Using Data Visualization and Business Intelligence to predict the 2014 Brownlow Medal winner

The 2014 Brownlow Medal is expected to be one of the most wide-open counts in recent years – especially if the bookies are playing the odds. And, as usual, the betting market does indeed reflect the closeness of the contest.

Geelong’s captain, Joel Selwood, is a relatively short-priced favorite, with TAB paying $2.50 for the human battering ram to claim his much-anticipated first “Charlie”.

Despite being restricted to just 15 games due to a serious shoulder injury, Suns’ captain Gary Ablett is expected to go close to securing a third Brownlow Medal in 2014 ($3.50). Clearly the competition’s best player for the first 15 games of the 2014 home-and-away season, the Little Champ had the ball on a string in his 13th AFL season.

There’s also been plenty of money for the Swans’ big-bodied midfielder, Josh Kennedy ($5), Port comeback kid, Robbie Gray ($7), and Hawthorn tough-nut, Jordan Lewis ($10).

Given that this evening’s medal count is likely to be a tight and suspenseful affair, we thought we’d turn to data visualization and Business Intelligence software to see if we could pick a winner.

For the uninitiated: What is the Brownlow Medal?

For our international and uninitiated friends, the Brownlow Medal (or “Charlie”) is awarded to the individual player considered to be the ‘best and fairest’ during each home-and-away season of the Australian Football League (AFL). And, why do we care? Because Yellowfin is headquartered and developed in Melbourne, Australia.

The modern Brownlow Medal is awarded based on a 3-2-1 vote system, whereby the officiating umpires from each game select the best (3 votes), second best (2 votes) and third best (1 vote) performing player. The player with the most votes after the ‘season proper’ has concluded – players cannot win Brownlow votes during the finals series – is declared the Brownlow Medalist for that season. However, if a player is suspended – for any reason – by the AFL tribunal, they are rendered ineligible.

The inaugural Brownlow Medal was awarded to Edward Greeves of the Geelong Football Club in 1924. The medal was created in honor of former Geelong player Charles Brownlow, who passed away in January of 1924 following prolonger illness.

Total Brownlow Medal votes by team (2013 season)

Taking a look at total Brownlow Medal votes by team during the 2013 season reveals why many footy gurus still give Gary (Ablett) a chance.

It’s often commented that, while it’s hard to win enough votes at a consistently underperforming club, it’s also difficult to catch the umpires eye in a dominant team full of top-shelf talent.

Even the casual footy fan can tell you that, after being founded just five short years ago, the Gold Coast Suns will become a powerhouse club of the near future. But, despite their undoubted talent and youthful exuberance, their current inexperience means that the AFL’s blue chip player (Ablett) still stands out. This is why, with fewer teammates to steal the limelight (62 votes in 2013), Gary remains a massive threat in 2014.

Conversely, outright medal favorite, Joel Selwood, both plays for competition heavyweight, Geelong, and has a number of teammates capable of attracting votes on game day. Similarly, Sydney’s Josh Kennedy and Hawthorn’s Jordan Lewis face an identical dilemma, playing in highly successful teams with star-studded line-ups.

So, with that said, perhaps Port’s resurgent Robbie Gray is the true dark horse of 2014? Despite a vastly improved 2013 season, Port Adelaide only polled 66 total Brownlow votes. A similar result this year would go a long way to assisting the standout midfield-forward secure the game’s biggest individual honor.

Number of Brownlow Medalists by team (1924 – 2013)

If you believe that history plays a part on Brownlow night, maybe it’s worth laying down some hard-earned on St Kilda’s Nick Riewoldt ($101) or the Bulldogs’ Tom Liberatore ($101). Both clubs boast 10 Brownlow Medalists.

Hint: Click on the number of Brownlow Medal winners next to each club to view a detailed report.

However, such musings are of course fraught with problems – principally the inherent imbalance regarding the number of years each club has been competing.

For example, the Melbourne Football Club was formed on August 7, 1858 – the year of the code’s first recorded match between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar, while the GWS Giants played their first season in 2012.

Although, it’s worth noting the exploits of Sydney (formerly South Melbourne). The South Melbourne Football Club was formed in 1874, relocating to Sydney (and rebranding as the Sydney Swans) in 1982. Combined, the Swans – South Melbourne dynasty has netted 14 Brownlow Medals, including three-time winner, Bob Skilton (1959, 1963, 1968), and two-time recipient and current champion, Adam Goodes (2003 and 2006). So now that you’re feeling nostalgic, perhaps you’d fancy a flutter on the Bloods’ Josh Kennedy?

But, putting club-oriented statistics, allegiances and histrionics aside, the Brownlow Medal is of course an individual award, first and foremost.

Number of Brownlow Medal votes by winners (1924 – 2013)

Ignoring team history and recent form, if a player can poll in the mid twenties, they give themselves every opportunity walk away from tonight’s ceremony as league champion.

2013’s titleholder, Ablett, took home Charlie for the second time with 28 votes, narrowly out-polling Geelong captain and ex-teammate Joel Selwood (27). Despite his stellar early season form, it’ll be tough for the Suns’ captain to secure enough votes from 15 (although excellent) games. But, if anyone’s capable of Graham Teasdale like polling (59 votes at an average of 2.8 votes per game), it’s Gary.

Our prediction

Forget the footy jargon and clichés. Now’s not the time to take it one week at a time. It’s all about tonight. And, notwithstanding missing the latter third of the season through injury, we reckon Gary Ablett Junior can get the job done:

  • From rounds 1 – 15, he played in a team that performed well and won consistently
  • He is rarely out-performed by his teammates
  • History tells us that he polls strongly, catching the umpires attention with his notoriously nude noggin

But, as usual, we’d love to hear your thoughts, and you can send them in to

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