Every year, dozens of potential prospects dream of playing in the AFL and getting drafted. AFL teams are also looking to bolster their squads through the draft, and build their team to improve their outcomes in the coming seasons. No draft is a perfect process – teams will misevaluate and pick unsuccessful players early in the draft, while potentially great recruits will leave the process undrafted.
In the lead up to the 2023 AFL draft, the Kitman Labs Performance Experts and Data Science teams, working alongside the Western Bulldogs, identified some of the most talented youth players waiting to enter the league using advanced analytics. Our aim was to reduce the possibility of overrating specific players and identifying potential undervalued athletes by developing as holistic an overview of each athlete as possible, using objective and subjective data to describe all indicators of athletic performance on and off the pitch. What did this process look like, and how did Kitman Labs help? Find out more below.
Fundamental to assessing the potential of athletes is to identify criteria for success – what does it mean to be a good AFL player? The Performance Experts at Kitman Labs are specialised at working with teams to understand their specific performance measures and develop definitions that are specific to their needs and will impact their eventual performance. Through collaboration with the Western Bulldogs we developed two success criteria; one generic and one specific to the Bulldogs needs. From the wider player pool, which players have a high chance of getting drafted by an AFL team, and of drafted players which ones satisfy the Bulldogs specific performance criteria that they use to determine whether a pick was successful or not.
“The Kitman Labs Data Science Team enabled us to be data driven when evaluating potential draftees in the lead up to the AFL Draft. It allowed us to leverage analytics to drive our approach to talent identification and investment, and also to balance our subjective views with the objective data.”
– Sam Power – General Manager of List Management and Recruiting
Identifying Draft Opportunities
The second part of the analysis focused around identifying draft opportunities. How good have teams been at identifying the top players in each year’s draft class? In a perfect system, the successful players will be selected before the unsuccessful players and there is no opportunity for analytics. Using Western Bulldogs success criteria we answered this question and saw that the draft is far from a perfect system – while teams have a high chance of success in the first picks, approximately 30% of players picked between 11 and 30 in the draft will be unsuccessful. Equally, successful AFL players can be identified later in the draft and even after the draft. This demonstrates a clear opportunity – can analytics be used to unearth these successful players and reduce the risk of wasting an early draft pick?
At this same stage, we used comprehensive analysis to investigate the Bulldogs’ past draft performance. How successful had they been at scouting previous draft classes and how did that vary year on year? Were they more successful at scouting certain positions, or from certain leagues? While the end goal of our collaboration was to look forward towards the 2023 draft class, equally important in any sporting organisation is to reflect upon and evaluate how things have gone in the past. This look-back opened the door for additional questions and opportunities to be answered using advanced analytics.
Having identified a clear opportunity to use analytics in the AFL draft, we worked with the Western Bulldogs to build a model for success. As an incredibly progressive sport, the AFL gathers comprehensive physical and performance data of every potential draftee. The Kitman Labs Data Science team used this data alongside state-of-the-art Machine Learning models to aid the Western Bulldogs in identifying talent. The outputs of these advanced analytics were threefold:
- Metric Benchmarking to identify and evaluate draftable players
- A prospective success score
- Player draft profiles
These outputs allow the Bulldogs staff to compare objective data to their own assessments of players. While ultimately the expertise of their staff will be the fundamental reason for their draft success, the process aims to validate their expertise and potentially uncover additional players who may otherwise have flown under the radar.
Interested in Learning More?
If you are interested in hearing more about how Kitman Labs Custom Analytics can help your team or organisation, reach out to our Performance Experts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Representative categories rather than actual data.