Of all the Jacks at St Kilda, and there’s a lot, J. Steven filled the mantle as the best Jack at the club. He wasn’t a Jack of all trades, but he was close to a master at one.
Jack Steven at his best is quite an effective pure inside midfielder of the kind which is perhaps becoming a bit unfashionable in this intercept and turnover driven era of football. The four-time St Kilda best and fairest has battled issues with his mental wellbeing in recent times, and is leaving with the Saints blessing as they will reportedly pay some of his salary. St Kilda’s list overhaul probably does not need a player with the age profile and role of Jack Steven.
At Geelong, however, a contending side facing the loss of Tim Kelly and real challenges in how to best balance and best deploy their current set of stars, Steven makes sense.
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.
To illustrate the way an established pure inside ball winner like Steven can help Geelong immediately, we should consider the case of Patrick Dangerfield. Dangerfield is a versatile and damaging player, capable of beating most opponents 1 v 1. He can win his own ball, collect clearances, hard ball gets and contested possessions. He also has pace, aerial skills and a nice long kick. If he’s at the coalface, his ability to use those skills are limited and Geelong are observably a worse side when Patrick Dangerfield has to get down and dirty like that. The Cats suffer the more Dangerfield has to start the movement instead of finish it off – his clearances and contested possessions counts are generally higher in losses, while his marks and inside 50s decrease.
Steven is exactly the sort of player who should complement Geelong’s more damaging ball users by freeing them up. If he wins his customary 5 or 6 clearances and 9 or 12 contested possessions of the 2013-2018 era, that helps replace some of Tim Kelly’s work and means less is required of Dangerfield, Selwood, or even Duncan and Ablett around the stoppages.
They can all correspondingly shift a little further from the play, finding more space to use their talents, with perhaps just one opponent instead of a suffocating mob.
The trade to bring Steven to his former home region sees Geelong deal a late pick roughly commensurate with the perhaps three or so years of pretty good footy left in Steven’s career. It’s a bit of an amusing quirk that the swap is the pick Geelong got for Zac Smith, meaning they’re implicitly being valued the same, but that also reflects the pretty token value the Suns and Cats are placing on the pick.
Immediately, Steven is expected to produce at least 8 PAVs more than the pick given up next season – however he is potentially likely to overperform this if he hits the park more than he did this year.
With St Kilda reportedly continuing to pay salary, one might have expected a premium accruing to them in the trade. Instead the Saints have let him go pretty cheaply in the end. Perhaps with their other recruiting the Saints are in a generous mood, or perhaps their salary cap simply isn’t pressuring them just yet.
Verdict: Fair trade. Steven can be good and slot into a contending Cats side for the short term.