It’s very hard to be the best in your position in the AFL. Brad Hill is very close to that.
What is even harder to work out is how much that is worth.
Triple premiership player Brad Hill departs Fremantle for St Kilda in a trade that sees him valued very highly indeed.
Hill is a specialist ball mover, sitting 6th for kicks per game, 10th for uncontested possessions, and 14th for both metres gained and turnovers. He moves the ball in high volume, on balance providing plenty of opportunities upfield, as long as players can win the ball and feed him.
Hill complements many of St Kilda’s weaknesses and their relatively staid and inside-heavy midfield will no doubt relish supplying him after they win the ball. St Kilda have been relative laggards in metres gained, inside 50s and simple kicks per game, while being at least middling in the more “coal face” midfield figures like stoppage clearances and contested posessions. The Saints are also currently second bottom for turnovers given away per game, which is seemingly a positive but probably reflects unadventurous ball movement as much as any other factor.
Hill is a prime aged player, turning 27 in 2020 and based on recent output he is projecting to give at least 5 years at his current level of output from here. That’s worth roughly a latter first round pick in terms of future expectations. It’s also pretty close to the pick 23 which Fremantle paid for him in 2016, which was at the time probably a sizable underpay given the years he had left.
At the time, HPN suggested that Hill was worth pick 5, and that Fremantle likely got away with highway robbery considering the footy he had ahead of him. This time may be very different.
It should be noted that when projecting Hill’s future, his absence-impacted 2018 was the first since his debut year he played less than 20 games, and this bad year has downgraded his projection from where it might otherwise be. Here’s his Player Approximate Value per year, with the 10-game injury-interrupted 2018 a clear anomaly in an otherwise mostly injury free career characterised mostly by a gentle upswing in output as he progressed through his 20s:
Both clubs are reasonable to think that he’s fairly likely to keep playing nearly every week, and to produce seasons more in line with the broader trend than the injury hit 2018. If Hill does manage to stay on the park, he’ll likely outproduce this projection and go some way to justifying the price tag of his trade.
The other player involved in this trade is Blake Acres, an outside midfielder noted for running power and endurance, who has found himself traded to Fremantle as part of the Saints’ thorough revamp of their best 22 in 2019.
Acres is young, and a perfectly fine player, likely to keep going for a number of years, but the Saints would be justified in feeling that with both Hill and Jones coming in to upgrade St Kilda’s aggressive ball movement, and a fit Dan Hannebery also potentially serving a similar inside/outside midfield role, Acres could find himself on the outer and thus be quite expandable.
Similarly, Acres should help to some extent with Freo’s need to replace replacement of Hill and Langdon. Whether he’s moving to help St Kilda satisfy trade demands, or because the Saints don’t want to keep paying him, it’s a sensible like for like, if not quality-for-quality, move to complement the Hill swap going the other way.
The circumstances strongly suggest a trade weighted to Fremantle, which is what has eventuated. The Hill era for Fremantle can be seen as one of making a very tidy profit on him three years later.
This is a contracted player Freo themselves traded for in a homecoming move, someone they would not have expected to leave, and whose personal circumstances have compelled him to seek the move. After using pick 23 to get Hill, he gave them great service and has netted substantially more in return, with two of the four picks acquired being the equal of the 2016 cost of Hill individually.
Immediately, there may not even be a massive return for St Kilda either, considering the projected outputs for 2020. According to HPN’s one year Trade Calculator, the trade nets Fremantle a few more PAVs immediately, considering the deal is three for one for 2020.
Even noting the above factor of 2018 being an anomaly in Hill’s career, the Saints pay a steep price to execute the move, part of a widely publicised plan to swap most of this year’s draft stock in “win now” style trades addressing weaknesses. Acres, being a lesser player but a bit younger, shapes as something like similar long term value to Fremantle, set to give them slightly less value per game in a similar role, but for longer.
Verdict: St Kilda get their man and get better for 2020, but Fremantle clean up.
Note: This article is part of a series using a valuation method called Player Approximate Value (PAV) to evaluate trades for fairness and balance. Elsewhere, you can read much more about the method and theory behind PAV. You can also read about PAPLEY, the projection method used to derive expected future PAVs, which has been revised for 2019.