Baseball seasons begins in April, not August. Voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America honored the sustained contributions of Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer and Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager in electing them as winners of the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards.
Fulmer, who joined the Tigers' rotation on April 29, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award over Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez. As terrific as Sanchez was after arriving in early August, he played in only 53 games.
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Seager unanimously won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He not only was a starter on Opening Day, but he got a running start on the competition by playing well down the stretch and in the postseason for the Dodgers in 2015.
Seager was considered an easy choice. He's also among the three finalists for the NL Most Valuable Player Award, which will be announced on Thursday.
"It's a huge honor, obviously,'' Seager said about winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award. "Nothing can blemish it. Tonight is about the Rookie of the Year. I'm excited to be able to accept it. We're looking forward to Thursday, too. To be able to part of that is really special, too.''
There was some suspense in the AL, with Sanchez entering the picture with an eye-popping August. He finished with a .299 batting average, 20 home runs and 42 RBIs.
But Fulmer turned out to win almost as decisively as Detroit teammate Justin Verlander had done in 2006, when he got 26 of 28 first-place votes. Fulmer received 26 of 30 first-place votes, with the other four going to Sanchez.
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Fulmer was solid over 26 starts for the Tigers, with an 11-7 record and a 3.06 ERA after being promoted in late April. He had made his impression on voters while Sanchez was still torturing pitchers in the International League.
"I kind of noticed the season Gary was having,'' Fulmer said on a conference call Monday night. "It was definitely a historic one. I give him and Tyler [Naquin] congratulations. … I got kind nervous talking to Verlander. He's been texting me, saying me and him can have [Rookie of the Years] 10 years apart. Now I'm rooting for him get the Cy Young.''
Acquired from the Mets for Yoenis Céspedes at midseason in 2015, Fulmer did not stand out in Spring Training. He had a 6.14 ERA in 7 1/3 innings pitched before sent to Triple-A Toledo.
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"The beard stood out,'' Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said earlier in the year. "He kind of had a big beard.''
When an injury to Shane Greene prompted the Tigers to turn to Fulmer, he was ready. Pitching coach Rich Dubee and Ausmus had stressed to Fulmer in the spring that he needed a third pitch to complement his fastball and slider, and he worked to improve his changeup.
Ron Romanick, the Mets' pitching coordinator, had taught the pitch to Fulmer in 2012, but he was in the Major Leagues before he became confident throwing it.
"It had some flashes here or there of being decent, but I never really trusted it until [Tigers catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and James McCann] and Dubee helped me out with it,'' Fulmer said. "They told me to throw it at the bottom of the zone, and to loosen my grip a little bit. All the pieces fell together in one bullpen [session], and I started throwing it more and more. I started throwing it in more pressure situations. I think that was the big thing for me.''
Fulmer threw only four changeups among 98 pitches in a start against Baltimore on May 15, but something clicked in his next bullpen session. He threw 29 changeups against the Rays on May 21, and the changeup became a big pitch for him. Fulmer held opponents to a .167 batting average with it.
"Sometimes a little adjustment can flip a switch and make a pitch Major League ready,'' Ausmus said. "It doesn't happen a lot, but it can happen.''
Sanchez had hoped to follow the precedent set by Willie McCovey. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award after playing only 52 games in 1959, but voters valued Fulmer's contributions much more heavily.
Fulmer received four second-place votes, making him the only AL rookie named on all 30 ballots. Sanchez received 23 second-place votes in addition to his four first-place votes. The Indians' Naquin, who was the other finalist, received two second-place votes and 14 third-place votes.
Astros right-hander Chris Devenski finished fourth in the AL voting, with Mariners closer Edwin Díaz and Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara tied for fifth and White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson finishing in seventh.
Seager becomes the 15th unanimous Rookie of the Year Award winner in the past 30 years, following the Cubs' Kris Bryant in 2015 and the White Sox Jose Abreu in '14, and the 21st overall. He's the 17th Dodger to win the award that is named for the man who broke baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
That connection is never lost on a Dodgers player.
"What he did for the game, what he did to break the color barrier, as a human being, for the community, it was untouchable, unblemished,'' Seager said. "Everything was top-notch, and it's a top-notch organization. Everything he did helped us to be where we are today as baseball players. He's one of those guys who goes down in history as changing the game.''
Nationals center fielder Trea Turner finished as the NL runner-up to Seager. Both he and Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda received 11 second-place votes, but Turner had more third-place votes than Maeda, 9-4.
Eight NL rookies received votes. The others were Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Díaz, Mets left-hander Steven Matz, Rockies right-hander Jon Gray and Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh.
Story was the early front-runner for the NL Rookie of the Year Award, delivering 10 home runs and 20 RBIs before May. His season ended early, after he tore ligaments in his left thumb on July 30, but he still received seven second-place votes, more than everyone except Turner and Maeda.
Seager was pushed hard by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts in his first full season, rarely getting a day off. He generally hit second or third, batting .308 with 26 home runs and 72 RBIs in 157 games.
The Dodgers promoted Seager for the last month of the 2015 season as a 21-year-old and he was instantly an impact player, batting .337 with four home runs and a .986 OPS in 27 games. That earned him a chance to start in front of Jimmy Rollins in the postseason.
Seager's two older brothers are players in the Mariners' system. Kyle hit 30 homers as Seattle's third baseman this season. Justin, a 12th-round pick in 2013, hasn't yet climbed above Double-A.
They grew up in a sports family in Kannapolis, N.C., outside Charlotte. Their father, Jeff, played baseball for Fairleigh-Dickinson University; their mother, Jody, taught physical education for 14 years. The boys, separated by about 6 1/2 years, competed against each other relentlessly.
Corey, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, grew to be the tallest. Kyle says Corey was the best hitter in the family even before he was the tallest.
"I would come home from the Minors, and we'd go through the drills that Dad would set up for us, and he was doing them better than me," Kyle told the LA Daily News. "I'm thinking, 'My high school brother is better than me.' I've been telling people that for years."
Seager said watching Kyle become a big league player was a major advantage for him. He's learned from Justin, too.
"[Kyle's] just kind of been that angel on your shoulder that you can go to,'' Corey said. "Obviously, being brothers, you can talk to them about anything. We help each other. We took ideas from each other. We gave ideas to each other. It's extremely helpful. I grew up watching them play. It helped me mature, helped me to know what's coming.''
Esurance MLB Awards week concludes Friday on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 p.m. ET with the MLB Awards. Categories include Best Major Leaguer, Hitter, Pitcher, Rookie, Executive and Manager.