DETROIT -- The rookie awards are adding up for Michael Fulmer as the top honor potentially awaits next week. On Wednesday, the Tigers right-hander won the MLB Players Association's Players Choice Award for the American League's Outstanding Rookie.
It's the second time this offseason that Fulmer has beaten out Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez for top rookie as voted on by his fellow AL players. The Sporting News honored Fulmer as its AL Rookie of the Year, as voted on by a panel of players last month. The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association voted Fulmer its Tigers Rookie of the Year earlier Wednesday.
"It's a blessing and truly an honor," Fulmer told MLB Network Wednesday night. "It's unbelievable to get the respect from all the fellow players. To be able to pitch against some of these guys and just being around the atmosphere, it's truly a blessing."
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Fulmer nearly became the first rookie in 30 years to win an ERA title, finishing with a 3.06 ERA along with an 11-7 record and 132 strikeouts over 159 innings. His 4.9 Wins Above Replacement by the Baseball-Reference.com formula ranked eighth among AL pitchers of all experience levels, and led AL rookies of all positions. His 3.0 WAR by the Fangraphs formula placed him just behind Sanchez (3.2). Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin, the other Players Choice Award finalist, wasn't far behind.
Fulmer, acquired from the Mets in last year's Yoenis Céspedes trade, didn't make his Major League debut until April 29, when he was called up to fill in for injured starter Shane Greene. After four starts with mixed results, the 23-year-old right-hander broke through on May 21 with 11 strikeouts over seven innings of one-run ball against Tampa Bay.
From that point on, not only was Fulmer in the big leagues for good, he became Detroit's No. 2 starter behind Justin Verlander. The win over the Rays was the first of eight consecutive starts without allowing multiple runs, including a 33-inning scoreless streak that was the longest by a Major League rookie since the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela in 1981. Fulmer tossed a four-hit shutout of the AL West-champion Rangers on Aug. 14 before family and friends in Texas.
"It was fun, that's for sure," Fulmer told MLB Network. "I had a lot of help, though, from Verlander and Aníbal Sánchez and [Jordan Zimmermann]. Even the young guys, [Daniel Norris] and [Matt Boyd], they helped me along the way. I couldn't have done it without them, honestly. Especially Justin, he's been such a mentor this year and I'm looking forward to hopefully many more years with him."
Tigers officials weren't shy saying Fulmer's summer helped salvage their season, even as they struggled to balance the impact of all those innings on a pitcher who hadn't thrown more than 124 2/3 innings in a season as a pro.
"[Gary] Sanchez has been phenomenal since he got here, but he's only been here a third of the season, maybe less," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said near season's end. "Fulmer's been here almost the entire year. For me, Fulmer's the guy. There just isn't any other way around it.
"And all those guys have had good years. Naquin's had a good year, [Nomar Mazara] had a good year, [Max Kepler] in Minnesota. It's hard to get around what [Fulmer] has done."
As part of the award, the MLB Players Trust will make a $25,000 donation to the charity of Fulmer's choice. Fulmer chose Wings, a community for special needs kids and adults in Fulmer's hometown of Edmonds, Okla.