Sunday, May 29, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 10 2016

Just how historic is the Dockers’ fall this season? Some indications
 
·         Fremantle’s has -16 ranking points compared with +22 ranking points at Round 10 last season. That is a decline of six goals per game.  
·         As Matt Cowgill has shown over at The Arc no minor premier had previously lost their first six matches of the next season, let alone their first ten.
However Fremantle had a few close wins last season. If you focus instead on Fremantle’s percentage the fall is not as unprecedented as the fall in ladder position suggests. The Dockers’ percentage is currently 68.2, compared with 118.4 at the end of last season. That’s no worse than, say, Carlton’s in 2002 (128.6 in 2001 to 73. 1), although the Blues’ drop was considered pretty hefty at the time. Furthermore the drop-off from mid-2015 for Freo has been worse – as of Round 10 last year the Dockers’ percentage was 139.8. As I’ve said before here Fremantle’s fall really started in the middle of last year, even though they kept top spot on the ladder.
 
Any way you look it’s a big drop. Last season Fremantle had six players that averaged over 90 SuperCoach points per game. This season, as of Round 10, they have two. Aaron Sandilands has barely played, Nat Fyfe is now out for the season and was out of form even before that, and David Mundy, Michael Barlow, and Matthew Pavlich have had major declines. Fyfe’s injury aside a main answer for the Dockers’ loss of form may well just be that they are too old now.
 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Wooden Finger Five - May 2016


Drake’s new album came out a few weeks back, which has been enough time for me to listen through it twice, forgoing all food and sleep to do so. ‘One Dance’ is exactly the type of track you can imagine being played at high school dances, sports events, parties, weddings, etc. for the next decade. Not for old people like me to dance to of course, because that would just be awkward …


Cate Le Bon – French, right? No, Welsh actually. Which still seems a bit surprising because she has the type of voice and music that you could picture fitting in well to a cafĂ© in Paris, or elsewhere in Europe (continental Europe I mean – obviously Wales is European). The title ‘Love is Not Love’ reminds me of the ‘love is not a victory march’ line from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallejuah’. Le Bon’s lyrics don’t quite have the same level of poeticism, but she sings a lot better than Cohen ever did. Indeed the whole album is music to drink your weekend morning coffees too, and I like my weekend morning coffees.


Radiohead’s self-heralded new song is seemingly the band at its most Radioheady, with a Radioheady song title, and a Radioheady video clip. Still the opening minute marks the track out as a significant and distinct addition to the band’s catalogue, similar to how ‘There There’ did ten years back. It starts off with an angry set of strings (who apparently are playing by striking their strings with the stick of the bow), something we haven’t heard much of in Radiohead’s music before, and which makes it kind of like the darker cousin to Coldplay’s ubiquitous ‘Viva La Vida’ track.
From there you get the usual Thom Yorke doom and gloom: ‘Burn the witch / Burn the witch / We know where you live’, though it’s a bit reductive to dump all Thom Yorke doom and gloom in the same box. I haven’t yet heard the new album, because it’s not on Spotify, nor in the record store (which I travelled to particularly to buy … grrrr), but I’m hopeful of a return to form based on what I’ve heard from it.

2.Cut And Paste: album – Oscar
 
Oscar’s album, his first, is bloody brilliant. It recalls many great British artists – Blur and Damon Albarn, Joy Division, Pulp, the Smiths, the Stranglers – but it still sounds like his own distinct work. Blur is to me the closest comparison, as each track has a nice little pop hook that has me playing the album over and over as I walk down the street. What also makes it work is that Oscar, for all of his evident talent, sounds like an understated, normal guy. But he doesn’t seem like he’s much into the football: ‘Tell me who I should support / Red team, green team’, he says on ‘Sometimes’. Well, it can be like that.


I went too early on my pick from Yeasayer’s new album, with my choice of ‘I Am Chemistry’ last month. The true standout for me now is the last track ‘Cold Night’. It’s a relatively simple song as far as Yeasayer songs go, with a relatively direct chorus ‘Was there something I
could have told you / To carry you through the cold night / Would you hang on my every word?’ On repeated listens though it revealed itself as the story of a possibly quite intense experience. It seems that the person the narrator is talking about left him in a huff some night five years ago, and the narrator isn’t particularly forgiving of it. He tosses out barbs even as he wonders, probably to himself, what he could have done to make things turn out differently.

One of those barbs particularly stands out for me: ‘To my daughter you’ll be an ancient memory/ If we even mention you at all’. I actually initially thought it was ‘to my father’. But the effect is the same: the person was someone who was family, but perhaps was always a bit on the outer, and is definitely so now. It’s a gorgeous ending to a song that stands alongside ‘2080’ and ‘Madder Red’ as one of my favourite Yeasayer tracks.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 9 2016

Sydney becomes the fifth different club to reach the top of the rankings in the past five weeks, which is easily the most rapid turnover we have had in the top spot since the rankings began. Last year Hawthorn held the top spot for almost the entire season. The ‘bad news’ for the Swans is that the previous four clubs to be ranked number one – Hawthorn, West Coast, Adelaide, and Geelong – have all lost the next week, and crashed out of the top three. It shows again that the rankings don’t think that there is a clear best team at the moment.
 
What of the actual ladder leaders, North Melbourne, who have won their first nine matches? The Roos have benefitted from a relatively easy draw so far. They had a good performance in thrashing the Blues this week, and another one a few weeks back in their win against the Dogs, but some of their other wins have been against low-ranked clubs Brisbane, Melbourne, Fremantle, Gold Coast, St. Kilda and Essendon, and a few of those were quite close. North have their first match in which the rankings rate them the clear underdogs against Sydney next week. Although, given that Sydney will be facing the ‘number one ranking curse’ …
 
For the first time ever Greater Western Sydney is ranked above Hawthorn. This is notable because in mid-2014 the two clubs were over 90 points apart in the rankings. This season GWS has been the most improved club, improving by five goals in ranking points, and going from mediocre to pretty good. Hawthorn, meanwhile, has lost the most ranking points, falling by four goals in ranking points, and going from great to just pretty good again. On the subject of the Hawks, I did tear up at the bad news regarding Jarryd Roughead this week, and I'm not even his teammate or a Hawks supporter. 
 
And the Gold Coast Suns are once again on the bottom of the rankings, even below a severely depleted Essendon side. When I wrote earlier this season that new clubs generally make the finals in their first decade, I was thinking more of the Suns than the Giants breaking their drought, based on their good start to the season. Clearly now the Giants are miles ahead of the Suns, with Gold Coast playing about as badly as it did when it first entered the league.
 
 

Monday, May 16, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 8 2016

And so Geelong returns to the top of the Power Rankings again, as I rather suspected they might. It is the first time they have been at the top since Round 22 2013. What is remarkable to me about Geelong’s return to premiership contention is that they have done it without ‘bottoming out’ and getting high draft picks. In that time the lowest they have been ranked is #11. Over the past few years many players of their multi-flag winning ‘golden generation’ have retired. But somewhat sneakily, over the same period the Cats brought in some of the young players that are leading them to success now.
 
See below the average per game SuperCoach scores of each Geelong player from 2009 to 2016. Apart from the big loss of Gary Ablett in 2011 – a year in which the Cats nonetheless won the premiership – Geelong started to lose a few of their ‘golden generation’ players in 2012 and 2013, losing Darren Milburn, Cameron Ling, Brad Ottens, Cameron Mooney, and David Wojcinski during that period. Their replacements were not always nearly as productive. However, the Cats still had enough players from their flag-winning teams – Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, Steve Johnson, Corey Enright, Paul Chapman, Harry Taylor, James Kelly, Tom Hawkins, etc. – to keep them contesting finals.
 
 
Last year though, some of those stars started to fade, in particular Bartel, Johnson, Kelly, and even Selwood to some extent. But in the meantime some of their younger players have kept improving. Improvements in the play of Steven Motlop, Cameron Guthrie, Mitch Duncan, Josh Caddy, Mark Blicavs, Shane Kersten, Jed Bews, and Daniel Menzel have now filled some of the gaps left by the declines and departures of those older players. And recruiting Patrick Dangerfield – one of the most productive players in the game – has helped as well. On what they have displayed in the first eight rounds of this season the Cats are as every bit as good as they were from 2007 to 2011. Can they keep it up?
 
 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 123

MUSIC: Why the decline of the Greatest Hits album matters. [Pitchork]

TELEVISION: When did we reach peak HBO? [Fivethirtyeight]

FILM/COMIC BOOKS: Some fanboys view of the new Captain America/Avengers movie. [iFanboy]

MUSIC: Radiohead’s new album isn’t on Spotify. So what? They don’t need each other. [The Guardian]

ECONOMICS: How to better measure prosperity. [The Economist]

Sunday, May 8, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 7 2016

The top of the Power Rankings has not been this crowded and changeable since the first seven rounds of 2012, when 2011 Grand Finalists Geelong and Collingwood were brought back to the pack. Last week reigning AFL premiers Hawthorn crashed from first to fifth in the rankings, and this week reigning runners-up West Coast crash from the top spot to fourth.
 
The new top-ranked club is the Adelaide Crows, despite finishing last season in sixth, and winning only four of their first seven matches. But the Crows’ performances in those three losses – to Hawthorn, the Western Bulldogs, and North Melbourne – were pretty much in line with how the rankings expect they would perform, given their two goal disadvantage when playing in Victoria. Adelaide have had a tough fixture to start the season, and once their fixture becomes easier, and if they maintain their form, their win-loss record should become more reflective of where they are at.
 
But that is not to say the Crows will lead the ladder as the season goes on. According to the rankings they are of pretty much the same quality as the teams ranked second and fifth. Adelaide is the ‘worst’-performed side to hold the top position since West Coast in Round 9 of 2012. Basically they are closer to what Sydney and Richmond were last season than the 2015 Eagles or Hawks.
 
 
Another way to put it is that so far in 2016 no club looks to be ‘great’. Adelaide, Sydney, Geelong, West Coast, and Hawthorn are all ranked about the same, with the Dogs not far behind. In 2012 Hawthorn and Sydney eventually separated themselves from the pack and became clearly that year’s two best teams. Will that happen again this season? Or will we have a season that is more like 1993 or 1997? Or are we just a few weeks away from Geelong – this year’s most improved team outside of GWS – re-establishing their comfortable perch at the rankings top?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 6 2016

I’ve been away in Sydney over the past few days, so let’s just get the rankings up, stopping only to make the following observations:

1) My post last week about Hawthorn dropping off would have been some good material to use this week.
2) The final eight for this year is looking pretty settled.
3) Compared to my team the Melbourne Storm, the Parramatta Eels got off easy.

Monday, April 25, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 5 2016

Hawthorn just escaped with a win again – their third win by three points on the trot. These rankings are built on the assumption that net margin is what matters, not whether you win or lose. This is based on evidence that the best teams in sports have big wins; teams that are regularly just sneaking home are riding their luck.
 
Back in 2012 Hawthorn stood at 4 wins and 3 losses after seven matches, and were ninth on the ladder. But these rankings had them first, because they had been beating opponents by a lot when they won, and two out of their three losses had been narrow defeats against good teams. The Hawks were on pace for 46 ranking points – the mark of a very good club – based on their form in their first seven matches, which is pretty close to where they ended up, with 17 wins to boot.
 
Over the first five rounds of 2016 the Hawks are on pace for just 17 ranking points. That will probably get you into the finals, and may even get you into the top four if there are few standout clubs, but it is well below the Hawks’ high level of performance over the past few years. Their only great, ‘peak-Hawthorn’ performance for the year to date has been their comfortable win against last year’s runners-up West Coast. Hawthorn have also narrowly beaten other good clubs in Footscray and Adelaide, although the latter win does not look as good once home ground advantage is taken into account. But they were well beaten by Geelong, and barely got home against St. Kilda. Which is why they are the subject of tweets like these.
 
 
Injuries, such as Jarryd Roughead’s, are having some effect, and even the best teams have dips in form. But the Hawks are also old now. It may be that they are entering the inevitable decline that faces every successful club. Which may mean that I will finally get to see someone else win at the Grand Final this year.
 
According to the rankings Hawthorn, West Coast, Adelaide – who I didn’t pick to make the finals – and Sydney, are all very close as the league’s top four clubs (sorry Dogs and Roos). But the Crows and the Swans are playing quite a bit better than the Hawks and the Eagles at the moment, with last year’s Grand Finalists remaining at the top in large part due to last season’s form. Adelaide, in particular, have only had two very narrow losses in Melbourne to the Hawks and the Roos. Shades of the 2012 Hawks? Let’s see how they’re travelling in a few weeks time.