EXPERT Q&A: Brice Mitchell on SuperCoach spreadsheets, data analysis & much more
Brice Mitchell is a SuperCoach hero. He’s a busy man, working in management in the public service, raising two kids with his wife, yet he’s the most obliging and helpful man on Twitter.
In case you’re not familiar with Brice, he’s known on Twitter for his SuperCoach data analysis and spreadsheets, but also his willingness and availability to provide accurate and almost-instant price projections upon request.
It’s a free service that Adelaide Crows supporter Brice (yes, he’s mellowed as his wife convinced him to wear Port Adelaide colours in the above photo) provides out of complete goodwill to help others, despite trying to jump up the rankings himself in 2020.
The former 11-year-old Tetris state champion possesses a remarkable analytical mind, leading him to study Mathematical and Computer Science at University of Adelaide with a Major in Applied Maths, before pursuing a career in Mathematical modelling and analysis, and Data Analytics.
Now 41, he has progressed into a more strategic management role within the public service, so he sees SuperCoach as his “analysis outlet”.
He may possess an amazing mathematical mind but also a kind heart that makes him a popular figure within the SuperCoach community, given his generosity to help coaches upon request despite his other responsibilities in life.
He estimates he spends seven hours per week on his analysis and responding to people on social media about SuperCoach, although we suspect he’s under-selling himself.
Brice developed his famed and ever-evolving spreadsheet years ago to help him win cash leagues against friends, which he’s done successfully, although finding the balance between league and rankings has eluded him, with his best overall finishes being 1,393th in 2016 and 1,158th in 2018.
But his remarkable approach to analysis means Honeyball had to chase the elusive Brice down to talk all things SuperCoach and learn more about those amazing spreadsheets.
HB: Brice, given your legend status we’ve been chasing you for a Q&A for months so we’re glad you’ve agreed and found time to join us! First of all, tell us about why you do what you do on Twitter for the SuperCoach community?
BM: I’ve always had an analytical brain. When I was 11, not many people know this, I was the Tetris champion of South Australia and won a trip to Melbourne to compete in the Australian Championships. Long story short, I ended up coming second in the competition. They changed the game for the final, for the final three, they brought in Dr. Mario and I was leading the whole way and got pipped on the line by a 20-year-old computer scientist when I was 11. From that point on, that was my mission to become a computer scientist and beat the 11-year-old at the next opportunity I had. That was my claim to fame as a youngster.
But that kind of strategy and gameplay has been with me from an early age. I played cards and board games as a kid so that flows through to my interests, going to university and doing maths and computer science with my academic background. I used to develop spreadsheets for Hungry Jacks to tell them how many burgers they should have in the chute, so we can optimize serving times. That was when I was a manager at Hungry Jacks while at university. I’ve always found a way to apply some kind of analysis and spreadsheets to things I’ve been doing, such as footy tips.
I’ve always been interested in the AFL and then eventually found SuperCoach and AFL Fantasy. About five years ago, I played other forms of Fantasy where you’re managing a team called team Simulated League Football. That was my early interest, that was maybe 20 years ago now, I always used to do footy tips. I got into leagues with mates and that’s how it started for them. It was about competing against them for league glory.
It was more about trying to beat your mates rather than cash prizes. I’ve played SuperCoach for about four-five years now, but I was more league focused. This year has been my only one where I’ve gone ‘OK, I’m not going to enter any leagues, I don’t want the cash leagues to influence decisions about my team I’m going for overall’. I’ll just try and finish as high as I can because I’ve had some pretty good finishes when I’ve been playing leagues but I’ve made decisions to get the best sides for finals rather than go up the rankings. I think that there’s some different strategies. I’ve been quite successful in a league sense. In the three main years that I’ve played for big cash prizes, I won it twice and was runner-up the other time. I wanted to apply those skills to get a good overall ranking.
HB: So that begs the question, how’s this year gone for you chasing the highest possible ranking?
BM: With one round to go, I have been hovering around the 10k for most of the season and struggling to get any momentum for whatever reason whether it’s Max Gawn or Nat Fyfe or other issues with my team. I just managed to get into the top 10k. I’m sitting at about 7k at the moment. I’m hoping to make one last surge to try and get close to the 5k mark.
Although 2020 has been a little bit different, so I might pay off of that. I’ve certainly historically made a lot more ground in the last five rounds because I’ve optimized a really high premium team and I usually come home with a wet sail which I’ve done in previous years. To give you a sense of previous finishes, one of my first years playing SuperCoach was one of my best. I was inside the top 1,400. 2018 was my best year, where I finished 1,158 but I’m yet to crack the top 1,000. This was going to be the year but I think that’ll be a stretch too far for this week. Bring on 2021.
HB: Let’s talk about the spreadsheet, because I think that’s what a lot of people will be really interested in. Obviously you’ve alluded to how it’s geared to help you with planning ahead and making trades. Can you talk to that a little bit?
BM: All of them have originated based on my desire to get the edge, do personal planning for my own team. I’ve started to share things on Twitter. People would have seen the price projection weekly analysis table that I put out from a premium player perspective but also the rookies and how they accumulate cash and where their peak price is. That’s all been something that is useful to me and it’s turned into a product that I’ll share.
The other stuff that I have going on in my spreadsheet is a player table which outlines through each round, all the metadata for how the price is calculated. So it works around through three-game averages, it looks at the starting prices, it looks at the breakeven, which is calculated based on the last two scores and the starting price, and then looks at a three-game average, and then determines the new price.
Using that player table I can do those Twitter posts. I just punch in a new score, and it will provide all that information such as start-end price, breakevens, all the scores for the season, and that’s all a copy and paste job. I just grab that text and paste it into Twitter and post it. That’s how the spreadsheet drives that content.
HB: So at the end of a game or round, that allows you to pull together each one individually and respond to requests?
BM: Absolutely. I do a post round data ingest, that’s mainly for the prices. After each game, I get the game scores, the 44 scores from the game which I ingest into the spreadsheet after each game. I try and wait for the scaling to come in. Sometimes you have to wait a bit longer and I’m like ‘do I post the prices?’ and then the scaling changes everything. So sometimes I post them before it’s all scaled, but that information goes in and propagates through the spreadsheet and just goes to that table. All I need to do is write the player’s name and it will give me all the information that I can then post across in the Twitter.
HB: When you ingest the data, does this primarily happen automatically or is there much manual work?
BM: Yeah, so the only thing that’s manual is writing the player name in. All the rest is copy and paste.
HB: That’s so sophisticated!
BM: Yeah, it’s pretty cool now that it’s all humming. It took a while to set up all the framework to have that data in the right place, get it in easy, then just look at the results coming out the other side.
HB: OK, so obviously in 2020 with a shortened season picking up fallen premiums at their cheapest has been super important. Can you talk about some 2020 examples where having the spreadsheet has allowed you to pick up certain players at their lowest price?
BM: That’s one of my approaches to trading is to get the desired players that I want in my side at their lowest price. I look out for low scores for whatever reason, and then their price will drop in the two subsequent weeks and that’s when I will look to pick them up. I plan most of my trades about five rounds out based on future price projections of the premiums and the accumulation of the prices for the rookies.
I’ve got a little trade calculator spreadsheet for myself and that draws all of the price projected information and pulls it into a transactional sheet. I can put in, Goldstein to Nick Haynes with DPP, next round Grundy to Gawn, next round Grundy back in and I could work it all out based on the future prices. That future planning allows you to work out whether you can afford to get that top guy or is that going to mean that I get a $300k guy at the end.
That calculator really helped me do my planning, especially around complex times when you need to use three trades and you’ve got multiple options to choose. Sometimes picking guys $20k cheaper can make a difference, or maybe it won’t make a difference, and you can actually get the top guy, so that makes a difference.
HB: Wow. I’d imagine with all that kind of complex planning that when injuries pop up it’s super annoying and just ruins your plans?
BM: It always does but the beauty of the spreadsheets is that I can re-plan quite quickly. So if it’s all manual, it’s really annoying to do that re-planning, but if a player gets injured and I have to do something else, even mid-round, I can change my trades.
If that player gets injured, I know what their price will be and if it’s a long-termer, I know that I need to trade him out next round and that’s going to affect everything so I just punch all that new information in and then I can know what’s actually going to be feasible from a price perspective.
HB: I’ve heard you’ve created some sheets focused on the byes?
BM: Yep, I’ve got tools to help get through the byes. Seeing how many players I have based on what trades I make, I’ve got a weekly planning sheet which I just have all the player data, what their price is and their average. I mark whether they are going to be available or not to see whether I’m going to be in for some hurt when the bye period comes. If fit players are in doubt and I’ve got lots of red and orange shading on there and I’m going to be in trouble so I might need to do something differently.
HB: Bloody hell! What other detail do you have?
BM: I look at the time in the round as well. If I punch in Round 18 it brings all of my fixture data in, such as opponent and also the timing of the round it is so I know what my emergency loop options are. I know what my captain and vice captain ordering is like. I can do DPPs and all kinds of stuff that really helps with that and people don’t see any of those things. But certainly helps me get better and I can probably feel like I got the most out of my team this year, I just wasn’t good enough.
HB: So to summarise up your strategy, it’s all about getting premiums at their lowest price but are there times when players are going so well you just abandon that and get them at any price?
BM: I play the percentages and take calculated risks, plan well in advance, optimise trade opportunities and seek value without compromise. I like to have an ultimate team that I’m aiming for. The guys that are really high scoring, I want to get in at some point, I just need to let them drop in price enough to get them or maybe I’ll take advantage of an opportunity when a player gets injured and I can use that player to get to them.
This year is a bit harder and tried to take a different approach that we needed to take value in order to complete our premium side. I took guys like Gaff and Duncan. I held on to Viney. I got guys like Zac Williams and I got all the cheap guys up forward as well like Bailey Smith and Simpkin. In a longer season, I’d probably go for those higher guys but I just couldn’t get guys like Macrae and Oliver. They were the two that I missed out on and that really hurt me.
HB: I can imagine this strategy would lend itself to, like you said before, finishing with a wet sail in the last few rounds when you’re stacked with premiums, as opposed to being able to steadily climb the rankings throughout the whole season because you don’t have the guns all season?
BM: I’m always finishing with a wet sail. The last five rounds are when I make up the most ground. We’re Round 17 and this is my time to fly and I’m only just getting started. I’m 7k and I’d probably get close to 1k if it was a normal one.
HB: With that in mind, usually at this stage of the season, do you come close to winning these rounds?
BM: No, I don’t get close to winning rounds because winning rounds is ridiculously hard. You need to have different players and you need to not have a popular player that fails most of the time to get a weekly prize. I’m pretty high up each round and as far as top 300s or whatever for some weeks but never close to winning it. It’s all about consistently high scores each week to really make a shot of an overall prize round and having one good week. I don’t know how the guys up the top have such ridiculously good scores almost every week. Hopefully one day, I’ll be closer than I am.
HB: All this stuff you do for the community must have becom much more complex in 2020 with the fixture frenzy. How do you find the time?
BM: This season has been pretty hectic with the condensed fixtures and everything I like to do with analysis and week-to-week has really made it tough. I’ve probably done more this season than I have previously especially with the price projections after every game. I’ve done at least one for every game this season. However many games there’s been this season, multiply that by about three-four, it’s been busy on top of a normal job as well.
HB: Do you have a ballpark figure on how much time you spend on the analysis, responding to people on Twitter and SuperCoach generally?
BM: It’s getting quicker and quicker each time I do it. The first time I was doing it, I had to do a lot of things manually. Now things are a bit more automatic as far as ingestion of data and having it filter into the right places, just updating the rounds and it kind of just propagates itself. But it depends on how much you’re trying to get out of the analysis.
It’s a bit tricky with the footy frenzy. But on average, in a normal week where we’ve got Thursday to Sunday games, with podcasts as well, plus the Herald Sun Brains Trust articles as well, I’d probably say 90 minutes. Where’s my spreadsheet to calculate this?!
HB: Haha, you’re all about spreadsheets!?
BM: Haha, yep.
HB: But you’re also super responsive and available on Twitter too which is amazing?
BM: Yes, I’ve got a nice system there. Each game you probably allocate 15-20 minutes, so multiply that by nine games per round which equals 180 minutes. It’s mainly stuff I do in the round and during the week, so maybe 90 minutes each day. Add the four days between rounds, I’ll round those up, so an hour a day or approximately seven hours per week.
On the weekends, it comes in fits and spurts with me. There might be three or four games on the day and I’ll be spending time with family and then when I do get a chance I just go in and pump it out. I try to get to every single tweet that people ask for. I know it’s a little thing for me to do, but it might actually mean a lot to them. Given 2020 what it is, I just want to help out as many people out as I can.
HB: I’ve got to ask, all the analysis and detail you provide publicly, you’re giving others an advantage probably to your detriment, given you’re doing all the leg work. Tell us your thinking around that?
BM: I think that these days that the content out there is so good. There’s so many people putting good stuff out there. It’s harder to get the edge. It all started from doing the spreadsheet for myself to win leagues, which I’ve been successful in doing. I don’t know how it started that I’d it share on Twitter. I put a few things out there and people started to really appreciate it and then it snowballed and I kept on doing it. I know that it’s probably to my detriment to share so much analysis out there to help others but the approach that I take is that I’d rather see someone win based on me helping them. If I can’t win, it might as well be someone that I’ve helped to win the prize.
So hopefully one of my followers out there is in a position to win this year. That’s one thing that I can take away from this year is that I’ve been really successful leagues and really successful people in my SuperCoach group. In my SuperCoach group, I have eight people inside the top 20, which is huge. That means all the people in my group are people that follow me on Twitter, so I’d like to think that I’ve helped in some way to their success. I hope one of those eight people can win the prize.
HB: You’ve also brought together a few rank leagues?
BM: Yep, I have about seven leagues with people that just follow me on Twitter and you build some pretty good friendships on Twitter as a result. I’ve got a bunch of chats for each of those leagues, which means that people help each other out with news on Twitter and I can share my analysis with them to help them succeed.
My current highest rank league at the moment is eighth and they moved into the top 10 last week. All of them are in the top 200 and six of them are in the top 100, with most of them being in the top 50.
What I can take out of 2020, although I’ve had a pretty ordinary year, I get a lot of satisfaction in seeing others doing well, especially a year that’s been tough all round as far as COVID-19 and bushfires and a lot of anxiety out there and hopefully by the stuff I’ve been putting on Twitter, it’s actually been able to help people out.
HB: Bloody hell, that’s a great sentiment! By I do want to put the focus back on you. Can we talk about your best year in 2018 and why philosophically you think that worked for you compared to ohers given your detailed and analytical approach?
BM: It’s a good question. I haven’t quite pinpointed why that one was more successful than the others. I think maybe I tried to take too many risks in the last couple of years and just get stuck with injury prone players. I think last year my season was derailed through the bye period.
I had a couple of one-week injuries that turned into longer week injuries. I had Matt Crouch, Nat Fyfe and Tom Rockliff. I tried to hold them through and I was slightly focused on league as well which affected my ranking.
If I needed to pinpoint something that would be around injured players and what to do with them, and maybe think about the starting team to avoid that situation. We know Fyfe, Kelly and these types are going to go injured every year but they’re so tempting to pick because of their ceiling.
HB: OK, so that’s about your original lay-out as we know your spreadsheets are geared towards trading in the best premiums at their cheapest price?
BM: Yep, I think I have to take a different approach and see if that changes things because I know that generally my trading through the year is solid and completing my side is really solid. I can do that very quickly because of the spreadsheet tools I have. Maximizing cash from rookies, trading them out at the right time, trading premos in at the right time, doing all the right things around bye planning, it’s just those decisions around injured players, it’s just so tempting. Maybe next year, I’ll try not to do that so much. Maybe that’s just bad luck and that happens.
HB: Let’s get into the nitty gritty and talk about how you pick captains and vice captains each week?
BM: I like to just play the percentages. I think about the most likely outcome and plan based on that. If I apply that to most of my decisions, for example, when we’re talking about captains and when choosing to pick the vice captain score.
For vice captain, I try to pick the player who I think is the best scoring option for the week. So if Max Gawn is playing towards the end of the round, I’ll try and pick him and have a captain back up because I think he’s going to be the best scorer rather than pick a player who has a high ceiling but a low percentage chance of getting it.
I’d rather pick the guy and if he goes well I just lock it in. Otherwise you get a guy with a high ceiling and he gets 120 and then Gawn’s average is higher than that. If I had have just picked Gawn I wouldn’t be in that position. So that’s how I like to select the vice captain.
When I’m making the decision on the vice captain, I’m looking at the average of the player that I want to make captain and I compare it to the vice captain score. If the vice captain score is under the expected or average of the player I want to make captain, then I’ll probably pick the captain based on percentages.
Even if it’s a Lachie Neale or Macrae who is averaging 130, if Tom Mitchell gets 120, than more than likely I’ll go for the captain option, because they have a variance around that average, when I could be 40 points more, maybe 40 points less, but in the long run, it’ll hover around that average. Most times there’s a greater chance of beating that score than being under that score and that’s the kind of percentage plays that I like to take. All that said, sometimes I like to go 120 is enough and I’ll take that.
HB: A lot of coaches have a vice captain threshold and use the VC loophole as a free hit. You take a more calculated approach but judge things on a case-by-case basis?
BM: Yep. It depends on the variance of the player that you’re going to make captain, who they’re playing, if you expect them to make a good score. There’s been some pretty recent examples where I don’t regret the decision I made even though the captain scored less than the vice captain score. If I keep on taking that approach in the long run, I’ll be better off.
HB: I always like to finish with a piece of wisdom, so over to you, Brice?
BM: My wisdom is more philosophical and emotional wisdom. SuperCoach is something we’re supposed to enjoy and we can get quite frustrated easily with a poor score, players getting injured, this type of thing which can really affect our enjoyment. My approach to my team each week so that I do enjoy it and don’t get too emotionally involved is to recognize that we can’t have every player that scores well each week or for the season, so you’re going have a bad scorer each week and you just have to say ‘OK that’s my bad scorer’.
Other people have those players as well so you’re not the only one affected. I think that’s why, from an emotional perspective, I like to play the percentages rather than the PODs because if you have a player that has more ownership, you’re going to ride those successes with others and if those players failed, then other SuperCoaches are with you. I feel like you’re less emotionally attached to that outcome than if you had a POD (point of difference) and they failed and got injured and you’re the only one in that deep dark hole.
I think that’s why I opted against POD players. I think popular players are popular for a reason and it helps the emotional side as well.
The other thing is around trading players in, you can get quite attached to their first score but you’re trading a player for the remaining x weeks in your team. The first score doesn’t really matter, it’s how they actually play things out. Because you just traded them in, then you’re so focused on that first score. That first score is just one data point in the remaining x weeks and if they have a bad game, it’s just like any other week. I think that we can get pretty caught up in that sometimes.
From a SuperCoach perspective and a reflection on this year and in previous years I don’t want to pick injury prone players despite the temptation and hopefully I’ll listen to that advice next year. So I’ll go on the record no Josh Kelly, no Nat Fyfe next year in my Fantasy teams!
HB: Haha, fair to say, we’re all growing and learning today! Brice, what a ripper chat, so insightful. My mind is blown by the level of detail in those spreadsheets! I said this wouldn’t take long but I was wrong as there was so much to discuss. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us and all the best for Round 18!
Follow Brice Mitchell on Twitter @BriceMitchell
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