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Michael Fulmer could be 1st rookie to win ERA title since Mark Fidrych

The Tigers’ rookie star needs 6 1⁄3 innings to qualify.

Boston Red Sox v Detroit Tigers Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Detroit Tigers’ rookie sensation Michael Fulmer currently leads the American League in Earned Run Average (ERA), with just one more start to make in the 2016 season. After pitching seven innings of one run ball on Friday, Fulmer’s 2.95 ERA leads all starting pitchers in the AL, making him the only starter with an ERA below 3.00.

Fulmer, who should run away with the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award, needs just 6 13 innings to qualify for the ERA title — barring a Game 163 tiebreaker. The minimum number of innings to qualify is one inning for each game that the player’s team has played that season. The Tigers are scheduled to play 162 games, but a tiebreaker game would count as part of the regular season.

No rookie pitcher has led either league in ERA since 1976, when Detroit’s Mark “the Bird” Fidrych dazzled the baseball world with a 2.34 ERA and also won Rookie of the Year honors that season. In many seasons, there isn’t even a rookie who throws enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Such was the case in the AL last season, and Fulmer would be the only rookie to log the required workload in 2016.

Fulmer currently leads a trio of starting pitchers that include Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees, former Tiger Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox, and the Cleveland Indians’ Corey Kluber. Those three hold marks of 3.07, 3.08, and 3.11, respectively. Should Fulmer log the required number of innings while allowing three runs or fewer, one of the other three would probably have to throw scoreless ball in order to beat out Fulmer.

Tanaka has had his final start pushed back due to an arm strain, but is expected to make one more start next week. Porcello takes the mound on Saturday, and could make a second start before the season ends. Kluber is slated to face the Tigers on Monday.

Fulmer is tentatively slated to make his final start of the season on Wednesday or Thursday, Sept. 28 or 29 against the Indians. He would then be able to pitch in a postseason game the following week on normal rest. Seven innings of one run ball in his next start would leave his ERA at 2.88 and likely wrap up the title. Two runs allowed would leave him at 2.94. Three would put him at 3.00.

The last Tigers’ pitcher to lead the American league in ERA was Anibal Sancuez in 2013, with a 2.57 mark. David Price won the title in 2015, pitching four months in Detroit but finishing the season in Toronto with the Blue Jays.

Should the Tigers finish the regular season in a tie for the final Wild Card spot, they would then have to play at least one extra game, which would count as part of the regular season and increase the number of innings required to qualify for the ERA title. That would mean that Fulmer needs to go at least 7 13 innings in his final start, or make an appearance in the tiebreaker to qualify for the title.