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Is 2018 Tom Mitchell’s Brownlow year? Don’t be so sure

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Roar Guru
17th September, 2018
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Footy fans everywhere are counting down the days and nights until the 2018 Brownlow Medal gala, and all season there’s been one clear standout.

Hawthorn ball magnet Tom Mitchell has set the AFL record for most disposals in a single season and in most encounters during the home-and-away campaign had a serious case of leather poisoning.

As a consequence Mitchell is the clear favourite for the Charlie with the bookies, with leading long-shots including Patrick Cripps (Carlton), Max Gawn (Melbourne), Dustin Martin (Richmond) and Brodie Grundy (Collingwood).

Mitchell’s stat line is remarkable for sure, averaging 35.8 disposals per game, 450-plus metres gained each week, eight clearances, 6.2 tackles and 4.9 inside 50s. He’s had one hell of a season. The one area Mitchell does fall short in is the forward line, kicking just 13 goals this season.

Martin in 2017, Dangerfield in 2016 and Fyfe in 2015. We’ve had a run of obvious medal winners. But is Mitchell going to be a case of the same again?

Richmond’s Martin was the winner in 2017 with a record-breaking 36-vote haul. Martin chalked up a stunning 11 best-on-ground performances during the home-and-away season, with those three-vote pickups making up the vast majority of his tally.

In 2016 it was Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield, who won the Brownlow Medal with 35 votes and a huge lead over the rest of the league. Dangerfield polled in a record 15 games and recorded nine best-on-grounds, meaning 27 of his 35 votes came from three-vote matches.

Tom Mitchell Hawthorn Hawks AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

And so we turn back to Tom Mitchell. In order to win the award we can safely assume he needs somewhere in the vicinity of 30 votes – 10 best-on-grounds, give or take.

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Mitchell’s bread and butter is high-possession performances, and it’s here that we discover our points of interest. Tom Mitchell has exceeded 40 possessions on 11 occasions in 2018. Hawthorn won just seven of those matches and dropped the other four.

When Who Result Score Disposals
Round 20 Bombers Win 107-103 43
Round 19 Dockers Win 112-53 42
Round 18 Blues Win 124-52 46
Round 17 Lions Loss 65-98 43
Round 15 Giants Loss 84-95 50
Round 13 Crows Win 88-32 40
Round 9 Lions Loss 73-129 46
Round 6 Saints Win 89-54 45
Round 3 Tigers Loss 89-102 42
Round 2 Cats Win 118-117 40
Round 1 Magpies Win 101-67 54

As a rule of thumb, let’s assume that Mitchell receives an automatic triple for 40 touches in a winning match and one vote for 40 touches in a loss. That leaves Mitchell with 28 votes from his 11 best matches of the season – with room for variation of course; it seems unlikely he’ll poll in either loss to Brisbane, for example.

How does this compare to Richmond’s Martin?

Dustin Martin

(Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Martin’s impact on the contest has changed dramatically from one year to the next. Last season Martin was Richmond’s bull in the midfield. This season he’s been more focused on offensive impact.

Martin leads the AFL in score involvements (190). From 22 games played he averages 25.6 disposals, 450-metres-plus gained, 6.0 inside 50s, 5.5 clearances and a meagre two tackles. Martin has also booted 31 goals.

So let’s take a look at Martin’s 11 best games this season.

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When Who Result Score D M Goals
Round 23 Bulldogs Win 98-95 33 4 1
Round 22 Bombers Win 81-73 26 10 4
Round 21 Suns Win 125-51 28 1 1
Round 20 Cats Win 85-82 26 4 0
Round 18 Saints Win 111-57 30 2 1
Round 17 Giants Loss 77-79 29 2 1
Round 16 Crows Win 103-56 30 6 2
Round 10 Saints Win 105-77 26 0 2
Round 4 Lions Win 110-17 17 6 6
Round 2 Crows Loss 82-118 25 3 5
Round 1 Blues Win 121-95 32 5 1

Applying the same formula as before – three votes for best-on-ground in a win, one vote for a strong performance in a loss – what do we get?

Richmond’s ladder-leader status certainly helps out Martin here, giving Martin a possible nine three-vote games and just two one-vote losses – and in one of those losses he managed to kick five goals. Surely that might even grab him the two? So let’s say a maximum of 29 votes under the same model.

With variation taken into consideration, could it be that we see both Tom Mitchell and Dustin Martin polling in the mid-20s together off their best games this season? Maybe, maybe.

Dustin Martin Richmond Tigers Brownlow Medal AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Another thing to consider is that it’s no secret the umpires love to vote for goal-kicking midfielders. Martin and Dangerfield are the best examples of that in recent years, and if history continues to repeat, it might just be a thing for Hawks supporters and punters alike to worry about.

Let’s take a look at every Brownlow Medal winner since 2009.

When Who Team Goals Behinds Votes
2017 Dustin Martin Richmond 37 29 36
2016 Patrick Dangerfield Geelong 24 24 35
2015 Nat Fyfe Fremantle 17 14 31
2014 Matt Priddis West Coast 10 8 26
2013 Gary Ablett Jr. Gold Coast 28 23 28
2012 Jobe Watson Essendon 20 8 30***
2012 Trent Cotchin Richmond 21 16 26
2012 Sam Mitchell Hawthorn 7 7 26
2011 Dane Swan Collingwood 32 23 34
2010 Chris Judd Carlton 14 11 30
2009 Gary Ablett Jr. Geelong 27 26 30
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If Mitchell does manage to win the Brownlow Medal in 2018, he’ll be joining a rare strain of players – he’ll be the third-lowest goal-kicking medal winner within the group, leading only Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell.

Martin, meanwhile, will rank in the same rarified air, sitting third with his 31 goals and trailing only himself in 2017 and Dane Swan in 2011. Interesting to consider.

With all of the above taken into consideration, clearly Mitchell remains the favourite. But maybe with a more even spread of vote collectors this season compared to years past, it might be a closer race for the Charlie than the world is presently expecting.