2020 Brownlow Medal: Who was snubbed, and who got lucky in the votes?

One of the things I’ve learnt while modelling the Brownlow is that the umpires are often not given enough credit for getting it right as often as they do. 

Given that the team of field umpires are tasked with the job as a collective, there would be some ‘wisdom of the crowds’ effect on their final decision, which may help to explain why they do such a good job of it on most occasions. It could be argued that their votes are always 100% correct of course, as it’s only their opinion that matters and it’s their award to give. 

The best we can do as outsiders is try and build models that are trained on past decisions to try and get a peek at what they might do in the future.

In 2020, Stats Insider's Brownlow Medal model agreed with the umpires on - and correctly predicted -  the #1 player on the field in 53.6% of all games this season, while our top ranked player for each game received at least 1 Brownlow vote 85.6% of the time. And, only in five matchups - 3.3% of all games - did we have a completely different set of the three best players as adjudicated by the umpires.

Now, having given the umpires a rare pat on the back, it’s time to have a look at what howlers we think they might have made during the 2020 AFL season. For this exercise we’ll use Stats Insider’s AFL Player Ratings - which are heavily correlated with our Brownlow model - as well the official AFL player ratings, SuperCoach scores and the AFL Coaches Association votes, so we’re not just using raw data to get a broad picture of which players were snubbed and which players might have got lucky.

So, which players were snubbed and which ones can count themselves amongst the lucky ones?


Round 15: Nick Haynes - GWS Giants

Despite being in an unpopular position on the ground to (normally) generate Brownlow medal votes, Nick Haynes’ round 15 game against Carlton was clearly the standout performance of the day. According to our Brownlow Medal model he had a 74.7% probability of a landing the 3 votes, with an average of 2.7 votes per Brownlow simulation, following 10,000 simulations of the season. 

He was ranked 1st on the field by the Stats Insider Player Ratings and was ranked #1 on the field according to the official AFL player ratings. He had the most disposals for the winning side, a game-high 8 marks and 8 rebounds. Haynes outstanding game also received the full 10 AFLCA Coaches Votes as well as finishing with the highest SuperCoach score on the ground. 

Bizarrely the umpires couldn’t find a single vote for Haynes and, to add insult to injury, they picked two players from the defeated Carlton side in their final tally.

Round 11: Dom Sheed - West Coast Eagles

An industrious Dom Sheed collected three more disposals than anyone else on the field in a 22-point victory over Carlton, at home in Perth. As well as being a ball magnet, he also added two goals and an equal game-high 9 clearances on his way to being the #1 ranked player on the ground, according to the Stats Insider AFL Player Ratings

Our Brownlow Medal model gave Sheed an average expected vote tally of 2.5 votes after 10,000 simulations, giving him a 67.7% chance of polling 3 votes. This was supported by the coaches giving him the full 10 votes for best on ground, as well as being the #1 ranked SuperCoach player for this game. 

We can only assume the 'Bermuda Triangle' was hovering over Optus Stadium that day, as our second most likely player to receive 3 votes, Nic Naitanui, also missed out on receiving any votes despite having an average vote tally of 1.8 per simulation, and a 24.1% chance to have 3 votes called on Brownlow night.

Round 11: Rory Laird – Adelaide Crows

Although it is somewhat unusual to have a player clearly best on ground in a losing side, Rory Laird’s round 11 performance was simply sensational. Racking up 37 disposals - eight more touches than anyone else on the field - with a game high 10 clearances and 9 tackles, Laird's efforts on a 24-point losing team was more than enough to receive at least a minor vote by our metrics, but the umpires did not agree. 

He was ranked #1 on the Stats Insider AFL Player Ratings, as well as on the official AFL player ratings. His SuperCoach score of 185 was the 10th highest for the entire 2020 AFL season by any player. 

Our model gave him a 62.3% chance of polling 3 votes, with an average of 2.1 votes over our 10,000 simulations. The coaches themselves gave him 9 votes, meaning one coach thought he was the absolute best player on the ground, and the other, second best. 

Unfortunately for Rory, the umpires decided to give all their votes to Collingwood players on the day.

Other notable 'no vote' snubs:

R11 - Sam Menegola (GEE): SI Rank = #1, SC Rank = #1, 10 AFLCA votes & 66.1% to poll 3 votes

R17 - Tom Rockliff (PA): SI Rank = #1, SC Rank = #1, 10 AFLCA votes & 77% to poll 3 votes


Round 8: Jack Martin - Carlton FC

Unlucky to have not polled any votes earlier against the Western Bulldogs (Round 6), the Brownlow 'karma train' came back to reward Jack Martin big-time in Round 8. 

Ranked an incredible 44th out of 44 on the field according to the official AFL player ratings, the umpires made the decision to reward him the full 3 votes. The Stats Insider AFL Player Ratings model was kinder to Martin, having him ranked 11th on the field. The coaches themselves gave votes to 9 different players - none of them named Jack Martin.

For a player that spends his time switching between midfield and the forward-line, he didn't kick a goal, nor possessed the ball often enough to make any real impact on our Brownlow Medal model, deemed just a 0.3% chance of receiving the full 3 votes. 

Our #1 ranked player for the game was North Melbourne's Jared Polec, who received one vote, while our second ranked player, Sam Walsh, received no votes at all. Jack owes those two blokes a beer.

Round 18: Dom Sheed - West Coast Eagles

In another case of the Brownlow swings and roundabouts, Dom Sheed’s Round 18 performance proved to be a make-up game after being snubbed earlier in Round 11.

Sheed was ranked 10th on the field by the Stats Insider AFL Player Ratings, and measly 31st in the official AFL player ratings. Neither coach had him in their top five players for the game, and his SuperCoach score of 89 suggested he played approximately average compared to his usual output. 

We do concede that this game was a difficult one to find votes for, with our #1 and #2 most likely 3-vote recipients - Liam Ryan (36.9%) and Jed Anderson (33%) - also missing out on votes.

Round 15: Rory Sloane - Adelaide Crows
A loud cheer went around the Adelaide Crows Brownlow viewing event when “R. Sloane, 3 votes” was read out by AFL CEO, Gil McLachlan, on the night, and it may well have been an ironic cheer. 

Adelaide’s biggest win of the season coming against the Hawks by 34-points meant they would have been confident of one their players polling maximum votes, but Sloane would have been well down the list. 

Ranked 25th on the field by the AFL player rating system, and 16th by the Stats Insider AFL Player Ratings, Sloane’s probability of landing the three (according to our model) was just 0.2%. He had a total of 14 less disposals than teammate, Matt Crouch, and did not register a single vote from either coach on the day. 

Crouch (62.6%) and ruckman, Reilly O’Brien (30.4%), were our two most likely to poll the three votes (and did end up getting the 2 and 1), but we do think it was a stretch to find Rory Sloane the full three.

Other notable players 'lucky' players:

R11 - Hugh Greenwood (GCS): SI Rank #12, SC Rank #13, 0 AFLCA votes, 0.5% to poll 3 votes

R17 - Scott Pendlebury (COL): SI Rank #23, SC Rank #3, 0 AFLCA Votes, 1.1% to poll 3 votes

Recap our 2020 Brownlow Medal Report here:

Did you enjoy this article? Join our free mailing list to get the best content delivered straight to your inbox, or join the conversation by leaving a comment below or on the Stats Insider Twitter or Facebook page.

Greg Butyn

Stats Insider data analyst. All-around nice guy. Lover of all dogs, including greyhounds and the Western Bulldogs. Usually can be found stalking the lobbies at Draftstars and Moneyball on any given day.

Related Articles
See All Articles
A new version of Stats Insider is now available! You'll see it when you next reload the page, or you can click here to go to it now!