Cash cow culling call: when to reap your rookies

Wondering how long you’ll have to keep Gumby or Forkie? Here’s some analysis to help your scheming.

Planning for your fantasy football season involves many pieces of predictive analysis, one of which is planning how long you have to keep your “cash cow” rookies before you convert their price increases into cash to upgrade other players. To use as an analysis tool, I took the top 30 rookie price improvers from AFL Dream Team in 2008 and tracked their price increases in the following graph:

2008 AFL Dream Team rookie price improvers

I do not claim to be a gun statistical analyst, so I can only go by what the naked eye tells me. My guess is that somewhere between weeks 6 and 8 is the sweet spot to reap most of your rookies. There are freaks like Bradd Dalziell who will take longer (or would have if the end of the season hadn’t intervened), and there are players like Nathan J. Brown, not graphed here, who will barely move enough to earn you any decent coin. However, it looks to me like week 7 is the median point at which you should start to offload your basement-priced players.

A corollary to this is that if you look closely, you will notice that the tapering of the graph into the plateau really starts to bite between weeks 6 and 7, so if you are looking at a bubble boy who about to burst after week 6 of the progression of a nicely-priced cash cow who is scoring 50s but still has a breakeven of 20 or so, it might be the economically smart thing to do to forego that extra improvement in the old cow’s price in favour of the steeper graph of the young calf.

For 2009, this graph should be helpful in figuring out whether you really want to take a chance on rookie-priced players who have injury or selection issues hanging over their heads. For instance, you can probably afford to take the bet that Scott Gumbleton‘s troublesome knee, shoulder and hamstrings can last for six to eight weeks, particularly as coach Matthew Knights has committed to playing him if fit. Training reports on Gumby are glowing, there’s no denying it, but he remains an injury risk. The other issue with Gumbleton is how much this new Gumby’s Box structure will feature Gumby himself. With Adam McPhee able to rotate between half-back and half-forward, we could see a version of Buddy’s Box from 2007 where five talls rotate through four spots plus the bench. In Buddy’s Box, the fourth tall was usually Ben Dixon, whose statistics for a game often consisted of three marks, three kicks, one goal two, and about 50% time on ground. You would expect Jay Neagle to be the fourth corner of the Box if that is indeed the structure that Essendon go with, but if a significant part of the rotation is Matthew Lloyd/Scott Lucas/McPhee/Gumbleton, it will be Gumby who is the decoy runner.

West Coast Eagles Training Session

A similar dynamic will be going on at West Coast this year. With Quinten Lynch roaming up the field just as Lloyd did in 2008, and Ben McKinley staying at home to kick bags of goals, Mitchell Brown enters the Eagles forward line at an interesting stage of development. With either Ashley Hansen or Josh J. Kennedy as the roaming centre-half forward leading up on the wide wings of Subiaco, as the Eagles love to do, we could see Q’s Box over in the west as well. Coach John Worsfold hasn’t made noises about committing to Brown but judging from training reports he’s going to be hard to deny a spot, given that he is giving Darren Glass a bath in most marking drills. Even coming off a knee reconstruction, six to eight weeks seems a small set of games for him to deserve… if he makes round 1.

Those who are looking at Steele Sidebottom and Dayne Beams, as many of you are, should take a look at Collingwood coach Michael Malthouse’s record with playing draftees. The aforementioned Brown played all 22 games last year, but we’re talking here about two midfielders, so the analogy doesn’t hold. Sharrod Wellingham is perhaps a better example, blooded in the Anzac Day game in round 6 in the Malthouse tradition, then given round 7 off and returning for a solid six-game stint. If neither Sidebottom nor Beams look up to the task, however, they could develop Shannon Cox syndrome. Cox was a perennial emergency, getting call ups as a late replacement in rounds 11, 12 and 21 and not being named in the Magpies 22 until round 22. I think both players are better than that, though. Another good example is Scott Pendlebury, who wasn’t named until round 10 in his debut year of 2006 but got eight games in a row. Expecting either of these boys to be named in round 1 is perhaps asking too much, but they certainly firm as excellent mid-season trade-down targets. If either are named in round 1, though, get on board.

Have you been scouring older players’ resumes looking for coaches who give their draftees consistent games in their first year? What’s your policy on rookies, just watching the breakevens or do you have deadlines you like to keep? Tell me in the comments.

* Note: “Forkie” is Daniel Rich, so named by the Lions players because his arms look like forklifts…

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