From One Year To The Next: An Update

In the early part of 2009, I wrote two blog postson the topic of teams' season-to-season ladder finishes. In today's blog I'll update the analysis I did then and review the current season with that historical context in mind.

First though, here's a team-by-team summary of ladder finishes across all of VFL/AFL history where each team's ladder position in a season is assessed after the finals using the conventions laid down by the AFL (so, for example, the ultimate Premier is given a ladder position of 1 regardless of where they finished on the ladder at the end of the regular home-and-away season).

The table provides the basic counts of the number of times each team has achieved a particular ladder finish, and converts these raw counts into percentages on the basis of the number of seasons that the team have played.

Regardless of whether you use absolute levels or rates, two teams, Carlton and Essendon, are equal-best in terms of Premierships won. Their 16 premierships have been won at a rate of about 1-in-7 seasons by them both.

A rates rather than raw count view enhances West Coast's Premiership record, however, their three Premierships looking a lot more impressive when you convert them to a proportion of seasons played, which moves them from equal 11th to equal 4th amongst all teams.

St Kilda dominates the Spoon market, having acquired 26 of them. For now though, GWS has the worst Spoon record when viewed as a percentage of seasons played. They're 1 for 1 and, at this point, appear to be good things to maintain that perfect record this season. Port Adelaide and Adelaide remain as the only teams bereft of a Spoon.

Collingwood, though only 2nd in terms of Grand Finals won, is way ahead of all other teams on the score of Grand Final appearances, having appeared in 41 of them (excluding drawn Grand Finals). That means they've appeared in a Grand Final in over one-third of the seasons in which they've competed. Love them or hate them, that's an impressive record. Adelaide are the only team never to have been a losing Grand Finalist.

The West Coast Eagles have the best record of making the Finals as a percentage of seasons played. They've made the Finals in almost three-quarters of the seasons in which they've taken part, although that percentage will drop back a little at the end of this season unless the current drugs scandal has ever further-reaching consequences than I think any of us are contemplating.

Considering only those ladder positions in the top quartile of every season, and rounding down where there are fractions (so, for example, a team would need to finish in the top 4 in an 18-team competition), Collingwood also has by far the best record, having finished top quartile in almost half its seasons.

Collingwood is also the best team if we consider the proportion of seasons in which a team has finished in the top half of the competion, a feat that the Pies have achieved in three-quarters of the seasons in which they've played.

For those of you more interested in the teams' recent records, here's the same data for seasons 1980 to 2012 - the Modern Era, if you like.

Hawthorn has dominated this period in terms of Premierships (6), Grand Final appearances (10), Finals appearances (21 seasons), Top Quartile ladder position finishes (13) and Top Half ladder position finishes (22).

St Kilda has maintained its Spoon-domination in this period too, collecting six more, which is two more than any other team.

In terms of percentage of seasons played, West Coast's statistics are quite impressive. They've won the Flag in 12% of seasons, played in the Grand Final in 19%, made the Finals in 73%, finished Top Quartile in 27%, and finished Top Half in 73%.


As I did in the previous blogs linked earlier, I'll restrict my one-season-to-the-next analysis to the period from 1925 onwards since the competition has had at least 10 participating teams in every season during that time.

As we found last time, losing Grand Finalists from the previous season have the best record for taking out the Premiership in the succeeding year. Two-dozen teams have done this over the 88-season period reviewed here. Teams going back-to-back have the next-best record (there's 18 of them), while teams finishing 5th have the third-best record, a little ahead of teams finishing 3rd and considerably ahead of those teams finishing 4th.

Only two teams finishing in ladder positions below 8th have gone on to win the Premiership in the next season - bad news for Richmond, Port Adelaide and Essendon fans in the current season.

Converting this raw data to row percentages provides some addition insights. 

The high rates at which teams finishing in ladder positions as high as 4th and 5th slip to finish 9th or lower in the following season is particularly revealing.

It's also interesting to note that Premiers finish outside the Top 4 in the succeeding year almost 40% of the time, and finish outside the top 8 almost 5% of the time. For losing Grand Finalists, Top 4 prospects in the next year are similar to those of the Premiers, but a much larger proportion dip below 8th (about 12%).


As with any historical analysis, you're wise to question the extent to which the insights you've generated pertain to current times. To this end, I've repeated the analysis for the period 1997 to 2012, which is the period for which the AFL has had 8-team Finals.

In these 16 seasons (and hence 15 season-to-season data points), Premiers have fared well in the following season, going back-to-back three times, making the Grand Final again eight times, and missing the finals altogether only twice.

Losing Grand Finalists have done just a little worse overall, also winning three flags in the subsequent seasons but making the Grand Final only five times, and missing the finals entirely four times.

The best ladder position in which to finish if the aim is to make the Finals in the following season, is 3rd. Only one team that's finished in that spot has not played Finals in the next year.

Of the 120 Finalists from 1997 to 2011, 77 of them played Finals in the succeeding year, which is a rate of about 64%. In that context this season's tally of five returning Finalists from 2012 is at about the historically expected level.

Should the Cats go on to win the Flag this year they'll be the first team in the period analysed to do so having finished 7th in the preceding year. In fact, even if they make the Grand Final they'll set a precedent.

Again, and finally, here's that same data presented as row percentages (and with grouped classes for the Following Year ladder finish).

Viewing the data this way highlights the strong follow-up seasons enjoyed by Premiers, with over half making the Grand Final and two-thirds finishing in the Top 4.

It also emphasises the sharply different following-season fates of teams finishing outside the Top 4. Consider, for example, teams finishing 5th, which have made the Top 4 in the following year at a rate of only 1 season in 5 and have missed the Finals entirely 60% of the time.

The figures for teams finishing 6th, 7th and 8th aren't much better. They have, respectively, missed the Finals in the following years 53%, 46% and 47% of the time, which is little better than chance in a 16-team competition such as we've had in all but the last two years of the period being analysed.

One interesting quirk from this table is the fact that teams finishing 11th and 14th have been more likely than not to make the Finals in the following year. Last year's 11th-placed team was Essendon and its 14th-placed team was Port Adelaide, so this trend looks set to be reinforced this year.