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Monday December 5th

Tar Heels in the Pros: Zac Gallen breaks out, dominates second-half of MLB season

Starting pitcher Zac Gallen (23) of the Arizona Diamondbacks throws prior to the Cactus League spring training baseball game against the Colorado Rockies on February 28, 2021 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo courtesy of  Ralph Freso/Getty Images/TNS.
Buy Photos Starting pitcher Zac Gallen (23) of the Arizona Diamondbacks throws prior to the Cactus League spring training baseball game against the Colorado Rockies on February 28, 2021 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Ralph Freso/Getty Images/TNS.

UNC alumnus Zac Gallen has quickly become one of the most feared pitchers in Major League Baseball. Just three months ago, however, very few knew his name.

Heading into the All-Star Break in July, Gallen held a modest ERA of 3.56 on a struggling Arizona Diamondbacks team. But after a historic second half, the former Tar Heel finished the season with a 2.54 ERA — the eighth-best in the MLB.

This run of success began on Aug. 8, when he pitched seven scoreless innings against the Pirates. This game would spark one of the greatest runs the sport has ever seen. He went on to pitch 41 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, setting a Diamondbacks franchise record and establishing the seventh-longest streak in MLB history.

Although his streak came to an end on Sept. 11, his second-half dominance continued. In a start against the Dodgers on Sept. 22, a team that dominated the National League with a 110-win season, Gallen struck out 13 hitters and allowed just one run in eight innings pitched.

Gallen posted an astounding second-half ERA of 1.49 and finished with an 8-2 record, despite the rest of his team struggling.

This historic three-month period of dominance seemed to come out of nowhere. 

The right-hander from Somerdale, N.J., played three years of college ball with the Tar Heels from 2014 through 2016. He pitched 260 innings during that span, registering an ERA of 3.36 and a record of 14-13. He made one NCAA Tournament appearance with UNC as a first-year in 2014.

The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Gallen with the 106th pick in the 2016 draft. He made his debut with the Marlins in 2019, before being traded to the Diamondbacks for young star Jazz Chisholm Jr. midway through the season.

Heading into the 2022 season, expectations were mild for Gallen, who struggled in the previous year. The 2021 season was his worst in the majors, as he finished with a 4.30 ERA and a 4-10 record.

Now, nearing the end of his 2022 campaign, Gallen stands as one of the top candidates for the National League Cy Young Award. However, his turnaround did not happen by accident. 

Gallen’s success in the second half stems from a multitude of factors in his game that makes scoring against him seemingly impossible.

He excels most at keeping runners off the basepaths. His WHIP, which measures the number of walks and hits a pitcher allows per inning, is a staggering 0.91. This ranks him second in the majors behind the presumed American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.

His low WHIP forces batters into disadvantageous counts and weak contact. His ground ball rate is 45.6 percent, which keeps balls in the park and generates easy outs.

The pitch that is the main catalyst for his second-half dominance is his curveball. His anchor pitch has been almost unhittable and the main source of his weak contact. This increased use of the offspeed pitch makes him especially effective against left-handed hitters, as their batting average is only .146 against him this season.

Gallen’s dominance has been the lone bright spot in an otherwise disappointing year for the Diamondbacks, as he has accounted for 12 of the team's 74 wins. At just 27 years old, he headlines a young core for the rebuilding squad, which hopes to make a postseason run next year.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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