Sydney might be even better than the AFL ladder thinks they are

On Monday we looked at the strength of schedule of different teams, based on the teams they faced twice and their Pythagorean win-loss record for 2016. While we wait for finals footy to start, we thought it would be fun to have an extended look at this:


Pythagorean win-loss, as outlined here, tries to account for small or “lucky” wins. Remember, teams who win close games seem to have no correlation with a team’s true strength (from preliminary research anyway). Since we’ve been tracking this, we’ve seen Pythagorean record be a good indicator of a teams performance in the next season. For example, Fremantle were the minor premiers last year, but their Pythagorean record placed them in 6th place, and indicated that they were much weaker than superficial indications.

The data above indicates a few key things:

  • Sydney is perhaps a better team than their record indicates, which should scare the rest of the league. Of all minor premiers since 2000 that had an improved Pythagorean win-loss on their actual record, all were eventual premiers. While it’s a small sample, it seems to be forming a clear trend.
  • Hawthorn seems to be a fair way off their actual ladder position, in line with the HPN ratings we looked at yesterday. Since 2000, no side has won a grand final with a Pythagorean ladder position lower than fourth. Hawthorn coming off the backs of three straight flags might be the team to break these trends.
  • Port Adelaide really squandered their chance to be in the finals. Pythagorean win-loss has rated Port highly for the last few years, without the expected movement back to the mean. The key reason for this may be their record in close games. In 2016, Port lost all three games they played that were decided by less than 2 goals. In 2015, they were involved in eight such games, winning only three, and in 2014 they won two out of seven close games.
  • The top four teams seem to be very even from a quality perspective, and this finals could be WIDE OPEN.

We did have a series of charts looking at the Pythagorean records of grand finalists since 2000, and if there was trends apparent, but we lost the data in an unfortunate document saving accident. Don’t cry for us, footy fans, because we were already dead.

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