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8 Things to Know About Zac Gallen — In His Own Words (& Some Other Folks’)

Zac Gallen describes his “obsession” with pitching.

Zac Gallen is having a great season, as in Cy Young-finalist great.

Check out his PL Player page: a 3.48 ERA in 178.2 innings, a 1.11 WHIP, and a 5.3% walk percentage. He’s also the sixth-best pitcher in the NL according to fWAR (4.3).

Those are the numbers.

Here’s what he — and pitching coach Brent Strom — had to say about some of the details during the Arizona Diamondbacks’ recent series in Colorado.

 

8. Strom knew from his time in Houston
of Gallen’s unique skillset

 

A plain-spoken person, Strom pointed out that Gallen had been on the radar of his former employer, the Houston Astros.

“He’s very unique in his approach that what he brings in his delivery — a cross-body delivery from the far third-base side of the rubber,” Strom said. “You don’t see it very often. So he attacks the strike zone from, actually, the inside part of the plate of a right-handed hitter [with] the way he throws and has uncanny control to the extension side, which you don’t see.”

But there’s more to it than that. Gallen’s special sauce is his control.

“His ability to throw the ball low and away, which is very difficult from that angle, it’s simply freakish to be honest with you,” Strom said, adding, “like I’ve said, of all the pitchers I’ve had, I’ve never had anybody with as good a command and as good a spin on four different pitches than he has. I’ve had guys that have had better fastballs, I’ve had guys that have been better curveballs, I’ve had guys who had better changeups, I’ve had guys who’ve had better sliders, but nobody who’s had all four.”

As Strom put it, “He’s kind of like, for me, a decathlon champion with a lot of skills.”

All of those idiosyncrasies lead hitters to view Gallen a little differently.

“His command is No. 1, but [it’s also] the fact that he’s not conventional. He’s a little bit of a unicorn in the way that hitters view him,” Strom said. “One of the misunderstood things in pitching is our ability to quantify deception, and it’s not something that is easily done on a computer. It’s basically what hitters see or don’t see. And for him, his ability to crossfire fastballs away from a right-handed hitter is good.”

Another skill is Gallen’s approach to the game.

“He’s constantly evolving, very much a student, really studies the hitters very well and has had a great relationship with Dan Haren, our analyst.”

A former pitcher himself, Strom knows not to interfere when things are going well.

“I’m not gonna mess with success. I just kind of get out of the way and work in other areas with him,” he said.

When Strom left Houston, the Astros gave him a piece of cautionary advice.

“One of the lead analysts with Houston, when he found out I had a job here, he said I should be fired if (Gallen) doesn’t want win a Cy Young award,” Strom said.

Given Gallen’s probable candidacy as an NL Cy Young finalist, his job should be safe for another year.

 

7. Gallen really began to develop
as a pitcher in college

 

If there’s anything that’s clear about Gallen, it’s his dedication to being a student of the game. Like any professional athlete, he’s developed his pitching effectiveness over time, but it began to click at the University of North Carolina.

“Once I got to college and playing the field wasn’t a thing anymore, I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to dive in on this pitching thing, considering I don’t worry about taking BP or ground balls or anything like that. I’m going to try and really lean into the pitching thing,’” Gallen said.

“So, it started from there, more on the delivery side, and then (I) picked up the cutter-slider, transition with that, learned how to manipulate that. And then the curveball was when I got to pro ball, I started learning that. And then the changeup, I had it as a kid — didn’t know why it worked,  just worked — and then I had to kind of relearn it over the last couple of years, just what makes it tick.”

In this end, he’s a student of the game.

“For me, it’s more of an obsession with pitching and understanding how things work,” he said. “I’m kind of obsessed really it was what it comes down to.”

 

6. Pitch sequencing is a big part of his game — of course

 

Any pitcher, but especially any good pitcher, focuses on sequencing. Gallen is no exception.

“As a pitcher, no matter if you’ve seen a guy five times, you’ve seen him 25 times, you run that fine line of ‘Okay, how much credit do I give the hitter because hitting is still hard?’” Gallen said.

“As a pitcher, you always have the advantage — it’s nine against one really — so you kind of toe that line of ‘How have I gotten them out?’ Kind of see what they’re doing, what they’re struggling with, or what they’re selling at, and try to mesh it all together. And then as the game goes on, you can kind of get a sense, for the most part, of what guys are trying to do to you. So you just try to incorporate that.”

And there’s an element of evolution that goes with his preparation. (Gallen prefers the term “evolving” to “reinventing.”)

“My thought of it was just not necessarily being the same person five years ago, just because your stuff changes, whether it be low drops or increased movement,” he said,

“For me, it’s just being able to give hitters different looks and not fall into a pattern.” He continued, “It’s more you’ve got to keep improving, keep adding something or take something away, whether it’s uses or trying to manipulate a pitch or whatever it is.”

Simply put, he’s never satisfied.

”It’s kind of a broad sense of don’t really necessarily rest on your laurels.”

 

5. Yes, there’s something going on
with his slider

 

But it’s complicated.

“That’s the pitch that’s kind of left me the most this year — that and the fastball has had a tendency to kind of cut on me a little bit more,” Gallen said, adding, “I think it’s delivery-related. But the cutter-slider, which I was calling a ‘slutter’ back in the day, has gotten more like a cutter now.”

To combat the change, he’s made some adjustments.

“I’ve tried to add more of a cutterish to lefties and have a little bit more depth and make it a little more of a slider to righties. But that’s the pitch that I probably have the least understanding about,” he said.

Ever the student, Gallen is seeking to learn from others.

“I’m going around asking guys, ‘What’s your cue?’ ‘What’s your grip?’” Gallen said. “And the thing I’ve learned is that the grip doesn’t matter. The cue is the big thing. So it’s something I’m always kind of messing around with. But for the most part, it’s still the same vision. It’s kind of comes out of my hand a little differently.”

 

4. His recent return to the middle-low four-seamer paired with a curveball is part of his start-to-start adjustment process

 

This was an idea he took from his pitching coach.

“I think it was in part due to Stromy,” Gallen said. “It’s kind of it’s something that he had brought over with him. It’s something that [the D-backs] were very low in the league on, in elevated four-seamers.”

The adjustment, however, required him to rethink some received pitching wisdom.

“As a kid, I was always — even through the minor leagues — it was, like, down, down, down, down,” Gallen said. “Strom is like, ‘The margin for error when you go up allows other pitches to  tunnel a little bit better.’”

It made sense.

“For me, it was ‘Alright, the margin for error works. I can kind of get away with that curveball that pops or that slider that backs up or whatever,’” he said. “But then I started realizing that I’ve got to use the fastball down, too, because that’s the tunnel on the curveball on top of home plate. So I’m just trying to blend them, really.”

But it comes back to preparation.

“I’m a start-to-start guy,” Gallen said, “or every three starts do an audit and see what’s working, what’s not working, kind of follow the trends and see what’s going on.”

 

3. His favorite color is purple — but he’s not sure about the vest

 

Gallen has been an advocate for the D’backs’ retro uniforms, most recently worn for their 25th anniversary.

“My favorite color is purple,” Gallen said, “and I think the old uniform just look awesome.”

However, he still has some reservations.

“I’m not a huge fan of the vest,” Gallen said. “But I think it’s more so the undershirt that we got — the tight Nike Dri-Fits — which I’m not necessarily a fan of. I’m usually jersey and then wear like a tank top underneath. So I would have to, if they ever came back, have to figure out a T-shirt situation underneath.”

He’s willing to put in the work to make the uniform work.

“I think they look good,” he said.

 

2. Kelly and Gallen make each other better

 

Gallen and Merrill Kelly have been friends since they became teammates.

“He’s kind of been my guy since he got here,” Kelly said. “When he got traded over in ’19, we connected pretty well. We’ve got a lot of the same interests. We think about pitching a lot of the same ways.”

Gallen uses more data.

“He’s a little bit more analytical,” Kelly said. “He’s a little bit more precise on what he does. You’re always seeing him really dial in the minute details of feel and what he’s trying to think of his hand positioning and everything like that. He dives a little bit deeper in the details than I think that I do in the way that I operate.”

But the two have more in common than not.

“Like I said, our personalities are similar, our likes are similar, and it’s always fun having somebody in the rotation that can push you,” Kelly said. “You know, there’s not really any direct competition — because obviously we’re good friends — it’s not like a situation where we’re battling for who’s going to be whatever in the rotation.

“But obviously anytime that you can look at a guy like him who obviously is so good at what he does and is so disciplined in his craft, and is able to manipulate the ball the way he does, it’s been fun for me to be able to pick his brain and have that friendly back and forth.”

Kelly grinned, “There’s a little friendly competition.”

 

1. He’s learned some things since getting called up back in 2019

 

Gallen compared his present self with the pitcher he was then.

“He knows how to pitch a little bit more, understanding just kind of how the game works,” Gallen said, speaking of his younger self. “That kid hadn’t seen the business side of baseball just yet. So I definitely got a taste of that after that being traded twice in the next 18 months or whatever it was.”

His essential self remains intact.

“But it’s still the same kid at heart in the sense of just the ever-longing, just trying to get better every day,” Gallen said. “It’s just a kind of a nonstop grind and just being obsessed with just trying to figure out new ways to get hitters out.”

Given the season Gallen is having, he’s on the right track.

Renee Dechert

Renee Dechert writes about baseball and fandom, often with a focus on the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. (She's also an English professor, but the baseball is more interesting.) Follow her on Twitter (@ReneeDechert) or Bluesky (@ReneeDechert.bsky.social).

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