CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – When the Indians offense has had problems this season, it has been when the team struggles collectively to beat a pitcher by going the other way. The offense has generally found success against traditional hard-throwers, capitalizing on opportunities to drive the fastball.
Not all fastballs are Michael Fulmer’s fastball.
As a matter of fact, no one in baseball has close to Fulmer’s fastball, aside from surefire Cy Young front-runner Chris Sale. The Tigers right-hander carries the game’s 2nd best fastball value according to Fangraphs at 15.5.
Believe it or not, the fastball is, well, fast. At an average velocity of 95.8 mph, it ranks as the third-fastest heater in the game.
Coming into the game, the Indians’ team value against the fastball ranked seventh in all of baseball. The statistic is not predictive, and while it certainly was not predictive of the Indians’ night, it was for Fulmer.
Fulmer hammered Indians hitters with smoke for the entirety of his 6+ innings of work, and the recently-hot Tribe lineup responded with a large dose of hot air until the 7th inning.
Normally fastballs are associated with strikeouts, but the Detroit fireballer only notched one. Instead, Indians hitters hammered the ball into the ground for the most part on pitches high in the zone. Fulmer notched 10 strikes on 59 fastballs, but the Indians put 18 of them in play.
Notice the number of fuchsia dots among Fulmer’s results, almost all up in the zone.
Even with all of the success that he had on balls up in the zone, the All-Star said his goal was ultimately to keep the ball low.
“I don’t try to live up there,” Fulmer said. “I’m a lot more effective if I command the ball down in the zone and go up there when I want to. I didn’t mean to leave those balls up.”
With Fulmer near the end of his rope, the Indians chose to finally do some damage with a rally in the 7th, knocking the starter out of the game on four consecutive hits. Surprisingly, all four were fastballs, but it wasn’t the high hard-ones that did the damage. Like Edwin Encarnacion’s RBI double in 4th inning, Jose Ramirez’s two-run home run came on a low two-seamer.
Again, while the pitches up in the zone hurt Fulmer, it was one low in the zone that hurt him the most. Again, Fulmer was proud of the pitch he made.
“I thought I made my best pitch possible there: full count, front door sinker, down and in,” he said. “It could have been a little higher, but like I said, there’s a reason he’s starting. He’s a very good hitter and very deserving of an All-Star start.”
As any good pitcher does, Fulmer was also able to keep hitters, especially of the left-handed variety, off-balance on the changeup as acting Manager Brad Mills pointed out post-game.
Fulmer also noted a necessity to go to the soft stuff, saying his approach got away from him late.
“To lefties, up and in was working tonight and I think I fell in love with it in the seventh, especially with that sinker,” he said. “I tried to back door (Brandon) Guyer in and Encarnacion and front door Ramirez, but they were all over it.”