We Shouldn’t Freak Out About Michael Fulmer Just Yet, Even If There’s Work to Do
Over the weekend, Chicago Cubs reliever Michael Fulmer said he needs to figure things out and quick, and my rejoinder was, yes, and also the Cubs need to figure out how to get him in the right spots and/or give him a break. My guess is that we wouldn’t see him in a high leverage spot for a while, and sure enough, he next came into a game the Cubs were trailing – though by only two runs. When he departed, the Cubs were trailing by four runs.
I don’t want to overstate the direness of the situation with Fulmer, who is just 9.1 innings into his Cubs career, and who sported a 3.38 ERA and 2.95 FIP (33.3% K, 6.1% BB) in the early going until Thursday night’s grand slam disaster.
I also don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the Cubs have absolutely had situations like this with previously-successful veteran import relievers, where things look nightmarish for a stretch … and then they work with the guy to set him very right.
Remember Craig Kimbrel in 2020-21? His first four outings kinda looked like a guy who was toast, and then he went on a nearly year-long run of being the best reliever in baseball (until the White Sox ruined him). Remember Ryan Tepera and his calf injury in early 2021 after imploding in Milwaukee? Guy looked DONE, and it felt like a total phantom IL move … and then he came back to give up two earned runs TOTAL over the next two months. Mychal Givens last year? Was nearly unusable in anything close to high leverage for his first couple months with the team, and then got so hot he was a desirable trade candidate by the end of July. I could go on.
None of that is to say that it’s a guarantee that Fulmer will go on a protracted stretch of flawlessness after the Cubs figure the current issues out. It is only to say that it happens for them in circumstances very similar to this.
Of course, it’s the doing that is the hard part, especially if you’re trying to work with a guy while he’s still an active part of your eight-man bullpen. I have to assume that means a continued run of lower-leverage moments for Fulmer (with Brad Boxberger closing?), though the Cubs will have only so many of those, and they also want to give some to Julian Merryweather.
David Ross wouldn’t tip his hand on how Fulmer will be used going forward, but he did try to express confidence.
“I trust Michael Fulmer,” Ross told The Athletic after Sunday’s loss, Fulmer’s second straight ugly outing. “I’ll make that statement, for sure. When you feel like you’re not at your best and you care a lot — and Michael Fulmer cares a whole lot about this team and performing for this organization — you may try a little bit harder. And I don’t know that trying harder in our game is the best formula for success.
“It’s just getting back to making sure he has a plan to execute what he’s good at and continuing to look at the information and see if we can fine-tune some things. That’s the only problem solving that we’re trying to do right now. I don’t think I don’t trust Michael Fulmer at the back end of games.”
We’ll see what the circumstances are for Fulmer’s next appearance, and whether there is incremental improvement in the command the movement.