Late in 2015 we saw the inauguration of the Bang for Buck Cup. A not overly serious device designed to suggest the Crows were good which actually showed the Swans were, net, the best team in the AFL. A year and a bit on, as the 2017 men’s season gets underway, it’s timely to consider the Bang for Buck Cup (B4B) from 2016 and see that it shows us something more. It shows us a movement.
Australian Rules football and the AFL are amongst the most flexible codes/leagues on the planet… possibly even the universe. Rules and conditions change with regularity. Nonetheless this does not prevent the debate about whether rule changes are necessary. In fact it is a feature of our game. For years debates raged about whether zones needed to be implemented to prevent flooding; Bomber Thompson’s Geelong was invented instead.
What to do when an equalisation measure isn’t so equal
Some economist could probably develop a theory but in the end Aussie Rules is such an attractive sport because it blends the free market with central intervention. 2016 has been a year of both. Faced with the dastardly deeds of Fremantle and North Melbourne in resting players in 2015, the AFL implemented a bye round in 2016.
Conversely, faced with the prospect of having no access to draft talent scooped up by Gold Coast and GWS for a number of years, some teams have focused on internal development with the occasional high profile recruitment. The two best teams at that played off in the 2016 grand final.
So, without further ado, here is the outcome of the 2016 Bang for Buck Cup. Congratulations to the Sydney Swans on back to back Bang for Buck premierships!
The B4B ground rules are laid out here; potted version is the B4B considers the drafting position of players teams used in 2016 alongside their real life performance to determine which clubs have made most efficient use of the resources at hand. Again, it’s best if those who can manage beyond David King level statistical analysis look away now. There’ll be no responsible use of numbers here.
Nonetheless, B4B in 2016 tells a story and the two real life grand finalists were the protagonists (with GWS the antagonist). In 2015 the story was that some clubs do remarkably well with the resources at hand. 2016’s story is that those same clubs ended up dominating the finals series, with one snaffling the premiership.
Presented here is the B4B premiership table with some additional numbers to show whence and when your club got its players.
So how did your club fare and why?
1. Sydney Swans (2015 B4B: 1st) – as a result of losing the real life Grand Final, the Swans defeated the Bulldogs in the B4B grand final on a count back; its higher drafting position (55) giving it B2B B4B. Put simply, the Swans are just amazing – having invested much of its salary cap in two players and being hit with trade sanctions for following the rules too well, Sydney has had no choice but to recruit cannily and develop the heck out of its players. This they have done with aplomb and possibly some other fruit as well.
Remarkably, 34 per cent of its 572 games in 2016 (26 games x 22 players) were compiled by players that started their AFL careers on the Swans rookie list. A staggering 14 of the 34 players used in 2016 started their AFL careers as rookies. It’s hard to put into words just how incredible Sydney’s achievement of winning the minor premiership and making the Grand Final was. Worthy B4B winners!
2. Western Bulldogs (2015 B4B: 4th) – was there anything the sons (and daughters) of the ‘scray could not do in 2016? Well, yes, win the B4B premiership. The moment the Swans won the real life prelim they had wrapped up the B4B flag but the Dogs gave it one heck of a shake. With an average drafting position of 53 (which comes down to 52 adjusting for the bids placed upon the four father-son players the club used) and that minor issue of the premiership, the Bulldogs were the runners up in this year’s B4B. Like Sydney, the Bulldogs achieved this with a liberal dose of rookies – 11 used across the season, one winning the Norm Smith. This more than balanced out the Boyds and Bonts of this world.
3. Adelaide Crows (2015 B4B: 3rd) – always the bridesmaid and never even matron of honour, the Crows bow out in the B4B preliminary final for the second year running. The increased use of Brad Crouch, Jake Lever and Wayne Milera brought up the average draft position of the Crows in 2016 to 46. This more than offset the loss of some bloke that won some medal. Nonetheless, the Crows are remarkable.
Brad Crouch aside (he has been classified as No. 2 in his year as a result of being mini-drafted (very much debatable)) the Crows do not have a Top 10 draft pick in their squad and have not had one since Moses received the 10 Commandments and the ninth was “The Crows shall receive a draft pick about now”. This is a big difference between Adelaide and pretty much every other team in the league. The Crows were also marginally above average users of players recruited from other clubs – a reasonable demonstration of clever recruitment in the face of Kurt Tippett’s baked goods deal gone sour.
4. Collingwood Magpies (2015 B4B: 6th) – if double takes are your thing I’m sure you are doing one right now. That’s right, Collingwood finish fourth in the AFL on a B4B basis; the first large ladder leap of the cup. While Collingwood’s 2016 AFL season was probably in the ‘disappointment with green shoots’ category (one preseason quarter does not a winter make), the Magpies actually did quite well given the resources at hand. With, like Adelaide, a drafting position of 46, Collingwood were also a good user of rookies – all nine of the current/former rookies used in 2016 having started at the Pies. This is intriguingly combined with an above average use of players recruited from other clubs (30.4% of 2016 game time), which will likely grow in 2017.
5. Hawthorn Hawks (2015 B4B: 5th) – much like in real life, Hawthorn went out in the second week of B4B finals. At 38, Hawthorn’s draft use is pretty average. It did not make much use of current/former rookies – Luke Breust the only club developed rookie to have played more than 20 games in 2016. From a B4B perspective it’s just as well the Hawks didn’t trade him. Despite Hawthorn’s reputation as a poacher it was average for the use of players drawn from other clubs and had the second oldest draft list in the competition behind North Melbourne. This might change a bit in 2017…
6. St Kilda Saints (2015 B4B: 9th) – possibly only worth a single take but a take nonetheless. Sliding into the other losing semi final spot are the up and coming Saints. Weirdly enough coming ninth in real life and ninth in draft ranking (avg 40) takes them to sixth in B4B terms. St Kilda are really similar to Collingwood except their players come from higher in the draft and, surprisingly, St Kilda’s draft age is a couple of years older than Collingwood. You can at least partially blame Nick Riewoldt for both of those things.
7. Geelong Cats (2015 B4B: 12th) – Geelong are weird! There, I’ve said it. I said it last year too before you think is some Dangerfield rant (there’s always a first time to not do something). Geelong have the fourth highest draft position of players used in 2016 (35) and no one used fewer current/former rookies (2). Even with all their recent high-profile recruits still only 21% of Geelong’s game time was taken by players from other clubs (5th lowest). Three ways to look at this – either Geelong get their drafting right first time and/or they do not do enough to develop their rookies and late draft picks. Either way this strategy is only good enough to lose them a B4B elimination final.
8. Carlton Blues (2015 B4B: 11th) – the other big upwardly mobile club from real life to B4B was Carlton. With an average drafting position of 45 they are finally getting over their obsession with No. 1 draft picks. I would suggest to fully wean themselves, trading Bryce Gibbs on reasonable terms would have been eminently sensible. However, the most stonkaggering (couldn’t decide between stonking and staggering) thing about Carlton is 15 of the 35 players they used in 2016 came from other clubs, contributing 41% of game time. Only one other club used imported players more (slightly) and they had a good reason…
9. Richmond… sorry, old habits (and jokes) die harder than Bruce Willis… North Melbourne Kangaroos (2015 B4B: 7th) – the Roos with an average drafting position of 37 were pretty average. Hence finishing pretty much in the middle of the B4B (and real life) ladder. The only odd thing about North Melbourne, other than the way they handled Harvey et al, was they are a relatively infrequent user of players from other clubs at just 15%. You can only imagine they are headed in one direction in 2017. Let’s just say don’t expect them to win the 2017 B4B (or any other) Cup.
10. West Coast Eagles (2015 B4B: 8th) – after a tumble down the ladder in 2016, West Coast has followed it up with a stumble down the B4B ladder. With a comparatively high average draft position of 35, having four top 10 draft picks play over 20 games this season, and an above average user of players from other clubs (32% of game time), West Coast just did not make enough use of the resources at hand to be competitive on a B4B basis. The good news is that with Sam Mitchell as a No. 36 draft pick originally he should slot right into West Coast’s average.
11. Brisbane Lions (2015 B4B: 14th) – the Lions were actually surprisingly competitive on a B4B basis, coming in at 45 for average drafting position; perhaps not so surprising given the player exodus of recent years. Despite all of its recent high picks Brisbane only had three top 10 draft picks play in 2016. But, let’s face it, the list is as messy as the Gabba’s turf at the moment.
12. Fremantle Dockers (2015 B4B: 2nd) – the biggest slider on B4B terms, this lot is a bit of a mystery whether that’s Ross Lyon’s fault or not. Fremantle had a similar drafting position to Carlton, Brisbane and Adelaide but for the second year running had the lowest share of game time from players recruited from other clubs at just 11%. On the other side of the pier, the Dockers have been good developers of rookie talent only behind Sydney and the Bulldogs in that respect. Although, Lee Spurr was the only club developed rookie to play more than 20 games in 2016 and he was a mature age recruit. With the retirement of a draft No. 4 pick, Fremantle may be a more competitive B4B team in 2017 but only if they can win some more real life games too.
13. GWS Giants (2015 B4B: 18th) – if ever a competition was not designed for this club it was B4B. With an average draft position of 26, five higher than the nearest team, GWS will never be a competitive B4B club… well, not anytime soon. The Giants used 14 top 10 drafted players in 2016 as well as 37% of its game time played by recruits from other clubs. You imagine this will bring them real life success soon enough, just don’t complain when you don’t get my imaginary trophy. But more seriously, GWS has built a squad different to any other, ever (we will get to Gold Coast in a moment). It is perhaps, then, not surprising that the success of Sydney and the Western Bulldogs may be a direct response to this.
14. Gold Coast Suns (2015 B4B: 15th) – one of the great mysteries of life is how Gold Coast and GWS are so different given more or less the same entry conditions, yet end up next to each other on the B4B ladder. In terms of draft position, Gold Coast actually have the eighth highest at 41, some 15 behind GWS and have a below average 21% of game time played by recruits from other clubs. Jarrod Harbrow was the only recruit to play more than 20 games in 2016, while Sam Day and Jack Martin were the only high draft picks to play at least 20 games. Given injury forced the Suns to use 40 players in 2016 perhaps it’s best we don’t read too much into this season. He’s not the Messiah he’s just a balding boy…
15. Melbourne Demons (2015 B4B: 10th) – once upon a time Melbourne was the destination club of the VFL. Players could be attracted with the mere whiff of an MCC membership and the doors that could open. Melbourne haven’t won a premiership since then but are hoping the current crop can deliver one. Well, we know they’ll experience at least one good-win in 2017. That said, Melbourne offers nothing in B4B competition. With an average drafting position of 38, balancing Jack Watts and Dom Tyson with Neville Jetta and Dean Kent, the Dees have had too many turns at the start of the draft to be relevant here.
16. Port Adelaide Power (2015 B4B: 16th) – it gives me no pleasure to see Port third last in the B4B stakes for the second consecutive year… words don’t mean anything anymore do they? Port went into season 2016 massively overrated, most importantly by themselves. My knock on them all season was depth and that played out in B4B terms. With an average drafting position of 34 and using only four current/former rookies that played a combined total of 31 games, Port just don’t bat deeply enough (pardon the mixed sports). This is particularly the case when they started the season two first team players down thanks to some uppity Swiss court.
17. Essendon Bombers (2015 B4B: 17th) – 2016 was always going to be a bit dank for Essendon. An opportunity to blood youngsters and try to win a game or two. In real life and in B4B terms they can be considered to have done better than expected. With a pretty average average drafting position of 40 and a league leading share of game time from players from other clubs (43%) the Bombers are almost certain to climb both ladders in 2017 and have gotten game time into players that otherwise might not have had the opportunity.
18. Richmond Tigers (2015 B4B: 13th) – Richmond, Richmond, Richmond, Richmond. Where do you start (two times nine perhaps)? Where do you finish? Well, bottom in B4B terms. Combining an average drafting position second only to GWS and a terrible real life position, the pride of Punt Road were B4B poison in 2016. Ah well, the loss of former No. 1 draft pick Deledio should help them improve in B4B terms in 2017. But much like many of the other teams at this end of the B4B ladder, only getting a combined 41 games out of current/former rookies (compared to Sydney’s 246) in 2016 suggests Richmond’s player development leaves much to be desired.
So, that’s it. The Bang for Buck Cup has been run and won for another year. Congrats particularly to the Swans and Bulldogs for demonstrating that B4B’s application goes beyond some nerd’s numerically dodgy analysis. It talks to the importance of clubs developing the resources available to them, particularly in a post-GWS world. Sometimes an impediment can be a blessing in disguise. Just ask Tom Boyd.