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Historical clues to predicting AFL placements in 2020 (Part 3)

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Roar Guru
10th March, 2020
1

Based solely on last year’s placements and 124 years of history, focusing especially on the last quarter-century of eight-team finals – the ‘modern finals’ era – we can make some tenuous and some ironclad predictions on how your favourite team will fare in the 2020 AFL campaign.

In my previous article I considered the teams that finished fifth to eighth last year. You can read my first article on the top four teams here. Today I’ll examine the next six teams.

9. Hawthorn Hawks

11-11, 108.7 per cent

Hawthorn’s got several advantages coming into 2020 beside Brownlow medalist Tom Mitchell coming back. As mentioned above, the ninth-place team’s got a significant advantage over the team above them historically in terms of their chances of making finals – 47.7 per cent to 40.5 per cent – almost certainly due at least in part to increased motivation having missed out the prior year.

But they also enter the home-and-away season on a three-game winning streak. Doesn’t that carry some momentum? Nope. The last two teams outside of finals to finish the season on at least three straight wins were both clubs from Port Adelaide, in 2011 and 2015. Both teams produced poorer seasons the next year, suggesting that kind of momentum doesn’t carry over. Ask last year’s Melbourne squad.

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Perhaps that gaudy percentage is a good sign? Not so much. The Kangaroos of 2018 had 108 per cent when they finished ninth as well, and they dropped to 12th last year instead of moving on up into finals. In fact the only non-finalists for whom high percentages imply positive motion the next year are up in the 110-plus category: the 2014 Kangaroos and Crows both exceeded 114 per cent despite being passed by the nine-game winning streak of the Richmond Tigers to be squeezed out of finals. Both easily made finals in 2015. But teams in the 100 to 110 per cent are no more likely to move up into the top eight than other clubs.

Hmm. Sorry, Hawthorn fans. I got nothin’.

All other things being equal in 2020
Hawks are a 48:52 shot to make finals, which sounds like a recipe for another ninth-place finish.

(Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

10. Port Adelaide Power

11-11, 105.4 per cent

The magic number for teams in the penultimate non-finals post is 42, as in these teams have a 42.3 per cent chance of moving up into at least eighth place and playing finals the next year.

And Port should know. They’ve now ended in tenth in three of the last four seasons (they were fifth in 2017), and ninth the year before that. In fact they’ve finished five of the last 11 seasons in exactly tenth position. Out of the other six seasons, three ended in September and three ended in August. So in this one-team survey there’s a 45 per cent the Power finishes in tenth, a 27 per cent they finish in finals and 27 per cent they finish out of finals and not tenth – in other words, a 27 per cent chance of finals.

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The Power were the last of four straight tenth-placed teams to move up into finals when they hit fifth in 2017. It was five in a row if you count Carlton making finals by Essendon’s disqualification in 2012. But even including that, the chances are just five out of the last ten for tenth-place teams making finals.

It will give Power fans joy to consider that twice this century Geelong has leapt from tenth to a top-two finish – once in 2016 and once in their premiership season of 2007 – but in both cases the tenth was an aberration that followed consecutive finals appearances. That’s not Port’s situation.

All other things being equal in 2020
It’s hard to sit here and argue that Port Adelaide has a better than average chance of moving into the top eight based on historical patterns. We applaud their optimism, and there are on-field reasons to be optimistic in South Australia this season, but under the premise of this article we can’t say that Port’s any more likely to play in finals in 2020 than they were in 2019 following the previous tenth place.

Travis Boak of the Power looks on

(Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

11. Adelaide Crows

10-12, 100.8 per cent

Twice in a row the Crows have finished within striking distance of finals. Twice they’ve finished with more points scored than allowed despite a double-digit positional finish. Those two near-misses follow a minor premiership and a grand final appearance where Richmond took them out to realise their own long-delayed championship. Adelaide had finished seventh and fifth before that top-shelf finish in 2017.

What other scenarios parallel the Crows’ current situation? What can we compare their placement circumstance to?

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In 2013 Adelaide finished 11th with a 10-12 record and a positive percentage following some recent finals action. They ended 2014 in tenth place. But after that 2014 tenth place (also with a positive percentage) they were able to return to finals in 2015 with that seventh-place finish we alluded to earlier. So far one-for-two.

Carlton was in tenth with a positive percentage following a couple of finals experiences in 2012. They slipped into finals thanks to Essendon’s punishment. Call it one and a half out of three?

In 2007 Fremantle finished 11th with an above-water percentage and a prior-year finals appearance under its belt. Alas, 2008 and 2009 were both 14th-place finishes. So one and a half out of four.

The 2000 and 2002 Swans were in tenth and 11th respectively with positive percentages and a recent history including a couple of finals appearances. They made finals the next season in each case. Three and a half out of six.

Collingwood had two seasons that fit the description in 1996 and 1997. Neither led to a finals appearance. Melbourne was tenth at 113 per cent in 1993 and reached seventh the next year. Sydney’s 1995 team and St Kilda’s 1996 team had each of the earmarks we’re looking for – ‘next four’ position above 100 per cent and some finals appearance experience in the recent past (although St Kilda’s had been four years back at this point). Both teams leapt straight to the top of the ladder the next year, although neither team happened to finish September with a win.

Tally all those up and we get six and a half out of 11, which rounds to 59 per cent. If you like the Crows, that’s a nice optimistic number. If you don’t, you’ll use the 31 per cent that I forgot to mention is the average for teams sitting in that 11 spot without any of the external factors factored in. I’m a neutral observer, so I’ll average the two.

All other things being equal in 2020
Adelaide’s got a 45 per cent chance of returning to finals this year.

Taylor Walker

(Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

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12. North Melbourne Kangaroos

10-12, 99.5 per cent

Just the facts:

  • Teams in this slot over the years have a 29 per cent chance of making finals the following year.
  • Ten of the 26 teams in the modern finals era have moved up into a top-eight spot the following year. That’s over 38 per cent.
  • The last time the Kangas finished in 12th place, which admittedly was all the way back in 1992, they proceeded to rip off a string of eight straight finals appearances, including six top-four finishes, a minor premiership and two AFL titles in 1996 and 1999.

All other things being equal in 2020
Those three factors combine to say that they’ve got a shot at finals. Not a great one, unless you’re old enough to have been a fan in the 1990s, but a shot. If you’re looking at these numbers conservatively and you don’t sleep in blue and white stripes, you wouldn’t figure to see Kangaroos jumping into finals this September.

Shaun Higgins of the Kangaroos runs the ball

(Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

13. Fremantle Dockers

9-13, 91.9 per cent

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In the AFL, 13 is a very lucky number indeed, mostly because of the way schedules are constructed for the following year. The teams are divided into three tiers for fixture creation purposes, and in order to create some simulacrum of parity, the extra five games each team plays beyond the one against each of the other 17 clubs are weighted so each team plays more of the teams in its tier than above or below it. Since the 13th place team is in theory the best of the six worst teams, it gets an easier set of double-game opponents than, say, the six teams immediately in front of it the previous season.

In each of the last three seasons, the 13th place team has jumped up into the top eight the next year. In two of those three they made it to the grand final (Richmond, 2017 winners; Collingwood, 2018 losers), and in the third the Bulldogs were favourites to run through the Giants and then very possibly on to the grand final, except that GWS forgot to read the script.

Can Fremantle do that again this year? The scheduling advantage should still be with them. The bad news that requires mentioning – besides the overall finals percentage of just 14 per cent over the years – is that there’s only one other 13th place team (Western Bulldogs, 2008) who made the leap into finals the next year over the past 17 seasons. But that team made it to third place!

All other things being equal in 2020
Honestly, I think they’ve got as good a shot as any team outside last year’s finalists to make the leap, even if you only give them that 14 per cent chance at it. But if they make the leap, expect them to make a Brisbane-like leap a longway up the ladder!

Jesse Hogan

(Will Russell/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

14. St Kilda Saints

9-13, 83.9 per cent

From here on down, historically and statistically, these last five teams are long shots to make finals the following year from positions 14 to 18, although over the past quarter-century the 14th-placed team has had much better success for some reason than the 13th place finisher. Only seven teams out of 26 in the modern finals era have made finals the year after finishing 13th, while 11 such 14th-placed teams have done so.

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It’s been five years, though, since the 14th-placed Bulldogs leapt to sixth after the 2015 campaign. Before that there was a string of four straight success stories from 2010 through 2013 highlighted by the Adelaide Crows moving into the runner-up spot in 2012 and ending up one game short of the grand final, edged out by Hawthorn in the preliminary final 97-92.

All other things being equal in 2020
There’s historically a one-in-five shot of jumping into finals for a team in St Kilda’s spot. Otherwise they’ll continue to languish down here somewhere.

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Read the third instalment of this series tomorrow, when I cover the bottom four teams and reveal the final ladder.

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