Tuesday, April 25, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Round 5 2017

Now that we are five rounds into the season I have added back to the Power Rankings the ‘change over the season’ column to show how each club has improved or declined over the season to date.
And the big improvers are:
Essendon – The Bombers were always expected to improve this season as half a dozen of their best players returned from their season-long bans. They haven’t been among the best performed sides so far, but certainly better than the depleted side they fielded last year.
Richmond – The Tigers were awful over the second half of 2016, but they have been consistently solid over the first five matches of 2017 without having had a standout match. In terms of actual wins and losses ‘consistently solid’ has been good enough as the Tigers have won their first five matches over generally average to weak opposition. Because of their poor ending to 2016 they are still ranked as below average, but on 2017 form alone they would easily be a top eight side as they were during 2013 to 2015.
Port Adelaide – After having missed the finals last season Port Adelaide has been up there with Adelaide, GWS, and Geelong as the best sides so far in 2017. The Power opened up by beating Sydney on their home turf, and they destroyed both Fremantle and Carlton. They also put in solid showings against both Adelaide and GWS, indicating that they are on pace for a finals position.
On the other hand, the big decliners have been:
Hawthorn – It’s not as bad as it looked last week, with the Hawks having an excellent win against the West Coast Eagles on the weekend. That aside Hawthorn is clearly nowhere near the side it has been the past six years. I covered Hawthorn’s dramatic fall last week so I won’t say any more on this here.
Sydney – It’s been a big drop for last year’s runners-up and top ranked team – not so much on these rankings which still take into account last season’s form, but on the actual 2017 ladder with the Swans having lost their first five matches. Generally they have been below average in most of their matches so far, which given the heights they scaled last year is a huge drop in performance.
Western Bulldogs – Last year’s premiers the Bulldogs have also been off the pace they set last season. Or at least they are off the pace they set during their phenomenal September run. Before that amazing finals series they were actually only an average side – particularly in the second half of the year – and that seems to be what they have reverted to so far in 2017.
Carlton – The Blues were bad last year. This year they have been even worse, with a thrashing by Port Adelaide and a home loss against Gold Coast their worst performances.
Not on that list is North Melbourne, the other side currently without a win. The Kangaroos have dropped off a bit from last year, but as Rohan Connolly pointed out this week they haven’t been as bad as their ladder position suggests. They’ve had very close losses to Geelong, the Bulldogs, and Fremantle to Perth, and so could have easily had at least one win to date. If you’re looking for the team that is most likely to finish last Brisbane or Carlton seem a safer bet.

Monday, April 17, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Round 4 2017

There are likely many factors that have contributed to Hawthorn’s huge decline this season, but one factor that captured a lot of attention was their somewhat questionable moves over the off-season. The Hawks traded away their two highest disposal winners, four-time premiership heroes Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis, and threw a lot of money and draft picks at bringing in three players from other clubs: Jaeger O’Meara (Gold Coast), Tom Mitchell (Sydney), and Tyrone Vickery (Richmond). The early returns haven’t been good, both for the new recruits – or for O’Meara and Vickery at least – and for the team as a whole.
Hurling People Now did a great analysis of each of Hawthorn’s moves. They said that the trade for Tom Mitchell was a good one, and in his four matches so far Mitchell has done relatively well. They also said that the Hawks got fair value for Sam Mitchell, who likely only has a year or two of football left.
By their assessment however the Hawks lost out badly by trading Jordan Lewis – who should have a good few years left – for virtually nothing. That is nothing though compared to what they gave up for O’Meara; as HPN pointed out Hawthorn gave up more than an entire draft of picks to eventually land their man. The Hawks had a low expected stock of future games within their list anyway, and these trades dropped them even lower in this regard. If the first round pick they gave to St. Kilda turns out to be a high draft pick, which currently looks very likely, Hawthorn’s 2016 off-season could be seen as a disaster.
The Beitzel Review has a more optimistic view. This article points out that the Hawks haven’t built their list on high draft picks anyway, and instead enhanced it by bringing in several proven players in exchange for late first round picks, which used to be generally overvalued. It also points out that Hawthorn can strengthen its list in the coming years through free agency. All true – but based on what we have seen so far the Hawks look like they are starting from much further back than they, or anyone else, could ever have expected.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Round 3 2017

We’ve got some colour into these AFL Power Rankings … Usually I don’t care too much about making my tables and charts look colourful after having worked out the main result I want to show. If I’ve got that and then someone suggests adding some colour changes I’m generally thinking something like: ‘WHY? Can you NOT SEE that the RESULT IS CLEAR?’ (Also, I’m colour blind …)
But somebody has been experimenting with the conditional formatting in Excel this week. You’ll see that the ranking point column now has a colour scale, which I think is pretty nifty. What I like is that it gives a better picture of the distance in quality between teams (as determined by the rankings) than the ranking position does. For example, based on its ranking points seventh placed Port Adelaide is much closer in quality to fifth placed West Coast, and even to third placed Sydney, than it is to eighth placed Collingwood. I reckon the AFL Ladder should be coloured this way, particularly after the season’s half way mark. I definitely suggest using a colour scale on the ladder when doing your footy tips.
You’ll also see that the next column has been coloured red and blue to more clearly indicate which teams gained or lost ranking points this week. Though for Gold Coast and Hawthorn a simple shade of red or blue does not really do justice to how much our assessment of them shifted this week. Gold Coast, who gained a whopping ten ranking points, should be a more volcanic red, and Hawthorn should be as blue as the Arctic seas. Unsurprisingly as I’ve only been doing these rankings since 2011 the Hawks have never been ranked anywhere near as low as they are now. And if anything I feel like that their ranking isn’t falling fast enough …

Sunday, April 2, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Round 2 2017

Last year’s top ranked team Sydney falls a bit further this week after losing again to its Grand Final conquerors the Western Bulldogs. Despite its 0-2 start to this season the Swans are still highly regarded by the rankings, and are still considered a good chance to play in the finals. Matt Cowgill showed over on his column on ESPN that Sydney was – by his ratings – still a 60 per cent chance to make the finals even if it lost this week, and would probably still be considered a better-than-even chance of making it after Round 4 as long as it did not lose its first four matches. That’s a fair bit better than the 2 per cent chance Herald Sun journalist Jon Ralph gave teams starting 0-2 this week. I’d say that Ralph’s figure, which is based on the amount of teams that have recently made the finals after starting 0-2, probably indicates that it’s rare for top teams to start the season with two straight losses.

At the other end of the rankings Essendon remains near the bottom despite winning their first two matches, albeit this week’s win was against the bottom-ranked club Brisbane. No adjustment has been made in the rankings to account for the Bombers having regained some of their best players who were banned from playing last year by the World Anti-Doping Agency. In general because I use a simple formula I don’t make any adjustments for player movements, departures and returns.

I think this works fine in most cases but is probably much less accurate in a significant case like this one. Another consequence is that teams that play Essendon are perhaps penalised more than they should be. For example, Brisbane’s modest 27 point loss this weekend was considered equivalent to a whopping 74 point loss once home ground advantage and Essendon’s relative ‘strength’ – still largely based on its depleted side from last year – was taken into account.

Of course if Essendon performs above its level of last year – which most people expect they will – then it will move up the rankings to its ‘true’ level of competency soon enough. (Similarly the performances of clubs that play against Essendon will naturally adjust in the rankings as well.) Note though the Bombers were playing very badly in late-2015 before those players were banned. They are playing much better so far in 2017, but Essendon has a history over the past few years of starting the season off much better than they finish it. It has done this basically every year since 2012 and repeatedly made my rankings look ‘foolish’ until they drop off. So while I definitely think Essendon is better than the current rankings suggest I’m not prepared to say that the rankings are waaaaaaaaay off just yet.

Monday, March 27, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Round 1 2017

Welcome back to The Wooden Finger’s AFL Power Rankings for 2017. Before we get to this week’s rankings I said in my final AFL Women’s Power Rankings last week that I would give an update on where Brisbane and Adelaide ended up after the Grand Final. As you’d probably expect Adelaide moved to the top of the rankings after beating the Lions on their home turf to capture the first AFL Women’s flag. The Crows ended up with 14.0 ranking points, while Brisbane remained in third behind Melbourne, and dropped a couple of ranking points to finish on 6.5. That would put the two sides on about even terms in a hypothetical rematch in Queensland, which is almost how their Grand Final ended up.

So to recap, here is how the Power Rankings work – each club accumulates ranking points from its past 22 matches like so:
  • first, take the club’s net margin for the match – e.g. a six-goal win is +36;
  • second, adjust the net margin for home ground advantage – e.g. Perth clubs are considered to have a two-goal disadvantage when playing in Melbourne, so a six-goal win in Melbourne for a Perth club is adjusted to +48; and
  • third, weight the match according to how recent it is, with the most recent match having the highest weight.  
One can then interpret a club’s ranking points as its expected net margin in a match if playing a club of average ability on a neutral ground. For example, according to the rankings the Western Bulldogs would be expected to beat a Victorian club of average ability by about three goals, and Carlton would be expected to lose by about four goals in the same situation.
This week Adelaide, having ascended to the top of the women’s rankings, now also tops the men’s rankings. The Crows – despite their relatively early exit from the finals – were really good last year. Unfortunately for them they had a tough draw and an extremely costly loss in the last round of the regular season, which dropped them from second to fifth heading into the finals. However Adelaide re-affirmed its quality this weekend with a comfortable win over the GWS Giants, who were the pre-season premiership favourites.
You may also note that last year’s premiers the Western Bulldogs are only the sixth-ranked team. The Bulldogs’ form actually wasn’t that great heading into the finals series (though injuries may have played a part), but then of course they caught fire in September and raced away to a long-awaited flag. With that in mind the Dogs beat Collingwood on the weekend by about as much as one should expect they would, even though the Pies were lauded for keeping things close against the reigning premiers. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some comments about the Bulldogs having gone off the boil in the coming weeks, even if they are playing at a similar or higher level than they did for most of last year.

Monday, March 20, 2017

AFL Women’s Power Rankings: Round 7 2017

On the weekend my wife, daughter, sister and I went to the Collingwood versus Adelaide match, in which Adelaide was playing for spot in the AFL Women’s Grand Final next week. Earlier in the season I mentioned that my wife was having a worrying influence upon my daughter’s allegiances, teaching her to say ‘More more Maggies’ which is not the most pleasant thing that my Richmond-supporting ears could hear.

Nevertheless I encouraged the rest of my family to go along to its first AFL Women’s match. The match itself was pretty good – one of the best of the season that I’ve seen. However my poor wife enjoyed it less than I did, spending the entire second quarter in the world’s slowest queue trying to obtain my daughter ice cream (that she subsequently rejected), and the entire final quarter lying on her back feeling faint in the 35-plus degree heat. Which may mean, unfortunate though this experience was, that I have gained even more exclusive domain in taking our daughter to the football in future, at which any more chants of ‘More more Maggies’ are unlikely to be heard.  
Well, on to the rankings … Melbourne finishes the home and away season on top of the rankings after its huge win over Fremantle, despite missing out on the Grand Final next week. Adelaide also gains a few ranking points after its good win, and keeps second spot. Brisbane, who went through the home and away season undefeated, moves down to third. The Lions haven’t been quite as impressive in recent weeks, though perhaps they took their foot off the gas a bit once they knew they would host the Grand Final? In any case Brisbane’s home ground advantage means these rankings peg it as slight favourites to win next week.

As predicted the Bulldogs beat the GWS Giants and put them on the bottom of the ladder, which reflects their position on the rankings. Fremantle also dropped a lot in ranking points after its heavy loss.

With only one match left I’m not going to do a separate women’s rankings post next week, but I will update you on where Grand Final combatants Brisbane and Adelaide finished up in my AFL men’s post. In the meantime, you can also enjoy these summaries of the movements of each team during the first AFL Women’s season.

Monday, March 13, 2017

AFL Women’s Power Rankings: Round 6 2017

Only three clubs can now win the first AFL Women’s premiership: the Brisbane Lions – who have locked up the right to host the Grand Final – and Adelaide and Melbourne, who will fight for second place next week. My Power Rankings now have them all as very close together, after the Demons beat the Crows in Adelaide last week and Brisbane had only a narrow win against the Bulldogs. Based on the rankings each of the three teams’ chances of winning the flag really comes down to their current ladder position, with Brisbane having the best chance – as it will host the Grand Final at home – while Melbourne must rely on an Adelaide loss next week to move into second spot.

At the other end of the rankings GWS will likely finish the season as the lowest ranked team after being well beaten by Collingwood, despite the Dogs being last on the actual ladder. The Dogs though will have a chance to avoid getting the ‘wooden spoon’ when they play the Giants next week. Even with GWS’ home ground advantage the rankings like the Dogs’ chances, given that they have performed much better than their ladder position suggests in recent weeks.

Monday, March 6, 2017

AFL Women’s Power Rankings: Round 5 2017

After holding the number one ranking spot for three weeks the Adelaide Crows are knocked off the top by the Brisbane Lions, who beat them at home by three points over the weekend. However the main consequence of this result is more likely to be to switch which club will host the Grand Final rather than which clubs will get there.

For example, following the Round 5 results the FMI website estimates that Brisbane has a 97 per cent of finishing first or second, and Adelaide has a 93 per cent chance. The Lions’ win on the weekend though has increased their estimated chances of finishing first from 32 per cent to 66 per cent. (The chances based on my rankings would be different, but not by much.)

Carlton and Melbourne are not wholly without a shot, but it looks like we’ll see our first ever AFL Grand Final played outside of Victoria this year.