Lance Franklin’s hidden AFL talent: Kicking clutch goals

It has been Lance Franklin Week in the AFL media, as each and every media outlet takes its turn feting the greatest goal kicker of our generation. Buddy’s start to the 2018 season has been electric in every sense of the word, as he powers a Sydney forward half short in both options and stature.

His tally sits at 14 goals, three behinds, and zero misses. It is an extraordinary number – almost five goals for every behind – that will not be maintained for the full year. Franklin’s career rate is 1.4 goals for every behind. That hasn’t stopped some people of wilted intellect predicting he will kick 100 goals this season, a rate no one has gotten close to since Franklin himself did it in 2008.

There isn’t much that can be said about Buddy that hasn’t been said this past fortnight. Jay Croucher captured Franklin perfectly in a piece he penned for this place a fortnight ago – he will be the player we recall first when we are old and complain incessently about how football just isn’t as good as it was.

Jay wrote that piece after Franklin’s eight goal haul against the West Coast Eagles in Round One (most of them coming at the Franklin end of Optus Stadium, as it is now known), and before his dual daggers against Greater Western Sydney this round just past. Those two bullets in the night, the pair of Mortal Kombat fatalities flawlessly executed over the GWS Giants, got me thinking: he does that an awful lot.

So I asked the only man who could help me: the fellow traveller that runs a data blog with a football bent, InsightLane. The blog has a meticulously curated database of score progression going back to 2008. I asked a very simple question: how many times has Lance Franklin scored during the time on portion of the fourth quarter of games, when the margin of the game has been within two goals either way (his team leading or trailing).

It turns out not a great deal. Across all of his games, Franklin accounts for about 13 per cent of total shots taken, or around one in eight shots. That’s extraordinary, given he’s one of 36 players on the field, and one in 44 of the players in a given game. In those clutch situations, he has taken 9.5 per cent of the shots taken, or one in every ten. All things being equal, it suggests he is less involved in those tight situations than he is in regular play.

However that hides a fascinating nugget of information. Of the 19 scoring shots Franklin has landed in those clutch moments, 13 of them have been goals and just six of them behinds. He scores a goal around 50 per cent more often than the league at large. When the moment demands, Franklin has shown a capacity to rise to it, and to kick goals. We don’t know where he takes those shots from in a quantitative sense, but qualitatively, a significant number come from a spot on the ground mere mortals fear – the left half forward area, around the 50 metre arc. Here.

There isn’t a player in the league today I’d want roaming my forward line in this situation than Lance Franklin. His genius extends not just to goal kicking, but to goal kicking in clutch moments.

And given the number of goals kicked in this situation was less than I was anticipating, I thought stuff it, let’s make a video showing them all in succession. Here it is, with some extra goals sprinkled in for good measure.