Friday, June 7, 2013

What Has Happened To St. Kilda and Fremantle?

In late 2011, St. Kilda’s coach Ross Lyon left the Saints to coach the Fremantle Dockers. In 2011, the Saints made the finals and the Dockers missed out. However, since then Fremantle has performed better than St. Kilda. The Dockers made the finals in 2012 while St .Kilda missed out. And after round 10 in 2013, Fremantle is in the top four and St. Kilda is in the bottom four. Does this mean that Ross Lyon’s defection is responsible for the turnaround in fortunes? Well, it may be part of the reason, but as always, the explanation does not appear to be quite as simple as that.

Let’s have a look at the performance of each of these teams’ players from 2011 to 2013. I am going to use each player’s average SuperCoach score as a measure of his performance; it’s debatable how good that indicator is as a measure of a player’s worth, but I can’t think of a better one. Similarly, I am going to use each team’s total average SuperCoach score per game as a measure of how well that team played each year. I am also going to measure the total average SuperCoach score per game across that team’s ‘best 22’, where the ‘best 22’ are simply those 22 players with the highest average SuperCoach scores that year. That helps to quantify the impact of injuries on a team’s performance. This method pays no attention to a player’s position, but I think the conclusions you can draw from it are somewhat useful.

Alright, this is the performance of each St. Kilda player from 2011 to Round 10 2013 (click to enlarge):

And here is the performance of each Fremantle player:

These numbers suggest that, even though St. Kilda made the finals in 2011 and Fremantle did not, Fremantle’s lower performance was due to injuries, and its ‘best 22’ was ‘better’ than St. Kilda’s ‘best 22’. Top Dockers Aaron Sandilands, David Mundy, and Michael Barlow all missed large chunks of 2011, while pretty much all the top Saints played almost all of the games.

In 2012, Fremantle’s average score improved as Mundy and Barlow returned, although Sandilands and Nathan Fyfe still missed a lot of games. But the performance of their ‘best 22’ also improved, with Paul Duffield, Clancee Pearce, Matthew De Boer, Michael Johnson, Christopher Mayne, and Luke McPharlin all being big improvers. Did these players improve because of Ross Lyon’s coaching? Meanwhile, St. Kilda regressed a bit, but their ‘best 22’ improved from 2011, suggesting injuries had an impact. Sam Fisher, Jason Gram, Clinton Jones, Ben McEvoy, and even Nick Riewoldt missed a few more games in 2012 than they did in 2011.

In 2013, Fremantle has improved even further, with Fyfe only missing two games to date and Barlow improving, although Matthew Pavlich has missed a lot of the season so far. Their ‘best 22’ has fallen back a bit, but that could be attributed to Sandilands’ complete absence in 2013. St. Kilda's ‘best 22’ however has fallen back further. The players who have deteriorated most include Nick Dal Santo, Sean Dempster, Jason Blake, Lenny Hayes, and Stephen Milne. Could they be suffering without Ross Lyon there to coach them? Maybe, but it’s quite possible that the drop in these players’ performance is just due to them being relatively old. (Not that being relatively old means a player will necessarily regress – by contrast Riewoldt has improved.) The Saints also lost one of their top performers to free agency in Brendon Goddard before the 2013 season.

In summary then, these figures suggest that Fremantle had the capability to be better than St. Kilda even before Ross Lyon joined them, but injuries had an important part in holding them back. Since then, quite a few Dockers have improved, which could be due to Lyon’s coaching. Meanwhile a few Saints have regressed in 2013, but this could just be primarily to do with getting ‘old’.

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