It could be a stat-chasing September in MLB. Aaron Judge is firing for 61 homers, Albert Pujols looks poised to challenge for 700 home runs and Paul Goldschmidt is aiming for the Triple Crown. Now we have to add Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zac Gallen to the list. His goal; Orel Hershiser’s scoreless streak, 59 innings.
The 27-year-old Gallen has not allowed a run in 41 1/3 innings, which is already the eighth longest since 1920 (the live ball era). With one more scoreless start, he could easily reach the third-best streak in modern baseball history.
Gallen is set to take the mound again Sunday at Coors Field, which sounds like a daunting challenge for a scoreless streak, but he’s already shut out the Colorado Rockies there for seven innings on Aug. 13, the second of six games so far in his terrible game. run.
Here’s what you need to know to follow Gallen’s record chase as he soars into rarefied air.
Who is Zac Gallen?
A right-hander with an impressive mane and rec specs, Gallen stakes his claim as a budding ace. Gallen isn’t exactly new to the scene — he finished ninth in Cy Young voting in 2020 — but the Diamondbacks’ lack of contention and an injury-riddled 2021 may have obscured his rising stardom.
A third-round pick out of the University of North Carolina in 2016, he was involved in two major trades before losing rookie eligibility. First, he went from the organization St. Louis Cardinals to the Miami Marlins in the Marcell Ozuna deal that also netted the Marlins potential Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara. After just seven outstanding starts in the big leagues, the pitching-rich Miami sent him to Arizona in an exciting challenge for Jazz Chisholm Jr.
Along with Merrill Kelly, Gallen could form the core of the rotation for the next good Diamondbacks team, which may not hit the field until next season thanks to a wave of prospects emerging from a talented farm system.
Did this streak come out of nowhere?
No, Gallen was pretty good from the jump despite his relative lack of prospect pedigree.
His 3.08 career ERA in 426 innings since his 2019 debut, adjusted for the park and the big league offensive environment, works out to a 138 ERA+. Only eight pitchers with at least 300 innings have accomplished that mark in the same span.
Those numbers really indicate how great he was most of the time. In 2019, 2020 and this season, he has posted a 150 ERA+ or better — meaning he was at least 50% better than league average. Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Gallen are the only pitchers to do that in three of the last four years (at least 10 starts per season).
Arguably, Gallen should already be talked about as one of the league’s aces, but the 2022 season cements his status. Working with renowned pitching coach Brent Strom – who joined the Diamondbacks this offseason after years teaching the Astros’ dominant staff – Gallen has focused on getting his square fastball up more often. Sports Illustrated also reported that Gallen made a mechanical adjustment of his own this offseason that contributed to the speed increase. The result is a trademark of other Strom students like Justin Verlander: Gallen throws high fastballs and then cuts curveballs and heater-like cutters, only to dive toward the bottom of the zone or throw the dart away. Even during the season, Gallen works with Strom to improve his repertoire. Around the time his indifferent score began, he was dealing with change.
As Baseball Bulletin noted last week, the adjustments expand the world of possibilities players must consider when facing Gallen. A seemingly simple change, like using the top of the zone more, has exponentially complicated the task of facing him thanks to his range of pitches and excellent awareness.
Can he break Orel Hershiser’s 59 inning record?
Well, obviously clearing the bar Hershiser set for the Dodgers in 1988 is unlikely, but not impossible. Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs, using his ZiPS projection system, estimated that Gallen has about a 2.2% chance of breaking the record. Not surprisingly, history-making scoreless streaks are more common in low-offense environments. This season is definitely qualifying.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Gallen first has to set the Arizona team record, which he can do with one more clean inning. It is currently held by Brandon Webb’s 42-inning scoreless streak in 2007.
He could also claim the longest scoreless streak of the wild card era with five more shutouts, surpassing Zack Greinke’s streak of 45 2/3 innings in 2015.
Note: Partial innings count only if the pitcher exits mid-inning and the frame ends without a run being scored. So getting two outs in the first inning of his next start and then allowing a homer wouldn’t add to his current 41 1/3 innings.
If Gallen is to truly threaten Hershiser, his biggest obstacle may be… the Dodgers. First he’ll have to cross the Rockies on Corse Sunday. He would then miss the Diamondbacks’ series against the league’s most feared offense, with his next start lined up for Friday against the San Diego Padres.
Arizona advances to Los Angeles from there for five games in four days that would make the Dodgers inevitable. He regularly goes six or seven innings, with the occasional five-inning outing. If he can navigate the Rockies and the Padres start with their streak intact, he could enter this potential Dodgers close to Hershiser.
Now, the Dodgers are demolishing even great pitchers, putting dents in Cy Young campaigns for Alcantara and Corbin Burnes. But maybe, just maybe, the stars are aligning for Galen. Before Hershiser reached the top of the list, the record was set by Dodgers star Don Drysdale in 1968. When Hershiser broke it, Drysdale was ready as a broadcaster. And if Galen reaches the disc cliff? Well, Hershiser could be in the building. He now works as a color commentator for Dodgers telecasts.