Young players have it pretty rough in footy. Learning a new level of game in a newly professional environment, many straight out of high school, it’s little wonder that even the best first-year kids don’t instantly end up in the upper echelons of the competition.
This makes evaluating young players very hard – we look for signs of future performance rather than just their present contributions – and the Rising Star award seems to do likewise. Voting for the Award is done on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis by a panel of experts and we have no clear idea why they vote the way they do, but we assume it’s a combination of both present output and intangible perceptions of potential, plus the bloke from South Australia voting for his former team’s nominee.
Andrew McGrath has today been awarded the prize, with 51 votes out of a possible 55 (nine of eleven judges gave him maximum) and the full leaderboard was as follows:
- Andrew McGrath – 51
- Ryan Burton – 41
- Sam Powell-Pepper – 35
- Charlie Curnow – 27
- Eric Hipwood – 10
- Sam Petrevski-Seton – 3
- Lewis Melican – 1
- Tom Phillips – 1
This post makes use of the Player Approximate Value, or PAV, method of player valuation which we unveiled yesterday. Below is a chart of the PAVs we have derived for each player nominated for the Rising Star this season, as well as some of the most notable non-nominees.
(We are still working on a “PAV per game” calculation that allows comparisons across seasons which contain different lengths due to finals, but here the simple calculation is valid because nobody has played finals in 2017 yet)
Applying the PAV to this year’s Rising Star candidates suggested that Sam Powell-Pepper was the most valuable to his side this year followed closely by Ryan Burton. The winner, Andrew McGrath from the Dons, performed less well. Sean Darcy, who wasn’t even nominated, was most valuable on a per-game basis in his stint as ruck for Fremantle and the other two who might have merited nominations for season output were Matthew Kennedy and Jarrod Berry. Only Jason Castagna played every game this year.
These scores aren’t necessarily great by league standards – SPP was 157th overall this year, while Burton was the 51st best in defensive PAV – which illustrates just how steep the learning curve and how hard the road ahead for even the best young players.
Why didn’t McGrath top the PAV for Rising Stars?
HPN thinks the answer to this question is that McGrath seems to have played as a non-rebounding mid-sized defender type, with a lot of “empty carb” disposals. His main notable characteristics were, according to the AFL website’s article, that he ranked among candidates “first for handballs, second for disposals and second for effective disposals”. A lot of voters for traditional awards, especially those decided post-season, look for counting stats as an easy indication of ability.
PAV doesn’t incorporate raw disposal counts into any of its valuations, and he has clearly he performed less well than some other Rising Star players in PAV-associated things like clearances, inside-50s, tackles, rebound-50s, etc. His most notable rating was a 4.9 in Defensive PAV, the fifth highest overall, suggesting he did pretty well in terms of one percenters, marks and avoiding giving free kicks. However, PAV suggests that if a defender should have been chosen, then that person should have been Burton.
With a more mature group of players around him, such as Heppell, Merrett, Hurley, Goddard, Kelly, and to an extent Watson, the critical disposals often fell to their hands, where Burton was asked to carry a far greater load for Hawthorn, and SPP was asked to do a lot in the centre of the field from day one for Port Adelaide.
We don’t doubt for a second that McGrath may end up the better player of the three vote leaders (he was pick one for a reason), but Essendon had the luxury of easing him into football as a cog with a less-damaging role, and giving him excellent support. McGrath has obviously performed the role with sufficient promise and aplomb to satisfy the voting judges.