The top midfielders – can they back it up?

Data analyst Joe Kenny crunches the numbers to determine whether it's worth paying top dollar for the game's best midfielders.

AFL Key Analysis Pre Season

There are four clear top of line midfielders on offer to start SuperCoach 2022 – Macrae ($700k cost and 47% of teams), Steele ($686k / 37%), Miller ($678k / 21%) and Oliver ($672k / 33%).

This group scored a lot of points last year and you will pay an absolute premium to start them this year.

Many coaches are starting with two or three of these players. It feels likely that all will do well again this year, but how reasonable is it to expect this from all of them?

To shed some light on this question, we can look at the performance of top midfielders from previous years to help us measure our expectations for this year (yes, it is data time again).

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The data

Let’s start with the top five midfielders from 2018 onwards (measured by scoring average and having played most games).

First we’ll look at how they perform in the following year to assess how well these picks typically work out.

Then we’ll review where they were ranked before their top five seasons to get a view of where this season’s top five is likely to come from.

How did they do the next year (20 examples)?

  • Good pick: 12 players (60%) either improved or were about steady. E.g. last year Oliver, Macrae and Steele all lifted their averages on the year prior (legends!).
  • A little disappointing: 4 players (20%) had slightly down years – dropping by more than eight points in average, dropping more than eight places in rank or missing more than two games. E.g. last year Petracca dropped his average from 117.5 to 111.1 and fell from rank 5 to rank 15 (pretty good in the GF though!).
  • Disaster: 4 players (20%) fell significantly – dropping out of the top 16 midfielders the next year. E.g. Neale last year dropping more than 30 points in average score (Yes, I had him too and Cripps the year before …).

Where did the top five come from (25 examples)?

  • Mainstay: 9 players (36%) stayed in the top five (Macrae has done this for the past three years – just pick him).
  • Up a tier: 8 players (32%) came from inside the top 16 but not the top five (making you look pretty smart if you started with them).
  • Breakout: 8 players (32%) came from outside the top 16 in the previous year (you’re a genius – or very lucky).
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We’ve got a 60% hit rate on these picks which is a little lower than I would have liked.

We also have a good percentage of players that have moved into the top five after not being there the year before.

Based on this, don’t feel like you have to pick three of this year’s top options in your team.

If you feel good about a player outside the top group, then go for it. You may very well get a better scoring return for that cash if spent elsewhere.

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I also wouldn’t be afraid of trading out one of these players if they don’t start the season well.

No one regretted trading Lachie Neale after round two last year – this a trade well spent.

You simple cannot afford to not get premium production when you have spent over $670k on a player.

For me, I’ll go with two of the big four and another from just outside (Petracca, Brayshaw, Mitchell and Kelly are all tempting). I’d also like to pick this year’s breakout (and win the lottery while I’m at it).

Hopefully this helps you make up or mind or helps you draw your own conclusions from the data. Whatever you decide, good luck!

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