Former Cy Young Award and MVP winner Justin Verlander is making $28 million this season. All-Star Jordan Zimmermann signed a five-year, $110 million deal this past off-season with the Tigers to join him atop the rotation. Former AL ERA champion Anibal Sanchez is making $16.8 million this season as well.
And yet, the Tigers best starting pitcher right now might well be rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer.
The 23-year-old Fulmer went out and put together another brilliant outing on Sunday against the Yankees, allowing only two hits in six scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 2.52. In picking up the victory (DET 4, NYY 1), he pushed his record to 7-1. He has made only nine starts in this (his rookie) season, and the Tigers have won eight of them.
Even through their worst stretch of the season, he shined. From May 3 through May 14, the Tigers lost 11 of 12. The one game they won? Yep, Fulmer started and beat the first-place Nationals.
Fulmer's getting better as he goes, too. This was Fulmer's fourth consecutive start without allowing a run, running his scoreless innings streak to 28 1/3 innings. And get this: Fulmer has now worked four consecutive starts of at least six innings while allowing fewer than three hits. That's only the second time in MLB history it has been done. The first? 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.
Decent company, no?
Perhaps amazingly, Fulmer had never pitched above Double-A before this season and got only three starts worth of seasoning at Triple-A before he was called to the show. The former Mets first-rounder -- he came over in the Yoenis Cespedes trade last July -- definitely looks like he won't be needing a trip backward.
If Fulmer continues to display good command of his mid-90s heater and quality changeup, he'll prove to be a frontline starter for the Tigers for a while.
It's probably both premature and unfair to call Fulmer the Tigers' ace. Zimmermann had a ridiculous April and Verlander actually has a 1.93 ERA in his past seven starts. Still, Fulmer helps to form a nice top three in the Tigers' rotation as they continue to play good baseball since that aforementioned awful May stretch (they are 17-9 since then are are now 8-3 in June).
If AL Rookie of the Year voting were held right now, the award would rightfully go to Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara, but he's not winning in a landslide. Keep an eye on Fulmer. He has really helped solidify the Tigers rotation as they have turned things around.