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Zac Gallen to be on innings limit in 2021

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Diamondbacks still working out what that number will be

Arizona Diamondbacks v Colorado Rockies Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

During today’s pre game press conference Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo was asked if there would be an innings limit for Zac Gallen. Torey acknowledged there would in fact be an innings limit. They will review with the medical team and come up with that number, but it hasn’t been determined yet. Torey emphasized twice that whatever number they come up with they will not exceed it.

TL: “Everybody needs to be mindful of the workload that they had last year and jumping from 60-70 innings to 200 is not going to necessarily be safe for everybody.”

Asked if he would be proactive in limiting those innings earlier in the year by skipping him or giving him an extra day when the schedule permits, and thus avoid having a late season shutdown scenario, Torey said:

TL: Yes, that’s exactly right. You guys have been around us long enough. Every once in a while we jump into a 6 man rotation to give guys an extra day, or we get creative with days off. There’s a design in that. As far as the other piece of it, if we’re winning a game 9-1 and he’s through 5 clean do I take him out of the game to preserve innings, I haven’t thought about that part of the equation.

Torey Lovullo audio [or link]

For his part, when asked about this during his press conference after his outing today, Zac Gallen was thoughtful, measured, and definitely on the same page as Torey.

ZG: I think your’re going to see a lot of guys that the organization are going to take into account. Jumping from how many innings I had last year, (70) even doubling that is kind of a crazy jump. Usually it’s a slow progression over the year. I’m not really surprised by that but it’s not going to affect what I do. I’m going to go out there and throw as many innings as possible until they decide to shut me down. .....I think just precautionary a lot of teams are going to look to do that. It is what it is.

When asked how he thought the team could be more proactive and avoid having to shut him down in September he said

ZG: I’m not in the logistics business so for me to try to game plan (SHOT!) would be above my pay grade. But there’s definitely things that I imagine you could do throughout the year, maybe take a look at days off, push a start back, whatever that might be. It’s not something that I’ve been talked to about. I’m just going to go out there and do my job pitching till they tell me to stop pitching and then still probably say no let me go back out there.

Pressed on how he WANTS them to handle it, he responded quite clearly:

ZG: Obviously you want to be in there at the end of the stretch run. Hopefully we’re making a push for getting into the post season. So that would be the last time that you’d want to be sitting on the sidelines watching your team unable to help them.

Zac Gallen audio [or link]

Clearly there will be an innings limit for Zac Gallen this year. One can speculate what that number might be, but we heard Zac himself mention doubling last year’s innings to 140 would already be “crazy”. In 2019 he threw 171 Innings. I certainly can’t see him exceeding that. If I were to place a bet I’d think they would settle in at 140 minimum, 160 Maximum with 150 the potential “sweet spot”

How they actually get there is important to consider. Whether it’s by skipping starts, or reducing the. number of starts by pushing him back an extra day multiple times throughout the year. OR, simply reducing how long you let him go in a particular game and looking for opportunities to take him out early.

Looking at the chart below, if he is frequently just going 5 or 5 13 that probably means he’s not been as efficient or effective as we hope. On the other hand, if he’s continually pitching deep into the 6th and sometimes into the 7th, it depends a lot on how efficiently he got there, right ? Last year he completed 7 innings 4 times, never exceeding 100 pitches in the process. In 2019 he went 7 innings three times, and over 100 pitches 4 times.

The color coding is simple

  • Green = Safe Zone, not pressed to far
  • Yellow = Caution, inning between 150-160 probably getting close to the max you can consider
  • Orange = Warning, you’ve exceeded advisable workload at 160-170 innings
  • Red = Danger, over 175 innings and you’re potentially putting his future in danger

It will be interesting to circle back and look at this chart a few months into the season and see what kind of pace he’s on. Obviously how well the team is doing might factor in, but I bring you back to Torey’s comments about whatever number they come up with will be a firm limit.

Hopefully they choose wisely, and hopefully we don’t see a Stephen Strasburg situation develop. Some might remember Strasburg was shut down for good in September 2012 and not available for the post season that year. Although that ended up working out ok in the long run as he’s had a pretty darn good career, he got a huge contract, AND the Nationals finally got their ring in 2019. I thought this article was kinda funny when searching around for info about that though.

One last thought: The next obvious question to ask Torey is if there will be an inning limit for any of the other starters. I can’t imagine them letting any of Weaver, Kelly, or Smith go more than 140-50 innings either. They’ve all dealt with injury issues in the last 12-18 months. And while letting old horse Bumgarner go more may seem like a no brainer, in fact they have the most money tied up in him.

So that being the case, I think it’s fairly obvious the team is going to need to be at least 7-8 deep in guys that give them double digit start totals. They may not set up a 6 man rotation, but they’ll clearly need to work in 7-8 different guys somehow. Often times injury or performance will make these decisions for you. But even if they’re enjoying relatively good health, managing starter workload in 2021 is going to be a major challenge and something to track closely.