AFL Bang for Buck Cup: Why Hawthorn didn’t really win the 2015 premiership

Yes, yes, so Hawthorn won another premiership. Well done you. Tick v.g. enjoy the Almanac cover – Bruce does. Just ignore the rest of us while we mumble excuses and wish Clarkson was coaching our team. But what if the Grand Final wasn’t the only lens through which we consider footballing success? Let’s face it, with a one in 18 chance of winning, you almost have a better chance of running into the Prime Minister on your local bus route. Success will most likely be a long time coming if that’s the only way you define it.

There’s no agency like free agency

That great bastion of equalisation, the draft, is in Adelaide next week. But clubs do not have equal access to it, lost in the vagaries of not tanking, priority picks and new clubs. They also do not have equal access to certain players, particularly that fickle lad named Wantaway. Clearly it shows that the real life premiership is a sham – a vindication of existing power structures or luck… or both. The system is rigged against clubs that are regularly competitive but are not seen as an attractive destination club.

So what if we measured a club’s season by including the draft origin of their players? Rewarding them for clever recruiting rather than sustained mediocrity. With trading wrapped up for another year and various drafts to come, how important were the intricacies of each deal? Is it the earliness of your draft pick that counts or how you use it (asked the actress of the bishop)? Which team has made the best use of the draft resources available to them over the years? Introducing the Bang for Buck Cup.

The Bang for Buck Cup (B4BC)

The B4BC combines a club’s real life 2015 ladder position with the draft position of the players they used to determine who had the best bang for buck. The bad news for Hawthorn fans is you were not the best side of 2015 (complaints about Hawthorn being described as not the best club of 2015 can be lodged with your local unicorn). The scoreboard on Grand Final day is fine in its own way but the Sydney Swans were the apogee of 2015 achievement and inaugural winners of the B4BC.

Excellent, but what does that mean? Considering both the average drafting position of the players they used in 2015 and on field real life performance, the Swans were Bruce level special. They had the highest average drafting position at 54.65 and finished fifth after real life finals.

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Some definitions (if you don’t like maths-abusey overly detailed explanations, skip to the bit about your club)

Draft position is defined as where that player ranks in terms of all new players picked in a draft.¹ The 2015 player with the highest draft number is Josh Hall – the 94th pick in the 2012 Rookie Draft, making him the 137th new player picked that year.

The average draft position for a club is worked out by multiplying each player’s draft position by the number of games he played in the season and then dividing it by the total number of games played by that team’s players that season. Harry Cunningham is the competition’s standout player in that regard and inaugural Banglow Medlallist, as the 136th player in the 2011 drafting year and playing 21 games in 2015 (as a result just one of his games has the same value as 136 games played by a number one draft pick). Take Cunningham out and Sydney’s 2015 draft average falls to 51.27.

Note, some players have not been classified under this system as they were pre-listed or zone selected by Gold Coast and GWS rather than drafted. As a result the figures for those two clubs should be treated with a greater degree of skepticism than the substantial degree of skepticism with which you should treat the rest of this piece.

So how did your team fare in the B4BC and why?

1. Sydney – it’s not surprising, if somewhat miffing, to find the Swans at the top of the pile (this project possibly started with the belief a team a bit closer to home would top the ladder). They are the monarchs of canny recruiting. In fact the Swans are so good at recruiting that the AFL penalised them for following the rules. The average draft ranking of Swans players used this year was 54.65 – substantially higher than any other team. This comes about by significant use of current and former rookies – Kieren Jack, Rampe, Lloyd, Grundy, Laidler, Smith, Cunningham and Pyke all having played 20 or more games in 2015. Sydney used 12 current or former rookies in 2015, 10 of those originally drafted by the Swans. At the other end of the draft Sydney only used three players drafted in the top 10 (McVeigh, Franklin, Rohan) pointing to their limited access to the pointy end of the draft.

2. Fremantle – the Dockers lose a close B4B Grand Final to the Swans with an average draft position of 47.28 balancing out its higher ladder finish. Again, Fremantle are a heavy user of rookies, playing 10 current/former in 2015. Barlow, Danyle Pearce, Spurr and Sandilands played more than 20 games this year. The odd thing about Fremantle is their lack of players from other clubs. They used only four players from other clubs in 2015 (Pearce, McPharlin, Griffin and Dawson), making up 10% of Fremantle’s games played. This likely reflects the Dockers’ approach to internal development as well as, perhaps, it struggling to attract players from interstate. As fun as playing for Ross Lyon no doubt is.

3. Adelaide – the Crows stack up pretty well in this regard (can you stack Crows?). That said, losing two years’ worth of first and second round draft picks may have had something to do with it (that and not getting a game out of Brad Crouch this season). There is plenty of smart recruiting in this list. Adelaide used 10 current/former rookies with Laird, Jacobs, Jenkins and Cameron playing more than 20 games in 2015. Of note is Adelaide’s work to attract players undervalued at other clubs – Betts, Jacobs, Jenkins and Lynch good examples of that. The remarkable thing about the Crows is they are the only team in the competition not have a single game from a player taken before 10 in the draft… and number 10 has just moved to a boutique club near Moggs Creek.

4. Western Bulldogs – everyone likes the Bulldogs, don’t they? Not players from other clubs, it seems. The Bulldogs are another club to have done well with the resources in paw. In 2015 they used 12 current/former rookies (getting at least 20 games out of Dahlhaus, Picken and Johannisen) and their average player was pick 50.72. This matches with the fact that, like Fremantle and Geelong, the Bulldogs had very few matches played by imported players. Again it may point to a focus on developing internally due to limited pulling power. In terms of draft age the Bulldogs were only older than GWS and the Queensland teams so there is plenty room for development, although it may not be next year.

5. Hawthorn – well, the three times reigning premier lost in the second week of the B4B finals (let’s just say to the Crows – seems fair and reasonable). As much as the Hawks are known as the canniest poachers this side of a Roald Dahl book, the reality is Hawthorn’s premierships are as much built off its early draft picks in the ’00s. Hodge, Lewis and Roughead all arrived as top 10 draft picks in that period. Not surprisingly, Hawthorn used the equal most players recruited from other clubs and have the equal oldest draft date. Is this a recipe for success? Sure if you can manage to recruit that much top end talent from other clubs and still fit them within your salary cap. Simple but almost impossible to follow, much like David Warner.

6. Collingwood – the Magpies are the only non-real life finals side to make the B4B finals this year – you could say they give pretty good Bang for Bucks and comfortably beat Richmond (much to Treloar’s joy). This comes courtesy of an average draft pick of 49.74 putting it in the ballpark of the Bulldogs and Crows. Collingwood is average in pretty much every other way (particularly in real life), although the players it used in 2015 are comparatively inexperienced. Collingwood is a strong user of its rookie list getting 20 games or more out of five current/former rookies – Crisp, Williams, Blair, Toovey and Frost. It is interesting to compare Collingwood to Hawthorn – they seem not to have attracted the top end talent from other clubs. For all the weight Eddie is capable of throwing around, the Magpies are not as predatory as you would expect. Although if James Aish becomes a superstar (can you be more of a star than Norwood premiership player and youngest ever SANFL premiership player?) that perception might just change.

7. North Melbourne – with an average draft position of 36.78 and only 19.27% of its 2015 games courtesy of players recruited from other clubs (figure boosted by Jarrad Waite, remarkably playing 23 games this year. That’s more games than Carlton got out of him in the last 230 seasons), North Melbourne has been more focused on internal development than other clubs and lost in the B4B elimination finals. Using eight current/former rookies is reasonable, with Gibson and Firrito having played more than 20 games in 2015. North Melbourne’s drafting age is, surprisingly, the same as Hawthorn’s. The Kangaroos have only traded away/delisted 21 games worth of 2015 experience so the B4B composition may not change significantly in 2016.

8. West Coast – the Eagles were the other losing elimination finalists in the B4BC. With a core group of top 10 draft picks (Gaff, Masten, Sheppard, Kennedy and Naitanui) West Coast are never going to be competitive on a B4B basis. The Eagles are very similar to North Melbourne but are more capable of failing at a higher level. The major difference is West Coast is a more active user of players from other clubs with 28.55% of games played by imports (Wellingham, Yeo, Cripps, Kennedy and Hill most prominent). The other major difference is West Coast used a much draft younger squad than the Roos in 2015.

9. St Kilda – one of the bolters in the B4BC, St Kilda just missed out on the finals. With an average draft pick of 44.26, the Saints have made good use of the lower reaches of the draft – Geary, Savage and Sinclair the standouts on a B4B basis. St Kilda were the heaviest users of players recruited from other clubs, with a staggering 36.78% of games played by imports. Are they a surprising club of choice or a last resort? They certainly had a rip snorter this trade period.

10. Melbourne – like St Kilda, Melbourne lands a surprisingly high B4BC finish. While the model of profligacy with high draft picks, Melbourne used 11 current/former rookies in 2015, although no Melbourne developed rookie played 20 games. Perhaps more barrel scraping a shallow list than sound development. More game time out of Trengove and Petracca should see Melbourne slide down the B4B ladder in 2016.

11. Carlton – comes in at a well-earned 11. Another whose comparatively high B4B ranking of 46.41 reflects wasteful player development rather than sound use of limited resources. Particularly when they let B4B gems like Betts and Jacobs make like the Marx Brothers and go west. Carlton used an equal high 12 current/former rookies, Tuohy, Curnow and Bell the most prominent. However, six of those 12 are no longer on the Blue books. The balance of Carlton’s list is a bit on the weird side – in the short term recruiting GWS’s surplus players appears to be the solution.

12. Geelong – the Cats capped off a forgettable real life season with a disappointing 12th in the B4BC. Like Fremantle they had a very low share of games played by players from other clubs. That number will rise next year, providing Dangerfield is good enough to make their starting 22. Blicavs aside, Geelong did not make make use of its current/former rookies in 2015. Despite its sustained period of success, its draft rank is quite low thanks to the retention and use of a large number of first and second round draft picks. Geelong’s competitiveness in the 2016 B4BC will depend on a rise in the real life ladder – ably assisted by the developers of the 2016 fixture.

13. Richmond – comes in at 13 adding another real life elimination final loss to a low drafting average of 29.54. At a glance there can be a reasonable question about Richmond’s player development with only two rookies getting a game in 2015. One of those (Gordon) has been delisted post season. It would appear the Tigers have recruited heavily from other clubs to fill needs rather than develop its own talent. The issue then is whether the Tigers have the list depth to be a serious contender both in real life and the B4BC. Just ask Adam Treloar.

14. Brisbane – climbed a couple of spots in B4B due to a relatively high draft average of 42.74. Brisbane used seven current/former rookies, although Booleroo boy Justin Clarke was the only one to play 20 games. Again, given real life position and injuries, this was more necessity rather than a sign of strong development. Brisbane also had the youngest draft squad in 2015 so there is still a lot of work to be done. At least it was nice of James Aish to give the Lions a B4B boost by leaving the club.

15. Gold Coast – don’t read much into Gold Coast’s result. On the field their season was not a snorter and in B4B terms nine of their players were not classified due to being pre-listed rather than drafted. Put a line through 2015. However, given the club’s creation don’t expect them to have a sniff at B4B (and potentially real football) in the next 10 years.

16. Port Adelaide – the Power are another B4B surprise packet – the sort of packet you might find alight on your doorstep. As it turned out Port just missed the real life finals, although their missingness was known some way out. In B4B terms, Port has the third lowest average draft position at 31.76. The Primus years netted them Boak, Hartlett, Wingard and Wines while the trade table brought in Ryder and Polec and next season Dixon and Toumpas. There is some major top end draft talent stockpiled at Fishermen’s Wharf and if there is not significant improvement next year some questions may be asked about Ken’s specialness. Conversely, Port’s use of current/former rookies is very limited, Tom Jonas the only player of note.

17. Essendon – combine a horrid few years with a fairly average squad in B4B terms and it’s fairly clear Essendon needs a shot in the arm next season. Comparatively, the Bombers got very few games out of players from other clubs and given the cloud hanging over the internally developed players it’s not surprising they are not as high as they would like to be. Perhaps an injection of youth and pace is needed. The good news is new coach, new players and Essendon’s performance may be enhanced in the near future.

18. GWS – and holding up the ladder in the B4BC is GWS. Doesn’t bear a lot of inspection with eight unclassified players used in 2015. Note, however, the rest of the squad’s draft average of 22.81 compared to Gold Coast’s 39.75. Even with the personnel turn-over GWS has a super elite pool of draft talent with a higher calibre intake from other clubs. They also have established a great relationship with a minor club willing to take the players that aren’t quite good enough for them. GWS ain’t going to be B4B champions any time soon, if ever, but don’t be surprised if they give the real life thing a bit of a shake in the near future.

Conclusion

The B4BC was an attempt to look at how clubs have used the draft and some of the factors that may lead to real life success. The essential thesis is that (using dodgy maths for fun) the draft is only one of many inputs to a footy club and that the club makes the pick as much as the pick makes the club. But, hey, it was nice to have Hawthorn not winning something, wasn’t it? Clubs like Sydney, Fremantle and Adelaide have made remarkably good use of the resources available to them. Again, Sydney has every right to feel aggrieved at the trading sanctions placed on them by the AFL given, if anything, they have had less access to quality youngsters than most / all other clubs.

 

 

1. For example, if 99 new players (players that have not previously been drafted) are selected in the draft, then the player that is selected first in the preseason draft becomes the 100th player picked that year. If 10 players are picked in the preseason draft then the first rookie picked is the 110th player selected in that draft. A player’s original value remains with them even if they are traded, redrafted or upgraded.

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    The devil will find work for idle hands to do. You were right Moz.

    Like many tender submissions I’ve analysed over the years, you can scale and weight this stuff to come up with the “objective” answer to the subjective answer that you want. So why didn’t you take the opportunity to put the Crows on top?

    I’m waiting for the previous 10 years to be similarly analysed so that we can get some multi-variate time series stochastic results visualised (I have no idea what that sentence means).

  2. Informative. Trainspotterish.
    I think I prefer my Eagles at 2nd, even if it means the evil that dare not speak its name is above us.
    Name all the good reasons for coming to Fremantle………………………….. I thought so. Next question.
    Thanks Dave (I think).

  3. kath presdee says

    I look forward to GWS being able to slowly climb the B4B Cup thanks to the establishment of the UWS Blues. Being able to offload pre-listings such as Whiley and top 10 picks such as Sumner, we’re Kreuzing.

  4. I know this has taken quite a bit of work, so well done. But I wonder what the impact is of using a player’s original draft position even after they’ve been traded or re-drafted? Especially since you’re rating a clubs’ recruiting performance and there a large number of players arriving via other clubs.

    Eg Shaun McKernan under your system is pick 28 registered against Essendon, when they actually re-drafted him at around pick 100. There is no impact on the original draft club (Adel).

    You could also value traded players & free agents by what they were exchanged for, or what was received as compo.

  5. Thanks for the comments folks. It all started many moons ago trying to demonstrate why Carlton shouldn’t get a priority pick, Swish. Short of implementing the Rory/Brodie equalisation matrix or dramatically overweighting Round 1, I just can’t get the Crows on top. Moz was right about many things.

    Trainspotterish is a fair cop, PB. We lived above the Noarlunga train line at Hallett Cove at some point in the ’80s. Super Chook sightings were the gold standard.

    Like your real life chances better, Kath.

    Yeah, Mike, that would certainly be a fairer system but comes unstuck in multiple player / pick trades and the investment of time required to track it. Hoping it is covered by swings and roundabouts. Trouble with free agency compensation is it is not intended to reflect the player’s true value as such.

  6. Well done Mr Brown, always good to read about the preternatural.

    Can I recommend the 2015 Footy Almanac which describes, in more voices than could even be imagined by the Tower of Babei, one small jigsaw of the human condition. And that small jigsaw does have a 2015 winner. Even though the AFL competition is as artificially created as any other human construct and competition. But there is a winner nonetheless.

    The lack of fairness in the AFL competition would be apparent to another life-form out there in the loneliness of the non-competitive rest of the universe, staring through a rudimentary telescope from many light years away. Or a two year old. And yet here we are with the mighty Hawks holding the Premiership Cup aloft for the third year in a row.

    I think your premise and analysis are compelling. Looking at your ladder I’m glad it’s not how the AFL competition results are determined. I like the AFL way of doing things … for now.

    Cheers

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