Analysis

White Sox: Fulmer in the Middle of the Bullpen, Could be More of an Impact than Fulmer in the Rotation

The Chicago White Sox are only a week into Spring Training, and it is already very evident that the club is in phenomenal shape when it comes to the surplus of starting pitching currently on display in Glendale, Arizona. While we know that not all of the pitchers in the organization will be around for the years when the White Sox begin to look more like the finished product than the under-construction rebuilding ball club that they are now, one of them could help form a potentially formidable White Sox bullpen.

Carson Fulmer has been the subject of speculation since the White Sox drafted him in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Vanderbilt University, fresh off of a College World Series Championship. The thought process around Fulmer since his arrival has largely been based around the questions regarding his potential longevity, his mechanics, his violent delivery, and his power arm, but most importantly, given all of those questions – would Fulmer be better suited to work out of the bullpen moving forward?

I was asked this question the other night, and I’ve been asked this question more than a few times over the last year or so, but much more frequently since the White Sox added guys like Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez to the future rotation mix this winter.

I’ll tell you this, last spring if someone would ask me if the club should use Fulmer as a reliever, my response would be quick and stern “No”, with my staunch disapproval for that theory based on the idea that if the White Sox felt he was a starting pitcher, so much so that they drafted him inside of the top-10, then he should be a starting pitcher when he is ready to make the major-league club.

As far as his delivery was concerned, I’ve never been one to place too much stake into certain guys “different” mechanics. I’ve been a part of the game of baseball in one capacity or another since I was five years old when I began playing, and I’ve learned over that time that sometimes, things just work differently for some players, and tinkering with their way of doing things will only have a negative effect on them. See Lucas Giolito for a perfect, current and relevant example if you don’t believe me, I can go on about this topic for days, but I’ll save it for another day.

Since last spring I have seen Fulmer attain mixed results at the major-league level, some of which could be attributed to an ill-advised promotion to the major-league club, as well as the lack of work once he was promoted too early. I have also seen Fulmer look much, much better as a pitcher when he was using his natural “violent” delivery that helped him become a top-10 draft pick back in 2015.

Fulmer worked to change his mechanics in the spring of 2016 in search of a delivery that the White Sox thought was more repeatable, and would benefit his longevity and his ability to bear the work-load of a starting pitcher. That led to a 4-9 record with a 4.76 ERA over the course of 87 innings pitched at the Double-A level in 2016,

Source: Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America

Source: Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America

before he was called up to the White Sox in July. Fulmer wasn’t any better at the major-league level with his new and “improved” mechanics either, posting a 8.49 ERA in his 11.2 innings of work with the White Sox.

Once Fulmer was brought back down to Triple-A late in the 2016 season, he worked with White Sox minor league pitching coordinator Richard Dotson, and much like Lucas Giolito is doing this spring, Fulmer got back to what worked for him his entire playing career. Fulmer posted a 2-1 record with a 3.94 ERA during his four starts with the Charlotte Knights to close out the 2016 season on a high note, posting a K/9 of 7.9 and a WHIP of 1.18 over the small sample size.

After Fulmer’s first full season with the White Sox organization, two things are becoming pretty clear at this point – Carson Fulmer is very talented when he utilizes the delivery and mechanics that he is comfortable with, but it’s more than likely going to become true that Fulmer would be more effective using those talents out of the bullpen moving forward. Fulmer has always said that he would prefer to remain a starter, but so does every pitcher in his position. Don’t get me wrong, some do, Chris Sale did.

Bullpen usage in Major League Baseball is changing drastically, evident by the showcase put on display by Andrew Miller and the Cleveland Indians all October long this past postseason. Like most things in life, this isn’t some new and novel idea, but rather something of the past coming back into favor or “style”, like acid washed jeans and flowing Farrah Fawcet feathered locks.

There’s a name for what the Andrew Miller‘s of baseball are doing nowadays, they’re called “firemen”, a term coined in the seemingly ancient era, the ninety-seventies. Carson Fulmer, could be the White Sox fireman if the White Sox were to move him to the bullpen in the near future. Fulmer has the stamina to pitch more innings than your traditional one-inning reliever would in a season, with the potential to toss multiple innings in a game, multiple times per week if needed.

Like Andrew Miller (since being acquired by Cleveland), Fulmer wouldn’t have a designated “inning” role in the bullpen, he would enter the game in high-leverage situations, and bridge the game to the presumptive future closer Zack Burdi whenever a lead is in danger.

Imagine the White Sox having a one, or even two run lead in the sixth inning of a ballgame, and the top of the opposing order is due up. Traditionally over the last few decades in baseball, a manager would either leave his starter in the ballgame under the thought process that he still has the lead, so why not? In that line of thinking, the manager is risking over-exposing his starter to a lineup that has already seen what he has on that particular day twice.

The second traditional thought process for the manager in recent times would be, let me bring in a “middle-reliever” to bridge this lead over to my set-up guys. In that line of thinking, the manager is likely bringing in his fourth or fifth best pitcher in his bullpen, in a potentially high-leverage situation. Would you send out your fourth or fifth starting pitcher to pitch game six or seven of the World Series? Then why would you be comfortable running your fourth or fifth best pitcher out there in a one run game with six to nine outs before you get your closer into the ballgame?

Credit: John J Kim, Chicago Tribune

Now imagine Rick Renteria is a manager who uses the new (old) school way of managing his bullpen, and instead of going to a “middle-reliever” in a one run game in the sixth inning, with the opposing order coming up for the third time – he goes to his fireman, Carson Fulmer, who comes out of the bullpen in that high-leverage situation armed with his mid-high nineties fastball, his above-average power curveball, and his developing changeup and cutter. Armed with a four-pitch arsenal, including an electric heater, coupled with his high-energy delivery that can make it hard for hitters to pick-up his pitches early, and couple all of that with Fulmer’s fiery demeanor and desire to win.

In case you’re wondering whether Rick Renteria shares that bullpen management philosophy, he said to the media this week in Glendale, that the Indians way of managing the bullpen is “nothing new to him” and “could definitely work.”

With Carson Fulmer as the White Sox fireman, their primary high-leverage option in the bullpen, we could see a high percentage of games make it to the presumptive closer, flame-thrower, Zack Burdi with the White Sox leading. In this role Fulmer, with his history as a starter and his stamina, could potentially throw anywhere from 75-125 effective, high-leverage innings for the White Sox with ease, while still greatly reducing a potentially over-whellming work-load that he would face as a starting pitcher.

The duo of Fulmer and Burdi anchoring the White Sox bullpen at some point in the near future could set the White Sox up with one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, considering the myriad of talent that they have in the wings to fill the starting rotation with.

 

 

 

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