Zac's brother played college baseball. His dad, Jim, played rugby in college.
In 2013, Gallen graduated from Bishop Eustace High School in New Jersey, where he was an honor student.
After high school, Gallen headed off to the University of North Carolina.
In 2016, Gallen got drafted by the Cardinals (see Transactions below).
In 2018, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Gallen as the 10th-best prospect in the Marlins' organization (after being traded). He was at #18 in the offseason before 2019 spring camps opened.
February 4, 2018: Gallen, a native of Gibbsboro, N.J., had been waiting for this moment his whole life, and the nerves were getting to him.
The event was the 2018 Super Bowl, and Gallen—born and raised just 20 minutes east of Philadelphia—was living and dying with the Eagles and their attempt to knock off the favored New England Patriots.
“I paced around the entire game,” the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Gallen said. “It was nuts.”
His Eagles won 41-33 to earn their first Super Bowl victory.
2019 Rookie Season: Gallen’s arm strength is right around average for a starter, but he showed an impressive ability to balance the throttle with his four-seamer (.192 opponent BA) and changeup (.157) while recording a 2.81 ERA across 15 starts. As noted by The Athletic’s Eno Sarris, Gallen’s magic lay in how his changeup danced off his heat; the combination of the two recorded similar movement profiles as aces like Shane Bieber and Stephen Strasburg.
By season’s end, Gallen’s changeup whiff rate ranked seventh-best among full-time starters behind some brand names: Luis Castillo, Blake Snell, Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Lucas Giolito and Gerrit Cole. (Matt Kelly - MLB.com - Dec. 30, 2019)
Sept 6, 2022: Zac Gallen was named the NL Player of the Week.
Gallen, who was named the NL Pitcher of the Month for August, took the bump twice last week, when he turned in two gems. After opening his week by tossing seven scoreless innings against the Phillies, he matched that with seven scoreless frames in a win over the Brewers on Sunday. Gallen allowed two hits, one walk and recorded seven strikeouts in each start.
Gallen hasn't allowed a run in 41 1/3 consecutive innings, the eighth-longest streak in the Live Ball Era (since 1920).
On the year, Gallen is 11-6 with a 2.42 ERA across 152 2/3 innings. He’s gone at least seven innings in five of his last six starts. This is his first Player of the Week Award, and he becomes the second D-back to take the honor this year, joining rotation-mate Merrill Kelly.
Gallen is determined to be a serious contender for the Cy Young Award in 2022. So far, he's hitting the mark. Though Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara is the frontrunner for the National League award, Gallen leads the NL in WHIP (0.921) and batting average against (.185). His ERA ranks fourth, his strikeout rate is fifth and his WAR is seventh or eighth, depending on the calculation one consults. His scoreless streak was the second-longest since 1988. “I think he’ll get votes this year,” says Diamondbacks pitching coach Brent Strom. “I hope he gets a lot of them.”
Strom has made it his mission to help Gallen achieve that goal. Strom has coached some of the best, including Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, but Gallen is unique in Strom’s estimation. “It’s kind of like a decathlete,” the coach says. “He can do a lot of things.” Other pupils have fired better fastballs and better curves, deadlier sliders and nastier changeups. “But I’ve never had anybody,” he says, “with the whole package like that.”
Gallen has gifts, but he just authored one of the best runs of the century because he pushes himself to be the best. Not just the best he can be, but the best anyone can be. “Until you are recognized as the best pitcher, either at the time you’re playing or as the best pitcher of all time,” he says, “there’s still something for you to strive for.”
How do you get there? With smarts and skills and fastballs and curves, and seven innings and one run at a time.
Gallen has almost always been exceptional, if also somewhat overlooked.
He broke into the majors in 2019 with the Marlins, a 23-year-old former third-round pick who may have risen too quickly through the system to garner much consideration as a Top-100 prospect. He posted a 2.72 ERA in seven big-league starts in Miami, was traded at the deadline to Arizona in exchange for shortstop prospect Jazz Chisholm Jr., and then posted a 2.89 ERA in eight starts with Arizona.
By the end of the next season, Gallen had allowed no more than three runs in the first 23 starts of his career, setting a new MLB record.
That appeared to establish Gallen’s bona fides as one of the game’s most exciting young pitchers. Yet his skill set was hardly overwhelming. He didn’t fire his fastball up to 100 mph. None of his pitches have earned a nickname. But they are all consistently above average. By FanGraphs’ pitch value metric, Gallen has four pitches — fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup — ranked in the top 10 in their categories league-wide, and Strom would argue the cutter is actually two effective pitches in one. There are deep arsenals, and then there are deep arsenals. “How many pitches do you own, and how many do you rent?” Strom will ask his players. Gallen, he says, owns five.
That, the possession of so many standout pitches, is what makes Gallen so deadly.
“He doesn’t have any patterns,” says one National League hitting coach whose team has faced Gallen multiple times this season. (The hitting coach was granted anonymity so that he could talk freely about an opposing player.) The advance scouting will predict a certain approach from Gallen — changeup to righties, cutter up and into lefties — only for Gallen to quickly render it useless. “He shifts gears on you,” the hitting coach says, “and he’s got the arsenal to be able to do it.”
The balanced mix has allowed Gallen to get the most out of what has become his best pitch: his fastball. It averages 94 mph, not overpowering in its ferocity yet with confounding movement. (Along with his other pitches, Gallen’s spinning it more than in recent years, a bump he explains by saying MLB finally “got the rosin right.”) Thrown with a crossfire delivery from the third-base side of the rubber, a starting position he adopted in the minors with the Marlins, it’s a hard pitch to track. (Buchanan-TheAthletic-Sep 22, 2022)
March 24, 2023: The D-backs named Gallen as their opening day starter.
It must be an Arizona Diamondbacks thing.
Over 22 years after Hall of Famer Randy Johnson accidentally hit and killed a bird with a fastball during a 2001 Spring Training game, current Arizona ace Zac Gallen did something very similar during an off-day pitching session before the D-Backs' game against the Athletics in Oakland.
Cameras caught Gallen striking a bird with what the broadcast crew said was a curveball, altering the trajectory of the pitch. Unlike Johnson's victim, which died in an explosion of feathers, this bird seemed to meet a more peaceful end, simply falling to the ground near the right-field foul line at the Oakland Coliseum. (Fox Sports - May. 17, 2023)
July 2023: Gallen was chosen to be the starting pitcher for the NL at the All-Star Game.
July 10, 2023: Being selected for the All-Star Game, particularly considering it was his fellow players who voted him in, was an honor for D-backs right-hander Zac Gallen, something that he had long dreamed about and worked toward with his perfectionist intensity. He'll also have the honor of starting for the National League.
What Gallen hadn’t anticipated was how fulfilling it would feel to share the honor with the people who had long supported him back when pitching in a Midsummer Classic seemed unthinkable.
One was his father, Jim, who was Gallen’s first coach and the one who spent his weekends driving Gallen to travel ball games. Jim was one of the first to see the potential in his son and help instill the belief that a future in baseball was possible.
When Gallen was pitching at the University of North Carolina, Jim would find a way to be at most of his son’s starts.
“I was on the phone with my dad the other day,” Gallen said. “And I realized that it’s been just as fun for him as it has been for me. He was my first coach, so for him to see this, I mean who would have thought? I don’t want to say he was the only one who believed in me, but he believed from the beginning. He was like, ‘I know how good my son is.’ He saw my potential, which a lot of people didn’t see at that time.” There were others, of course: Gallen’s mom, Stacey; his older brother, Jay; and Jay’s best friend, Michael Ferretti. They were there from the beginning, before UNC or the MLB Draft. And there’s his girlfriend, Elise, who has supported him when he battled through a frustrating injury-marred 2021, when he was part of a 110-loss Arizona team.
Just how much that group has meant to him is something that has been reinforced to Gallen over the past week. They will be in Seattle to watch him in the All-Star Game and share in his accomplishment.
“It just reminds me that those people have been there and have supported me,” Gallen said. “It just brings me back to where I’ve come from, and there have been people that have been there every step of the way. Being able to share this with those people is something that, to me, matters more than the All-Star Game itself. I’m fortunate to be able to do that.”
Gallen, who is constantly on the hunt for any edge he can find, plans to make the most of his time around the game’s best pitchers. Specifically, Gallen has questions for Dodgers veteran left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
“Just more about how he’s done it,” Gallen said. “How he’s evolved over the years and stayed at the top of the game for 16 years. I want to know what’s worked for him in terms of routine and that kind of stuff that has allowed him to be so good for so long. I’m infatuated with the guys who have done it for a while and continued to find ways to get people out.”
Gallen is relentless in his quest to get better. He has yet to pitch a game where he felt afterward that there wasn’t just one thing, but numerous things that he can get better at.When there’s a game on TV, he will watch how pitchers sequence their pitches, seeing if there is something he can pick up. He’ll scroll through Twitter and Instagram for pitching clips. He works closely with D-backs pitching strategist Dan Haren on game planning.
Gallen wears No. 23, a homage to NBA legend Michael Jordan, and much like Jordan did during his career, Gallen uses slights, real or perceived, to fuel him.
“It’s just my nature,” Gallen said. “It’s not something that’s artificial. I think it probably started at a young age, just being smaller, not throwing that hard. I was a late bloomer in terms of college recruiting. I knew I wasn’t going to just be able to rest on having unbelievable arm talent. I’ve just always known there are slights out there, and if I see one, I’ll lean into it and use it to my advantage.” ( S Gilbert - MLB.com - July 10, 2023)
June 2016: The Cardinals chose Gallen in the third round, out of the University of NC. They signed him for $563,100, via scout Charles Peterson.
"I grew up a Cardinals fan, so it has been kind of surreal for me," Zac said. "Watching ESPN with my older brother, Mark McGwire was on TV all the time. So I just wanted to be Mark McGwire. I wore #25 for years."
Dec. 13, 2017: The Cardinals traded outfielder Magneuris Sierra, righthanders Sandy Alcantara and Zac Gallen, and LHP Daniel Castano to the Marlins; acquiring OF Marcell Ozuna. (Editor's note: The Cardinals gave up Alcantara and Gallen in the same trade? Ouch.)
July 31, 2019: The Marlins traded Zac to the D-backs for shortstop prospect Jazz Chisholm.
- Jan 13, 2023: Zac avoided arbitration agreeing to a one-year deal with the D-backs worth $5.6 million.
|Birth City:||Somerdale, NJ|
|Draft:||Cardinals #3 - 2016 - Out of Univ. of No. Carolina|
Gallen has a 90-94 mph FASTBALL with impressive run that he commands real well. It gets a 50 or 55 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale. He also has an 87-89 mph CUTTER/SLIDER with good depth; it gets a 60 grade and is helping him miss bats and generate weak contact.
He also has a tumbling CHANGEUP that should end up a 60 pitch with a little work. He can mix in a 77-79 mph CURVEBALL, that he can change speeds effectively.
Zac is known more for his excellent control than his pure stuff because it helps all his pitches play up. (Spring, 2019)
2019 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 47.6% of the time; Sinker 2.1%; Change 16%; Slider 15.4%; and Curve 19% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 93.1 mph, Sinker 92.9, Change 8.25, Slider 87.2, and Curve 79.4 mph.
2020 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 38.9% of the time; Sinker less than 1%; Change 19%; Slider 21.7%; and his Curve 20.1% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 93.3 mph, Sinker 92.7, Change 84.9, Slider 88, and Curve 81.6 mph.
2022 Season Pitch Usage/Avg, Velo: Fastball 48% - 94 mph; Curve 22% - 81.4 mph; Change 14.2% - 86 mph; Cutter 12.7% - 90 mph; Slider 3% - 88 mph.
Zac comes at hitters from a good downhill plane. He has excellent control and his crossfire delivery has deception.
His athleticism enables him to repeat his high three-quarters delivery and throw strikes with all of his pitches.
Zac works quickly and has real good command. He has pitch-ablity.
Gallen gets grounders early in the count for quick outs.
"He's a technician,” said Sam Tropiano, who coached Gallen at Bishop Eustace Prep in New Jersey. “He’s always had picture-perfect mechanics. He’s a strike-throwing machine, and the ball comes out of his hand nice and easy.”
Gallen said his velocity has increased from 89-93 mph to 92-94, and he mixes in a curveball, cutter and changeup.
The Marlins have urged him to use the upper part of the zone more to move hitters off the plate. Gallen has also focused on his curve, throwing it early in counts for strikes and also finishing batters off with that pitch. (Walter Villa - Baseball America - 3/23/2018)
2019 Improvements: Zac noticed something felt off midway through the 2018 season.
The Marlins pitching prospect was in Triple-A New Orleans and had experienced mixed results during his first full season at the minor league’s highest level.
Acquired from St. Louis in the Marcell Ozuna trade, the righthander posted a 4.24 ERA and .301 opposing batting average in the first half. And he felt the cutter — his go-to pitch from college through the minors — had lost some of its effectiveness.
“About the middle of the season we were talking and I said, ‘My arm slot doesn’t feel natural,’” Gallen said. “‘I feel like I’m getting caught [too high],’ so it was something we looked at.
“The cutter was something I knew I had to work on. I had it early and somewhere down the road just lost it, so that was something I just tried to concentrate on.”
If his second half is any indication, Gallen’s heading on the right path.
In nine starts after the All-Star break, the 23-year-old notched a 2.61 ERA.
The Marlins’ 19th-rated prospect per Baseball America, Gallen spent the offseason in his home state of New Jersey continuing to craft his cutter.
“It was my pitch all the way from college and all the way up to the beginning of last year,” Gallen said. “I think with the arm slot getting high, being a little unnatural, it suffered. That was the thing I worked on. (Wells Dusenbury - Sun-Sentinel - March 2019)
June 20, 2019: There was a time Zac Gallen envisioned making his MLB debut in St. Louis as a member of the Cardinals. It isn't turning out exactly that way for the 23-year-old righthander. Gallen will break into the big leagues with the Marlins, taking the mound in the series finale at Busch Stadium against the team with which he started his professional career.
"It's kind of funny," Gallen said. "When you get drafted by a team, you think you're going to make it to their stadium in their uniform. But I'm wearing a different uniform. It's awesome. It's everything you ever dreamed up."
After the 2017 season, Gallen was dealt to the Marlins, along with righthander Sandy Alcantara, outfielder Magneuris Sierra and lefty Daniel Castano, in exchange for Marcell Ozuna.
Ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami's No. 18 prospect, Gallen has been dominant with New Orleans, posting a 9-1 record and 1.77 ERA. In 91.1 innings, he has 112 strikeouts and 17 walks.
"Obviously, he's having a really good year in Triple-A," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "Just another young, exciting guy for us. A guy with real nice pitch-ability. He's got a number of pitches. Can mix and match, and a little bit of power too."
"Any time you're pitching well, you kind of want it to happen," Gallen said. "As a competitor, you want to just get in that rhythm and stay in that rhythm. At the same time, you know, you have to wait your turn. Certain factors come into play, other than just performance. I understand that. There are other things that come into play. It's finally here. I'm excited." (J Frisaro - MLB.com - June 20, 2019)
Aug 7, 2019: Gallen made quite an impression on his new D-backs teammates, as he debuted with five scoreless innings in Arizona’s 6-1 win over the Phillies at Chase Field.
“Zac pitched fantastic tonight,” shortstop Nick Ahmed said. “We’re happy to have him.”
The D-backs captured the three-game series with the Phillies and moved above the .500 mark, at 58-57, and more important, they crept to within 1 1/2 games of the second National League Wild Card spot.
The D-backs acquired Gallen from the Marlins at the Trade Deadline and had to like what they saw from the rookie one week later, as he allowed just one hit while walking three and striking out six. He also picked up an RBI with a squeeze bunt.
It had been a little while since D-backs catcher Carson Kelly had seen Gallen in action up close. The pair came up together in the Cardinals’ system and were briefly roommates while playing for Triple-A Memphis.
“Very similar stuff to what I saw in Memphis,” Kelly said. “I think everything has been a little bit sharper, actually, since the last time I caught him. He developed that changeup a little bit more. But overall, same guy. Likes to attack, likes to come right at you and I think that really helped him out today.”
Much has been made about Gallen’s cut fastball, but his changeup is getting close to surpassing it, if it hasn’t already.
“Yeah, it was huge,” Gallen said of the changeup. “You know it’s kind of been the biggest pitch for me lately. It’s kind of helped me turn over some lineups a couple of times. So, you know, just trying to build off that pitch being successful.”
Kelly likes the late movement down that Gallen’s changeup has, and the fact that he’s able to keep the same arm action and release point as he does with his fastball makes it challenging for hitters to recognize it until it’s too late. Gallen seemed to have a little extra heat on his fastball in the first inning, due to the adrenaline rush that comes from making his debut with a new team.
“I don’t get necessarily nervous when I pitch,” the 24-year-old said. “I used to get nervous when I was younger, when I played the field. But when you pitch, you’re kind of in control most of the game, for the most part. I really didn’t feel any nerves. I was definitely a little amped up to go out there, you know, make a good first impression. It was nice.” (S Gilbert - MLB.com - Aug 7, 2019)
2019 Season: The D-backs acquired Gallen from the Marlins on July 31 in exchange for top prospect Jazz Chisholm. The 24-year-old ended up being the team’s best pitcher in the second half as he compiled a 2.89 ERA over eight starts.
In those outings he never allowed more than three runs, and his best came against the Padres on Sept. 4, when he held them to one hit over seven innings. The success did not go to his head, either, as catcher Carson Kelly noted this spring that Gallen continually finds ways to pick apart his outings and figures out things he still needs to improve upon.
May 2020 Q&A with David Laurila on Zac's repertoire:
David Laurila: What is your full repertoire?
Zac Gallen: “Four-seam, changeup, curveball, and … I call it a cutter, but it’s like a hybrid cutter/slider. You could characterize it as a hard slider, I guess.”
Laurila: No two-seamers?
Gallen: “Maybe one here or there. On rare occasion I’ll kind of squeeze one inside on a righty, maybe behind in the count, or to a lefty to see if I can get him to roll over. But my four-seam is a much better pitch, so I tend to stick with that. I probably throw a [two-seamer] once a game, or every couple of games.”
Laurila: When did you start mixing in an occasional two-seam? I’m assuming the four came first?
Gallen: “No. I actually grew up throwing a two-seamer. My dad coached our Little League team and when I was younger, maybe six, we had a guy who had played pro ball come out and teach us some things. He had me toy around with a two-seamer, so I started out throwing that. I didn’t make the full switch to a four-seamer until probably my junior year of college.”
Laurila: Why the switch to almost exclusively four-seam fastballs?
Gallen: “It just felt better. I could stick a four-seamer in; not really having much run, I knew where it was going to be. It was easier to control. It’s also a little bit easier to get a four-seamer glove side down and away to a righty, as opposed to trying to bring that two-seamer back. For me, it’s an easier visual as to where to start that pitch.”
Laurila: How would you describe the movement on your four-seamer?
Gallen: “It has good vertical movement; it kind of keeps its plane. It has good ride, or however you want to characterize it. I don’t know exactly what the spin rate is — I think it’s somewhere between 2,350 and 2,400 [rpm] — but it plays well up in the zone.”
Laurila: When did you become fully aware of that?
Gallen: “Probably not until the last couple of years, although it’s something I was always curious about. While I’ve never thrown overly hard, I could get away with four-seamers up at the letters; guys would swing and miss. I never understood why. I thought it was more about velo. But once I dove into the information, I kind of got an idea that it’s got good spin, good spin efficiency, and the ball tends to hop. It has that late life.”
Laurila: Knowing that would impact how you go about attacking hitters.
Gallen: “It does. It opens up a whole new avenue. There was kind of an adjustment period, though. In 2018 is when I really started to … the Marlins were kind of like, ‘Hey, you have a fastball where you can pitch up in the zone.’ That was tough at first, because for me it had always been about working down in the zone. To change that visual, and pitch up in the zone, was a little bit of an adjustment. But it’s helped me tremendously.
“That said, there are certain times where I’ll get some arm-side run with the four-seamer. I’ll also sometimes get some cut, at least the optical illusion of cut. With my actual cutter, the notation is more to not try to bend it like a slider. It’s to throw it with that fastball arm action kind of deal, with the finish at the end. I don’t get into shaping it too much.”
Laurila: Do you actually want to get cut on your four-seamer?
Gallen: “As time has gone on, and I’ve talked to more of the analytics guys, a lot of them tend to like the natural cut. The funny thing is, I wish I knew when I did it; I wish I could replicate it. So I’ve noticed that either one works — both hop and cut are good. Any sort of movement, I’m happy with.”
Laurila: Does the occasional cut differ much from that of your actual cutter?
Gallen: “Yeah, probably. It’s looks a little like rising cut, even though it’s not. My cutter tends to have a little more depth to it. Like I said, I kind of treat it like a hard slider. I’ve got that diagonal with a little bit of depth. If I can keep it under five inches of vertical movement on the plot chart, I’m good with that.”
Laurila: I’ve read that you throw two variations of a cutter.
Gallen: “Not on purpose. Some days it’s just a little more depth-y and some days it’s a little more lateral. It’s tough for me to pinpoint what it’s going to do. That said, when I’m going up and in to a lefty, I will try to manipulate it more to be lateral, to get in on the hands. Down and away to a righty, I’ll try to have a little more depth. But other than that, there’s not very much that I try to change. I mostly just throw the same pitch, and it does what it does.”
Laurila: Did you originally throw more of a true slider?
Gallen: “I went into college with a knuckle curve — a double-knuckle curve — and a knuckle slider. But I really had no breaking ball whatsoever. My freshman year they were trying to teach me a slider, but I couldn’t get the concept of it. I just couldn’t conceptualize the feel of one. It was bad.
“That summer when I played on the Cape, one of my teammates — Paul Covelle, who was at Franklin Pierce University — was throwing a cutter to me. I said, ‘How do you throw that?’ I could have sworn he showed me a certain grip, but I came to find out later, ‘No, that isn’t the grip.’ But I toyed around with it for a week or two, then brought it into a game. I basically taught myself a hybrid cutter/slider.”
Laurila: You said that you came into a college with a double-knuckle curve?
Gallen: “It was like Mike Mussina would have his two knuckles on his curveball. It was something I learned from my brother. He threw a really good one, but for me it wasn’t very good. It was just a little wrinkle to throw out there. Then I started toying with a traditional spiked curve in probably my sophomore year [of college], so that I’d have something to change eye levels, up and down. It was probably a three-year work-in-progress, getting that pitch to where I want it.
“Even now, it’s still kind of a work in progress. I wouldn’t say I’m behind the eight-ball, but I didn’t grow up with a curveball. I wasn’t really allowed to throw one, so I kind of learned the pitch at an older age than most guys do. I didn’t start concentrating on it until maybe the end of college and my first couple years of pro ball. Even now, some days I don’t really have it.”
Laurila: Would you say it’s your fourth-best pitch?
Gallen: “It is in terms of repeatability. But I’d also say it’s my most important pitch. I’ve noticed that having my curveball going makes turning lineups over much easier.”
Laurila: Why is that?
Gallen: “I feel that it makes the strike zone bigger than it is. We were talking about my fastball having carry, and being able to pitch at the top of the zone. That allows to me pitch at the bottom of the zone. I’m able to tunnel my curveball pretty well. According to the analytics, my pitches all come out of the same slot, or very close to it. I wish I could face myself, to see what that actually looks like.”
Laurila: How would you rank your pitches?
Gallen: “I’d say my fastball and changeup are 1 and 1A. From there … personally, I’d rank my curveball ahead of my cutter. The cutter gives me such a headache with its lack of consistency. My curveball, I kind of have an idea of what it’s going to do — assuming I have that feel. Like I said, my cutter can be either lateral or depth-y.”
Laurila: What’s the story behind your changeup?
Gallen: “It’s kind of wild how that came to be. I grew up throwing a changeup and it was always my best pitch. The grip is kind of unconventional, like a half-circle change. I’ve heard some people call it a ‘trophy change.’ I don’t know.
“I think the grip maybe stemmed from my hands not being big enough when I was younger. I was throwing a two-seam with three fingers. That felt natural to me. Then I kind of got away from it, the harder I threw. I didn’t throw it as much in high school, and I didn’t use it much in college either — mostly just to lefties in the middle of the lineup.
“I remember sitting down in Miami, after I got traded over. The pitching coordinator was going over my pitches and I was saying how my changeup was my best off-speed pitch. He was kind of dumbfounded. That’s because the scouting reports showed that I only threw it a handful of times. This was in the middle of 2018. He was like, ‘Hey.’
“They pretty much forced me throw two an inning. They said they didn’t care what the statistics looked like, what the box score looked like, they just wanted me to throw two changeups an inning. That gave me the confidence to start throwing that pitch again. It helped me get the feel back.”
Laurila: How would you describe your changeup?
Gallen: “It’s got good diving action, down and in to a righty. There’s nothing I do that’s really different than a lot of guys who throw changeups. It’s pretty standard in that sense. Nothing crazy. I do pronate quite a bit, but that’s not something I think about too much. For me, the feeling is sort of like I’m pinching a key at the end; I’m turning a key over. I kind of let the index finger pull the middle finger over the ring finger.”
Laurila: Have you played around with the velocity, or do you pretty much just let it do what it does?
Gallen: “I just let it do what it does. With the changeup, you’re either a guy who can really take speed off, or you’re a guy who has action with it. Zack Greinke is 88-89 and it just dives down. Then you’ve got guys like Kyle Hendricks, who are throwing it more like 75. I try to not toy with the speed too much. For me, the action is more important.
“When I was getting back into throwing it, in 2018, there was a guy at my agency who said, ‘You can never throw your changeup too hard.’ I was like, ‘OK, let me try this.’ It was really a conviction thing, a trust kind of thing where I would throw it and let it do what it does.”
Laurila: Would you say your evolution as a pitcher has been impacted more by coaches and/or organizations, or has it been more self-driven?
Gallen: “A lot of it has been on my own. One thing I tell younger guys I see in the offseason is that you kind of have to be your own pitching coach. The organizations I’ve been in have all helped me with little stuff here and there. But you’re the one who is playing catch every day; you’re the one who needs to have an idea of what’s going on. That said, the Marlins and D-Backs have helped me analytically, giving me a better idea of how to use my pitches. The more information you have at hand, the better you’re going to be.”
Laurila: You’re known more for your command and pitch-ability than you are for your raw stuff.
Gallen: “I’ve never had the overpowering stuff where I’m able to go out and just roll the balls out there — ‘here it is.’ I have all of this information at my disposal, so I’m going to use it. At the same time, when you cross the white lines, it’s game time. It’s war. You have to go and make pitches. No one is going to strike out just because you have a fastball that is so many mph, or so many rpm. I’ve always been a command guy.”
Laurila: Would you say your ability to command the ball comes naturally?
Gallen: “I’ve always been … I’d say my command has probably gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. The strike zone has gotten a little bit smaller. But it’s something I’ve kind of always had. I never threw hard as a kid. Something my dad would always preach is that you can’t strike everybody out, but you can get everybody out. That’s how I approach it.”
August 11, 2020: Zac pitched well for the D-backs, his new team after being traded from the Marlins. Gallen allowed just two runs on seven hits while striking out seven and not issuing a walk over seven innings.
IN THE RECORD BOOKS
In his first 19 career big league games, all of them starts, Gallen has not allowed more than three earned runs in any of them, surpassing Montreal’s Steve Rogers for the National League record. Rogers set the mark in 1973-1974.
The Major League record belongs to Aaron Sele, who started out his career with 21 such starts for the Red Sox in 1993-1994.
“The first seven innings were pristine and awesome to watch from our standpoint with Zac attacking hitters,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “Gave us seven unbelievable innings.”
Both of the runs allowed by Gallen came on a two-run homer by Nolan Arenado in the fourth. “I was warming up before the game and kind of felt off, so I wasn’t really sure how tonight was going to go,” said Gallen, who lowered his ERA to 2.74. “I just went out there in the first inning and said, ‘OK let’s see if I can get in the strike zone.’” (Gilbert - mlb.com)
Aug. 29, 2020: In the 22nd start of Gallen’s career, he has yet to give up more than three earned runs in any of them. This breaks the Major League record to begin a career, which was previously set by Boston’s Aaron Sele in 21 starts from 1993-1994.
Sept.2, 2020: Gallen was Arizona’s best starter by far in 2020. He set a Major League record on Sept. 2 by allowing three or fewer earned runs in his first 25 career starts.
In 2020, Gallen’s curveball looked as good as it ever has, posting a 16.9% SwStr rate, a 37.2% CSW, a 40.7% strikeout rate, and a .258 wOBA against it.
There was one knock against Gallen’s curveball though—he had some command issues with it, as it had a .226 ISO against it. Still though, all in all, it was an awesome pitch and helped propel Gallen to a second-straight season with an ERA under 3.00.
Fen 19, 2021: The young ace who owns edges like Maddux? Zac Gallen.
Gallen was in the middle of shutting down the Dodgers one night in September 2020, when Orel Hershiser, calling the game, made the comparison: he thought the D-backs' young ace was commanding the edges of the strike zone like Greg Maddux.
Yes, the Greg Maddux. And Hershiser, who would know a thing or two about pitching, was right. We have the numbers to back it up, thanks to Statcast's pitch tracking.
Hershiser was also right that Gallen just has to do this for another 15 years. And really, there's only one Maddux. But entering 2021, with a 2.78 ERA over his first two big league seasons, Gallen is a dark horse for the NL Cy Young.
And it's not because he has overpowering stuff. It's because he has elite command. Take a look at his pitch heatmaps from last season. Every single pitch type is concentrated on one of the edges of the zone. That's why he ranks so highly in metrics like STATS' Command+, which has Gallen with top-five command among starting pitchers.
Gallen makes tons of pitcher's pitches—"nothing overwhelming, but fantastic edgy pitching," as Hershiser phrased it. And there's always something refreshing about watching a pitcher deal like that even in this golden age of velocity. Here's a closer look at the 25-year-old right-hander.
What does Gallen's command look like in action? Gallen pounds the edges of the strike zone and avoids the middle. He left fewer than one in every five pitches in the heart of the zone last season, one of the lowest rates in the league. That means he was barely giving hitters anything good to hit.
Meanwhile, he hit the edges of the zone nearly half the time—putting him at the top of MLB in that category. Or look at it this way: Gallen hit the edges of the strike zone 2 1/2 times more often than he left a pitch in the heart of the zone. That was the biggest difference between pitching to the edges vs. pitching in the heart of any pitcher in 2020.
Gallen commands the edges with everything in his repertoire, every pitch type. In 2020, he was in the shadow zone, as Statcast calls it, on 50.2% of his four-seam fastballs, 43.2% of his cutters, 55.2% of his changeups and 45.6% of his curveballs.
When you can put any pitch right where you want it, that opens a lot of doors. And Gallen knows exactly what he's doing with his deep arsenal.
How does this help him? Here's the key for Gallen: the edge pitches set up the put-away pitches. Gallen commands the edges of the strike zone so well early in the count that when he gets to two strikes, the hitters are set up to chase whatever he throws at them.
Gallen's edge percentage in all counts before getting to two strikes was 51.4%. That's over half his pitches covering most situations, and it was the highest rate among starting pitchers. But with two strikes, only 41.1% of his pitches went to the edges.
Instead, 32.8% were thrown to the chase zone. That means far enough out of the zone where it's not a borderline pitch, but not so far that a hitter can easily lay off. Paralleling what he did with the shadow zone in non-two-strike counts, Gallen had the highest two-strike chase zone percentage among starters. And before two strikes, Gallen only threw chase pitches 22.5% of the time.
On top of all that, depending on which pitch Gallen sets you up with on the edges, what he gets you to chase could also be anything. Most often, it's a curveball that drops below the zone (that's why his overall curveball edge percentage is the lowest). But it could also be a cutter, which he can throw with sharper or loopier paths as a cutter/slider hybrid, or a changeup that fades off the plate, or an elevated four-seamer.
That's why it's so important that his command extends across his repertoire. An early-count four-seamer on the inside edge to a lefty sets up a two-strike cutter in on the hands. A changeup or curveball that lands on the bottom edge tunnels with a riding fastball that carries right over a hitter's bat. A hard cutter on the outside edge to a righty could be followed by a straight fastball that paints the black again or a slower, slider-y cutter that breaks off the plate away.
If he drops one curveball onto the bottom of the zone, you might not be able to lay off the next one that drops even further into the chase region. There are just so many possibilities for Gallen to attack and finish off a hitter when he owns the edges of the zone.
So what's next? There can be a fine line between "commanding the edges" and "nibbling." Gallen succeeds in straddling that line more often than not, but maybe sometimes he overdoes it.
Pitching in the shadow zone keeps the ball out of the heart of the plate, where a hitter can do the most damage. But the pitches in the shadow zone are borderline. They can be a coin flip whether they're called strike or ball. So living in that region to such a high degree also runs a higher risk of walking batters. And that's an area Gallen could maybe make an adjustment.
It's hard to question all his excellent numbers—the 2.75 ERA and 10.3 K/9 last season speak pretty loudly for themselves. But Gallen can get in trouble with walks at times. He's issued four or more walks in a game six times in his 27 big league starts, including five or more walks four times.
There are probably opportunities for him to go after hitters more aggressively. Even when he's behind in the count, for example, Gallen is still going to the edges over half the time. If you make your pitch, great; you stop hitters from jumping all over you even in hitter's counts. But if you're just a little off, not so great; you issue too many free passes.
There's a time and place for every pitcher to attack the zone. If Gallen gets even better at picking his spots, he vaults even higher into the Cy Young mix. But make no mistake, with the command he has, he's already an ace. (D Adler - MLB.com - Feb 19, 2021)
2021 Season: Gallen had his moments. The seven inning one-hitter of Atlanta might have got most attention, but don’t forget August 21, where he tossed seven more shutout innings, against the Rockies in Coors Field, with nine strikeouts and a walk. He certainly deserved a better record than 4-10: that was particularly due to nine no-decisions (including the Coors game mentioned), in which Zac had an ERA of 3.35.
His ability to strikeout batters continued to be remarkably consistent: in each of his seasons, Gallen has posted a K-rate of between 10.3 and 10.9 per nine innings. Only five other pitchers (min. 70 IP) have been at 10.3 or better each year from 2019-21. (Jim McLennan@AZSnakepit - Dec 24, 2021)
Sept. 4, 2022: Gallen tied the major-league record with his sixth consecutive scoreless start, leading the Diamondbacks to a 5-1 victory over the Brewers.
Gallen (11-2) extended his scoreless streak to 41 1/3 innings. He allowed only two singles and a walk in seven innings. He struck out seven and retired the last 11 batters he faced.
Gallen tied Don Drysdale (1968), Orel Hershiser (1988) and Zack Greinke (2015), all with the Los Angeles Dodgers, by not allowing a run in his sixth straight start. Hershiser set the MLB record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings. (AP)
Sept. 11, 2022: Gallen passed Brandon Webb for the longest scoreless streak in franchise history. 42.1 innings.
Sept. 23, 2022: Gallen became the only MLB pitcher in the modern era to throw 8.0+ innings on the road with 12+ strikeouts, no walks, 2 or fewer hits allowed and under 100 pitches. Stats by STATS
2022 Season: Gallen finished the year with a 2.54 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and a .186 opponent's batting average to go along with a 12-4 record in 184 innings over 31 starts.
Gallen gained some national notoriety this year when he put together a 44 1/3-inning scoreless streak from Aug. 8-Sept. 11. It set an Arizona franchise record and was the seventh-longest streak in AL/NL history. (S Gilbert - MLB.com - Oct 5, 2022)
According to baseball savant, Gallen mainly relied on 4 pitches last season: 4-seam fastball, curveball, cutter, and changeup. The pitch he threw almost 50% of the time and his most effective one; the 4-seam fastball. Gallen’s 4-seam wasn’t just good, it was dominant. When hitters faced this pitch, they hit to the tune of a .165 batting average. .165! Don’t get me wrong his other pitches are effective as well, but man, good luck hitting his heater.
2023 Nastiest pitch on the D-backs - Zac Gallen's knuckle-curve:
Gallen has supreme command of his curveball, peppering the bottom edge of the strike zone with it. Nola and Aaron Civale were the only pitchers who threw a higher percent of their curves to the bottom edge than Gallen (29.7%). (D Adler - MLB.com - Feb 8, 2023)
- April 26, 2023: Gallen is the only pitcher in the modern era to record 40-plus strikeouts with a WHIP of under 0.50 while allowing no runs over a four-start span. In other words, Zac Gallen has practically been unhittable over the course of his past four outings for Arizona. (Joey Mistretta)
- Zac is a solid fielding pitcher.
March 24-April 13, 2021: Gallen has been diagnosed with a hairline stress fracture in his right lateral forearm. He’ll continue playing catch, but it’s doubtful that he’ll be ready to take the mound again by Opening Day. It is a hairline stress fracture of his right lateral forearm at the radial head.
Manager Torey Lovullo said the club was not sure yet how long Gallen would be out of action because there is no precedent in baseball for this type of injury. Stress fractures, though, typically take weeks rather than days to heal and Opening Day is nine days away.
May 12-June 17, 2021: Gallen was placed on the 10-day IL with a sprained right elbow.
July 3-17, 2021: Zac was on the IL with a right hammy strain.
- April 12, 2022: Gallen suffered a small cut on his right thumb when he caught it on an electrical box at his home. He was originally scheduled to make his first start of the season on April 12, but the D-backs wanted to give him a few extra days just to be sure.