It is Going to Take More Than Luck for the Colts to Win

David Malinsky

Tuesday, August 29, 2017 1:52 PM UTC

Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 1:52 PM UTC

The rebuilding process is just beginning for the Colts defense…Rich Hill wasn’t really Sisyphus vs. the Pirates, he’s been on top of the hill for a while now…

Point Blank – August 29, 2017

On Wednesday it will be time to begin dissecting some of the key components behind this week’s NCAA board but today the focus goes to the professional sports, and in particular the notion of “Luck”, the capital intended because of the specific reference in this case. The Colts may need plenty of it, and as Rich Hill provides a terrific case study on the MLB diamonds, in truth that brilliant performance at Pittsburgh last week wasn’t just one of those nights when baseball bounces played his way. Let’s get to work.

As the NFL team-by-team tour heads into the home stretch it would only be natural that the Indianapolis focus would center on Andrew Luck, right? But it won’t. You can read so much about his status across the rest of the Sports Mediaverse, while there still just isn’t any way to predict at what stage he will be ready to play. And you also don’t need me to tell you that Scott Tolzein isn’t ready to be a full-time NFL starter, nor is he ever likely to be, his ceiling being a rather low one.

Instead I am going tozero in on a target area that I believe the shrewd handicapper should focus on, the fact that the defense not only lacks play-making talent, but also doesn’t have all that much experience playing together. Welcome to the Greg Ballard era, an attempt to rebuild one of the weakest overall rosters in the NFL, all the while doing it with a QB that when healthy can have his team competitive in a weak division.

Ballard made it known after being hired as GM this past off-season that he wanted to build structure around a defense that created turnovers, among the items in the files his take that – “It’s all about the ball. The more times we can get our offense the ball, the more shots we have to score … Just think back to when Indy was really hummin’, when y’all were really hummin’ offensively and defensively. That team was built strictly on speed. When you get the lead, we’re going to be able to freakin’ run and rush the passer and go.’’

That philosophy is noble, but wasn’t necessarily going to fit with the players on hand – over the last five seasons the Colts are tied for #25 in the NFL in takeaways. There needed to be changes in both attitude and personnel, and it has not taken Ballard long to change the names on the depth chart. The question is how quickly that change can turn into something positive, and if indeed this group has the talent to elevate to the next level.

Let’s look at what the starting lineup would be if the season were to begin today, as they sort through injuries, including rookie safety Malik Hooker and veteran LB Jon Bostic, who could fit into bigger roles later. Next to each player are the number of snaps in a Colts uniform in 2016 -

DE – Henry Anderson (308)

NT – Al Woods (0)

DE – Jonathan Hankins (0)

OLB – John Simon (0)

ILB – Anthony Walker (0)

ILB – Edwin Jackson (495)

OLB – Jabaal Sheard (0)

CB – Rashaan Melvin (655)

CB – Vontae Davis (823)

SS – Mathias Farley (67)

FS – Darius Butler (472)

That is a lot of new faces, and not much experience in Ted Monachino’s system (this is only his second season) with those that did return – to establish some context, Davis only rated #138 in the NFL last year for total snaps. That means some chemistry problems as they assimilate, and one of the most difficult things to do in the NFL is to apply pressure defense when the players don’t know the system, or each other, well enough. That opens the door to mistakes, and allowing big plays to be made.

Is there enough talent anyway or will there need to be another overhaul into 2018? That is a significant question for later, but for now I am going to question how well this chemistry is going to work. For the handicapper it will be a matter of doing the proper digging because some of the numbers may look decent – one could make a case that the Indianapolis schedule draw in terms of QBs faced is among the weakest in the NFL, especially an early cycle through which they’ll get Jared Goff and DeShone Kizer within the first three weeks.

This defense may well take advantage of that schedule to post better numbers than the market expectations as the season unfolds, but that may just open the door for some opportunities when the tougher challenges are on tap.


Rich Hill didn’t elevate to the top of the hill at Pittsburgh, he was already there

Watching the markets on Dodgers/Diamondbacks will be an intriguing part of the Tuesday betting landscape the images of Hill so vivid across many Sports Mediaverse captures following what was literally a loss for the ages at Pittsburgh.

There is a natural assumption that would call for a 37-year old to be set up for a major letdown from that, both in terms of his physical abilities to recover from such a long stint; his psyche because of how the course of history got altered; and also those notions of Baseball Being Baseball, which means that the good fortune behind that performance may not repeat. But there is also something that may be under-appreciated – that was not Sisyphus trying to push a boulder to the top of a hill and coming up short of the goal; the Dodger left-hander has been on top of that hill for nearly two months now.

Since July 1 Hill is sitting on a 5-1/2.25 over nine starts, and you aren’t going to find a fluke in the numbers – he has nearly twice as many strikeouts (72), as hits allowed (37), across that span, while walking only 12 batters in 56 innings. If you want to stretch things out a bit more, over the last two seasons he sits at 21-10/2.70. The only pitchers with a lower ERA (of those working at least 200 innings) have been Clayton Kershaw, Kyle Hendricks, Max Scherzer and Noah Syndergaard, and Hill is also #8 in FIP across the span.

Because injuries have played such a part in limiting his career arc, with only 713.1 innings under his belt despite having made his first appearance with the Cubs back in 2005, there were a lot of media takes last week about it being such a career moment for a journeyman. The reality has been substantially different, and there is a particular dynamic involved – Hill is a soft-tossing curve-baller at a time in which hitters are as susceptible to that style as any stretch of his career.

Want to have some fun? Let’s take a look at the results for the three pitchers that have thrown the highest percentage of curves this season –

Pitcher       W/L   ERA    FIP    Curve%

McCullers   7-3     3.92   2.94   46.9

Hill              9-5     3.32   3.89   38.6

Pomeranz  14-4   3.23   3.65   36.9

No, it is not just the simple fact that they throw so many curves, but obviously because they throw them well. But note in particular where Hill and Pomeranz are in their career arcs. At the age of 37, Hill is as effective as he has ever been, the same can be said of Pomeranz, who was not much more than a journeyman before going extensively to his knuckle-curve the past two seasons.

As for notions of fatigue, Hill only threw 99 pitches at Pittsburgh, off of 84 in his previous outing, and tonight marks only his third start in 17 days. By now you may guess where I am going with this, and that is to get behind Hill in a setting in which others may be looking in the opposite direction, which means backing #961 LA Dodgers (9:40 Eastern) at -125 or less, with another key sub-item in play, the signs of fatigue for Zack Godley.

In working with Ted Sevransky and Pauly Howard for today’s SportsBIT, which will be up later this morning, there was naturally a focus on Dodgers/Diamondbacks because of Hill’s dramatic story, but while we have liked Godley a lot this season (guess what, because he throws a lot of curve balls), both for the pocket and on that show, there are some signs of potential trouble creeping in.

Godley sports an 0-3/4.50 over his last three starts, which is far from his earlier form, but not so bad that alarms go off. Here is why they should – his PPI (Pitches Per Inning) over those three outings were 18.7, 19.9 and 20.0. He had not been over 17.5 all season prior to that, and 11 of his 16 previous starts were below 16.0.

This may be Godley entering into the danger zone as his 20th start approaches. In 2016 he only had nine starts, while being brought out of the bullpen 18 times. Godley’s command has been fading, a 13.5 BB% over those last three starts compared to a 7.6 prior to them, and this vulnerability is something that the Dodgers can take advantage of on their third look against him in less than two months.


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