© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
SEATTLE — It is no secret that Zac Gallen was one of the best pitchers in the National League in 2022. He posted a 2.54 ERA, which ranked fourth in the NL. His 0.91 WHIP and .185 opponent batting average both led the league.
But when time came for Cy Young votes to be cast, Gallen finished fifth, trailing Sandy Alcántara of the Miami Marlins — the unanimous winner — along with Max Fried of the Atlanta Braves, Julio Urías of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Aaron Nola of the Philadelphia Phillies.
For Gallen, the issue was not so much that four NL pitchers received more votes than he did. It was that 10 BBWAA voters did not even have his name on their ballots.
“There’s definitely some motivation there,” Gallen said in February. “Ten people didn’t put my name on a ballot. They’ll be on a list somewhere.”
Gallen was not joking; he has a screenshot of the names of all 10 writers who did not vote for him in his phone.
For a multitude of reasons, including the fact that the Diamondbacks have yet to play a postseason game during his time with the franchise, Gallen has not received the respect he deserves in the majors. That changed on Monday.
Behind the center field fence at T-Mobile Park was a stage. On that stage, there was a podium and two chairs situated on either side, each chair parked in front of a microphone on the table in front of it.
A sea of baseball reporters, hailing from a variety of countries and speaking a variety of languages, looked on as the stars of the show walked down the center aisle: Philadelphia Phillies manager Rob Thomson, Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, New York Yankees superstar pitcher Gerrit Cole and Diamondbacks pitcher Zac Gallen.
A few minutes later, the time came for Thomson, the NL manager for the 2023 All-Star game, to name his starting pitcher.
“Our starting pitcher is the man sitting to my right, Zac Gallen.”
With the announcement, Gallen became the third pitcher in Diamondbacks history to start the All-Star game. The other two might ring a bell: Randy Johnson (2000 and 2001) and Curt Schilling (2002).
“This is a whirlwind,” Gallen said. “It’s an awesome experience. I’m humbled by getting that extra little nod to start the game. It’s special. The guys that have done it in D-backs history are two legends. Just to be in the same sentence, whatever, conversation, to have this honor, I’m excited.”
For Gallen, this looks like more than a one-off accomplishment, a hat to be worn one day and cast aside the next. It looks like the crowning of a new ace, a sign of respect for a pitcher who has established himself as one of the best in baseball but lacked the accolades to go with it.
“I feel like the selection in the All-Star game and getting the starting nod had a little bit to do with last year,” Gallen said. “I finished on a really good note. I felt like I’ve had a pretty good 12 months in terms of pitching.”
A “pretty good 12 months of pitching” is an understatement.
Since last year’s All-Star break, Gallen is 19-5 in 33 starts with a 2.37 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, .197 opponent average and excellent peripherals across the board.
It is not hyperbolic to suggest that Gallen has been the best pitcher in baseball in that span. His 7.0 fWAR since last year’s All-Star break is the highest in the majors. The Toronto Blue Jays’ Kevin Gausman ranks second with 6.0 fWAR.
Ironically, Gallen actually has not been as good in 2023 as he was last year. This season, he has a 3.04 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and .225 opponent average. He has allowed four or more runs in six starts this year — something he did not do at all in the second half of last season.
Nonetheless, Gallen’s numbers hold up against every National League starting pitcher. The only NL pitcher with a clear, strong case against him is Los Angeles Dodgers future Hall-of-Famer Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw and Gallen have comparable peripherals — Gallen does have a better FIP — but Kershaw has Gallen beat with a 2.55 ERA. Were it not for a shoulder injury that landed Kershaw on the injured list, he likely would have gotten the nod.
Considering only the pitchers on the final NL roster — note that the Chicago Cubs’ Marcus Stroman and both Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder of the Atlanta Braves opted out — Gallen’s case to start the game is strong.
Gallen arguably has the best overall stat line, but the margin is relatively small. It should also be noted that Gallen’s 43.7 percent hard-hit rate is the second-highest of the staff, behind only Alex Cobb of the San Francisco Giants.
All that is to say: Gallen does deserve to start the MLB All-Star Game. At the same time, an increased level of respect for Gallen and his success over the years seems to have come into play for Thomson and his staff — something Gallen has not experienced in the past.
Only time will tell if Gallen getting the starting nod was a one-time aberration or the first of many. Either way, Gallen is excited about it — not just for what it symbolizes, but because he won’t have to alter his game-day rhythm by pitching out of the bullpen.
“The honor is awesome,” he said, “but being able to stay in my routine even more ideal.”
It should come as no shock that routine would be important for Gallen, whose meticulous preparation has become a hallmark of his game. It is part of what allows Gallen’s arsenal — which, compared to many other staff aces, is not particularly flashy — to produce the results that it does.
Even as Gallen has earned more respect around the league, so have the Diamondbacks. The D-backs have four All-Stars this year, their highest total since 2017.
Gallen said that the team could have had up to seven All-Star representatives, with starting pitcher Merrill Kelly, second baseman Ketel Marte and first baseman Christian Walker all worthy of consideration.
Still, for as much as Gallen cares about individual accolades like All-Star appearances and Cy Young votes, his ultimate goal entering the season had little to do with either of them.
“The real goal is to win a championship,” Gallen said in February, “turn this town into a winner. If you strive to do those type of things, the other stuff tends to fall into place for you. It’s hard to kind of get caught up with lofty goals, stuff like that. You kind of lose the bigger picture.
“I’m just going to trot out there every day and just put in the work, just continue on building off of last year. Whatever happens happens.”
For Gallen — and the Diamondbacks — suffice it to say it has worked so far. Gallen is currently the betting odds favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award.
Uncharacteristic down years and injuries to other NL pitchers have certainly played a role in that. The evolution of Gallen’s perception around the league has, too. Gallen is not just a nice story anymore — the underrated-dude-from-the-small-market-team. He really might be the best pitcher in the National League.
And anyone with an NL Cy Young vote this year should be well aware: Gallen keeps receipts.
“If 10 people don’t put me on the ballot again, I’ll just add another 10 people to the bulletin board.”
Top photo: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY
Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!