DETROIT -- Michael Fulmer turned to Justin Verlander and other Tigers veterans for advice to help him simply survive his rookie season. When it became clear he could do more than that, he didn't need to ask them what it would mean to win American League Rookie of the Year
DETROIT -- Michael Fulmer turned to Justin Verlander and other Tigers veterans for advice to help him simply survive his rookie season. When it became clear he could do more than that, he didn't need to ask them what it would mean to win American League Rookie of the Year honors.
"Talking with Justin and all the veteran guys, I knew what a big deal this is," Fulmer said after winning the award from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. "I'm really happy to win this award."
As he celebrated becoming the first Tiger to win Rookie of the Year since Verlander in 2006, he made it as much about his teammates and coaches as himself, maybe more. It became a group honor for him.
"I guess I owe Justin Verlander dinner now," Fulmer joked on Twitter.
What was expected to be a close race ended up a relative runaway. Fulmer received 26 of 30 first-place votes from members of the BBWAA. Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez, whose stretch-run tear over August and September earned him serious consideration, topped the other four ballots, with Fulmer listed second. Indians center fielder Tyler Naquin placed third.
:: AL Rookie of the Year voting totals ::
Fulmer is the Tigers' fifth Rookie of the Year, joining Verlander, Lou Whitaker in 1978, Mark Fidrych in 1976 and Harvey Kuenn in 1953.
• All-time AL Rookie of Year winners
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.
Fulmer, who nearly became the first rookie to win an ERA title since Fidrych 40 years ago, won out in what became a debate over body of work. Like Sanchez, Fulmer didn't spend the full season in the big leagues. However, he was closer, called up near the end of April. Moreover, he was called up at a time the Tigers desperately needed help, with starter Shane Greene on the disabled list, Mike Pelfrey and Aníbal Sánchez struggling, and Verlander trying to find his form.
"I was surprised to get called up when I did at the end of April," Fulmer said. "Once I threw that first pitch in Minnesota, everything was out the door."
Fulmer not only helped hold together Detroit's rotation over the next five months, he blossomed. In the process, he adapted his game from a hard-throwing power repertoire to utilizing his fastball to set up his other pitches, including a changeup that became a devastating pitch.
"It had some flashes here and there," Fulmer said, "but I never really trusted it until [catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] and [pitching coach Rich] Dubee talked to me about it."
Fulmer delivered a 33-inning scoreless streak from late May into June, and he gave up one run or none in eight consecutive starts. Detroit won seven of those outings, three of them when scoring four runs or fewer. The Tigers won six one-run games with Fulmer on the mound.
Fulmer gave the Tigers a front-line starter to complement Verlander. He also benefited from being around Verlander.
"I remember back in Spring Training, where I was kind of nervous to come up to him," Fulmer recalled. "He was one of my favorite pitchers in the game. He basically brought me back to his rookie year in 2006 and told me everything he wished he had done. He helped me with a shoulder program, a routine between starts, what he wished he would've done as opposed to what he did.
"He was an open book this year. I had a ton of questions and he answered every single one of them."
Verlander, a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award to be announced on Wednesday, took as much joy in Fulmer's win as he might his own.
Fulmer's 4.9 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference, ranked ninth among AL pitchers, same as White Sox ace Chris Sale and just behind AL Cy Young finalist Rick Porcello. Sanchez's WAR, calculated with a different formula for position players by Baseball-Reference, was 3.0.
Because Gary Sanchez wasn't called up until August, Fulmer didn't get to face him, though they met in the Minor Leagues.
"Hopefully I get to face him a lot in the future," Fulmer said. "What he did this year was unbelievable. Just to be nominated with him was a great honor."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.