Contrary To Popular Belief, Milestone Games Aren’t Cursed

Originally, milestones were literally stones, marking the number of miles you had travelled from one place, or needed to travel to get to another place. For example, outside my house, it might say “33.6 miles to Melbourne”. In Alice Springs, you would see “919 miles to Darwin”. If you were in the right place at the right time, you would get “500 miles to the Proclaimers concert.”1

Nowadays, the more common definition of milestone refers to an accomplishment in someone’s life. For example, a milestone is learning to walk, going to high school, or – for the sake of this – playing your 300th AFL game.

However, in recent times, there has been a theory spread about that teams do worse when it’s a player’s 300th game than they would otherwise. People who believe in this theory argue that Corey Enright, Nick Riewoldt, Nick dal Santo and Kane Cornes, among others, all lost in their 300th games – and these are just examples from the last few years. For a period on Saturday, it looked like Robert Murphy – Bulldogs stalwart and practically a deity to some – was about to join them. The Bulldogs were more than six goals down to Brisbane before coming back hard to win.

Others could say it goes the other way, and point to Shaun Burgoyne, Drew Petrie, Sam Mitchell, Jimmy Bartel as examples of players who got a win in their 300th game, and, ultimately, Robert Murphy.

Despite what some people might say, this is a time when stats can rule over gut feel. To do this, we looked at the 53 players who’ve played their 300th game in the AFL era (1990-2017).2

Tallying it up, 27 of these players, or 50.94%, won their 300th game. This is pretty much exactly 50%, so they actually win about as much as you’d expect them to.

But…

Because I have a slight reputation for taking things too far, I worked out the winning percentage of all of the players on the list to get slightly more accurate data.

I learned the cool factoid that Dustin Fletcher and Brent Harvey got the same amount of wins in their career. Anyway, as a rule, these players win more than they lose. The exceptions play for unsuccessful teams like the Bulldogs (Murphy, Rohan Smith, Scott West, and Brad Johnson are all on this list), with St Kilda’s Stewart Loewe having the lowest percentage on the list. At the other end, Jimmy Bartel, having played for Geelong in one of the best ten year periods in history, has a very smooth record above 70%.

Based on their overall record of 54.71%, they actually win slightly less than expected. The question is, how far out of the ordinary is this?

Not knowing enough statistics to work out standard deviations and the like, I’m going to the Excel spreadsheets. 41.2% of the results had 27 or less wins.

Just because it’s your favourite player’s 300th game doesn’t mean you can expect a win. Or a loss.


1Yes, Twitter, the iGeneration knows about popular songs from days of yore.
2The reason I didn’t include earlier players, such as Gordon Coventry, Jack Dyer, Kevin Bartlett and Michael Tuck, was because…I wanted to save a bit of work. Surely 53 players is a decent sample size?

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