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Breaking down Zac Gallen, the Dodgers’ opening day opponent

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

With opening day finally here, not only do we get to see every team finally play competitive baseball again. But we also get to see some of the best pitching matchups of the season as each team lines their ace for the first game of the season. The Dodgers-Diamondbacks matchup is no different as Julio Urias and Zac Gallen go head-to-head, the third- and fifth-place finishers for last year’s National League Cy Young Award.

Gallen, who was arguably the best pitcher in baseball in the second half of last season pitched to a 1.49 ERA over his final 14 starts. Needless to say, he is an elite starter with a fantastic repertoire. Down below we are going to break down what we might see the right hander attack the Dodgers lineup with.

Pitch #1: Four-seam fastball - usage rate 48.1 percent

2022 stats - xBA .200, xSLG .356, xwOBA .295

Average velo - 94.1 MPH - Spin rate - 2,420 RPM - vertical movement - 13.5 inches - horizontal movement - 3.4 inches (3.7 inches below average)

Gallen’s four seam fastball is elite, and the metrics show it. It’s spin rate ranks 65th amongst pitchers with 100 plate appearances against last season, but for qualified pitchers it’s seventh. There is nothing special in terms of movement when it comes to this pitch, but it still plays. Part of the reason this pitch is so successful is because of how it performs at the top of the zone mainly in producing pop ups. The pop-up percentage against this pitch was a whopping 11.3 percent, meaning for every 100 times batters put it in play it resulted in 11 pop ups. Besides double plays, pop ups are a pitcher’s best friend because they are impossible to get beat by and carry next to zero in terms of expected metrics.

Pitch #2: Curveball - usage rate 21.9 percent

(Second pitch)

2022 stats - xBA .188, xSLG .243, xwOBA .204

Average velo - 81.6 MPH - Spin rate - 2,515 RPM - vertical movement - 53.5 inches - horizontal movement - 6.7 inches

This is Gallen’s go to whiff pitch, as he gets batters to swing and miss on it on 33.7 percent of swings against it, 8.4 percent higher than his next closest pitch. Besides a high whiff rate with his curve, Gallen also produces an extremely high ground ball rate with it at 58.9 percent. So needless to say, if a hitter swings at one of Gallen’s curveballs odds are they are either hitting it on the ground or whiffing at it. It should also be noted that Gallen’s curveball usage rate in September was 29.5 percent, so Dodgers hitters will likely see their fair share of them Thursday.

Pitch #3: Cutter - usage rate 14.8 percent

2022 stats - xBA .242, xSLG .349, xwOBA .285

Average velo - 89.9 MPH - Spin rate - 2,424 - vertical movement - 26.7 inches - horizontal movement - 5.3 inches (3.1 inches above average)

Honestly, seeing Gallen’s cutter usage rate this low is surprising to me. It was a pitch that provided solid but unspectacular results. The most notable aspect of this pitch is the quality of contact that he was able to force with it. His average exit velocity against when throwing it was just 85.1 MPH, 2.2 MPH lower than his next closest pitch. Surprisingly Gallen throws this pitch against both lefties and righties at a near even rate. Traditionally, right-handed pitchers throw cutters also exclusively to lefties, but Gallen’s cutter almost moves like a slider which might explain the usage rate.

Pitch #4: Changeup - usage rate 14.2 percent

2022 stats - xBA .245, xSLG .403, xwOBA .309

Average velo - 86.2 MPH - Spin rate - 1,539 - vertical movement - 32.8 inches - horizontal movement - 11.9 inches

Amongst his four pitchers thrown over 1 percent of the time this is Gallen’s worst offering. Notably, in September Gallen threw it only 6.1 percent of the time, so we might only see it a couple times on Thursday. Gallen threw it 418 times in 2022 with 272 of those pitches coming against lefties.

I didn’t include his slider or changeup because he threw them a combined 30 times last season. Additionally, he didn’t throw either pitch once after June.

Prediction: Gallen throws seven innings of one-run ball, with six strikeouts.