Michael Fulmer Needs to Figure Things Out, and the Cubs Need to Figure Michael Fulmer Out
“I don’t know what’s going on, but I better figure it out pretty damn quick.”
That was Chicago Cubs reliever Michael Fulmer discussing his performance issues, but it could very well also be David Ross discussing how he wants to manage the back end of his bullpen.
Let’s start with Fulmer.
Last night’s performance against the Dodgers was not entirely an aberration this year, even if it was undoubtedly the worst he’s looked and the worst results. Following the grand slam that sealed the Dodgers’ 6-2 win, Fulmer’s ERA ballooned to 7.56 on the season. The peripherals would tell you he hasn’t been nearly that bad (28.9% K, 7.9% BB, .455 BABIP), but I don’t think you can watch him and say it’s just been a fluke. There were outings, yes, where bloops and dribblers fell in, but he’s also giving up a 12.5% barrel rate, and the command has rarely looked like it was all the way there.
Last night, like I said, was the worst example. Fulmer could not locate any of his pitches, and then, in the biggest spots, he couldn’t throw strikes at all (a 17% CSW is extremely bad). No one plate appearance is an unforgivable act in my book, but walking 2023 Jason Heyward in the 9th inning of a tied game to load the bases is … well, it’s pretty close.
Then, there was another full count against James Outman, who took an absolute meatball out to right field for the game-winning grand slam.
Boy that is just a terrible pitch. Really terrible.
I expect that was among the pitches Fulmer was referencing in his post-game comment about having issues spinning the ball:
Agreed on the conclusion, though. Fulmer needs to figure out his issues quickly, and also Ross is going to need to figure out Fulmer’s best usage quickly.
At just 8.1 innings, is it too early to make a dramatic change, though? Ah, but any change here is NOT a dramatic change!
It’s important remember that Fulmer was never the Cubs’ anointed closer. There was a justifiable presumption that, in situations where everyone was rested and the match-ups didn’t dictate otherwise, that he would get save opportunities. But it’s not as if we’re talking about a long-established closer, to whom assurances have been made and to whom runway need be afforded in the 9th inning. Fulmer was just one among many 9th inning options, and there really WOULDN’T be a dramatic change now to say, hey, we’re gonna give you some 7th and 8th inning spots in less-tight games.
In other words, yes, I think the Cubs and Ross might back off Fulmer in the high-leverage spots for a little while. I don’t know that Fulmer is going to get the full Julian Merryweather treatment of pitching exclusively in blowouts – in large part because, in an eight-man bullpen, you can’t really have TWO guys who pitch only in blowouts – but he definitely ain’t getting the next save situation.
Fulmer remains a very talented reliever, and the season is long. There’s plenty of time for him to get right and contribute in a major way to the Cubs this year. We’ve seen it many times over. But if even he’s aware that he’s not right at the moment, then the Cubs sure as heck better see it, too, and make sure to set him up for near-term success (in spots where he isn’t going to cost the Cubs games).