Let’s rate team strength (and do a round 6 preview)

For the past few months HPN has been looking at how to evaluate efficiency and movement.  In the last few of our weekly review/previews we have been dropping little nuggets here and there – scoring shots per inside 50, goals conceded per opposition inside 50 – to try to look at the statistical trends of successful (and unsuccessful) teams.

We’ve decided to take a fairly simple and reductionist view, using a small number of ratios to measure strength in each main area of the ground. We’re going this way because our chosen indicators correlate quite well with success over recent years, whereas many other statistical categories seem to be indicators of game style as much as strength. Generally speaking, finalists come from the top end of the ranking for indicators.

In brief, in our ratings we are concerned entirely with comparing a team’s inside 50 counts and inside 50 scoring efficiency with that of their opponents.

First up, here’s the table:

R5 rankings.PNG

Midfield Score

Of the three simple measures, our Midfield Score is the most simple of all. It is purely a team’s inside 50s divided by their opponent’s inside 50s. This tracks how often the midfield is able to put their team in a position to score, and how much they are able to prevent their opposition from doing so. It is a pure measure of movement, of ball position and ultimate opportunity.

Of all of the statistics that are publicly available, this inside 50 ratio appears to correlate with success as much as any other except for actual goalscoring. We investigated adding other factors in with just inside 50s, such as clearances, tackles and hitouts, but this would both dilute the pure measurement of movement and doesn’t seem to add any more clarity around team ability. Some very good teams are pretty indifferent in the clearance or hitout stakes, for instance.

As can be seen below, after goals, inside 50s are the second most influential statistic on team success according to the esteemed MAFL, who as we’ve said before, is very good at this kind of thing:

IMAGE$CA39F2CA2FA71B.jpg

Of course, it is a misnomer to suggest that only midfields (and midfielders) can contribute inside 50s, however for clarity of labeling we are suggesting that inside 50s can only occur from the “middle of the field” so in a movement sense, they’re reflective of the stage in between scoring and defending scores. This is also reflected in our other measures, which measures the place on the ground and not necessarily the position.

Offensive and Defensive Scores

These two scores look at efficiency once inside 50 – they are goals per inside 50 and scoring shots per inside 50. The logic is straight forward. We’re fairly certain that goals (scoring and stopping them) are the most important thing in football. We also know that lopsided inside 50 counts correlate pretty well with more successful teams. Therefore, the more efficient a team is turning their inside 50s into scoring, the better their forward strength. The less efficient a team’s opponents are with inside 50s, the better that defense.

Note that since it’s goals/scores per inside 50, a lower number is better for Defence and a higher number for Offence is better.

The reason we’ve used both goals and shots in combination is to try to account for some of the luck effects that occur with scoring accuracy. The key data item missing from that is any indicator of scoring opportunity quality or expected accuracy from scoring shots. Not all inside 50s and not all scoring shots are equally advantageous, and we would expect quality teams to gain better quality entries. This data doesn’t exist for the general public such as ourselves, so we can’t adjust forward and defensive strength by the quality of entries and opportunities. So we will just plough ahead with what we have.

We considered incorporating marks inside 50, as this correlates quite well with success for most teams. However, there seems to be a stylistic element to the importance of marks inside 50 – in 2016 Adelaide and the Bulldogs for example score heavily without being great on this measure and in 2015 Geelong did not convert a great marks per inside 50 rate into correspondingly high scoring shots. In the end we wanted to keep things relatively simple and figured that if you’re taking marks inside 50, you’re getting scoring shots anyway.

Opponent adjustment

Given it is early in the season, teams’ schedules have been very uneven. As can be seen in the table, we have therefore adjusted each team’s raw midfield, offensive and defensive ratios by the strength of their opponents in these areas. That is, their Midfield Score (inside 50 ratio) is compared to their opponents midfield. Since the two measures are the converse of each other, the Offensive Score (goals/scores per i50) is matched up with opponents Defense (scores/goals conceded per i50).

For example, we can see that the Gold Coast have faced the weakest roster of opposition midfields (in terms of their inside 50 ratios) and have faced the leakiest defences. Thus the Suns’ Midfield and Forward Scores get scaled down. Conversely, North Melbourne have faced an efficient-scoring set of opponents so their Defence Score is improved.

The final columns convert each measure to a percentage of the league average and finally an all-in rating tells us overall team quality on these three key measures of their ability to do well on these measures which correlate highly with team success.

Currently this set of rankings tells us that the Swans rate the best overall based entirely on their defensive strength (causing inside 50 inefficiency) and midfield strength (getting a lot more inside 50s than their opponent. They’ve been able to compensate for average or below average forward potency through sheer quantity of inside 50s and a stingy defense.

GWS are a suprise packet – even adjusting for schedule, they’re sitting second right now, rating well above average on their ability to defend inside 50s, create their own, and convert them to scores.

Fremantle might be real bad

Whilst no team has started 0-4 in the AFL era and gone on to make finals, no team as good as Fremantle is has been in this position in our opinions.

Not our finest moment. So let’s walk that back a bit. We still stand by our observation that their earlier opponents mostly look fairly strong, but it turns out after a loss to Carlton at home that Fremantle are also bad in absolute terms, not just relative to their early opponents.

Starting a season 0-4 is very bad, starting it 0-5 with three of your best three players out for the foreseeable future is heading towards disastrous. Freo’s next three weeks see them playing Adelaide in Adelaide, a rising GWS at home and Hawthorn in Melbourne. There is very little margin for error left for the Dockers here but even that might be overselling it. Right now perhaps a better goal for Freo might be to avoid the 1928 Hawthorn Piss Poor Performance Plate, or even just avoiding the worst season by a defending minor premier (as outlined by Matt Cowgill for The Arc).

Melbourne are average

Welcome to the annals of the average, Melbourne

Here are some words that long-suffering Melbourne fans have being dying to hear for the last 10 years: the Dees are average. Literally average.

Looking above to our quality ratings, the Demons sit 9th of 18, right in the middle of the pack for their Midfield, Offense and Defense Scores. They’re creating inside 50s, converting them, and restricting opponent inside 50 conversion at roughly middle of the pack levels.

Their weaker set of opponents drags down their midfield rating slightly at this stage, but their extremely (and uncharacteristically for this year across both preseason and the real stuff) poor showing against Essendon is 1/5th of this average currently. If that insipid performance turns out to have been an anomaly, the spoils of being truly average (slipping into 8th) may well be theirs for the taking.

Let that sink in for a second. Rather than bringing up the rear of the competition yet again, MFC has risen up through the dregs of the early season competition and hit a level of glorious mid-table mediocrity that has been long imagined but rarely seen.

Hot Take of the Week

Mason Cox’s debut is more impressive than Jarryd Hayne’s achievements according to Patrick Smith

We hate defending Jarryd Hayne hype here. We initially assessed him as a chance to get onto a practice squad and he exceeded this by playing real games. We then observed the actual reason why he wasn’t playing later in the season wasn’t form or stupid coaches but to do with contract flexibility and practice squad rules. We like to think we’ve been cautious realists on him, at least compared to guff like Patrick’s “He’s doing bugger all, what’s he done? He went over there and fumbled.”

But the thing is, Hayne has been attempting to break into the biggest and most competitive sporting league in the world in a manner unprecedented in that league’s history.

The story of international players in the AFL is a fascinating human interest story, but we have to remember that the reason it happens is to do with the structure and talent pool of our league. We’re a small country with a limited talent pool, and it’s in clubs’ interests to leverage against that by exploiting the vast resources of surplus underpaid athletes in other countries for whom the AFL can offer a competitive payday. The AFL Draft makes it hard to source talent freely in Australia. The salary cap means it’s tough to take punts on too many project players within the cap. The rookie list means international players are a free hit.

Mason Cox is the latest talented prospect in a long line. He’s very large, seems to have a good brain, will probably be successful. But a goal and a dozen hitouts and possessions against a shellshocked and remnant Essendon team isn’t necessarily world-beating. We’re not even sure yet that he’s the most promising American basketballer so far (remember Jason Holmes?) but at any rate, let’s just remember that the AFL is not the NFL.

Things to watch this week

1. GWS v Hawthorn

Hawthorn have been lucky in their close games this year (as opposed to last year when they went 1 and 4 in a performance that was typically meaningless when September rolled around). GWS are shaping as very very good.

By our ratings the Giants are well above average in all areas of the ground, and while Hawthorn look strong in midfield strength and forward efficiency, they’re below average at defending opposition inside 50s. Unless Hawthorn’s midfield can shut GWS down, GWS will get their chances and Hawthorn probably need to improve on the ability they’ve so far shown to stop teams converting their forward forays into scores. This should be a fascinating game to see where these two teams – both hard to get a read on in 2016 – truly sit.

2. North Melbourne v Bulldogs should be about contrasting strengths

In brief terms, North Melbourne’s success seems all about their extremely high efficiency in turning inside 50s into scoring. The Bulldogs’ seems to be all about a dominant midfield and an efficient defence.

We observed earlier in the year that the Bulldogs were conceding a lot of marks per inside 50, but that hasn’t actually translated into conceding a lot of scores from total inside 50s, with the Bulldogs well above average for inside 50 to score conceded ratio. This would suggest that they’re very proficient at defending the ground ball whenever marks aren’t taken, and that marks are crucial to scoring against them.

At Etihad, conditions won’t play a role but the interplay of the Bulldogs’ increasingly undermanned (and already undersized) defence with the North Melbourne tall forwards will probably be crucial. The Bulldogs’ drastically better Midfield Score (ie inside 50 ratio) suggests they can limit North Melbourne’s forward opportunities, while giving the Dogs’ forwards plenty of their own and they’ll need this to happen in order to win.

Look to see if the Bulldogs midfielders can prevent Goldstein’s dominance from translating into forward ball movement. If they can do that, we should see a lopsided inside 50 count but North Melbourne making better use of more limited opportunities.

3. We have no idea what might happen between Richmond and Port Adelaide

Both these teams have been pretty disappointing relative to preseason expectations. Both have a number of injuries, players coming in and out of their teams, and seasons that are quickly becoming unsalvageable. Both have large, angry fanbases demanding answers and change, and whoever loses will likely go into full-blown psychodrama crisis mode. Both teams even have had hot tempers boiling over into brawls and cheap shots.

If you want some numbers to think about, they look pretty similar. Both teams have roughly average forward efficiency and are well below average in both generating inside 50s and defending against scores from them.

However, between the impact of confidence and desperation and the impact of team changes we don’t think this game is going to be won and lost on paper or by anything statistics can measure. It could be a fun and spectacular mess.

 

 

Is Brisbane that bad? Are Freo? (an AFL round 5 preview)

This is the fourth weekly wrap up/preview for the 2016 AFL by HPN.

Brisbane might not really be that bad (offensively)

Only 16 teams since 2000 have gone through a season with a goal kicking accuracy of less than 50%, with the lowest being the inaugural Gold Coast squad in 2011 at 46%. Brisbane are currently at 42% (47 goals, 66 behinds) through four rounds this season.

When we look at our measures of forward effectiveness per inside 50, Brisbane have actually looked somewhat reasonable:

offscore

But why is Brisbane shooting so historically badly? Are they really that inept offensively, or are there other factors in play?

  1. No talls allowed

So far, Brisbane has only had 9 (out of 47) goals kicked by players taller than 192cm. That’s good for worst in the league, and continues their trend from last year. Even with the recruitment of Josh Walker and Josh Schache the Lions lack for credible tall targets up forward in a way that no other team in the competition does. It’s unfair to rely on a guy in his fourth game to be the focal point of a forward line, but that’s what the Lions have had to do this year.

Getting the ball inside 50 doesn’t appear to be the problem, and they’re average at getting marks inside 50. However, if their talls aren’t scoring then clearly taking marks in the right spots is an issue, which leads us to:

2. Poor shot quality

As a result of having no solid targets closer to goal, Brisbane tends to ping it towards goal from a little further out than most sides, revealing that the inside 50s they’re getting may not be deep ones, resulting in poor quality shots:

(credit @DownIsTheNewUp, via the Footy Live app).

Again, this is somewhat a function of not having as many secondary targets when they have the ability to have an attempt on goal.

3. Rushed behinds

The Lions also lead the league in rushed behinds, an extremely high 15 so far this year. Right now they are on track to rack up 82 points in this way by the end of the year, a severe rise on their 48 of last year. Rushed behinds can be the result of several factors, such as tips on the goal line, dropped marks, long kicks dropping short and the defence being put under pressure. Given the above statistics, the former reasons are much more likely than the final.

At the other end of the ground, Brisbane are allowing an opposition accuracy of 58%, another high number although not as historically so. Even with the above issues it is likely that the Lions will improve in both of these areas as the season continues as reversion to the mean occurs, mostly because they can’t really get much worse from here.

Brisbane certainly aren’t very good, and still look poor in defence. However, in offence they’re probably closer to mid table than cellar dwellers.

And about Fremantle…

At an even lower station on the ladder than Brisbane right now are the recently top four placed Fremantle, who are winless after four games. But let’s settle the horses here: Fremantle have played  a very hard schedule so far (bar perhaps Gold Coast), and it’s about to open up for them right now. Ryan Buckland outlines it very well here for The Roar.

They’ve only had their best player, Sandilands (CONTROVERSIAL!) for 5 quarters, and it shows in their hitout numbers, going from a league leading 1.954 hitouts per opposition hitout to a mid-pack 0.904.

By our raw data, Freo have been horrendous defending (conceding a lot of scoring per inside 50), terrible in the midfield battle (their i50 ratio is very poor) and passable offensively (goals and scores per inside 50). However, when adjusted for the strength of their opponents in each of these categories, they really should come back to the middle of the competition in each:

opponents.PNG

Note the green on most measures for Freo’s highlighted opponents, the Bulldogs, Gold Coast, West Coast and North Melbourne. Fremantle have run into teams with some combination of very efficient offences, very efficient defences and very strong midfields this far this year.

Whilst no team has started 0-4 in the AFL era and gone on to make finals, we’re not sure a team as recently high quality as Fremantle is has been in this position in our opinions.

Hot Take of the Week

Warwick Capper claims that he’s probably Australia’s Michael Jordan which is, on every level, absolutely batshit. This is the fattest fish in the smallest barrel we’ve ever encountered, but here goes. Let’s break down their retrospective careers.

Jordan was the NBA MVP five times, an NBA champion six times, scoring champion ten times, Finals MVP six times, Defensive Player of the Year once, fourteen time NBA All Star and  two-time Olympic gold medallist. Off the court he is reputed to be the first billionaire athlete, and owns an NBA team to boot. He could buy the entire AFL. He still earns as much in endorsements than any other current player, and he’s been retired for more than a decade.

Capper was allegedly the highest paid player in the AFL at one point, but that’s his biggest sign of success. He never won a final, let alone a flag, never made an All Australian team, never led the league in goalkicking. He never got more than five Brownlow votes in any given year. Off the field Capper had a porn career and a coffee franchise called “Cappercino” and is best known as the punchline to a billion tired jokes about football in the 1980s.

Some may compare Capper to Dennis Rodman just based on their flamboyance, but that’s very unkind to Rodman, who was one of the NBA’s greatest defenders and a five time NBA champion.

Old Wazz is probably more like the late Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, given their similar meteoric rises (two great seasons, not much else), and occasional off-field problems. Or perhaps you might think the worst All Star selection ever James Donaldson is a more apt comparison, due to his similar excellence in one indirectly useful skill (in his case blocking rather than high marking) and not much else.

Regardless, Capper isn’t our Jordan. For fucks sake.

Things to watch this week

  1. How many times will soldiers be compared to footy players?

The similarities between football players and military officers: they are professionals who wear uniforms.

The differences: almost everything else.

The stories of war and football are long-intertwined in Australia’s history, but that doesn’t mean they are the same thing. I can remember reading about Bluey Truscott and Ron Barassi Snr as a kid, going off to war and not coming back, and their indelible fingerprints on the Melbourne Football Club.

But what they did on the MCG was literally a world away to what they did by placing their lives on the line on actual battlefields. We’re not trying to undersell the toughness of football – we probably both aren’t fit or strong enough to play a full season at this point of our lives. But even if we did, it’s not near the same level as going to a fucking warzone. In times of war it is expected that many people will die doing their jobs fighting those wars; you almost certainly can’t die on the football field.

If the AFL were really serious about the effort to support current and retired troops, they would donate every cent of profit from ANZAC marketed football revenue to worthy causes, such as mental health services for former troops, or rehabilitation efforts for the injured.

  1. Can Gold Coast catch their bunny by the tail?

Despite North Melbourne’s strong start, many of their fans will be unsurprisingly nervous at facing the Gold Coast at Carrara. They’ve lost their last three matches to the Suns, often in contradiction of form indicators, and haven’t beat them since 2012.

We’re not sure if there is something in the matchup  or just coincidence. Let’s entertain the notion that there’s an underlying reason by identifying a couple of stylistic factors might suggest why this has been a tough matchup for North.

Both sides also work much better offensively than they do defensively. In recent years North Melbourne have generally been mid-table in contested possessions and tackle counts, Gold Coast around that mark or below. The premier players at each club do their best work on the goalward side of midfield, and the defending stocks are a little barer. As a result, it has meant that Gold Coast have been able to find space, like in 2015 when they registered 22 bounces to North’s 1. This may suggest that North perhaps aren’t applying enough pressure to contain the Suns’ potentially dangerous outside midfield group.

Gold Coast have also been consistently terrible in ruck battles since their inception, sitting in the bottom three every season for hitout differentials, winning 70% of the hitouts their opponents ever have. As a result, they’ve likely developed the ability to “shark” the hitout reception, and throw the centre clearance games of rivals off. North, with the dominant Goldstein directing traffic, doesn’t face a team as experienced with badly losing hitouts as the Suns are week in, week out.

(A sidebar here is that the suns have dropped Nicholls, a man who has barely won a hitout differential in his 34-game career, and  in favour of Dan Currie, Goldstein’s former understudy who presumably can’t do much worse).

If North Melbourne’s annual losses since 2012 have an explanation, these factors might be it.

This should be a fascinating and free-flowing contest. However, with North Melbourne’s offensive potency this season, and the loss of key defensive players, Gold Coast’s ability to resist North Melbourne well enough to kick the large winning score they’ll need will be heavily tested.

  1. #DefeatedWatch comes to its gripping conclusion

THIS IS IT PEOPLE! #DEFEATED WATCH KLAXONS AT THE READY FULL STEAM AHEAD!

Now we have your attention, may we draw your focus to Carton v Fremantle this weekend, which will (draws aside) be the end of the winless days for one team. After this match, the Winless Bowl, the Futility Cup, the 1928 Hawthorn Football Club Winless Season Memorial Shield will be done and dusted, and only one winless team will remain. Fremantle are extremely heavily favoured here, but anything can happen on the day, and it’s HPN’s match of the round for that reason.

Assuming the result isn’t a draw, we’ll wrap up Defeated Watch here, because only one team will remain, able to break the streak at any point.

Introducing The Murphy Score (and a #AFL round 4 preview)

This is the third weekly wrap up/preview for the 2016 AFL by HPN.

Collingwood’s large problem

Before the season, Collingwood were nearly everyone’s breakout pick to make the eight this year, if not even more. Even we hopped on board based on entirely sound but observations from available data.

Spoiler alert: the Pies haven’t looked like a finals side yet. But why is this the case?

In short, Collingwood has a bigs issue. That’s not a typo, but it is a bad pun. Across the park Collingwood’s talls have been mediocre to disastrous. Collingwood is the only side in the league to be in the bottom four of each of three indicators of big man quality – marks per inside 50 entry (offensive and defensive) and hit out win rate.

2016 R3 AFL COLL TAll

The Pies have had only 7 of their 34 goals kicked by players taller than 192cms. They’ve trialled a few options so far this season, but none have really stuck so far. While it isn’t a fatal blow for their season just yet, if they can’t find a solution soon, it will be.

The Murphy Score

Like many AFL fans, our hearts sank on Sunday afternoon as HPN’s favourite neutral player Robert “Bob” “Bobert” Murphy went down in the last minute of the game against the Hawks. Without adding to the hyperbole, Murphy shows many of the greatest attributes of the game, has an acerbic wit and is one of the finest writers about the game to boot. We’re still waiting for an invitation to play Zoneball, but we fear that may never come.

One of the first proposed pieces for HPN was a metric to determine which player in the AFL is the most “Robert Murphy”. For about a month we worked the data, but the closest we could get Robert Murphy to being “Robert Murphy” was 3rd. Almost always, Brodie Smith was always more like Murphy than he was himself.

So, given the events of the week, we’ve had another crack at developing “The Murphy Score”, a measure to determine how much like Robert Murphy a player is. It’s close to a “defensive quarterback” rating (something else we have cooking for future weeks).

Murphy Score

The Murphy Score is a fuction of stability, creativity and trust. The statistics relied upon are rebound 50s, inside 50s, goal assists, uncontested disposals, bounces with heavy penalties for frees against and clangers. This was calculated on 2015 season statistics.

And the least Robert Murphy of players last season are:

Murphy Score Bottom

Hot Take of the Week

David King has a plan . A plan for Essendon to conduct a playing list firesale and then to rebuild with the acquired draft picks. He calls this a “once in a lifetime opportunity” as though clubs can’t theoretically embark on exactly this tanking rebuild path at any time, and as though St Kilda haven’t done exactly the same thing twice in 15 years. This is a bad take.

But also, King’s plan for Essendon to undertake a Philadelphia 76ers “process” hinges on some pretty unrealistic expectations of the proposed movements.

Mostly, we are skeptical that any banned player who departs Essendon as a free agent due to the doping sanctions will attract a compensation pick. The departure was triggered by Essendon malfeasance, and the AFLPA’s view is that these departures are driven by breaches of contract that render the players delisted free agents rather than restricted or unrestricted free agents. The idea that Cale Hooker would earn Essendon pick 2 as a reward for the impact of doping sanctions on onfield performance and on his contract seems a bit offensive.

The trade values proposed by King are a mixture of entirely reasonable and substantial overs. Trading Heppell for two top ten picks is actually not mad at all. This is essentially the Treloar trade which we noted was very well balanced  with Collingwood trading pick 7 and their 2016 first round pick. Heppell’s value is roughly on par with Treloar as a truly elite player still in his early to mid 20s – we rate him a bit higher due to his greater Brownlow vote count, but it’s much of a muchness. Heppell for just a pick 1 would be a fair swap, we feel.

Michael Hurley earning 5 and 25 is optimistic but the sort of thing which could potentially be squeezed out of a club. We’d value him around pick 6 alone, as an established and durable All-Australian player with a good six years of football ahead of him from next year.

However, the projection of four picks in the mid-20s for Myers, Howlett, Bellchambers and Hibberd, is optimistic. Three of these guys will be 27 or 28 in the years it’s proposed they be traded. Bellchambers has only managed 12 games per season in recent years, and Myers 13. That doesn’t suggest the sort of output clubs will want to swap such a high pick for. Hibberd and Howlett are probably more valuable with their more reliable past output, but even then, only Hibberd with his relative youth clearly shapes as a reasonably valuable commodity.

In summary, King’s proposal isn’t new, and is an option available to clubs at any time. Cashing in accrued talent for draft material in order to tank and rebuild from the bottom of the ladder is not a new idea. And it’s unlikely that Essendon will reap the bounty suggested here – two high picks for Heppell, one for Hurley, and a smattering of lower picks looks more realistic, especially if the AFL does do the logical thing and deem Hooker a delisted free agent.

Things to watch this week

  1. Can Carlton’s surprisingly not-terrible defence continue to be not-terrible?

Carlton was a disaster last year in nearly every part of the field last year, but especially in defence:

2015 AFL Carl Def

This year, they’re not nearly as bad (except for opposition talls getting marks inside 50):

2016 R3 AFL Carl Def

Brendan Bolton has several handy parts in defence, and a change of scheme since the Malthouse-era has seemed to re-vitalise the playing squad. The risk to this new found competence is opposition scouting, and facing more potent attacks. We can’t believe we’re writing this about Carlton, let’s hope they don’t suck as much going forward.

  1. Will certain teams continue their addiction to the handball?

Last season, Sydney were the biggest relative users of the ball by hand, managing to kick 1.141 times for every handball. But this year, a couple of teams have taken this to new extremes:
2016 R3 KHB ratio

Interesting here is that the new exponents of the handball are a mixture of teams that are flying and those that are struggling. We feel that kick to handball ratios reflect more about game style than club success, and the mixture of teams at each end of this table seems to bear that out.

  1. #ForeverDefeatedWatch

With the victory of St Kilda over Collingwood, three winless teams remain – Fremantle, Carlton and Brisbane. Fremantle play Carlton next week, so at most there will be two teams without a win after that. Brisbane play Fremantle in round 11 and Carlton in round 12, so those are the last possible times there can remain two winless teams.

There can, of course, be one winless team all season.

HPN’s #AFL Round 3 Preview

This is the second edition of HPN’s weekly AFL preview. It’s probably better than last week’s piece.

Chaos in the first two rounds

In the first two rounds we have had the following results:

Geelong d Hawthorn

GWS d Geelong

Melbourne d GWS

Essendon d Melbourne

Gold Coast d Essendon

The belt has changed hands twice in the first two weeks, and stands a decent shot of going to the Swans this week.

What does this mean? Something. Almost certainly the last two weeks will build into a longer term narrative that defines the season.

Do we know what it means yet? No idea. It’s almost too early to tell what the chaotic first two weeks of the season means. Anyone who tells you anything else is lying, especially Champion Data:

The Dogs Weaknesses Are As Before

During the week a couple of waaaay too early articles looked at whether the Dogs are there as premiership contenders. As stated above, we believe it’s too early to be taking trends from the season to date.

Nick Welch drew the comparison between the smallish Bulldogs defence and the currently dominant Golden State Warriors. Rather than contrasting against the present day Warriors and their embrace of smallball, the Dogs defence is perhaps more reminiscent of Rick Pinito’s full court presses, especially with Kentucky in the mid-90s. Pinito often took athletic players not in the top tier talent-wise and installed them in a pressing system that forced opponent mistakes that de-emphasized any offensive deficiencies. Take the 1996 national championship game for example. In this game, Syracuse shot better from the field and the free-throw line, yet still lost by 9 points. Due to their propensity to create turnovers and generate steals, they were able to take 21 more shots than the Orange, of which 13 were non-rebound related. The Warriors, on the other hand, operate out of a man-to-man half-court defence, switching where possible, beating teams with their offence and limiting the damage on D. The Warriors have a good-to-great defence (living and dying off denying opponents good shots, but with a relatively weak turnover rate unlike the aforementioned Wildcats), but it pales in comparison to their transcendent offence.

Like the Wildcats, the Bulldogs operate to stop scoring chances occurring primarily, rather than focusing on defending the opportunity itself. Or: a lot of the Dogs’ failures end up in relatively high leverage scoring chances for the opposition. Here’s a chart of marks inside 50 conceded per conceded inside 50 entry in 2015:

2015 AFL Def MI50

This indicates that there’s been a weakness for the Dogs’ defence when the zonal press breaks down, allowing easier attempts inside 50 when there is a clear entry. This weakness has been partially masked so far this season as they have faced two of the weaker teams in this area from last season (Fremantle and St Kilda). Still, the trend is still clearly visible in the first two rounds of this season:

2016 AFL Def MI50

The Dogs defence is great when it’s bending to stop other teams getting inside 50, but chaotic when it is broken.

The other area of concern last year for the Bulldogs is yet to be really tested this year, that of hitouts. The Dogs had the good fortune of facing Fremantle without their biggest weapon (Sandilands), and then fought to a draw with Tom Hickey from the Saints. The Bulldogs won’t get a real test in this area until round 6, when they face off against the dominant Goldstein (you can throw Brisbane in the mix here, but Martin isn’t at the same level as Goldstein for taps).

If the Bulldogs are to take the next step this year, they will probably need to improve these areas.

Hot Take of the Week

Fuck off Sam Newman. Just fuck right off. Plenty of retired footballers go quietly into the distance, as you should. You admit on the air that you barely watch football anymore, and other than in the ruck your insights on the game seem stuck in 1989.

You are denying people with intelligence the opportunity to use it. You are making Australia stupider. At this point your only use is as conclusive proof that “making jokes” doesn’t stop you from being a disgusting sexist pig.

Fuck you.

Things to watch this week

  1. Can Port find its way back to the outside?

Port Adelaide have gotten off to a slow start this season, and seemingly one of the reasons is their shift to contested ball, and inability to find uncontested marks:2016 R2 AFL Cont Poss
Both numbers are way down on how they used the ball last year, and the uncontested mark rate is disastrous. For a team that relies on getting clean ball in open space, this is a significant issue for the Power. And it’s seemingly having flow-on effects elsewhere:

2016 AFL Off MI50

Through two weeks the Power have the least marks inside 50 per inside 50 entry, which is perhaps the outcome of the more rushed and contested disposal. This week they face the Dons, a team that has worked primarily on the outside this year, focusing on finding open players with precise kicks. A more open game might suit the Power, and hopefully kick them out of their early season malaise.

  1. Can Gold Coast continue their hot start?

Given they are playing Carlton this week and Brisbane next, the answer in the short term should be “yes”. There is every chance that Gold Coast will be 4-0 after the first month of football, which is probably the biggest shock of the season so far. So far they have been better in nearly every way than they were last year, and considerably so, but two weeks isn’t a big sample.

The real test for the Suns will come when they face North Melbourne and Geelong in rounds 5 and 6. Until then, get used to seeing the Suns at the pointy end of the ladder.

  1. Who will be the last team without a win, and when will it come?

Most people focus on “the last undefeated team”, but we at HPN think that’s been overplayed. We’re more interested in working out when the last completely beaten team will see the light of victory, and who that team will be. With Essendon out of the running early, only four contenders remain: Carlton, Brisbane, Fremantle and St Kilda.

One of Fremantle and Carlton will pick up a win when they meet in round 5 if not before, then St Kilda meet Fremantle in round 10, Brisbane play Carlton in round 11 and St Kilda face Carlton in round 12. Those are the next four matchups between currently winless sides. At this stage, the last possible week of two winless teams this year remains round 23 when the Lions and Saints are finally scheduled to meet.

The smart money is probably on round 11 being the end of the winless streak, or at least the narrowing down to one remaining contender.

  1. Who will be the latest out-of-contract key position forward connected to Fremantle?

It’s a year starting with “2”, so that means there’s “out of contract key forward to Fremantle” rumours floating around the traps. We get it. They need a key forward, and they might have cash to burn. This year’s candidate is Jesse Hogan who has been reported breathlessly as yet to resign with the Demon. The thing is, though, he’s contracted until the end of 2017 and there’s a new pay deal being negotiated. We have to wonder why anyone thinks a player with another full season left under contract, with as much earning power and upside as Hogan, would ever want to sign a new contract before the new and enlarged EBA is finalised.

Come on media, give it a break for a bit – Hogan not re-signing isn’t even enough fodder for a proper rumour.

What Did We Learn From Round 1? #AFL

Plus the Lowbrown and a couple of other things.

We’re going to do weekly round-ups this year on HPN, and this time we mean it. Honestly. Just trust us.

Winners v Losers

For the first time in AFL history the nine winners from round 1 travel this week to play the nine losers from the first week. This is an extremely unlikely outcome at first glance, but how unlikely is it by the numbers? Footy stats guru Tony Corke weighed in and said that:

Corke Prob

The perfect scenario after this week would of course be all nine travelling teams winning, leaving every team in the competition at either a 100% or 0% winning record. According to one the betting agencies, the likelihood of this oddity occurring currently stands at a mere 72.51 to 1 right now, with the only outsider in the market being Gold Coast vs Fremantle. With the Suns out of the equation, the odds reduce to a mere 14.5 to 1. While it’s unlikely, there remains the real chance that after two rounds the top eight teams could only be separated by percentage.

Hot Take of the Week

For our first HTOTW, we’re actually going with our second choice. We’ve already written about the hottest take going, the Collingwood 11.

But in the meantime, read this #taek on the maybe greatest number one draft pick of all time but probably not because he’s only played one game that his team lost.

Dermie is the sense of reason in this piece. DERMIE! You know your take is a garbage fire when you get freaking DERMIE in to lower everyone’s expectations. He’s the guy who wrote off McCartin after FOUR GAMES! There have been some very, very, very good players picked at number 1. Weitering might be good – he might even be great – but he’s played one freaking game. Cool your jets people.

Things to watch this week

  1. Will Brisbane’s defence step up?

Last year Brisbane had a lot of structural issues, but none more than in their defence. The Lions managed to concede goals on 29% of their conceded inside 50s, a mark that’s good for worst in the league. The Lions also came dead last in scoring shots conceded per opposition inside 50 and opposition marks inside 50 per entry.

2015 AFL defensive

Last week they were even worse, admittedly against one of the best forward lines in the competition in a game where the defence didn’t matter.

2016 R1 AFL defensive

After their loss last week, the focus coming out of the coaching box was pride that they could score over 100 points, and not on their defensive frailties. It’s hard to conceive of a team conceding more than 20 goals and winning a game in the modern era, but the Lions appear to be slowly moving down that path.

North, like West Coast, have a variety of potent forwards of all different sizes. Could we see another team rack up a 150+ score on the fledgling Lions backline, or will they learn their lesson from last week?

  1. Will stoppages bounce back to 2015 levels?

Round one saw a total of 1434 hitouts, a big number on paper but somewhat down on the weekly average of 1610 last year. If this trend continues, how much will it hurt the more dominant ruck teams such as Fremantle, West Coast and North Melbourne?

  1. The debut of Dougal Howard

What a name. HPN has put a fiver on him for the Rising Star based on it alone. Come on you good thing.

  1. Can the high scoring continue?

Last week saw a total of 255 goals kicked at an accuracy of 53.9%, up on last year’s round average of 235 (at 53.45). It’s possible that last week was an anomaly with a number of high scoring match-ups, and scoring will revert back to normal, but some analysts seem to think that the increase in scoring may be linked to factors such as the reduced interchange bench and the new rule interpretations.

Lowbrown Medal – Round 1

The Lowbrown Medal is HPN’s attempt to find the least useful and productive AFL player over the course of a season. After each round HPN votes for the best of the worst. Players are ineligible if they are injured early in the match, or aren’t on the park enough to contribute.

Richmond v Carlton

  1. S Morris
  2. D Buckley
  3. D Grimes

Melbourne v GWS Giants

  1. J Stewart
  2. S Frost
  3. T Greene

Gold Coast v Essendon

  1. S McKernan
  2. S Lemmans
  3. J Simpkin

North Melbourne v Adelaide

  1. W Milera
  2. M McGovern
  3. L McDonald

Sydney v Collingwood

  1. C Gault
  2. T Cloke
  3. J Witts

Western Bulldogs v Fremantle

  1. C Mayne
  2. J Griffen
  3. S Hill

Port Adelaide v St Kilda

  1. E Templeton
  2. J Neade
  3. J Impey

West Coast v Brisbane

  1. J Freeman
  2. C Beams
  3. D Gardiner

Geelong v Hawthorn

  1. R Shoenmakers
  2. S Kersten
  3. J Sicily

The Irwin Medal

It was pointed out to us over the offseason that we didn’t have an equivalent match for the Coleman Medal as a companion to our Lowbrown Medal. So HPN would like to introduce the Irwin Medal, named after Warwick Irwin, a former Fitzroy/Collingwood/St Kilda forward who managed to have two of the most prolific yet inaccurate seasons of all time. The winner of this medal will be the player with the worst goalkicking accuracy, minimum 30 attempts on goal.