This is a collaboration post between HPN and Matt Cowgill of The Arc/ESPN. Matt is an expert in finding beautiful ways to display footy data, in order to tell compelling stories. And we are HPN. Matt has kindly provided the graphs, and some of the general comments for this piece from Pakistan. Unfortunately, as Matt wrote some of his ESPN article from there this week, this is only the second best AFL Stats article from Pakistan this week.
Earlier this week Rohan Connolly wrote a pretty well balanced piece on sides that start a season 0-2. Connelly stated that since 2008 only one of the 46 sides to start winless from their first two games has gone on to make finals.
Note: Connolly doesn’t include Carlton’s 2013 finals appearance in his count, which we politely disagree with. Whilst they only made the finals due to Essendon’s penalties ruling them out of finals contention, they still played in two actual finals, winning one. Which is one of only two finals wins for the Blues in the last decade. What we’re trying to say is: cut Carlton some slack for once!
But this doesn’t tell the whole story. Since 1994 (the introduction of the final eight), 101 sides have started out 0-2, and 18 have gone on to make the finals. Here’s how it looks as a season progression:
Using our superpowers of subtraction, that means that between 1994 and 2007, 54 sides started 0-2, with 16 making the finals from there. Here’s two different views of that information:
1994-2007: 16 of 54 = 29.6%
2008-2016: 2 of 47 = 4.2%
That’s a pretty striking difference, one explained by a few different factors. Firstly, for much of the early part of this decade the AFL had expansion sides present, and a Melbourne team that was barely better. That depressed the quality of the competition and increased the number of sides without a realistic hope of finals.
Secondly, the increase of the size of the competition has made it slightly harder for average sides to make the finals. In 1994, 53% of the AFL made the finals, decreasing to 50% between 1995 and 2010. When the AFL increased to 17 sides in 2011, 47% of the league played in September, and from 2012 on that share has decreased to 44%. In short, this means that it is harder to make up the ground after a poor start, because of the sheer number of teams ahead of them.
However, where there are a large number of teams getting off to poor starts (such as in 2013 and 2014), there seems to be an increased chance of a team making the finals after a 0-2 start. Since 2011, there has been one finalist who has started 0-2 where there have been at least six teams who have done so. It is also worth noting that in 2017 we have eight teams on 0-2; another great chance to test this theory.
But what clubs tend to get off to a poor start, and which of them have turned it around over time?
There are two Port Adelaide dots at the head of that chart, representing the 2002 and 2003 Power seasons. In both years the Power recovered from 0-2 starts to finish as minor premiers, winning 18 games in each year.
The Carlton dot represents the 1994 season, where the Blues finished second and went out in straight sets in the finals.
It’s quite possible to get out to a slow start and have a successful season, and the conditions seem to be as good in 2017 as they have been in any other recent year.