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  • Brenton Crawford

Diamonds in the rough - Michael Barlow and Tim Kelly.

Updated: Sep 10, 2018

With the recent delisting of Michael Barlow and the meteoric rise of Tim Kelly in his debut season, we here at Fat Stats thought we should take a look at how Kelly and Barlow stack up against the best debut seasons of the modern game. Barlow has long been lauded for his first year at Fremantle in 2010 which was cut short by a sickening broken leg. Barlow’s 14 games that year are generally considered to be the gold standard of debut seasons - It’s amazing to think he was on track for 20+ Brownlow votes if he had played a full season!

Despite Geelong’s Holy Trinity midfield of Selwood, Dangerfield and Ablett, Kelly has regularly shone as one of the Geelong’s best midfielders this season. West Coast and Fremantle recruiters need to head down to Specsavers after having watched Kelly run around 93 times with South Fremantle and been unable to see anything worthy of even a rookie selection.


Despite the smooth moving Kelly being compared to Daniel Wells (by me) and Barlow’s running style being compared to a wounded duck, they do share some similarities. They were both mature age recruits (Barlow being 22 and Kelly 23 on debut), they are both offensive midfielders who know how to find the goals and they both provided an instant impact to their teams. Just last week Kelly was announced as the AFLPA’s best first year player, the award which Barlow was given in 2010.


Being the statistical robots, we are over at Fat Stats, let’s take emotion out of it and take a look at the numbers to compare Kelly’s debut season against Barlow and other best debutants of the last 13 years.


The Rules

Any ranking requires some ground rules - we decided on some criteria that we believed would allow us to see which players really had an impact on their teams’ seasons. Its unlikely many players can do a Cyril Rioli or Joel Selwood and come out of high school and play 20+ games and win a premiership, so we will rank players based on their first 15 games (we are letting Barlow get away with 14). In addition, each player must have played all 15 games in their debut AFL season.Honourable mentions to get filtered out on this basis are Sam Menegola, Luke Shuey, Matt Priddis, Ben McGlynn and Cam Pederson who had very productive runs of 15 games played over 2 seasons.


We are also only looking from 2005 onwards so we can be a little bit sure we are comparing apples and apples with respect to game style and the range of available statistics.


Player Approximate Value (PAV)

As Jonah Hill says in the great movie Moneyball “it’s about getting it down to one number”. So what number do you use? Systems like Supercoach and Dream Team try to do this, but are geared at fantasy sports rather than capturing how valuable a player is. For this reason, we have decided to use a modified version of a metric called Player Approximate Value (PAV).


Player Approximate Value ratings (PAV is metric developed by Hurling People Now (HPN) - http://www.hpnfooty.com/?p=21810 aims to measure a players value and contribution to a team. These PAV ratings can be calculated from different statistical variables that describe defensive, midfield and offensive value (Table 1). We like PAV a lot because it doesn’t over overvalue midfielders like some other metrics do, it is scaled to the team’s output and generally seems to produce numbers that are sensible and intuitive.


The top 20 best AFL debut seasons since 2005 ranked by PAV


Top 20 total Player Approximate Value (PAV) rankings from 2005 - 2018 based on the first 15 games of a debut season.

As expected Barlow comes out on Top and Kelly comes in 4th. In the top 20 we have 4 rookie picks, 4 rising star winners, 5 AFLPA best first year player awards, lots of high draft picks, 1 current and a bunch of future Brownlow medallists.

Based on detailed analysis these players can be grouped into a few key categories:


Players I had to google:

· Jason Roe – has a crazy high defensive PAV score based on him averaging 7.6 1 percenters, 5.5 marks, 5.3 rebound 50’s in his first 15 games.


Bargain basement mature players:

· Michael Barlow- Amazing to think Freo gave up highly valued 8th rookie selection for Barlow

· Dayne Zorko – Another quality decision by the Gold Coast Sun to on trade Zorko to the Lions for Pick 34

· Isaac Smith – Cost the Hawks pick 19 - so not as much of a bargain as the others - but has been a key cog in the Hawks premiership machine for several years


Tall players in expansion clubs

· Jonathan Giles, Zac Smith – These religious ruckmen had the big guy upstairs onside in their debut seasons.


The Rolls Royce high draft picks

· Joel Selwood, Dustin Martin, Cyril Rioli, Ollie Wines, Marcus Bontempelli, Jesse Hogan, Daniel Rich – some decent footballers in that list.


Fitness coaches who started to perform better than senior listed players

· James Podsiadly – One of my favourite football stories, made an instant impact at Geelong.


Stephen Wells Specials

· Allen Christensen – An A-grade talent who has consistently struggled with injuries

· Tim Kelly – The 4th best first year player in the last 13 years.

Players who can kick the football really far

· Trent “the cannon” McKenzie – Hasn’t lived up to the heights of his first year.


And Rhys Palmer


So summing it all up, the numbers match our expectation that noone has had a better debut season than Michael Barlow. Personally, looking at his stats in 2010 I find it difficult that anyone will be knocking him off his mantle anytime soon. Seeing the number of rookies in this list really makes you think that there are some talented footballers who just take a bit longer to be ready for AFL football. Geelong has found a gem in Tim Kelly, hopefully these pesky home sick rumours are just that and he plays another 10 years at the cattery.

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