Zac Gallen Is A Fantasy Baseball Ace
Sometimes there are pitchers that seemingly fall through the cracks of prospect-hype. Consequently, these pitchers fall in dynasty baseball drafts. Shane Bieber didn’t appear in top-100 lists. As a matter of fact, he was not in his own organization’s top-10 prospects according to MLB Pipeline. Chris Paddack wasn’t near the top 100 list until he had an exceptional minor league season before he was called up. Zac Gallen is the next great pitcher to over-perform his prospect pedigree.
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Zac Gallen: The Rise of a Fantasy Ace
Minor League Career
It made little sense to see Gallen ranked so low throughout the scouting industry. In 382 innings pitched across four seasons in the minor leagues, Gallen had a 2.87 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and 384 strikeouts. He got significantly better as he gained more experience, as evidenced by his increase in strikeouts, and decrease in walks.
As someone who has played in dynasty leagues for a few years, I was baffled at the lack of heat surrounding Gallen for his first few seasons in the minors, despite never having an ERA above 3.79. The heat finally picked up in 2019, when Gallen stifled Triple-A hitters. In an extremely hitter-friendly environment pitching in the Pacific Coast League, Gallen threw 91.1 innings. He maintained an unreal 1.77 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, and 112 strikeouts. Gallen’s buy-low window was no more.
Major League Career
At that time, Gallen was pitching for the Miami Marlins Triple-A affiliate. He was called up to the Marlins in June of 2019, and he hit the ground running. In his first seven starts for the Marlins, Gallen pitched 36.1 innings, had a 2.74 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP, and 43 strikeouts. That level of success led the Arizona Diamondbacks to offer the Marlins their top overall prospect, shortstop Jazz Chisholm, for the up-and-coming Gallen. Miami accepted, and he has on his way to Arizona.
In eight starts for the Diamondbacks in 2019, Gallen picked up where he left off. Gallen pitched 43.2 innings, maintaining a 2.92 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and throwing 53 strikeouts. Overall on the year, Gallen ended with 15 starts, 80 innings pitched, a 2.81 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, and 96 strikeouts, not too shabby for a rookie. That small sample created high expectations heading into the 2020 draft season for the Diamondbacks newly minted ace. Gallen’s stock soared near the top 100 overall players for redraft purposes. That still wasn’t high enough in my eyes.
So far in 2020, Gallen has picked up where he left off in 2019. Through 50.0 innings pitched on the year, he has a 1.80 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 54 strikeouts. He has reeled off seven consecutive quality starts and struck out no fewer than five batters in a game. Those numbers have firmly cemented Gallen as a top 15 starting pitcher halfway through the shortened season, and he does not look to be slowing down. Let’s look into what makes Gallen such a good pitcher, highlighting his pitches, and his ability to locate them.
Four-Seam Fastball – 37.6% Usage in 2020
Gallen does not throw the ball relatively hard compared to his league mates, as his four-seam fastball averages 93.1-mph. Perhaps this played a large factor in his prospect ranking being too low. With that said, Gallen is extremely effective with the pitch.
With 14-inches of drop, the perceived “rise” of Gallen’s fastball is actually very good relative to fastballs of similar velocity. He throws the pitch all over the strike zone, as he truly keeps hitters guessing as to where and when his fastball will be coming. Gallen has gone against the crowd so far in 2020, as he has been pounding his fastball low in the zone. What is happening is hitters are laying off the pitch thinking it is an off-speed pitch, and Gallen continues to steal strikes. For those worried this isn’t attainable throughout the season, Gallen is an extremely smart pitcher, and expect his chart to start lighting up with red in the upper zones as the season goes on.
Through his first 22 starts in his big league career, Gallen has thrown his four-seam fastball 917 times, good for a 44.9% usage. His results with the pitch have been outstanding. Where he excels is his called strikes-plus-swinging strikes (CSW) rate. Gallen has an elite 32.8% CSW rate with the pitch, which ranks him 14th among starting pitchers with a minimum of 200 four-seam fastballs thrown over the past two seasons.
The on-field results with the pitch have followed as well. In 2020, batters are currently hitting .143 against four-seamer, with an expected batting average of .190. He also has an 18.3% whiff rate and has failed to give up a home run. For a pitch that is often hit the hardest out of all pitch types, we are off to a good start showing Gallen’s dominance.
Cutter – 27.0% Usage in 2020
Cutter, slider, whatever you want to call it, Gallen has a solid number two pitch in his repertoire. The pitch averages 87-mph and Gallen has near pinpoint accuracy with it.
Often thrown against right-handed hitters low and away (as in the video above), Gallen gets a lot of horizontal movement on his cutter. With his 6.4-inches of left-to-right movement, Gallen’s cutter moves over three inches more than cutters of similar velocity. It has 32.3-inches of drop, which relative to other cutters isn’t a lot, but compared to his curveball, it is a huge difference (more on this coming).
While this pitch is successful, it is actually his worst pitch in terms of performance so far in his career. Hitters are currently averaging .277 against the cutter, with a .287 xBA, and a .468 SLG. Not elite, but certainly not terrible. Where the pitch excels is in its swing and miss profile. In 2020, Gallen has a 15.3% swinging strike rate with the pitch, which is above average. The whiff rate of 29.8% is a nice number as well. An odd trend against the pitch is the fact that out of all his pitches, it has the lowest exit velocity against, averaging an elite 83.0-mph off of opposing bats. If it wasn’t scary enough, this pitch could begin performing even better with a little more batted ball luck.
Changeup – 18.1% Usage in 2020
Gallen’s changeup is a ground ball nightmare for hitters. Through his first two seasons in the majors, Gallen’s change has produced an eye-popping 61.7% ground ball rate. Like his other pitches, Gallen understands when this pitch needs to be thrown, and that is low and away to lefties. With that ability to locate his change, Gallen is dominant against left-handed counterparts. In his career, they have hit .192 against him, with a measly .277 on-base percentage. His changeup can primarily be thanked for that.
Thrown 18.1% of the time in 2020, Gallen pairs this extremely well with his fastball/cutter combination. As previously mentioned, the changeup gets a ton of ground balls, and that is due to the amount of drop Gallen gets on the pitch. With 34.6-inches of drop, Gallen’s changeup falls over 3-inches more than changeups of similar velocity and release points. As much as he runs his cutter away from right-handed hitters, he equally loves making left-handed batters flail at the pitch on the outside corner.
From a results perspective, the pitch is excellent. In 2019, Gallen threw his change 221 times. He gave up zero home runs, opposing batters hit .157 against it, and it maintained a 21.7% swinging-strike rate. Yeah, I would say that is a good pitch. He hasn’t had that level of success in 2020 with it, but the pitch has still performed well. Hitters are batting .222 against it, with a .230 xBA, and a sizzling 22.1% swinging-strike rate. It is his go-to strikeout pitch and will continue to be an excellent out for years to come.
Curveball – 17.4% Usage in 2020
Last but certainly not least is Gallen’s knuckle curveball. It should be telling that despite this being the least thrown pitch in his arsenal, he still throws it 17.4% of the time. That is a high number, and it tells us what we have already known, Gallen simply keeps hitters off balance by keeping them guessing. What better pitch to keep someone off balance than with a curveball that is thrown with precise accuracy low in the zone?
Like the other secondary offerings in his arsenal, Gallen’s curve gets plenty of vertical drops, as it average 50.4-inches of drop. That movement on the pitch, combined with the fact he rarely ever leaves it hanging, has made his curveball a dominant pitch. Gallen has thrown his curve 130 times in 2020, he has given up a grand total of ONE hit. That is good for a .036 batting average against. The pitch also has a 38.9% CSW rate, which shows he throws it for plenty of strikes as well. That rate, paired with the batting average makes this one of the most dominant pitches in baseball from a results standpoint.
Armed with a diverse arsenal, excellent command, and great control, Zac Gallen checks all of the boxes to be elite. He gets a lot of downward movement on his pitches, and keeps the ball low, making him extremely difficult to hit. Still only 25-years-old, Gallen has officially claimed SP1 status going forward, especially in dynasty leagues. If there are owners looking to sell high, go get him, because he is here to stay.
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