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Footy Forensics: Your club's trend

A deep dive into footy data turns up the graph that tells your team's story. This week, we analyse Adelaide through to GWS.

There are a lot of stories buried in footy stats. We've combed through the numbers to find something notable about each team - their style of play, or their dominance of a part of the ground, or the way they share the ball around.

This week, we're featuring the first nine teams alphabetically, from Adelaide to GWS.

ADELAIDE - BUSINESS DOWN BACK, PARTY UP FRONT

Adelaide's forward line has it all. Eddie Betts can kick it from anywhere - and has put it through the big sticks 28 times already this year. Taylor Walker is a 195cm aerial threat and has been good for 24 goals so far in 2017, while Charlie Cameron (14 goals) and Tom Lynch (14) are both dangerous. They're such a dynamic forward line that they've averaged 0.52 scoring shots for every inside 50 so far this year - by far the best conversion in the league from inside 50s to shots. That's a slight improvement on their performance last year, which was already easily the best in the AFL.

But where the Crows have really improved this year is at the back. Their opponents are only getting 0.43 scoring shots per inside 50, on average, making for the AFL's stingiest defence. They've improved on their already-good 2016 performance down back. The combination of the league's best efficiency at turning inside 50s into scoring shots, and the best rate at stopping their opponents from doing the same, is a real threat. The Crows are a more rounded, deadly team than last year - don't be put off by their wobbles against the Kangaroos and Demons.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM


BRISBANE - THE MOST UNEQUAL TEAM

The Lions' best four players are putting up elite numbers. Tom Rockliff, Dayne Zorko, Stefan Martin and Dayne Beams each has a median AFL Fantasy points this season of over 110, putting them right near the top of the league. But after those four players, Brisbane fall off a cliff. Their mid-range players and lower are all racking up far fewer Fantasy points than their counterparts at other clubs.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM

Brisbane is by far the most unequal team in the competition. We measure inequality within teams using the Gini coefficient, which is equal to 100 if one player gets all the stats and equal to 0 if the stats are shared equally among all players. The average inequality of Fantasy points among Brisbane players so far this year has been 24.7 - by far the biggest in the league and a tick up from the Lions' already high 2016 mark.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM

It looks like a long rebuild for the Lions - they're going to need a lot more out of their mid-range players.


CARLTON - LOTS OF KICKS

Carlton's 2017 season has been a little less awful than many predicted, with three wins from their first nine games a decent return for the rebuilding Blues. The thing that stands out about them is the distinctive brand of football they're playing.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM

The Blues are kicking the ball 1.9 times for every time they handball - easily the highest kick-to-handball ratio in the league, with no one else even topping 1.5. They're also marking the ball more often for every possession they accrue - and their increased mark rate isn't just about their choice to kick the ball so often, as their marks-to-kick ratio is also high.

They're taking the least direct route to goal, racking up 19 disposals for every scoring shot, again the highest in the league.

Carlton's indirect and kick-heavy style is likely due to a combination of circumstance - with teams forcing them to move the ball around rather than heading direct to goal - and tactics. It will be interesting to see if the Blues continue to use the ball in such a distinctive way as their rebuild progresses.


COLLINGWOOD - THEY GET IT IN THE 50, BUT NOT THROUGH THE STICKS

Collingwood has a much-vaunted midfield, predicted to be the best in the league this year by some. So far this season, they have had the fifth best inside 50 ratio in the league, a key measure of midfield performance. They've managed to get the ball inside their arc 1.09 times for every inside 50 they concede, a solid improvement on last year's 1.0 ratio.

The problem for the Pies comes about once the ball gets into their forward 50. They're only managing to put up 0.45 scoring shots for every inside 50, the fourth worst average in the league and a clear deterioration from last season. Collingwood probably won't make the finals, although they still have about a one-in-five shot. If they're going to seize that chance, they'll need to get much more efficient at turning their ample inside 50s into scores on the board.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM


ESSENDON - ARE THEY BETTER THAN THEY WERE IN 2015?

Essendon's unprecedented circumstances over recent years posed a problem for footy watchers at the start of this year.

The Bombers would clearly be better this year than they were last season, when they featured a bunch of backfilled b-graders, but how much better would they be in 2017? Until their comprehensive shellacking of the Eagles last weekend, the answer looked like it was "about as a good as at the end of 2015." So, this year the Bombers have improved from being a diabolically bad team in 2016 to looking like a garden-variety bad team in 2017. Before the Eagles game, their Elo rating was 1399 compared to a league average of 1500.

The impressive domination of West Coast has given them a solid boost in the ratings, leaving them with their best rating since mid-2015. Their next couple of games against the Tigers and Giants will tell us a lot about where they're at and might finally give us an answer to the question of how good the Bombers are, really.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM


FREMANTLE - GREAT AT HIT-OUTS, MERELY GOOD AT CLEARANCES

Without their 211cm ruckman Aaron Sandilands, the Dockers' dominance of the hit-outs fell off a cliff last year. In 2015, with Sandilands in the ruck, Freo averaged 28.6 hit-outs more than their opponents each game. Last season, with Sandilands watching most games from the stands, their average net hit-outs fell to just two per game. In 2017, they've gone right back to dominating the ruck, averaging 27.6 net hit-outs each game.

The problem for Freo is that, although their dominance of the hit-outs has been restored, their ability to turn those taps into clearances hasn't picked up to the same extent. They're averaging four more clearances than their opponents this year, one of the best in the league, but not quite proportionate to their dominance of the ruck. Freo's performance at stoppages has been among the best in the AFL this year, but they're not back to making the most of Sandilands' taps.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM


GOLD COAST - BOUNCE, BOUNCE, BOUNCE, BOUNCE, BOUNCE

Just like Carlton, the Suns are playing an indirect game this year. They're accruing 17.8 disposals for each scoring shot, the third highest in the AFL. Unlike the Blues, the Suns are moving the ball by hand, averaging just 1.1 kicks for every handball, the second lowest in the league. They're leading the league in the ratio of uncontested-to-contested possessions, handballing themselves into space; once they're there, they're carrying the ball further than other teams, with the highest average number of bounces per game.

The Suns are not a good team - they've only won three from their first eight, and our Elo ratings system has them pegged as the third worst in the AFL. But their style of play is interesting. They might be building something up on the Gold Coast.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM


GEELONG - FOURTH-QUARTER SPECIALISTS

There are a lot of outstanding stats for the Cats this year - they're a good team that seems to have improved from last year. But perhaps the most eye-popping stat is their performance in final quarters. In their first nine games, the Cats have averaged 39.9 points, while conceding just 17.3.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM

Geelong's percentage in final quarters so far is a staggering 230.1 percent. They're running out games far stronger than other teams in the league, with clearly the best percentage in final terms.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM

But will their final quarter performance come back to earth? Probably. In AFL history (since 1990), there have been six teams who had a percentage over 200 percent in final quarters in their first nine games. None of them had a percentage above 200 percent in the remainder of the season - although all of them had a percentage well above 100 percent from Round 10 onwards.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM

Based on this history, we should expect Geelong's dominance of final terms to regress, but stay better-than-average.


GWS - NEVER SURRENDER THE HARD BALL

The Giants' performance at the contest has been frankly absurd so far this season; they've averaged 7.4 more clearances than their opponents in the first nine rounds of the season. The next best is Collingwood, but there's daylight between first and second - the Magpies have averaged 4.3 net clearances per game.

DATA: AFLTABLES.COM

And, the Giants have also averaged 9.3 more contested possessions than their opponents so far this year - second only to their top-two rivals the Crows. What's most impressive about GWS is their lack of reliance on any one player to win the contested ball. Despite being near the top of the league for net contested possessions, GWS doesn't have a single player in the top 10 for contested ball. Dylan Shiel and Callan Ward are the Giants' two most prolific contested ball winners, tied at 20th in the league. The Giants don't rely on anyone - their injury woes don't seem to have dented their style.


Next week, we'll take a look at what the stats have to say about the remaining nine teams in the league.

Matt CowgillMatt Cowgill is an economist by day and footy stats obsessive by night who thinks there's no such thing as too many graphs. He uses data analysis to tell stories for ESPN's Footy Forensics, as well as his own blog The Arc.

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