Michael Gleeson’s analysis of close AFL matches since 2009 makes some interesting points, but misses some very important ones.
Strangely, the graphic ranks the teams not by their success in close matches, but by the number of close matches they have played. What does this actually measure? Does anyone really care (other than the AFL who want more thrilling finishes and bigger crowds)? Geelong has 18 – far ahead of the next highest on 15, and 5 of those have been played with Hawthorn.
This tells us that those two teams match up and compete very well against each other. Geelong’s record in close games is 12-6 or 67% which ranks very highly, but 5 of those were against Hawthorn (whose record of 7-7 is average). But if we remove those rivalry games from the record as a statistical outlier, then Geelong are reduced to an average 7-6, and the Hawks are an outstanding 7-2 [thanks Simon for correcting me]. So while a close game with Geelong might initially be very daunting, if you’re not Hawthorn you have a 46% chance of success – not so bad after all. And if you’re anyone but Geelong, you don’t want to find yourself in a close finish against Hawthorn!
What might have been more interesting is success rate in close matches. This is an obvious measure of the ability of a team to find a way to win, independent of how many times they find themselves in that situation. Here, the top teams (and let’s keep the Hawthorn-Geelong clashes in for completeness) are:
Gold Coast 100% (from just 2 close games)
Collingwood 69% (13)
Geelong 67% (18)
Port Adelaide 64% (11)
Fremantle 63% (8)
Is that what you would have expected? Port and Freo aren’t the sides that comes to mind when you think of teams that finish close games well, neither have they been regular finalists in recent years. So maybe the ability to win close games doesn’t correlate with making or playing deep into the finals?
Let’s look at the bottom end of this “ladder”:
Western Bulldogs 29% (7 close games)
St Kilda 36% (11)
Carlton 36% (11)
North Melb 38% (13)
The ‘Dogs have been under-performing for a while now, and it’s a smaller sample than most other teams. But St Kilda, Carlton and North are all finals contenders of late, so this is clearly an area of the games that if addressed, can push a team from the middle of the ladder to a genuine contender.
To conclude: top sides aren’t necessarily the ones who do a lot better than others in winning close games, but it’s something that can be the difference between a wannabe contender and the real deal. D6URCCHEKAGS