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Tigers’ Michael Fulmer ranks among baseball’s all-time best early in his career

The first season-plus for Fulmer not only ranks among the best active pitchers, but also ranks among the best in history.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It was a rough first half for us Detroit Tigers fans. There aren’t many things to be excited about as we wait to see if one of our favorite players is traded later this month. Fortunately, there is one thing to be really excited about: Michael Fulmer. We have already written several articles about Fulmer this season including earlier this month when he debuted his curveball. I’m sure it feels like we’re beating a dead horse at this point. Michael Fulmer is good. We get it.

However, I don’t think we realize just how good Fulmer has been. In particular, how well he stacks up against the top tier of starting pitchers in the entire league, and how the start to his career stacks up against baseball history.

Fulmer had an historic season last year, one of the best seasons for a rookie starting pitcher in baseball history. He tied for 33rd in ERA+ out of over 360 pitchers, and had the fourth best ERA+ among Tigers rookies all-time.

Despite how good his first year went, we were all wondering how Fulmer would fare in his second season. Would there be a “sophomore slump?”

So far, Fulmer has kept pace with the excellent numbers he posted last year. It helps that the Tigers have loosened his leash a bit, allowing him to throw a few more pitches in each start. By the end of the season, he should finish with a higher innings count than he had last year.

Fulmer continues to rank among the top echelon of current pitchers. Among all major league pitchers who have tossed at least 230 innings since the start of 2016 season (72 in total) Fulmer ranks first in home runs per nine innings, sixth in ERA+, seventh in OPS+ allowed, ninth in FIP, and eighth in WHIP.

Clayton Kershaw has only pitched 6 23 innings more than Fulmer during this span, yet Kershaw has allowed three more home runs. Only Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Kyle Hendricks, Corey Kluber and Madison Bumgarner have a better ERA+ and OPS+ than Fulmer since the start of 2016. Also, only those six pitchers and Stephen Strasburg have a lower WHIP. Jacob deGrom is the last of those eight men to have a lower FIP than Fulmer.

At the midway point this season, he is a potential top-five Cy Young candidate in the American League. Couple that with last year’s AL Rookie of the Year Award, and Fulmer has had about the best start to a career one could hope for from a young starting pitcher.

In fact, Fulmer’s production compares favorably to Justin Verlander’s early years. They both won the AL Rookie of the Year award 10 years apart, and finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting during their respective rookie seasons. Neither made the All-Star team their first year, but both made it in their sophomore season. Verlander finished fifth in the Cy Young voting in 2007, his second full season, while Fulmer is on track to do the same.

However, Fulmer doesn’t just rank among the top active pitchers. The start his career is easily among the best in the entire history of the game. Since 1901, 369 pitchers have tossed a minimum of 270 innings in at least 43 games started in the first two seasons of their career. Among those 369 pitchers, Fulmer ranks 26th in ERA+, 17th in strikeout to walk ratio, and 22nd in WHIP.

Despite trailing guys like Tom Seaver, Bret Saberhagen and Gary Nolan, Fulmer has a better WHIP in his first two seasons than Roy Oswalt, Don Sutton, and Luis Tiant. Fulmer just inches out Saberhagen in strikeout-to-walk ratio as well as Seaver and Felix Hernandez. Fulmer’s ERA+ is only a point lower than Barry Zito and Noah Syndergaard, and just a few points below Jacob deGrom and Gary Nolan. Fulmer has a better ERA+ in his first two years than Tom Seaver, Brett Saberhagen, and even Lefty Grove.

Fulmer continues to defy all expectations as he keeps on improving and adjusting in order to dominate like a true ace starter. He has been the brightest spot on the Tigers roster through a couple of rough seasons. The good news is that he is under team control through the 2022 season. No matter what happens during the upcoming rebuild, we can rest easy knowing that the Tigers will have one of the best starting pitchers in the league, one who will eventually take the reigns as the face of the franchise and usher the Tigers into a new era.