Matter of Stats has a pretty table in this week’s wrap-up showing the #1 ranked team after every round since 1990:
Squiggle is very excited about Port Adelaide this week, because keeping an interstate team to 38 points in one of their home games is a big deal, normally. It may be less so when the game is played in China, and the nominal home team has a whinge beforehand about how they don’t even want to be there. Nevertheless: An excellent defensive performance by the Power, timed for maximum gloating value with Adelaide losing at home.
Adelaide have fallen swiftly for two reasons. Firstly, both weeks they’ve lost by a lot, which is never good. You don’t want that. Secondly, they’ve been held to low scores, when high-scoring was the main thing they were good at. It’s concerning because unbalanced teams (as Adelaide are, being an attack specialist) are fragile: They often win a lot of home & away games, or run close, but come unstuck when it counts. So the task for Adelaide now is to prove that they’re more than a one-trick pony with a trick that’s been worked out.
Melbourne are the other big winner, and Essendon and Sydney had positive weeks. In the Swans’ case, it was the first time all year they outperformed expectations. Lowered expectations, that is. If you keep sucking often enough, eventually the bar gets so low you can’t help but clear it. And clear it they did! So that’s something. In fact, it’s enough to make finals more likely than not:
That’s Richmond sliding out of the top 8, despite their excellent comeback win over the Dockers. Honestly, at three-quarter time, when we were down 35-65, I didn’t think we could win it. Then we kicked 5 goals unanswered goals to hit the lead with only 21 seconds left on the lock – an unloseable position! I leaped up in the stands and cheered my lungs out, thinking, “Wow, this is so un-Richmond-like!”
Oh, but then it was. Suddenly it was all very, very Richmond-like.
Fortunately, at this point, my heart is already about 99% scar tissue. I mean, you can only stab me there so many times before I cease to feel anything.
Adelaide’s grip on top spot loosened considerably this week, and a bunch of teams benefited, because someone has to finish top 4, even if right now no-one seems like they want to. Essendon’s win over Geelong opened up some bottom-2 real estate, with Hawthorn, Carlton, and Gold Coast the most likely buyers.
Fortunately in these turbulent times Brisbane provide some reliability. To Brisbane fans, all this talk of 2017’s unpredictability is probably pretty grating, because every week the Lions are getting beaten by exactly as much as you’d expect.
Speaking of the Lions’ next opponent, Adelaide are still #1 on Flagpole, even if the Season Predictor is tipping them out of the top two.
The AFL’s arrangement with Champion Data means that only basic stats are released to the public, which is a real barrier to those of us who’d like to do interesting things with it. For example, with shot position data, you can compile an awesome list like this one from Figuring Footy:
Since 2012 there were 28,530 goals kicked, but only around 150 of them were kicked from further out than 60m. And a fair chunk of these were kicks to full-forward which somehow slipped through the contest and over the goal line without taking a touch.
There are probably only about 40 odd examples over the last 6 years of a player backing themselves in from outside 60m and then actually delivering. These are 6 of my favourites.
Matter of Stats on just how weird Round 7 was:
Last weekend’s results were certainly, in the colloquial sense, “surprising”, with all nine contests won by the team that was lower on the ladder at the start of the round than were their opponents. But, quantitatively, how surprising were they, and how much more surprising were they than other home and away rounds from other seasons?
Squiggle has always found Round 7 hard to tip, for some reason. Last week I played with the idea of adding a cap to the declared probability of Round 7 tips just because they’ve always been harder than normal:
But of course I decided, “No, it’s just random noise, there’s no reason why Rounds 1, 4, and 7 should be harder to tip.”
LO AND BEHOLD
5, 5, and 3 from those weeks.
I mean, it probably is just random noise. I think.
I don’t know why I do this. Seriously. Six games to open the round and they’re all upsets except one that just falls short, and which one is that? RICHMOND. This is like going home to visit your family for the holidays and you decide to go on a long walk by yourself and then come back to find that everyone has burned to death except that one cousin you hate. And then you have to graph it.
So, I dunno, a bunch of bullshit happened and some teams won and some lost. See for yourself:
I missed the first quarter of the Richmond game, by the way. I only caught the last three, where the Bulldogs slowly but relentlessly mowed us down. That was great.
Speaking of unbelievable bullshit, North Melbourne, the 15th most likely team to make the Final Eight according to the bookies, outscored flag favourite Adelaide 64 to 0 in the first quarter. After the scientists at CERN get done analysing the god particle thing I would like them to take a look at that, because I need a rational explanation.
In light of that game, St Kilda beating GWS doesn’t even seem that weird. I mean, of course they did. Why not? Why not win by a THOUSAND points and make it really interesting. But the Saints did it in style, and shifted into that pack of teams that look like genuine finals challengers.
Collingwood again failed to decide if they’re a bad team or an okay one and stick to it for more than one week in a row. That was a fine win for Carlton, though, making it a great fortnight for the Blues after dispatching Sydney last week.
The Swans were no surprise this week, which was a surprise. Also sticking to the script were Melbourne and Hawthorn, who were expected to be evenly matched. Although of course Squiggle tipped Melbourne by 3pts when it should have known that that’s Hawthorn’s favourite margin to win by.
Gold Coast are suggesting a pattern, too, with a distinctive upward trend this year as they’ve improved their attack. Of course, there are no patterns, because football is really random noise designed to break your heart. But that’s what it looks like.
Carlton have shifted out of the bottom 2, with Squiggle marking down Essendon pretty harshly for the final quarter against Fremantle.
It’s all pretty even, though, which as I’ve mentioned before, isn’t really that shocking, as it’s at least halfway explained by the fact that Gold Coast and GWS no longer have under-16s teams. There were plenty of seasons like this pre-2011. It’s also still the first part of the year, when everyone’s optimistic and trying hard, as opposed to later, when they’ve sacked the coach and are playing kids with an eye on the next five year plan and losing every week.
Speaking of Richmond, they remain an excellent chance of losing an Elimination Final, or possibly falling short in the final rounds and finishing 9th. So that’s really promising. You know, it’s not even the fact that we lost to the Bulldogs, because we were closer than I expected, it’s just the way it went down. Like a horror movie where the serial killer is shambling along the corridor behind the girl and she’s trying all the door handles and you’re just like RUN YOU GORMLESS MORON and it seems like forever before the killer reaches her and raises his arm and says, “Deliberate out of bounds.”
Flagpole! North gets a rise out of smacking Adelaide, as does Gold Coast for punishing the Cats.
The notable thing about GWS is how bad they used to be. This is maybe best to see on a plot of all squiggles from 2000-2017:
With GWS highlighted:
GWS were worse than any other team this century. And they were that bad for a long time. Only Melbourne are really comparable.
Then they got better!
Lots of validation this week for the squiggle theory that teams don’t suddenly get a lot better or worse very often, with Richmond, Fremantle, and Essendon looking more like their owners put them up on blocks and spent the summer tinkering with the engine, rather than going out and buying a new car.
But not Sydney! Sydney are the strange one: a team that looked like a sports car throughout 2016 but then seem to have traded in for my old “fire engine red” 1978 Gemini.
The 2017 Sydney Swans
The Hawks crashed again, but the only surprise there was how bad it was; we knew they were wobbling toward the middle of the road with the bumper hanging off, but we didn’t know there was a tram coming the other way. A number 96 tram, bound for St Kilda, this week.
But it was all good for Adelaide, who cruised past the Tigers while Geelong lost to the Pies and GWS barely outlasted the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs currently look locked in a battle for a Top 4 spot with Port Adelaide, who also had a good week. In fact, the Power may well have a real vehicle here, as they haven’t had a bad squiggle all year, so could wind up leaving the Cats and Dogs to fight for 4th. But for now, it’s looking like this:
Or in animated form:
Tons of uncertainty through the middle, with many teams capable of finishing all over the place.
It’s worth noting how bad Brisbane are. They were terrible late last year and have been consistently terrible all this year. I keep hearing talk about how improved they are and I don’t get it. Only a handful of teams in the last 10 years have had a sub-40 Defence rating in the squiggle, including the expansion clubs, and Brisbane is just camping out there. It’s pretty hard to find wins when you can’t stop the opposition from scoring.
And for all the talk of the Tigers’ new attacking game style, they’re still a defensive team. A couple of games in the wet haven’t helped, but there isn’t much evidence that they can score well against good opposition.
So after 6 rounds we have:
- Teams with improved 2017 models: Port Adelaide, Richmond, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Essendon, Fremantle, St Kilda (only because of their last game), Geelong (being generous).
- Teams still driving their 2016 models: Brisbane, West Coast, GWS, Collingwood, North Melbourne, Melbourne, Carlton, Western Bulldogs (being generous).
- Teams still driving their 2016 models and there’s this weird noise whenever you brake that you should have had checked out months ago and now there’s smoke coming out: Hawthorn, Sydney.
Flagpole! Squiggle hasn’t rated the Tigers like their 5-0 start would suggest, but the Crows’ 76-point win was still enough for yet another week of “yay Adelaide.”
There was a question earlier about how Sydney can rated so highly when they face a challenge to even make finals. And the answer is yes, this is more or less an “if they make finals, how will they go” rating. More specifically, it’s an algorithm that survived a deathmatch against tens of thousands of other algorithms in a competition to rank the eventual premier highly during the season. It hasn’t been trained to care about teams lower down the pecking order, so long as they’re not bumping out the eventual premier. And it’s completely ignorant of how likely the team is to make finals and whether they get home games or double chances if/when they get there.
I can probably improve this now that squiggle is actually running season simulations, but for the moment, it’s a “premiership form” rating, where it rates highly teams who are most delivering results similar to those of premiers from the last 20 or 30 years.
Figuring Footy is using shot position data to study how different teams protect the big sticks:
As seems to happen more often than not these days, the frantic, high scoring pace of the first couple of rounds has started to wear off, and strong, composed defensive efforts are once again having a big say on who’s winning games. As longtime readers will have seen in the lead up to the Grand Final last year, shot location data can give us a great idea of the capabilities and tactical styles of different defences in the competition.