Zac Gallen Is Doing Something Not Seen in Decades

Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

It's true that Zac Gallen's current scoreless innings streak is just under halfway to the record he set last year, but that doesn't mean that it isn't incredible, remarkable, and rare.

But first, what was that about the record set last year?

We all know, of course, that Gallen set the franchise record for scoreless innings. But he did far more than that. While he finished well shy of Orel Hershiser's major league and National League records, he threw more consecutive scoreless innings than anyone pitching in a DH league. (The previous record holder in that category had been Gregg Olson, who probably deserves an asterisk as he allowed inherited runners to score multiple times during his streak.) Not only that, he obliterated the record. Olson's streak of 41 innings comes with the asterisk mentioned. The longest previous streak by a starter having to deal with a designated hitter was Kenny Rogers's in 1995 which reached 39 innings. Zack Greinke reached 38 innings, spread across two seasons. Pedro Martinez reached 35 innings in 2002.

Simply put, there's a reason why every scoreless innings streak of any length since the 1970s has come in the National League. Apart from Gallen, every scoreless innings streak of 40 innings or more by a starter in MLB history came with the help of facing the pitcher each time through the order. By another measure, Gallen had the most consecutive scoreless starts by a true starter against the DH in baseball history. His six consecutive starts were tied with Chris Sale (who only went one inning in his fifth start and three in his sixth as he worked back from injury) and only exceeded by a string of openers. This is an accomplishment that has, unfortunately, been overlooked, but it shouldn't be.

But now, Gallen has another streak over 20 innings. How many starting pitchers have multiple streaks of over 20 innings while dealing with the DH? Not many. Chris Sale, Kenny Rogers, Jake Odorizzi, Francisco Liriano, Randy Johnson, Cristian Javier, Wilson Alvarez, Roger Clemens. How many of those went over 30 scoreless innings in one of those streaks? Rogers, of course. Sale went 35 innings in 2018. Clemens went 33 in 1998. RJ went 31 in 1997. That's it. Gallen is, of course, the only pitcher to surpass 40 innings and have multiple streaks of over 20.

Of course, it is impossible to compare eras accurately, or compare difficulty of scoreless innings streaks with and without the DH. It is clear that the DH makes it more difficult, given the sheer number of long streaks in the NL and pre-DH AL compared to DH leagues. But I think it is safe to say that Gallen is on the verge of accomplishing something not seen in baseball in fifty years. Only two pitchers have multiple streaks of over 40 scoreless innings. One of them is Walter Johnson, who holds the American League record with his 55.2 scoreless streak in 1913 and also had a 40 inning streak in 1918. That, of course, was the dead ball era. The other is Luis Tiant.

In the "Year of the Pitcher", Tiant put together a 41 inning streak that wasn't even the longest that season. But four years later, in the final year before the DH, he put together another 40 inning scoreless streak, making Tiant the only pitcher in the live ball era with multiple streaks of at least 40 innings.

I don't think that Gallen is quite there yet. 20 is not the new 40 when it comes to scoreless innings streaks, but I think we can safely say that 30 is the new 40, considering that no pitcher has ever had multiple 30 scoreless innings streaks while having to face the DH. What is going on here is close to comparable to something that hasn't been seen in fifty years, and it is largely ignored by the baseball media (just as they ignored that his streak last year was the DH-era record.)

But we can and should recognize and appreciate it. We can and should recognize Gallen as the record holder for the era encompassing the AL since 1973 and all of baseball since 2022. We can and should recognize that Gallen is halfway (three-quarters of the way?) to accomplishing something only done once in the live ball era, and that he is doing so only a few starts after rule changes that were purposely designed to encourage more runs being scored. This is something that just doesn't happen, but here it is happening, and it's happening for the Diamondbacks.