The Weekend Preview is a blog that aims to provide a different angle on the narrative of an upcoming sporting event.

AFL Round 14: Richmond vs. Carlton

AFL Round 14: Richmond vs. Carlton

Sunday Afternoon, 25th June 2017 at the MCG

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McLean’s marked but he can’t kick the journey. He hammers it… over the back, it’s cleared the pack, it’s a goal! Boy oh boy! It’s going to happen to Richmond again. 42 seconds left and they have succumbed to the Blues by 4 points.

Brian Taylor in commentary for Channel 7
Carlton vs. Richmond, July 28th 2012

It’s going to happen to Richmond again. That was the overriding sentiment deep into the last quarter last weekend when the Tigers had let go a 31-point lead from midway through the third quarter against the Swans. But something had to give in that game. Richmond had already lost two nail-biters this year after having big leads – 32 points against the Bulldogs before losing by 5 points and 31 points against GWS before losing by 3 points. Whilst Sydney had conceded leads to both Collingwood (21 points) and Hawthorn (22 points) before mounting fight backs only to narrowly lose. So unless the game ended in the draw, one of the teams was going to add to their woes in close games this year. And unfortunately for the Tigers and their fans, it was they that had another heartbreaking loss to deal with. However, perhaps we have all been a little too harsh on the Tigers, they are after all sitting in 6th spot on the ladder, with only percentage keeping them out of the top 4. And if we dig a little deeper, as heartbreaking as the close losses have been, there are some positives that Richmond can take out of these results.

But before we delve into this too far, let’s first establish which teams have the best and worst records when the games get tight. To determine this, let’s define a close game as being decided by 2 goals (12-points) or less. Table-1 and Figure-1 present the team rankings for win-loss differential in close games since the start of 2016 up until Round 13 2017. At the top of the list is Hawthorn. Despite their woes this year, their impressive record last year coupled with their narrow wins over Melbourne and Sydney this year has them entrenched in top spot. Their only close loss over the past two seasons was in the Qualifying Final against Geelong last year when Isaac Smith had the chance to kick the winning goal after the siren, but missed. Whilst at the other end of the table, Richmond share bottom spot with Port Adelaide. But on closer examination, Port Adelaide may be the more deserving team with the choker tag. Although both teams have a differential of negative five, the Power have not won a single game since the start of 2016 by less than 2 goals. The statistics become even more damning when you consider games decided by +/- 4 goals (24-points). When considering this range, the Power has one win and ten losses! When you consider the equivalent range for Richmond, their record may surprise you, but more on that later. Next, I need to introduce a hypothesis.

 Table-1: Win-Loss Differential in Matches decided by less than 2 goals: 2016-17

Table-1: Win-Loss Differential in Matches decided by less than 2 goals: 2016-17

 Figure-1: Win-Loss Differential in Matches decided by less than 2 goals: 2016-17

Figure-1: Win-Loss Differential in Matches decided by less than 2 goals: 2016-17

Hypothesis: Over a short-medium time frame a team’s collective margin of results fit a normal distribution.

To explain this, Figure-2 presents the match results for the Western Bulldogs since the start of 2016. The results are presented as a histogram, with each column representing the number of matches the Bulldogs have had that fit within the indicated margin range, e.g. they have had 8 wins by less than 12 points and 7 wins by between 13 and 24 points. The bulldogs average match margin has been +8 points with a standard deviation of 29.6 (an indication of the spread of results). A normal distribution of the raw data superimposed over the histogram indicates a good correlation between the histogram and the assumed distribution. The benefits of demonstrating this normal distribution fit is that it will enable us to identify anomalies in data sets that don’t conform to the anticipated distribution. But before I go on, let’s look at the team rankings for the average match margin based on results since the start of 2016 as presented in Table-2 and Figure-3.

 Figure-2: Western Bulldogs Match Results Histogram – 2016-17

Figure-2: Western Bulldogs Match Results Histogram – 2016-17

 Table-2: Average Match Margin Rankings for 2016-17

Table-2: Average Match Margin Rankings for 2016-17

 Figure-3: Average Match Margin Rankings for 2016-17

Figure-3: Average Match Margin Rankings for 2016-17

Not too much in the above rankings should surprise followers of the league, however, interestingly Carlton and Richmond are placed next to each other in the rankings. The other thing worth noting is the standard deviation. A low standard deviation indicates a small variation between a team’s best and worst performances, whilst a high standard deviation indicates a large spread between a team's best and worst. The Bulldogs have the smallest standard deviation, but this is probably not too surprising as they probably don’t have the forward line to kick large enough scores to secure big wins, nor do they regularly get thumped (last weekend against the Demons notwithstanding). However, interestingly Carlton has the second lowest standard deviation. Let’s investigate them a little further:

Carlton:

Figure-4 presents the match results for Carlton since the start of 2016. Their low standard deviation in match results is because they have only recorded 1 win by more than 4 goals and 1 loss by more than 12 goals in the past season and a half. The normal distribution fits their histogram quite well, with one exception; they have 7 wins by 13-24 points. Given the shape of the distribution, it could be argued that several of these wins should in fact have been larger wins, but Carlton have been incapable of putting a team away when they have the chance. Arguably their win last weekend against the Gold Coast was an example of this. They dominated the game, but in the end only scraped through with a 10-point win.

 Figure-4: Carlton Match Results Histogram – 2016-17

Figure-4: Carlton Match Results Histogram – 2016-17

Richmond:

But then there is Richmond. Figure-5 presents the match results for the Tigers since the start of 2016. And as expected there is a noticeable spike in their histogram for their 8 losses by less than 12-points. But intriguingly they have not recorded a single loss by between 13 and 24 points over that time. Could it be that many of their heartbreaking losses should have been by larger margins, but the Tigers competitiveness kept them in the contest before ultimately they succumbed in the most incredulous of ways? When questioned this week on Fox Footy’s On the Couch program about these apparent brain fades late in games, Hardwick was bullish:

They also have to realise, that we have won a lot of close games as well at the start of the year. We have blown sides out by 2 to 3 goals at the end. But the majority of our games have been relatively close. Apart from probably the Carlton game and the Brisbane game which we won quite comfortably. But you know the Essendon game was 3-quarter-time evens, West Coast was, Melbourne was as well. So it is probably a bit unfair to tarnish us with we always have these close losses. We have also won really tight games that have been really competitive. And the great thing about our footy club at the moment, I reckon our fans come to every game and they know they are going to get a fierce contest from our boys, most weeks. We have 7 wins, we have won those games. Unfortunately we have probably lost some games we should have won that we didn’t quite take our chances. So we are still really confident, with the style of game we play, our competitiveness in the contest and how we play is a great template of how we want to play footy going forward.

He’s right. When you consider all the games Richmond have been involved in since the start of 2016 that have been decided be less than 4 goals, Richmond have a record of 9 wins and 8 losses. Not bad. And the Adelaide game aside, they have been very competitive in every game this year, even if they struggle to be really cutthroat and put a team away when they are on top (they haven’t beaten a team by more than 10 goals since 2015).

 Figure-4: Richmond Match Results Histogram – 2016-17

Figure-4: Richmond Match Results Histogram – 2016-17

It’s great for football that both Carlton and the Tigers are up and about in 2017. Will there be 80,000 at the MCG this week? I hope so, although the Sunday afternoon does look like poor scheduling for these traditional rivals. Carlton can still dream of finals and Richmond can still dare to attain a top 4 spot. And as both teams are so competitive, you can hardly see either team blowing the other away. So we can expect a tight game, but will it be a thundering of DA...DADA...DADAAAH or a shriek of Yellow and Black at the final siren? I'm leaning to the latter, but if the game is in the balance deep into the last quarter we will all be on the edge of our seat again to see how the Tigers handle the pressure.

Richmond to win by 20 points

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