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Giants vs. Rockies, 4/11

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Jeff Samardzija (RHP; 0-0, 3.42 FIP) vs. Jon Gray (RHP; 0-2, 4.13 FIP)

MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockies have suffered a bunch of injuries and are off to their worst start since 2005 (when they won just 2 of their first 12 games), which is also the 2nd-worst start in franchise history. April can break but not make a season, so they’ll need to get things going in short order. For their part, the Giants don’t look like they’ll just roll over for them.

This is what the Rockies lineup looks like after injuries to Daniel Murphy, Ryan McMahon, and David Dahl:

Jon Gray struck out 10 Marlins in his season debut on March 31st, but followed that up with five earned runs in six innings against the Giants. That’s okay, Jon Gray. It’s the Dodgers. Happens to everybody. Gray’s 5.68 ERA looks better under the FIP microscope (4.13), and he has 14 strikeouts to just three walks in 12.2 innings pitched.

In six career starts against the Giants, though, he’s allowed 18 earned runs in 26.1 IP (6.15 ERA), while walking 13 (against 25 strikeouts). Five of those starts have come at Oracle Park. The one home run he’s allowed against the Giants was also at Oracle. Gray also allowed a home run in both starts this season...

Might we see one of these Giants hit a home run tonight?

Brandon Belt has that home run against Jon Gray. If Buster Posey gets on base ahead of him, a home run is the only thing that’s going to score the Giants’ comically slow catcher.

Before you go out there and project doom and gloom for Jeff Samardzija tonight, just know that although a bad start is extremely likely, there are some signs that his shaky start to the season isn’t a secret disaster waiting to be revealed. Yes, nine hits in 9.2 IP is bad. A 6:5 strikeouts to walk ratio is also really bad. Average exit velocity of 91.3 mph? Also not good. Expected slugging percentage based on contact? .546. Yikes. A 38.7% hard hit rate? What am I thinking — there’s a secret disaster waiting to be revealed.

Hmm, wait. Let’s explore this ridiculously small two-start sampling a bit more. That’s a misleading 2.79 ERA Samardzija’s sporting, but the FIP is an agreeable 3.42. This new Statcast leaderboard for pitch arsenals shows that all of his pitches put him at least at the major league average in terms of overall velocity.

If you sort if for spin rate, you find something more surprising: his four-same fastball has the fifth-best spin rate in baseball (2,603 rpm), behind Corbin Burnes, Mike Minor, Nate Jones, and Justin Verlander. His fastball has spun at a greater rpm than Max Scherzer’s (2,508). His sinker spin rate of 2,508 rpm is sixth-best in baseball, behind Gerrit Cole’s (2,554) and just ahead of Max Scherzer’s (2,502). His 2,591 rpm with the cutter is 12th-best.

It’s his slider (77th) and curveball (99th) where those spin rates fall down a bit, but the early numbers suggest that he still has major league stuff. My interview with Rapsodo’s GM reinforced the idea that velocity still matters more than spin, but spin can be a sign of pitcher health and quality of pitches. Velocity and spin determines a pitcher’s effectiveness in terms of getting batters out, but it’s not all bad for Samardzija. At least... not after two starts. Will check back in tomorrow.