HPN’s Midseason Review (Part 1)

So, how about that football season? It’s roughly half over, so it’s a good time to cast an eye back and see how the teams are sitting and what’s happened so far.

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve displayed the HPN Team Ratings in full, so let’s have a look at how the sides are shaping up moving into the second half of the year.

We’ve used round 6 as the previous benchmark period, as that’s roughly a quarter of the season, and provides a decent look at who started strong, and who is only getting stronger as they go.
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You can see a lot of “no change” in the movement stakes since round 6 – and it seems that the league has roughly sorted itself out into tiers. The three big premiership threats (according to the data and our simple rules of all categories over 100% and an average of 105%) are Richmond, Geelong and West Coast (who will probably slip after last night.

Sydney is rising very fast as their midfield performance has improved, and the HPN Team Ratings do not look favourably on Melbourne beating up on a cream puff schedule.

Now let’s take a tour of the league and see what’s been going on with each team. We’ll run through half the teams this week and the other half next week.

Western Bulldogs – Suddenly they have marking targets

The Bulldogs won a premiership in 2016 with what could politely be called a makeshift forward line. That team, and the version in 2017, didn’t have a lot of forward marking targets, sitting 4th last in 2016 then 6th last in 2017 for least marks inside 50 per inside 50 (MIFPIF). They scratched out goals through repeat entries and through small forward pressure.

This year, however, they’ve rocketed to second highest on this measure, behind Melbourne and just ahead of West Coast.

What has changed? Surprisingly, it’s not primarily about Boyd or Schache. Rather, rookie draft recyclee Billy Gowers is leading the way with 22 marks inside 50 (15% of their total), and he’s been most supported by Josh Dunkley, Marcus Bontempelli and Lachie Hunter. The team still rates pretty poorly in points per inside-50, but some of that is due to poor conversion or low quality chances at 115.118 for the year. The Dogs are one of only two sides with more behinds than goals.

In the shambles of another injury-hit season, which seems to somehow have them rebuilding with half a new side, this could be a real bright spot for the future because the data seems to suggest that the Dogs have finally addressed their main structural weakness in recent years. Things could look even look brighter up forward in the coming years, when we factor in that Josh Schache and Tom Boyd have so far been relatively minor contributors to their marking inside 50.

Brisbane – Hey, this is a little bit better, thanks Harris

For the past three seasons, the Lions have had the worst defence, conceding the most points per opponent inside 50 entry. This year they are merely third last!

They’ve been solidly improving as the season goes as well, so there’s some hope that they might even sneak out of the bottom six. They’re conceding a lot fewer marks inside 50, with a lot of that down to the rapidly developing Harris Andrews and the mere presence of Luke Hodge.

Andrews has gone to “oh yeah, I’ve heard of that guy” to “yeah, actually he’s my favourite player that you haven’t heard of, probably” in about two months. He would be a good pick for captain of the Nathan Jones All Stars. Andrews sits inside the top 25 of our Non-Disposal Impact per Disposal measure; and in the top 10 with minimum of half the season played. A lot of his impact as a result goes under the radar.

Geelong – Just leave it to the stars and Mark Blicavs

The Gini Coefficient is a measure of inequality in a dataset. It is often used to calculate the degree of income inequality in countries, wherein a Gini Coefficient of 0.00 means everyone has the same amount of money and 1.00 means one person has all the money.

We’ve applied it to the distribution of Player Approximate Value (PAV) for 2018 as a calculation of statistical inequality within team lists. It confirms something about Geelong we have suspected for a while – more than any other team, they leave their work to relatively few hands.

The greener cells indicate a more even distribution of value output by a playing group, redder indicates higher concentration of output. For example, Sydney (Franklin), St Kilda (Gresham and Membrey) and Gold Coast (Lynch) have the highest concentrations of forward value, and Melbourne get a lot of their defensive value from relatively few players such as Oscar McDonald, Hibberd and the now-injured Lever.

Geelong have a very high defensive and midfield PAV concentration, a relatively high offensive PAV concentration, and the highest overall PAV concentration.

Injury impacts on team lists to an extent here, with inconsistent lineups probably explaining why Adelaide and GWS have such even PAV distributions. However, overall this reflects that Geelong leave more to less players than anyone else.

They’re a team with some dominant players hogging the distribution of player value, leaving relatively little work for the lesser lights and fringe players. Note that it’s not just the star names who are dominating Geelong’s play. Selwood and Dangerfield figure very highly and Duncan, Tuohy, Ablett and Hawkins also do plenty, but some of the other dominant figures are players thought before 2018 as “role players”, such as Menegola, Stewart, Blicavs and Kelly.

This all suggests that the “bottom 6” or even “bottom half” of the Cats side remain well protected by teammates and a decent gameplan, but they may be potentially vulnerable in crunch games.

Sydney – Here’s another thing about how Lance Franklin is good at football

Much has been written about the multifaceted threat of Lance Franklin and how he plays up the ground. One of our player rate statistics is an all-in way to measure the reason for that elevated excitement whenever he goes near the footy. Franklin has the highest Impact Disposal Rate (IDR) in the league of anyone who’s played more than 2 games. IDR is a measure of some of the disposals that matter, as a percentage of all disposals. It’s Goals, Behinds, Inside 50s, Rebound 50s, Clearances and Goal Assists as a proportion of total disposals.

In 2018, 74% of Franklin’s disposals are impact disposals, with 3.1 goals, 2.4 behinds, 5.6 inside 50s and 0.9 goal assists from his 16.8 disposals per game, a huge return from a bloke nominally regarded as a key forward. He’s actually third in the league for inside 50s per game, though a lot of those are shots at goal as we’ve discussed recently.

A variety of players perform well on this impact measure. Last year Paddy Ryder, Gary Rohan and Jake Stringer were three standouts alongside Franklin and this year Jack Leslie and Luke Shuey figure in highly.

Franklin’s current rate is the best from a decent sample size seen since Nic Naitanui’s 76% rate in the Eagles’ grand final year of 2015. Franklin and the Swans continue to hone him as a weapon, as he enters his 31st year.

West Coast – Josh Kennedy, destroyer of souls

We wrote about a lot of the cool Eagles stuff earlier in the year; specifically on how their midfield has gotten a lot better by re-balancing their stylistic approach. So we will try something different here and look forward, to where they’ve got clearly the strongest offence in the league.

A lot of the public focus has shifted to Jack Darling, who is unarguably having a career year. But Josh Kennedy still is an unstoppable force of nature when he gets the ball. He averages just over 2 points per disposal; about a third of a point more than any other player in the league:Damn. If Kennedy and, say Walker, both get 15 disposals in a game, Kennedy will turn it into about two extra goals on the scoreboard.

Franklin may be the all round impact player, but Kennedy is a specialist. His ability to score opens up the Eagles forward line dramatically, and provides space for Darling and co to operate. While he probably isn’t in the mid year All Australian team (coming next week in this space), if he had played a full season to date he’d be in the conversation.

Essendon – Hard to predict

This won’t be news to Essendon fans after last night’s romp over the Eagles, but the Bombers have been one of the hardest teams to predict from week to week. Abject in some games, smooth and confident in others, they’re currently the team giving our Player Estimated Results Tipping system the most trouble.Prior to Round 14, PERT had picked their games correctly just 50% of the time. The unexpected rout of the Eagles takes them to being the only team picked correctly less than half the time.

Overall, our Team Ratings have the Bombers as having been below average across the park this year, but clearly there’s been a good deal of variability in their level of play.

Collingwood – If all you have is a midfield…

In 2017, Collingwood had a pretty good midfield and not much else. They won a predominance of inside 50s, they were third for Clearance Ratio (clearances per opposition clearance), and Grundy gave them more hitouts per opposition hitout than any other team. The problem? They were ranked 15th in offence and 13th in defence. Their midfield therefore had to do a lot of heavy lifting to protect their impotent bookends.

This year, the midfield indicators are still going strong, but their offensive output has stepped up dramatically. While their defence is still fairly fragile, being good in two parts of the ground has the team well in the hunt for finals.

They’re not doing this by suddenly discovering traditional forward targets. Cox is looking increasingly comfortable, but neither Moore nor Reid have been able to contribute much.

Rather, aside from the work of Cox, the players mostly providing offensive value have also mostly had pretty strong midfield PAV ratings as well. Will Hoskin-Elliot (perhaps the most improved player in the league this year) and Jaidyn Stephenson are mostly something approximating forwards this year, but beyond them Collingwood have effectively solved their scoring dilemma by going back to where they were strong and calling on some of their midfielders and mid-fwd hybrids to fill in the gaps.

Adelaide – You can’t win without players

We touched on this in our Showdown preview, but almost all of the Crows struggles are surely down to the lack of personnel at their disposal. Last year they played 31 players, and in 2016 they used just 29. This year they are already up to 32 players, with a fair number of last year’s stalwarts struggling for consistent gametime.

Continuity and skill matters; and the Crows have desperately lacked both, calling on quite a few fringe players. Sloane, Lynch, Walker, Smith, both Crouches and McGovern have missed some or all of the season, while they’ve also had to over the loss of Cameron and Lever. Their HPN Midfield Team Rating based on inside 50 differentials is 94.5% – which is what you’d expect from a bottom four side.

2019 should be different if they get more players on the field and also benefit from the exposure of those now getting games, but it might be a long season before then.

Carlton – The draft is in a few months!

Not much has changed since we wrote about Carlton being bad (and that being okay) three weeks ago. They’ve fluctuated in terms of effort, hanging tough against Sydney on the one hand and looking awful against Fremantle at the other. The thing is, this is not down to the callowness of youth. Over half of Carlton’s most valuable contributors this year have been on the wrong side of 25. This is Carlton’s top 20 players in Player Approximate Value terms for 2018, sorted and grouped by age bracket:

If we assume the next Carlton finals side won’t be for at least three years, then of their current leading 20 contributors, Simpson (34), Thomas (31) and Murphy (30) are pretty unlikely to be there and with his injury history, Kreuzer (29) would have to be doubtful.

At the other end of the age scale, the players aged 23 and under are Cripps, Curnow, Fisher, Dow, Petrevski-Seton, Garlett, McKay and Plowman. They would all be expected to be core players as they enter their mid-20s. They all seem pretty handy, maybe forming half of a decent side in a few years, with some being leading contributors for Carlton already. Adding to that, we can probably assume Weitering will rediscover his early career promise at some point. Sam Docherty is 24 and will be there for a while as well if he recovers from his ACL injury, while Caleb Marchbank and Jarrod Pickett have also been injured.

In that middle age group, current contributors include Kerridge, Mullett, O’Shea, Lamb, Jones, Wright and Casboult. Some of these players might still be around and in a best-22 in a few years, but some seem basically done already. It’s hard to see more than half still playing when that next group matures.

Carlton still need to add to their younger talent stockpile substantially. The team is probably going to get younger and potentially worse before it gets better, and the question is really who they get rid of and how they choose to use the often debatably useful older half of their current playing list to shepherd through the core of younger players.

All said, it’s probably a good time for their fans to check out some draft watching content such as the AFL Draft Central power rankings and dream of their bright new recruits.

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