Who was the best retiree: Riewoldt, Hodge, Mitchell, Thompson or Priddis?

While there were a number of interesting results and upsets last week, the HPN Team Ratings largely stayed unchanged from a ranking point of view. At this stage of the season our method of rating teams gets quite firm in its views, comparing as it does the entire season’s work of each club in order to provide a good basis for historical comparison.

Perhaps the biggest change at the top end is Geelong slowly closing the gap on the top two, who soften a little bit at the top. GWS continue to lose touch with the top end, and missing almost their entire first choice forward line this week they have a hard assignment against a mostly fit Melbourne. As Matt Cowgill from The Arc/ESPN outlined this week, the Manuka match-up shapes as one of the most pivotal games this week, alongside almost every match this round.

In related news: it’s a fantastic time to be a footy fan.

ratings.PNG

Richmond made the biggest leap this week, from 8th into 6th, leapfrogging a disappointing Melbourne and swapping places with the Dons. West Coast is only a fraction outside the top 8 teams, and the St Kilda match-up this week looms as a de-facto elimination game for both sides.

Now onto the question posed at the top of the column.

The best of the 2017 retirees

There’s a high calibre group of already-announced retires, all undisputed champions of the game who nonetheless vary quite markedly in the types of achievements and qualities for which they are recognised.

This week, HPN has decided (with the help of a few friends) to look at different ways to split the careers of these five great players, and try to work out who was the best of the bunch, once all is said and done.

Team Success

Many among us (including Michael Jordan) consider a championship title to be the most relevant thing when determining who was truly the best player of a group. The goal of almost all professional sport is to win at the peak level of competition, with all else being ancillary to this pursuit.

To determine this with these five players, we have graded the players on the most simple of scales: two points for a premiership, one point for a grand final loss, none for a draw (sorry Nick).

  1. (tie): Mitchell, Hodge (9 points)
  2. Riewoldt (2 points)
  3. Priddis (1 point)
  4. Thompson (0 points)

Mitchell and Hodge are tied at the top here, as a result of both being teammates during the Hawks’ ultra-successful run between 2008 and 2015. As all Saints fans can remember, St Kilda lost two Grand Finals under the captaincy of Nick Riewoldt, including one that they definitely should have won. Matt Priddis missed out on the Eagles’ 2006 premiership win, even if he was on the list at the time, but played in the 2015 loss to the Hawks. And Scott Thompson has never tasted the limelight on the last Saturday in September (or October).

Individual Awards

Brownlow Medal

Surprisingly, of these group of five players, only two have had the Brownlow Medal hung from their necks. To split all and any ties, we have used total Brownlow Medal votes as the tiebreaker.

  1. Mitchell (1 medal, 220 votes)
  2. Priddis (1 medal, 146 votes)
  3. Thompson (155 votes)
  4. Riewoldt (149 votes)
  5. Hodge (131 votes)

It turns out that the midfielders’ award is really a midfielders’ award. At the start of the 2016 season Sam Mitchell sat in a tie for first all time (with Gary Ablett Jr) for most Brownlow Medal votes (adjusting for the crazy voting system in the mid-1970s). Mitchell had an incredibly long and consistent career, one which was often masked by the excellence of his teammates. Priddis somehow jagged the 2014 medal in what might not have been his best season, but the medal is his nonetheless.

Among all players who never won a Brownlow, Scott Thompson is one of the highest career vote getters; behind luminaries such as Leigh Matthews, Brent Harvey, Scott West, Garry Wilson and Kevin Bartlett. That is very good company to be in, and perhaps the dreaded Victorian media bias means Thompson isn’t getting the recognition that he deserved through his career.

Nick Riewoldt has polled as well as almost any key position forward in history, although he only peaked at a high of 17 votes in any one year. And Luke Hodge, who often did his best work off a half back flank, was often ignored by the umpires in the minds of the Brownlow in favour of star teammates.

Club B&F
  1. Riewoldt (7 wins)
  2. Mitchell (5 wins)
  3. (tie) Priddis, Hodge, Thompson (2 wins)

Each club votes differently and may judge their best and fairest awards on different criteria, but they are still a good way to see how clubs value their own player. All five players took home at least two club champion awards, but Riewoldt is way ahead of the pack with seven.

All-Australian
  1. Riewoldt (five-time AA, three-time AA squad)
  2. Mitchell (three-time AA, four-time AA squad)
  3. Hodge (three-time AA, two-time AA squad)
  4. Priddis (one-time AA, two-time AA squad)
  5. Thompson (one-time AA, one-time AA squad)

Riewoldt stands alone here again, with his performances up forward regularly being recognised as being the best in the game. Thompson suffers here from the glut of elite midfielders that were in the league recently.

Statistics

As we have alluded to in recent weeks, HPN have been developed a player value system over the last year named PAV (after Matthew Pavlich). It is derived entirely from publicly available stats on afltables. We have been teasing it for the past few weeks, and we will drop the methods and formulas after the season is wrapped up and we have some time on our hands.

But for now, we can look at PAV (which is determined on a player’s contribution to a team’s effort in 3 areas of the ground, weighted by the strength of the team in that area that year) for each of the retirees. Here’s the data and graph for the five players across their careers.

retirees chartretirees table

For context: a perfectly average team will have 300 PAV across its list in a given year. A season above 20 is generally a sign of All-Australian contention (depending on position). A PAV north of 12 is generally an average contributor. Seasons of 25 PAV or more are relatively rare and outstanding.

Peak PAV
  1. Hodge
  2. Riewoldt
  3. Mitchell
  4. Thompson
  5. Priddis

According to PAV ratings, not only was Luke Hodge’s 2005 season is the best single season by any season of the retirees, but his 2010 and 2006 seasons were distant second and third and ahead of any other player-season here. Unlike Brownlow Medal voting, PAV is more agnostic when it comes to rating the value and impact of defenders and forwards because it assigns values for all three parts of the ground and sums them. This is demonstrated by the relatively high Hodge and Riewoldt placings.

Below are the component ratings for Hodge, Riewoldt and Mitchell, showing the relative contribution of midfield, offence and defence ratings to each season’s total. Note the shifting roles played by Hodge over the years as defence or midfield contribution rises and falls, compared to the purer midfield and forward roles of Riewoldt and Mitchell.

Riewoldt’s best year, his 2004 season, saw him walk away with multiple media and other voting awards for best player, but he was stiffed by the umpires in the Brownlow (PAV had him as the 3rd best player that year, behind Judd and Akermanis).

In their Brownlow years of 2012 and 2014, PAV rated Mitchell and Priddis as the 12th and 13th most valuable players in the league respectively. Mitchell’s Brownlow was of course the 2012 medal, awarded in retrospect. 2012 was also Thompson’s best year, and he was just shaded by Mitchell, rating 13th. We should note, however, that in a lot of these ratings the differences were fairly minimal and since PAV stands for “player approximate value”, when scores are similar the exact order is not necessarily meaningful – a 21.8 versus a 21.6 has very minimal difference, and could even come down to the mistaken compilation of given statistics.

Incidentally, during that 2012 season, Mitchell’s eventual co-medallist Trent Cotchin was 4th for PAV that year, and the ultimately ineligible Jobe Watson rated 5th.

Career PAV
  1. Mitchell
  2. Hodge
  3. Riewoldt
  4. Thompson
  5. Priddis

We have imputed a final 2017 value based on the season to date – these may shift with the final few games of each career, but the shift shouldn’t be significant since most of the season has been played. The margins between the top three are quite slim, but the results should hold.

With the shortest career of the bunch, Priddis was always going to struggle with respect to total career value produced, however he still produced more than the average value of number one draft picks. Of the five players, Thompson got off to the slowest start, but had the longest stretch of “good-to-great” seasons, with nine straight years where he should have been in All Australian squad contention. This slow start, along with the longest tail of the five players, meant that the other three greats would shave him.

Subjective Ratings

For this measure, we asked three of our favourite football writers/analysts to rank the players from one to five, on whatever grounds or method they choose. They had no idea of our work above. They are:

Collectively these three ranked them:

  1. Mitchell
  2. Riewoldt
  3. Hodge
  4. Priddis
  5. Thompson

But we note that two of the three are West Coast supporters, so take the last two spots with a small grain of salt. All three we surveyed unanimously had Mitchell-Riewoldt at 1st and 2nd in that order – as did the other dozen or so people we asked in our day to day lives.

In summary

We seem to keep coming back to there being two clear tiers here – Mitchell, Hodge and Riewoldt in some order, then Priddis and Thompson. Mitchell comes out as the closest thing to a consensus “best” but Riewoldt isn’t far behind

overall.PNG

The biggest outlier method – even more so than team success – turns out to be the Brownlow Medal which we have no compunction about saying quite simply undervalues both Riewoldt and Hodge.

By the same token however, when we look at various uses of our PAV, it becomes apparent that the inclusion of Priddis and Thompson in this comparison isn’t spurious and they aren’t really out of place, even if their recognition as individual greats hasn’t been as forthcoming. As we noted, a potential Victorian media bias – which has foundations in media theory and international sporting debate – may have an impact on the public perceptions of non-Victorian based players.

Something we like about the PAV approach as we’ve tested and analysed it is the way it identifies lesser-lights who had careers or seasons which were comparable to better recognised and more widely noted achievements. That has certainly happened here.

Thompson had a very long career of consistently high value to his (second) club while Priddis, a late starter, still came in and performed at a similar level almost immediately. Every one of these five players had careers which outperformed the expectations of a number one draft pick and it’s no insult to say that Priddis or Thompson are fourth or fifth among this group.

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