Zac Gallen Is Quietly Having a Historically Good Season

Zac Gallen

Zac Gallen Is Quietly Having a Historically Good Season

Zac Gallen threw a masterpiece for the Arizona Diamondbacks in Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, September 2, but like most of his 2020 starts, it went to waste. It’s a real shame, too, because his 1-0 record – complete with seven no-decisions – is hiding a historically good season.

Gallen left the game after walking the leadoff hitter in the eighth despite pitching a shutout. He had only allowed one hit, and that walk was only his second of the game. In days of yore, it would not have mattered, but in the present days of the medical staff putting strict pitch limits on starters, that was the end of Gallen’s rope. Reliever Stefan Crichton induced a double-play grounder and then got the next hitter to fly to left, but another reliever – embattled right-hander Kevin Ginkel – gave up a one-out home run in the top of the ninth to give Gallen yet another no-decision.

Deep Dive into the Numbers of Zac Gallen

The season Gallen has had so far gives further evidence that judging the quality of a pitcher solely on win-loss record is absurd. Pitchers cannot win games for their teams – they can only keep them from losing, and that can only happen while he’s actually in the game. With complete games and shutouts being so rare nowadays, that part about him actually being in the game is even more important.

Gallen’s 1-0 record has caused many to overlook or blow off the rest of his statistics. A close examination shows, however, that he is having one of the best pitcher seasons in the Modern Era (1901 to the present). For one, his WHIP is under one – 0.940, to be exact. He has also allowed less than six hits per nine innings (H/9) – 5.76 – and less than three walks per nine (BB/9) – 2.70, all with an ERA under two (1.80).

A Rare Feat

Zac Gallen
Zac Gallen, Shane Bieber, Clayton Kershaw, and the other qualifying seasons. Age is how old the player was at midnight of June 30th of that year. Stats are current as of the morning of September 7. Compiled by the author from Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.

This combination of statistics does not happen often. In fact, prior to 2020, it has only happened nine times. The list of pitchers to do it is short – Bob Gibson (1968), Ed Walsh (1910), Luis Tiant (1968), Russ Ford (1910), Zack Greinke (2015), Jake Arrieta (2015), Dave McNally (1968), and Pedro Martinez, who did it twice (2000, 1997). Note that Gallen is younger than all these pitchers were when they did it.

Remarkably, Gallen is not the only pitcher in 2020 with this statistic combination. Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Indians and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers are also doing it. Yes, the shortened 2020 season means that rate stats must be taken with a grain of salt. However, it is still remarkable that Bieber, Kershaw, and Gallen are doing what they are doing.

Gibson, Walsh, and Martinez are in the Hall of Fame. Tiant should be. McNally probably would be had his career peak lasted longer. Greinke and Kershaw will be. While it is way too early to make these kinds of predictions for Gallen, the fact that he is having a season comparable to the peak seasons from these legends says a lot. He’s already broken the record for most consecutive starts allowing three runs or less to start a career. He passed two multi-year All-Stars – Steve Rogers and Aaron Sele – along the way. If Gallen keeps pitching the way he is, it will be incredible to see what all he does.

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