When the Data gets it Wrong

With the release of the 2018 Champion Data AFL Prospectus, eggheads and stat-lovers – both categories I fit nicely into - get ready to sift through the content to see just what the AFL’s stat-compilers have come up with, and bestowed on us all. And they charge about forty bucks for the privilege.

Champion Data see themselves as almost an independent auditor for the AFL and the clubs. They sit off to the side, watching and analysing each and every action of each and every game. Over-analysing, some would say.

As part of the annual Prospectus, Champion Data releases a list of the competition’s elite players – those who excel at their position and have fulfilled Champion Data’s criteria by being in the top ten percent in those roles over the last two seasons.

It makes for some interesting reading, but also brings into question whether data like this is the be-all and end-all of player analysis, or whether the old fashioned eye-test still remains the true indicator of whether a player is in the upper echelon of the competition.

On Melbourne radio’s SEN, senior AFL analyst, Glenn Luff described the ratings as more of a guide, suggesting that if you sat around a table with ten guys, you’d end up with ten completely different lists. Similar to what you’d get at your local pub, I guess.

Players are sorted into the following categories. Elite, Above Average, Average, Below Average, Unclassified, and Rookie.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at who did and didn’t make the Champion Data cut in 2018.

Adelaide

The Crows have six players classified as elite. Injured Brodie Smith, Rory Sloane, Rory Laird, Eddie Betts, Tom Lynch and Taylor Walker all classify as elite in the eyes of Champion Data. It is very difficult to knock any of them in terms of output over the past two years.

Brad Crouch is unlucky to miss out. His 2017 season saw him average 28.1 disposals per game, up from 23.0 in 2016. He is rated as ‘Average’ by CD. If Brad is considered unlucky, how unlucky is his brother? Matt Crouch won the Crows’ Best and Fairest in 2017 whilst averaging 33 disposals per game. That total followed on from 27.68 in 2016. Matt was in the ‘Above Average’ range this year. Watching them play, it’s hard to fathom how either of them cannot be considered elite at their position.

The Crows had no one rated as “Poor”.

Brisbane

The Lions have only two players who make the elite cut, in Dayne Zorko and Daniel Rich. Rich is an interesting one. Ticking over at just on 20 disposals per game, he is not one who I’d classify as elite. He has threatened to be a star since day dot in the league, and has progressed nicely, but listed now as a medium defender on the AFL website, would he be a player you’d pick in your best 22 with an entire league to choose from? What’s got him over the line has to be his effective kicking, but does he get enough of it to sit in the company of others on this list?

Despite missing on being classified elite, Dayne Beams played 19 games in 2017 and clocked 27.1 disposals per game at 72% efficiency. His 2016 was a horror year with injury. He managed only two games and though he did collect 48 touches over those two games, he travelled at only 56% efficiency. He was rated as ‘Average’.

Big name rated as “Poor” – Amongst five others, Hugh McLuggage.

Carlton

The Blues have only one player listed as elite, and he’ll be sitting out for the entire season after rupturing his ACL in the pre-season. This is a clear indicator according to CD as to how shallow the top line talent is at Carlton at the moment. Docherty was their lone All Australian in 2017, and they’ll be battling to remain competitive without him.

Marc Murphy had possibly his best year last season, but was unable to crack the elite bracket. At a shade under 30 touches per game, Murphy hit targets 73% of the time. Despite this, Murph could only crack the ‘Average’ bracket.

Oh Carlton; you have 11 players who have been rated as “Poor”. I won’t list them all, but they include Jack Silvagni, Matthew Kennedy, and Jed Lamb.

Teams with most Below Average/Poor players

Collingwood

Jeremy Howe and Scott Pendlebury rise to the head of the Magpie class as elites, but it’s the inclusion of Jack Crisp that has raised a few eyebrows. Pendlebury has been elite in the minds of most since early on his career, and Howe’s move to defence has ignited his career, however Crisp’s inclusion is questionable. Does he pass the eye-test?

Crisp’s big improvement came in 2015 when he made the move from Brisbane to the Pies, and he seems to have plateaued since then, consistently racking up around 21 disposals per game at 74% efficiency in 2017.

Steele Sidebottom is an interesting omission. Considered for captaincy before Pendlebury was reappointed, Sidebottom is the reigning Copeland Trophy winner, and averaged 27.3 touches in 2017. Compare this to Pendlebury’s 28.1 and there is not much between them in terms of winning the ball. The line separating the elite from the above average may be thin, but it does not apply to Steele. He sits in the ‘Average’ section.

Big name rated as “Poor” – James Aish.

Essendon

Michael Hurley slots right in as an elite defender, having been tried at both ends of the ground earlier in his career. His role across half back for the Bombers has steadied the ship on many occasions over the past two years, and his disposal tracking at 80% is impressive, particularly when you see he averaged 25.6 possessions per game in 2017. It must be taken into account that many of his kicks were across the half back line, so they came without the same pressure as a mid. Still, those intercept marks don’t take themselves.

 The addition of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is the surprise here. With a burst of speed to make most players envious, his run down tackles and on-ball pressure  combined to elevate him into the elite category. It certainly wasn’t his disposals or goal scoring that did it. Tippa averaged 13 touches at 70% in 2017 whilst adding 1.5 goals per game.

The lack of Joe Daniher on the list is no cause for alarm. This is where the eye-test comes in. If you watch him play, there is no question that Daniher is now in an elite bracket, even though Champion Data rates him as just “Above Average”. He has made significant leaps in the last two years and now sits comfortably in the company of the best forwards in the game.

Only player rated as “Poor” – Jayden Laverde.

Fremantle

The Dockers had only one player rated as elite, and that man’s name is Nat Fyfe. Fyfe’s ability to win his own ball, take contested marks and run and carry seem to have countered his penchant for hacking the ball at times. Fyfe is one who definitely also passes the eye-test. When you watch Fyfe play, you know you’re watching a star. He is elite no matter which way you look at it.

Brad Hill won the Fremantle Best and Fairest in 2017, but seeing his efficiency dip to 69% efficiency is probably reason number one we didn’t see his name on this list. He now sits in the “Average” bracket

The Dockers had three players rated as “Poor” – Brennan Cox, Griffin Logue, and Cameron Sutcliffe.

Geelong

You should be able to pick this one pretty easily. Here we go.

Dangerfield - check.

Ablett - check.

Menegola… huh? Oh sorry, our fault. Let’s try again.

Dangerfield - check.

Ablett - check.

Daniel Menzel… hang on a minute. Where’s Joel Selwood?

The Cats have four representatives, with three running through the midfield. Menzel is considered an elite kick as a forward but only travels at 72% efficiency. It’s hard to argue with his two goals per game, which probably gets him over the line. Menegola has had two years at approximately 24 touches per game but runs at 69%

So where does this leave Joel Selwood? As an “Above Average” player according to CD. This is the real failure of the Champion Data system. There is no sane person who would argue that Joel Selwood is not an elite-level AFL player. He had 25.5 touches per game in 2017, travelling at 74% He also averaged over 13 contested possessions and 6 clearances a game.

Selwood is the Champion Data analysis breaker. Whatever metric they’re using to keep him from being rated as elite, change it. He may not be hitting the scoreboard as much as he could, but Selwood at a stoppage is about as good as it gets.

Also unlucky is Mitch Duncan who runs at 29.1 disposals and 75% efficiency. He was also rated “Above Average”.

The Cats had no one rated as “Poor”.

Gold Coast

Tom Lynch is the given here, and he’ll command an elite price tag in the coming free agency period should he not re-sign with the Suns in the interim. At face value, his 2017 stats are not impressive, but combined with his 2016 contested mark stats, they are still considered elite.

Lynch had 15.2 disposals at 70% efficiencty in 2017, comparable to his 2016 numbers of 15.4 disposals at 69%.

The surprise here is Aaron Hall, whose move into the midfield two years ago has certainly paid dividends. He averaged 27.8 disposals in 2016, and backed that up with 25.6 last season at 72% efficiency.

The Suns had an five players rated as “Poor” – Jack Bowes, Alex Sexton, Jesse Lonergan, Sean Lemmens, and Brayden Fiorini. Not quite at Carlton levels, but still a big number. No wonder they were so bad…

Greater Western Sydney

Ah yes, the team of champions. The Giants have four players considered elite by Champion Data. Jeremy Cameron is the standout up forward, his 15.9 disposals at 77%, and 2.4 goals per game see him rank highly amongst forwards.

Toby Greene also makes the cut despite having a low 60% efficiency rate for his 18.2 disposals per game. Lachie Whitfield is living up to being a high draft pick with 24 touches at 78% in his 23 games in 2017, Zac Williams collected 22 disposals per game, and hit the target 77% of the time.

Stephen Coniglio sat down in the “Average”grade. He averaged 25.7 disposals at 72%, and Josh Kelly had an unbelievable 2017, running at 74% from his 29.5 touches per game. It was quite a jump for Kelly, going from 23.6 disposals at 71% in 2016. You’d expect his rating to increase this time next year, but for this year, he settles for “Above Average”.

Only player rated as “Poor” – Adam Kennedy.

Hawthorn

The Hawks have started falling away when it comes to elite players, having seven on the list just a few short years ago. Now, they’re down to three. Cyril Rioli remains classed as an elite despite missing large amounts of 2017. He played only 7 games in 2017, and ran at 68% efficiency on his 12.4 touches. His 2016 was a bit better, with 13.7 disposals at 71%. However, it is Rioli’s tackling and pressure acts that would propel him into the top bracket of players. 

He is joined by Luke Bruest (14.3 touches at 69% in 2017) and Ben McEvoy, whose accuracy in front of goal has no doubt aided his ascension to these lofty heights. He kicked 14.1 to run at 82% in front of the big sticks in 2017

Somehow, despite breaking the record for most disposals in a home and away season, Tom Mitchell missed on being considered elite. Mitchell had 35.8 disposals per game at 73% in 2017. You’d expect him to be jump a level in ratings next year, but for this season he remains at “Above Average”.

The Hawks had no players rated as “Poor”.

Melbourne

In adding Jake Lever to their ranks, the Demons take their number of elite players to four. Lever’s intercept mark stats were some of the best in the league last year, behind only All-Australian Captain, Alex Rance.

Christian Petracca joins him, as does Tom McDonald and Jayden Hunt. McDonald, who can play at either end, however once he settled into his defensive role, he demonstrated what he was capable of. Hunt, who averaged under 17 touches per game over his first two seasons, is an interesting inclusion. While the data don’t lie, I am unconvinced that many people would have him in their list of elite performers.

Clayton Oliver didn’t make it to Champion Data’s elite level this year. Despite his 29.95 disposals per game and almost seven tackles, Oliver’s 2016 may have impeded him somewhat. If he has another year like 2017 this year, he should be gracing this list next year. This year, he’s “Above Average”.

Only player rated as “Poor” – Sam Weideman.

North Melbourne

The Kangaroos are lucky to have anyone considered elite, particularly given Goldstein’s lacklustre 2017 campaign. What his inclusion indicates is just how few quality ruckmen there are running around in the competition at the moment. And how many of them are injured.

Ben Brown looks the most likely to take the next step and possible make the elite grade but may have to add another dimension to his mark-kick game to work his way out of “Above Average”. Reigning B&F winner, Shaun Higgins could only make it into the “Average” bracket.

Only player rated as “Poor” – Jy Simpkin.

Port Adelaide

The Power may have topped up in the trade and free agency periods, but the nucleus was already there. They boast six names that are placed in the elite category. Chad Wingard, Paddy Ryder, Justin Westhoff, Robbie Gray, Charlie Dixon and Travis Boak are all classed as elite by Champion Data.

The inclusion of most cannot be questioned, but Boak is a contentious one. Whilst his disposals per game have been in decline for four seasons, it is his move into the forward line that has helped maintain his elite status. Boak is classified as a mid/forward according to Champion Data. I’m pretty sure that’s cheating. He’s a midfielder in decline.

Ollie Wines omission is surprising. He’s seen his numbers increase every year in the league, topping out in 2017 with 27.3 disposals per game. Either there is a lot of competition for a spot in that top ten percent, or Ollie might spray the ball a little. He had a 65% efficiency rating for 2017 and was rated as “Above Average”.

Big name in the “Poor” category – Trent McKenzie

Richmond

The Tigers have the big three. Come on, say it with me. Dusty, Rance and… Shane Edwards. That’s right – no Cotchin and no Jack Riewoldt in the mix here. Edwards’ ball use must be the reason he is rated so highly. He gets just on 18 touches a game as a half forward, but hitting the target consistently inside 50 counts as plenty in the Champion Data world. As do score-involvements, and If you watch Richmond games, you can hear the excitement in the Tiger supporters when Edwards gets the ball by himself – he makes things happen.

Trent Cotchin has been a little prone to throwing the ball on his boot at times, hacking it forward. It is the only reason I can think of for his absence on the list. Cotchin’s disposals and efficiency rating dropped in 2017, but he does the little things that may not be rewarded as much. Cotchin passes the eye-test even if he fails in Champion Data’s criteria. I rate him as elite even if CD has him as “Above Average.”

Big name in the “Poor” category – Reece Conca

St Kilda

Of all the Jacks St Kilda has accumulated over the years, only Jack Sinclair makes the cut as elite at his position. As a matter of fact, he was the highest rated wingman in the competition. He averaged 20.8 disposals in 2017, up from 11.4 over 2015-16.

Jack Billings will need to improve his accuracy around goals to make the leap from “Above Average” into the elite rankings. In 2017, he kicked 23.36 for the season. He has the capacity to become an elite forward with a better conversion rate.

Big name in the “Poor” category - Paddy McCartin.

 Sydney

Buddy headlines the Swans’ elite contingency. He is accompanied by Dan Hannebery, Josh Kennedy, Dane Rampe and Tom Papley. Yep, nothing to see here, right? All established superstars or hardened defenders and no one out of Papley at all. Oops, I meant “out of PLACE at all.” Freudian slip.

Papley has been no slouch up forward, averaging almost a goal and a half a game in his first two years in the league, but elite at his position? Equal to Eddie Betts? Robbie Gray? For mine it takes a little more than 13.8 touches and 1.48 goals per game to earn that mantle.

The bash and crash styles of Kieren Jack and Luke Parker didn’t reach elite level this season, however both guys would get a sage nod of ascent from any football supporter if asked whether they thought they were of a high quality. According to CD, they’re both “Above Average’.

No Swans were rated as “Poor”.

Teams with most above average/elite players

West Coast

Jeremy McGovern was just offered a huge contract extension by the Eagles, right around the same time this data was released. Coincidence? Of course it was. The Eagles have known his value for a long while, and his performance in the 2017 Elimination final against Port illustrated just how much he’s worth. He was a contest killer in 2017, and was rarely beaten.

He is joined by Elliot Yeo, Shannon Hurn, Josh Kennedy, Luke Shuey and a man that missed the entire 2017 season, Nic Naitanui.

If Nic Nat had never made it back, he could’ve retired as an elite player!

Big name rated as “Poor” – Jack Redden.

Western Bulldogs

Only one Bulldog making the grade here indicates just what sort of year they had, And no, it wasn’t the Bont. Jason Johannisen was seemingly able to shake the tags people thought he couldn’t, at least enough to be considered elite by the leading statistical analysers in the game. He averaged 21.45 disposals as a defender.

And where was the Bont?

Marcus Bontempelli was rated as “Above Average” after a season that saw his stats fall away in several major categories.

Big names in the “Poor” category – Josh Schache, Tom Boyd.

 

So, are you really able to have a list of elite players with the following names missing?

Joel Selwood, Michael Hibberd, Trent Cotchin, Josh Kelly, Zach Merrett, Joe Daniher, Tom Mitchell, Matt and Brad Crouch, and Dylan Shiel.

Those listed directly above are players who made the All-Australian team in 2017. Their performances weren’t up to scratch according to the keepers of the stats.

Champion Data have paid more attention to detail than anyone in the history of our game. They know stats inside and out. Sometimes, however, stats do not tell the whole story. When Joel Selwood is injured and he gets back up and keeps playing, no stat is recorded. When Tom Mitchell digs down under a pack and extracts the ball from a seemingly impossible situation, he is credited with the same clearance another gets from an easier situation.

You don’t need Champion Data to tell you who the elite are in our game. The eye-test tells you, and the eye-test rarely gets it wrong.

 

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