and is a contender for his second Cy Young award this year, and Fulmer seems to be a neat and real mentorship relationship. Here’s a snapshot statistical comparison of Verlander and Fulmer in their rookie-of-the-year seasons:
It certainly is exciting to consider the possibility that the Tigers have found in Fulmer another Verlander, even if Fulmer’s numbers– comparatively superior to Verlander’s ROY season across the selected metrics– have some worried about his ability to repeat his rookie-year successes. (This concern boils down to the relatively large gap between Fulmer’s ERA and his FIP. It seems worth noting that Verlander had an even larger gap in 2006.) It doesn’t mean a lot, but the similarities make for a fun comparison.
Fulmer’s accolades serve as a reminder that the next generation of this Tigers team already has arrived, at least in part, and that, with business-side changes afoot, the veteran generation could be gone before we know it.
General manager Al Avila has been far more transparent than his predecessor when it comes to transaction discussions, and he has acknowledged that the team’s new approach– “making this team leaner, younger, more efficient”– could mean shipping out longtime or veteran Tigers like Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Ian Kinsler.
When Detroit kicked off the MLB offseason by “trading” Cameron Maybin to the Angels, I wrote that the move likely signaled the beginning of a new era of belt-tightening in which fans would have to get used to the team not being involved in win-now trades and free-agent acquisitions:
All of this happened on offseason day number one. There will be more activity involving the Tigers this offseason, and, typically, it is wise to wait to render final judgment on a particular decision until it can be viewed within the full constellation of the team’s moves. Under austerity, though, there should be little hope for or expectation of near-term improvement through an infusion of external resources; doing better must mean doing better with what you already have. There isn’t going to be a Justin Upton trade this year (which, while we’re at it, probably will be the last year J.D. Martinez wears a Detroit uniform). What stings about the Maybin trade– besides the obvious departure of talent and the intangibles of a fun guy who seemed to be having a lot of fun himself– is that it is a move that will make the team worse in 2017, and the Tigers haven’t made too many moves like that in a good while.
Avila’s more recent comments serve as a reminder that it isn’t just the excitement of being splashy buyers in the offseason and at the trade deadline Tigers fans will miss, but, potentially, some of the most familiar faces currently wearing the Detroit uniform.
Avila promised that this new phase won’t be “a complete teardown,” but, whether you call it rebuilding, reloading, or something else, the hard parts for fans won’t just be when the team isn’t competitive, but when it features a roster that can’t compete at a high level and that doesn’t include its star veterans. To this point, Verlander, Cabrera, Kinsler, and even Victor Martinez have defied baseball’s harsh aging curve, an indication of their greatness. Even the greatest reach their ends at some point, though, and it will be for Avila to decide whether the inevitable dimming light of these stars darkens the diamond in Detroit or elsewhere.
Finally, for those curious about how all three of Detroit’s rookie-of-the-year pitchers stacked up in their ROY-winnng seasons, here’s the above table with Fidrych’s numbers (as available) added:
Love the Bird. His great numbers that season– which also included twenty-four complete games and an ERA- of 63– serve as a reminder of just how special his debut was, and, when considered in the context of his abridged career, how little predictive value a single season holds.
Getting To Know The Bird – Sports on Earth