Sunday afternoon was a busy, busy time for the Cincinnati Reds. Sonny Gray was scratched from his pitching appearance and said that he might miss the first week of the regular season as he tries to deal with his back spasm issue now rather than later. Shortly after that the Reds announced that they had picked up right-handed pitcher Carson Fulmer off of waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Arg you curious about what Carson Fulmer is bringing to the table? No, I will not apologize for that dad joke. Fulmer was the 8th overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft back in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. He reached the big leagues the next year with the White Sox, but he’s struggled in parts of five seasons in the Major Leagues, throwing just 105.0 innings while walking 69 batters, hitting another 14, and striking out 94 while posting a 6.34 ERA.
The last year in particular has been full of a lot of movement for Carson Fulmer. Just prior to the 2020 season he was claimed on waivers by the Detroit Tigers. A month later he was claimed on waivers by the Pirates. Two weeks later he was claimed on waivers by the Orioles. Two and a half weeks after that the Pirates claimed him on waivers once again. This spring with Pittsburgh he’s pitched in three games and allowed two runs in 4.0 innings on three hits, no walks, and he’s struck out four of the 14 batters he’s faced. But the Pirates put him on waivers and this time it was Cincinnati that claimed him, filling up their 40-man roster for the time being.
During the 2020 season the velocity was way down for Carson Fulmer. He averaged 94 MPH on his fastball in 2019, but in 2020 he averaged just 92.5 MPH. In both cases we’re dealing with a small sample size – just 27.1 innings and 10.1 innings (over 10 games). Still, 1.5 MPH even in a small sample size is a lot. Aside from the fastball, Fulmer also throws a cutter, curveball, and a change up.
Looking at Fangraphs pitch values, his cutter has been very good at times in his career, and it’s the only pitch he has that has a positive value for his career – though it is barely over the 0.0 mark. It was good in three of his five seasons, but quite negative in the other two. The cutter is a pitch he has thrown 25.3% in his career, but last season it was a career low 11.7% (small sample size of just 10.1 innings).
The good news is that Carson Fulmer can spin the ball well. His spin rate on his pitches grades out high across the board. The bad news is that his spin hasn’t been useful, so he’s been wasting much of that and it’s not allowed his pitches to play up as well as the raw spin rate may suggest. This is something that the Reds will likely try to work with him on. If you recall, Tejay Antone spent his offseason working on improving his spin efficiency on his fastball, and he said he was able to do it rather quickly.
Getting better spin efficiency would likely help solve one of the problems for Carson Fulmer. But he might have an even bigger problem: He struggles to throw strikes. As noted above, he’s walked or hit 83 batters in 105.0 career big league innings. If you cut that number in half it would still be a tad bit higher than you’d like it to be. As a 4-pitch guy, perhaps some of the control issues can be alleviated by honing in on two, or maybe three pitches in the right scenarios. That could allow a little more focus on those pitches, eliminating the worst option, and also giving more time to work on the ones that remain.
As things go with most waiver wire acquisitions, you’re hoping to fix something. It’s not usual for players with a good track record to hit the waiver wire. Cincinnati sees something with Carson Fulmer that they believe they can work with. A lot of other teams have felt the same way in the last year, too, without much success. Perhaps Derek Johnson, Eric Jagers, Lee Tunnell, and Kyle Boddy can work some magic here that the other organizations couldn’t quite tap into to turn things around. There’s not much time to do so, though. Fulmer is out of options and there are only two weeks remaining in spring training. They’re going to need to make a rather quick decision on him, or try to sneak him through waivers themselves.
No update on Shogo Akiyama
Saturday night saw Shogo Akiyama exit the game with a hamstring injury. The outfielder did not take the field after the second inning and was replaced in center. After the game on Sunday, manager David Bell said that there was no update but that he hoped to have on on Monday morning.
Editors note: This article originally included information saying that Aristides Aquino, José De León, and Cionel Pérez had an option remaining for the year as indicated in the Reds Game Notes. Despite that being there, it has still not officially been decided if they do or do not.