Pittsburgh Pirates: Carson Fulmer and His Potential in the Bullpen


Carson Fulmer, who the Pittsburgh Pirates claimed off waivers on Monday, has the potential and plus stuff needed to be a key member of the Pirate bullpen

On Monday, the Pittsburgh Pirates claimed right-handed pitcher Carson Fulmer off waivers from the Detroit Tigers. Fulmer was the 8th overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox. Unfortunately, things did not work out for Fulmer in Chicago.

After being designated for assignment by the White Sox this past off-season, he moved on to the Tigers. With the Tigers, the former first-round pick posted a 6.75 ERA in just 6.2 innings of work. However, he did strikeout 21.9% of the batters he faced.

In his MLB career, Fulmer owns a 6.57 ERA, 6.33 FIP, 13.9% walk rate, 18.6% strikeout rate, and a 1.78 HR/9 in 101.1 innings of work. Obviously, these are far from strong results. That said, the Pittsburgh Pirates could have a potential quality reliever in Fulmer.

A lack of stuff is not why Fulmer has struggled during his MLB time. Last season, his fastball spin rate was in the 91st percentile in baseball while his curveball spin rate was in the 87th percentile. The high spin rate of these pitches continued in his small sample size of work thus far in 2020.

In 2019, his curveball was a terrific pitch for Fulmer. Opposing batters hit just .143 against the pitch, and none of the hits went for extra bases. It also generated a 38.1% whiff rate. However, he only threw the pitch 8.1% of the time. This season, the usage has increased to 15%.

Fulmer threw his fastball 43.7% of the time in 2019. This was despite opposing batters slugging .583 off the pitch. With the pitch’s velocity and spin rate, though, there is no reason it can not be a quality pitch for Fulmer.

Another quality pitch Fulmer possesses is his change up. Throwing it 15.6% of the time last season, the pitch generated a 26.0% whiff rate and limited opposing batters to a .167 slugging percentage. This season, the pitch usage has increased to 26.8% and the whiff rate has jumped to 43.8%.

Now in Pittsburgh, it will be key for Fulmer to refine his control. His high career walk rate aside, he has also struggled with first pitch strikes. In his career his first pitch strike rate is just 54.9%, you would like to see that number be at least 60%.

Also, only 46.9% of the pitches Fulmer has thrown in his career have been for strikes. Again, this is an area where Fulmer needs to improve. The task of Pirate pitching coach Oscar Marin and Fulmer will be to improve this.

Fulmer could also improve from increasing his curveball and change up usage, some thing he has already done this season, while cutting down on the fastball usage. Especially if he continues to struggle to throw the fastball for first pitch strikes.

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There is plenty of potential in the right arm of Fulmer for Marin to work with. Now it will be up to him and Fulmer to tap into that potential. If they are capable of doing that, then the Pittsburgh Pirates could have added a plus reliever to their bullpen in Fulmer.