The main role of the competition ladder is to provide a summary of the past. In this blog we'll be assessing what they can tell us about the future. Specifically, we'll be looking at what can be inferred about the make up of the finals by reviewing the competition ladder at different points of the season.
I'll be restricting my analysis to the seasons 1997-2009 (which sounds a bit like a special category for Einstein Factor, I know) as these seasons all had a final 8, twenty-two rounds and were contested by the same 16 teams - not that this last feature is particularly important.
Let's start by asking the question: for each season and on average how many of the teams in the top 8 at a given point in the season go on to play in the finals?
The first row of the table shows how many of the teams that were in the top 8 after the 1st round - that is, of the teams that won their first match of the season - went on to play in September. A chance result would be 4, and in 7 of the 13 seasons the actual number was higher than this. On average, just under 4.5 of the teams that were in the top 8 after 1 round went on to play in the finals.
This average number of teams from the current Top 8 making the final Top 8 grows steadily as we move through the rounds of the first half of the season, crossing 5 after Round 2, and 6 after Round 7. In other words, historically, three-quarters of the finalists have been determined after less than one-third of the season. The 7th team to play in the finals is generally not determined until Round 15, and even after 20 rounds there have still been changes in the finalists in 5 of the 13 seasons.
Last year is notable for the fact that the composition of the final 8 was revealed - not that we knew - at the end of Round 12 and this roster of teams changed only briefly, for Rounds 18 and 19, before solidifying for the rest of the season.
Next we ask a different question: if your team's in ladder position X after Y rounds where, on average, can you expect it to finish.
Regression to the mean is on abundant display in this table with teams in higher ladder positions tending to fall and those in lower positions tending to rise. That aside, one of the interesting features about this table for me is the extent to which teams in 1st at any given point do so much better than teams in 2nd at the same point. After Round 4, for example, the difference is 2.6 ladder positions.
Another phenomenon that caught my eye was the tendency for teams in 8th position to climb the ladder while those in 9th tend to fall, contrary to the overall tendency for regression to the mean already noted.
One final feature that I'll point out is what I'll call the Discouragement Effect (but might, more cynically and possibly accurately, have called it the Priority Pick Effect), which seems to afflict teams that are in last place after Round 5. On average, these teams climb only 2 places during the remainder of the season.
Averages, of course, can be misleading, so rather than looking at the average finishing ladder position, let's look at the proportion of times that a team in ladder position X after Y rounds goes on to make the final 8.
One immediately striking result from this table is the fact that the team that led the competition after 1 round - which will be the team that won with the largest ratio of points for to points against - went on to make the finals in 12 of the 13 seasons.
You can use this table to determine when a team is a lock or is no chance to make the final 8. For example, no team has made the final 8 from last place at the end of Round 5. Also, two teams as lowly ranked as 12th after 13 rounds have gone on to play in the finals, and one team that was ranked 12th after 17 rounds still made the September cut.
If your team is in 1st or 2nd place after 10 rounds you have history on your side for them making the top 8 and if they're higher than 4th after 16 rounds you can sport a similarly warm inner glow.
Lastly, if your aspirations for your team are for a top 4 finish here's the same table but with the percentages in terms of making the Top 4 not the Top 8.
Perhaps the most interesting fact to extract from this table is how unstable the Top 4 is. For example, even as late as the end of Round 21 only 62% of the teams in 4th spot have finished in the Top 4. In 2 of the 13 seasons a Top 4 spot has been grabbed by a team in 6th or 7th at the end of the penultimate round.