A concise data-driven approach to predicting the 2020 Australian Football Hall of Fame inductees

This morning I read on Twitter that the AFL decided to hold its Hall of Fame over spread the event over four nights beginning tonight (1 June).

This move was made presumably to solve for both the lack of large events that are able to be currently held, and to help fill the footy void prior to the AFL season resuming on 11 June.

I had been keeping one eye on new plans for the Hall of Fame night but this news had somehow escaped me. I had planned to do deep-dive and expand on the analysis I first put together ahead of last year’s ceremony

If interested, you can read more about the context, the data, the statistical approach and some of the outcomes in that article.

I have thrown together an article in fits and spurts today to put some ideas on the table prior to the first inductions tonight.

Updating for 2019 inductions

Last year I used a combination of the data-driven player likelihood of induction, plus recent trends in types of selections in the previous few years, to make some ‘predictions’ (and I say that loosely given the very small sample size). I wrote: “I expect this year that the selection committee will once again focus on South Australia and induct two Croweaters, alongside two-three modern-era AFL players and possibly another dark horse.” 

My ‘predictions’ were:

  • Tom Leahy
  • Jim Deane
  • Tony McGuiness
  • Kelvin Templeton
  • Simon Black
  • Alastair Lynch

Pleasingly, I landed one Croweater, as Jim Deane (a name even most die-hard footy fans have probably never heard of) was inducted. Deane played 11 seasons for South Adelaide and two at Richmond, winning the Margarey Medal twice and South Adelaide’s best and fairest on six occasions. On the data-driven ratings (which are based on historical selector preferences, not any sense of objectivity), he was the top choice from all historical SANFL players.

On the face of it, Deane was my only direct ‘hit’ in a shallow year for inducted players (only four). The only other players inducted were Trevor Barker, Brad Hardie and Ken Hunter. The data had Hardie as the fourth ‘most likely’ from VFL players in the 1960s-80s era to be inducted, but I did not expect that the selectors would –  once again – go back to the 1970s and 1980s to induct more players out of the VFL/AFL. Since 2011, there had been a promising trend away from that cohort. If you have read ‘Footballistics’ you will understand that there exists already a vast overrepresentation of players from that demographic. 

Complementing their selections were Ron Evans (as an adminstrator) and Michael Malthouse (as a coach).

At the time, I couldn’t understand how Simon Black was not inducted. Black had become eligible that season, marking five years after his retirement. The selectors had shown an ongoing preference to induct ‘gun’ players the first year they became eligible, and the data (as well as recent memories) were very hot on him.

Turns out Black “had been voted in by the Hall of Fame committee last year” but “was unable to attend the function due to his filming of Australian Survivor overseas”. Perhaps that was not public knowledge at the time as the reality show had not been aired, but I remember his omission (and only four players inducted) left me confused.

For statistical purposes, I am going to consider Black ‘inducted’ in 2019. It also makes sense to update the data to take him of the prospective pool for analysis for this year’s selection.

There was a stronger lean back towards the VFL/AFL (pre-1990) last year than I had anticipated

I’ll give myself two ticks out of six for last year’s predictions.

  • Tom Leahy
  • Jim Deane (correct)
  • Tony McGuiness
  • Kelvin Templeton
  • Simon Black (considered correct)
  • Alastair Lynch

Updating the data for 2020

Updating the data for analysis required a few tweaks:

  1. Update the inducted players from 2019 with a new status
  2. Remove the inducted coaches and administrators from the potential pool (as they are assumed ineligible for induction as players, even though some have great playing records)
  3. Re-run the model to include the ‘class of 2013’ retirees and the inducted cohort of 2019 cohort
  4. Re-run the predictions on the new pool, including the ‘class of 2014’ retirees who are eligible for the first time 

I updated the chart I ran last year to show the relationship between various standard achievements across the leagues and how they contribute to the chances of induction.

Each dot represents an individual player – how many of that achievement they recorded (a count on the horizontal axis) and whether or not they were inducted (bottom means not inducted, top means inducted).

On top of the aggregate set of points, a smoothed line (logistic curve) which best fits all points for every player in each particular league. As all of these achievements indicate success, we would expect to see the average line of all players sloping up from bottom left to top right – which is exactly what we see. The slopes and points at which the lines tilt up differ, and here is where we see differences in how the selection committee has historically not deemed achievements in some leagues as worthy as others.

The likelihood of induction of Australian Football Hall of Fame candidate players, by league and playing era

Marked by the blue curves rising almost exclusively faster than the red and yellow curves, the VFL/AFL pre- and post-1990 honours appear to be considered far more worthy in the eye of selectors than those in the SANFL or WAFL. In other words, it takes a much more glittery CV in those latter leagues to have the same chances of induction as in the VFL/AFL, even during the state-based eras.

Eyeing off the chart, it appears that a player with one Brownlow medal is more likely to be inducted than a player with two Magarey or Sandover medals. Or that players with five club best and fairest awards in South Australia and Western Australia are deemed to have similar chances to those with just two in Victoria or in the national era.

I interpret these results with the hypothesis that the Hall of Fame selection committee naively assesses SANFL and WAFL players, with the shortlist only coming from those players with absolutely stand-out CVs in some of the most prestigious award categories. It seems that some statistics, such as games played or premierships, are not considered whatsoever. This explains why there are a whole host of Western and South Australian footballers with large tallies of games played and premierships won who have not been inducted. 

Predictions for 2020

There have been few changes to the below visual from 2019, save from the inducted players dropping off and Jonathan Brown appearing right at the top of the list of recent players.

An article on the AFL website notes that “the likes of Luke Ball, Jonathan Brown, Dean Cox, Darren Glass, Lenny Hayes, Ryan O’Keefe and Ben Rutten are in contention for the first time” after retiring in 2014. This list of players, with Brown and perhaps Cox as exceptions, do not have CVs that tend to be acknowledged by the committee. Ben Cousins has been eligible for five years now, but given his current circumstances I expect him to be overlooked again. 

The modelled likelihood of future Australian Football Hall of Fame induction of candidate players, by league and playing era (chart updated 3 June to fix a data error)

A Fox Footy article last week notes “each inductee [will take] part in a long-form interview to air alongside a career highlights package”. Given there is far more air time to fill in this made-for-television ‘event’ over four nights, and the expectation of in-person interviews and lots of footage, sadly once again I don’t expect the long list of “neglected heroes” to be honoured this week. 

Therefore my prediction have an ultra-modern focus, with some names from last year popping in again to round out the selections:

  • Simon Black (confirmed and as predicted in 2019)
  • Jonathan Brown (first year eligible)
  • Alastair Lynch (making it a real Brisbane premiership flavour)
  • Paul Couch (posthumously)
  • Kelvin Templeton
  • Tony McGuiness
  • Don Lindner/Steve Malaxos (one token ‘interstate’ player)

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