Sunday, July 24, 2016

AFL Power Rankings: Round 18 2016

Last week’s Power Rankings post got a bit of notice, not so much here in the comments section, but on Twitter helped along by a re-tweet from ‘The Arc’. I’ll get back to that in a few paragraphs.
On the subject of ‘The Arc’, there was an article posted there a few weeks back that indicated this is the tightest top eight ever, or at least it was after 14 matches had been played. In the six years I’ve been doing these rankings I don’t recall there being more movement in the rankings amongst the higher-ranked clubs. (I could probably actually test if this is true, but what am I … a numbers person?)
The Dogs and Roos have been pretty stable in seventh and eighth, until Port has recently edged ahead. But we’ve had five different clubs holding the number one ranking, and the clubs ranked second to sixth have been shuffling around most weeks. The first-ranked club, Adelaide, would start only seven point favourites, by my system, over the fifth-ranked club Sydney on neutral ground.
This suggests the finals could see more close matches and more lower-placed clubs get up than we have seen for some time – if so I may even watch the second week this year.

Alright, back to last week’s post. Since I don’t run anything here past anyone before I post it it’s interesting to see how reactions can be different to what I intended or expected. I have two main things to say on this. First, most of the post was not intended to be a direct response to Craig Little’s article specifically, but the article did spark off my decision to write about how I dislike appeals to ‘culture’ as a primary explanation for performance. Second, I didn’t explicitly say something in the post that was an important underlying element to how I wrote it.
Basically, in relation to Little’s article itself this was my dissenting argument, set out in a more logical order:
1.      Little argued, by my interpretation, that Hawthorn having the most wins of any AFL club this season despite not ranking at the top of what are considered important statistical categories shows that statistics are over-valued.
2.      But my counterpoint was that Hawthorn have been unusually lucky in close matches this season, and without that unusual amount of luck they would be a fair bit lower on the ladder – closer to where they rank in those statistical categories I expect (at least at the time).
3.      Hence Hawthorn’s performance this season isn’t strong proof that those statistics are over-valued.
To which, I thought, a common counter-argument would be, though it was not made by Little himself and I intended it as coming from an ‘imaginary opponent’:
1.      Hawthorn are not 5-0 in close matches this season because they are lucky, it is because they ‘know how to win the close matches’.
2.      But as recently as last season Hawthorn went 1-4 in close matches.
3.      Hence there isn’t strong evidence that this Hawthorn side is unusually good in close matches.
What I did not explicitly say is that I had confidence in making that argument (calling the counter-argument to it ‘utter codswallop’), because I knew there was supporting evidence that good teams do no better in close games than lesser teams. For example the MatterOfStats site found that, over the history of the VFL/AFL, there is supporting evidence that ‘close games are largely lotteries’. As a follow up to Little’s article ‘The Arc’ also showed that a club’s ability to win close matches in one season tells us nothing about whether they will keep winning close matches in the future.
The main point, most likely unintentionally, was hit upon with this tweet.
Think of the results of close matches as like having a daughter or a son. The results are obviously very different if you have two daughters instead of two sons. But the chances of having two daughters or two sons are very similar.
And then the rest of the post was why I typically don’t like appeals to ‘culture’ in general.
I will add that I generally quite like ‘The Guardian’s’ football and sports writing – heck, I would not have clicked on the article in the first place if I didn’t. I just disagreed a lot with that particular article.
Speaking of writing I like, Paul Montgomery wrote an article over at FanFooty which was in part a response to Little’s article and my post that I thought very sensibly delineated the on-field and off-field influences on performance. What happens off the field can certainly impact what happens on it – see Exhibit A, B, and C: Essendon! My issue is when terms like ‘culture’ are used to encompass off-field and on-field influences that are much more varied and complex. Montgomery ends up defining ‘culture’, in an admittedly hackneyed way, as how a club ‘goes about it’, and really I haven’t yet come up with a better definition than that.

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