Expert Q&A: SuperCoach HQ’s Tim Michell on 2020 trends & ‘agile’ strategy

2020 has been a SuperCoach season like no other, with a postponed game mid-round, the footy frenzy and an 18-round season culminating in a format requiring coaches to think on their feet.

Behind the scenes, that’s caused chaos for the team at SuperCoach HQ, including Herald Sun/SuperCoach digital producer Tim Michell, along with their team featuring Al Paton and Dan Batten.

Not all their decisions have been universally loved, but generally they’ve been accepted. The move to add a trade for bye rounds, increasing the season total from 30 to 37, has arguably added a layer of complexity that’s creating new engagement.

It’s also invited new strategy and new ideas, so Honeyball thought it’d be fun to catch up with Tim to discuss the trends of 2020 and the plans at HQ moving forward.

Melbourne-based 30-year-old Tim makes it patently clear he’s no SuperCoach expert. His best team ranking has been around the 4,000th mark, although his side – named ‘Borderline flying’ – this year is on track for a PB, currently placed 1,965th.

He’s a trained journalist who worked at Leader Newspapers as a sports reporter for more than five years before getting the gig at the Herald Sun in the Amplification Team.

But he eats and breathes SuperCoach as part of his role at HQ and could probably talk about it all day. So with the 2020 season close to finishing up, he’s got some insights to glean on the year gone and what’s ahead.

HB: Thanks for agreeing to have a chat Tim. It’s your first year in a full-time capacity at SuperCoach HQ. How have you found it?

TM: This season has just been unlike anything we could have imagined, as I’m sure the AFL could attest as well. To have to come up with fixtures and rules on the fly, normally you just have it set and everyone knows that they can expect, best 18 rounds during those three byes in the middle of the season and you’ve got 30 trades to play with and you just use those over the whole year but we just had to juggle balls all year and try to come up with the best scenarios we can to keep the hardcore SuperCoaches happy but also keep the casual players invested as well. That’s probably been the most difficult part, to keep people happy but also not go overboard too much to disadvantage those who’ve done the forward planning like most of the hardcore coaches do.

HB: What’s the sentiment been like to the changes?

TM: I think it’s been mostly pretty well accepted, especially when we had the chaos back in Round Three with the Dees and Essendon game. That was really tricky because it was the middle of the round. We knew that COVID-19 was a thing at that stage and there was the remote possibility that the footy season might get interrupted at some stage. I don’t think any of us saw it happening.

There had been a couple of games played at that stage I think when we found out about Conor McKenna (testing positive for coronavirus) and then the AFL might postpone. It was a pretty crazy few hours there trying to work out what we’re going to do and what the best approach was. It was unfortunate, I know within our team, Dan Batten got hit pretty hard as he had a large number of Essendon players in his team that round. As you can imagine, people that got shafted in Round Three probably felt a bit disenfranchised. I could understand that. We made the best decision we could but it was always going to leave some people unhappy.

I think based on that, people probably understood what was going to come if that type of scenario or the footy frenzies that we’ve had eventuated. We’ve had to be adaptable. We’ve tried to be as adaptable as possible and come up with the best scenarios for everyone. I think we’ve done pretty well. I feel like most people just accepted that they’ve got these three extra trades and then tried to come up with the best possible strategy to make it work for their teams.

HB: Some people have said the third trades and the numerous ‘spanners in the works’ have made it a more enjoyable season, because you need to think on your feet more. Would you agree?

TM: I talk to Brice Mitchell a fair bit. He’s unlike any other SuperCoach I’ve come across as he plans eight-nine weeks ahead. He’s got the spreadsheet mapped out and what he hopes to do and where he projects prices will be over time. He’s got a maths brain unlike anyone that I’ve ever come across before in this game. But I know even he has had to throw out the rulebook a little bit and try to adapt on the fly to some of the things that have been happening. You’ve got to definitely change the strategy a bit.

I think the thing that I found most interesting and, generally you found most of those coaches that have a reasonable grasp on the tactics, have been able to adapt pretty quickly to some of the changes that we’ve made and still use it to their advantage. Most of them and most of the leagues are still ranked pretty high. They’ve quickly figured out ‘OK, well, this is what I’ve got to work with’ and ‘this is how I can sort of best utilize it for my team’.

HB: So with need to be agile and adaptable, has there been any noticeable trends in 2020?

TM: Yeah, you’ve got to be able to pick up on certain trends. What’s working and what’s not. That’s been so obvious this year. It’s one thing we’ve noticed, with all the changes that have happened, one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that there’s 3300 points available a game or thereabouts. Obviously, that means that the scaling has been pretty drastic this year too, which is one thing that coaches have had to pick up and adapt their strategies to.

I looked at trying to get someone like Patrick Dangerfield into my team at different times. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a SuperCoach season where players that have those influential disposals have picked up so many points based on low numbers of disposals. For example, Patty Dangerfield could have 16-17 disposals in a game and still score 115 points whereas Tom Mitchell two years ago could have 40 disposals and because it was a full game, still only score 120 so that’s definitely been a big change this year.

HB: How about with rookies?

TM: We’ve never had a year where we’ve seen so many rookies get games. There’s been huge turnover too. For SuperCoaches it’s been a great year on that front, that you’ve had so many downgrade options, but I think it’s going to really have an impact on the planning for 2021. Previously we might see a player that has had a great VFL year or has been sort of forecast to play and gets a few games in the Marsh Series. We’re not going to have as many of those cheapies to draw on next year because so many players have been exposed.

Instead of having 20 $123k midfielders to choose from next year, there might only be 10 because a lot of players are going to be starting with a slightly elevated price based on the fact that they might have played two or three games this year and already have an average.

That’s obviously forecasting a fair way down the track which we can’t really do in the uncertain times that we’re in at the moment, but that’s just something that I’ve been thinking about more and more the last couple of days. The strategy next year is going to be really interesting as well.


HB: Also a lot of this year’s draft players haven’t been able to play this year, so we’ve got limited form to work with?

TM: They’re already talking about this draft being one of the more compromised drafts going around because there’s a lot of the academy picks already. We also won’t have as much exposed form. We won’t have seen a lot of these kids play certainly in the last 12 months anyway, based on the fact that apart from in South Australia and Western Australia, there hasn’t been a lot of underage footy.

A lot SuperCoaches like to look at the TAC Cup. A couple of years ago with Sam Walsh or last year with Matt Rowell who averaged 171 points in the TAC Cup, you’d be like ‘I’ve got to have this guy because those type of numbers are going to translate to AFL footy’.

We won’t have that form guide that we’ve had in past years going into next year. That’s going to be something that’s SuperCoaches are going to have to grapple with. The best coaches are very adaptable and are able to find other sources of information to make the right decisions.

HB: We’ve also seen midfielders and rucks score big this year, in comparison to forwards or defenders?

TM: The other one seems to be, because there’s shorter games, with the scoring the absolute best players, the most dominant players in games, are scoring quite high. It was very, very rare for SuperCoach scores to hit 200. There was a period where we saw two-three 200s in three weeks. Tim English and Marcus Bontempelli and a few others. Players that influence games are scoring really really big.

At the opposite end, guys that float in and out of games or maybe rookies that come in and only have four or five disposals, instead of scoring 40 or 50 and having that low average that they might have had in past years, they’re scoring really low. There’s been a couple of games where players have only scored single digits. Jack Riewoldt went on a run there where he was stuck in negatives and maybe scored 15-20 points because he didn’t have a huge impact on a few Richmond games there.

It has been a noticeable difference as well that there has been greater differentiation between the best and the worst players in games. Previously it might be a difference of 70-80 points between the absolute top scorers, with 130 in a game to a rookie scoring 40 or 50, whereas this year, there’s been some scoring 200 and then the rookies have been scoring 10 or 20, in some instances, which has made it pretty hard to move them on when they’re their cash generation hasn’t been great based on those low scores.

HB: You may not have this data, but is there any trends on trading strategy?

TM: That’s a good question. I don’t have any data or anything to back it up but my gut feel says that coaches have just tended to be a bit more aggressive this year and have known that extra trades are coming and rather than holding back, they’ve been a bit more willing to move on a premium.

You look a couple of weeks ago when we were given those extra three trades to prepare for the second footy frenzy and that means that people are a little bit more willing to entertain the idea of trading someone like Lachie Neale during the bye whereas in previous years, the strategy would’ve been to hold him over.

People are maybe a bit more willing to take a few risks and take a few punts when the trades have gone up from 30 to 37 throughout the year. That’s probably been the main thing.

So yes, certainly those coaches that play a bit more based on strategy and try to hold their trades back for later on in the season seem to have been a bit more willing to take those risks and pull the trade trigger earlier in the season than they normally otherwise would.

HB: Any feedback on the additional trades from coaches/players and whether you’ll do that again in 2021?

TM: You’ve got to try and obviously keep people invested in the game for as long as possible, that’s the ultimate aim for us that people play it and enjoy it for a full season, not just play half the season and then drop off. I think having those extra seven trades has helped people navigate what’s been a really difficult footy season in a lot of aspects and certainly has taken a lot of juggling from a supercoach perspective too.

Hopefully, coaches have felt that that by having those extra trades, they’ve been able to stay a bit more involved in the game. I think that’s sort of ultimately been the aim of the game for us with any decision that we’ve made that year. We’ve tried to keep people as invested for as long as possible and make sure that they can maybe make a few extra trades or something just to help their team along in what’s been a difficult season.

We’ve had curveballs thrown at us, whether it’s players being managed or injuries that we didn’t see coming based on these shorter schedules. I couldn’t say whether it’s going to continue beyond this year. Whether there’ll be extra trades or not, because obviously, we don’t know what the footy season is going to look like in 2021.

Certainly the feedback on whether it’s been trade decisions or fixtures that we’ve come up with, or even like Round 15 not being a head-to-head round because there’s six teams missing, there’s been the good and the bad. You have to cop that on the chin because you’re not going to be able to please everyone. But the vast majority of the coaches have been really good and pretty understanding of the difficult position that myself and Al Paton and sort of some of the other decision makers have been in at different times.

HB: Just on you and your team, you’re obviously a SuperCoach fan. What’s your background playing it?

TM: I’ve learned plenty of lessons over the last couple of years, that’s for sure, as I’ve got more invested. I’ve played SuperCoach for the past decade. I started out playing AFL Dream Team when I think that first got introduced to it but it’s probably only the last three or four years where I’ve really taken it seriously and focused more on overall rank as opposed to taking on mates in leagues. My best rank overall, was about 4000th twice. When you compare to some of the other guys interviewed, it’s probably a bit underwhelming!

HB: What would be your strategy?

TM: I follow the proven strategy generally for about two thirds of the season and then I like to chase a few PODs and maybe go a bit away from the tried and tested strategy. Sometimes that works. But it’s led to my downfall in terms of overall rankings a couple of times as well. So hopefully with some of these methods I’ll be learning from chatting to people on social media or through my job, I’ll be able to improve on that 3,000th overall at the moment and take myself at the pointy end of the rankings in in future years as well.

HB: OK, well despite the fact you’ve not reached the top 1000, I always like to ask our interview subjects for one final piece of advice a bit of wisdom?

TM: The number one thing is to back your gut. The number of people that send us messages on social media and they’re wavering on a particular trade. The statistics tell them one thing but their gut says another, I would generally think if you’re weighing up between two players for a trade, just go with your gut because there’s nothing more frustrating as a SuperCoach than having a gut feel on a player and then you don’t trade them in, you go down another path and inevitably that player goes out and scores 150 that week and burns you in price. Back yourself and more often than not that gut feel strategy pays off.

HB: Tim, it’s been an absolute pleasure and very insightful. With the 2020 season over, lots of coaches should find that very useful. Thanks for your time and good luck getting that PB finish!

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