Tom Mitchell's Down Year
Tom Mitchell (#3) is having a down year for the Hawks. Without a doubt it's hard to perform in a team that has only won 2 games with a midfield that is lacking in depth but there are aspects of Mitchell's personal game that have dropped off this year.
The first one is his tackling. In his first 2 years at Hawthorn and for most of his time at Sydney, Mitchell averaged over 6 tackles. He has always been a good accumulator of the ball but what made him impactful beyond disposals was that he hunted the opposition and impacted an opponents exit out of stoppage. If Mitchell wasn't winning the ball himself he was tackling opponents at the stoppage or providing pressure on their disposal to assist his defence down the field. This year (and last year as well) he has averaged just over 4 tackles a game. It must be noted that this is likely due to his shoulder injury from last year, which is fair. But it doesn't bode well for a 28 year old if this is a long term issue. Now more than ever, midfielders need to be two-way players given the added pace and skill in the game.
Mitchell is still an accumulator of the ball, averaging 33.5 disposals this year - an improvement of almost 10 disposals a game compared to last year coming back from a broken leg. It's no secret that Mitchell has never really been a damaging midfielder. Most of his disposals are in tight in congested scenarios or sweeping handballs to team mates in general play. Very rarely do you see Mitchell burst out of a stoppage and hit a leading forward for a goal assist - it's just not his game. When he does get time and space going inside 50 - he can be quite wasteful.
But even as a high disposal accumulator this year Mitchell has been worryingly undamaging. His kick to handball ratio is badly unbalanced at 0.6. It's always been skewed because of his play style but compared to last year and his Brownlow year (0.67 & 0.85) - it's a worrying statistic. He's handballing way too much and they aren’t effective handballs into space like say a Liberatore (It's worth noting that Libba has a number damaging outside players to dish to - Mitchell has very few). Part of the reason for his lack of impact is because he isn’t riding tackles (which means taking a tackle on to push your momentum forward and handball), which makes you think that the shoulder may be bothering he more than we realise. Look at how he just coughs up the ball when no option is immediately available instead of taking the tackle and feeding to a teammate ahead of him.
He also rush kicks forward a lot. These kicks seem to never have any direction about them and again make it look like Mitchell doesn't want to engage in contact.
Another issue with Mitchell's game is the seismic drop off in clearances. In his first two years at Hawthorn, Mitchell averaged 6.3 and 8 clearances a game. In his last two years, the clearances have been at 4.3 and 3.8. His disposals are becoming more meaningless as he isn't surging the ball forward for his team in stoppage scenarios. He is far more flat footed now around stoppages. He isn't getting on the move and seems to put in less time into his stoppage craft at the contest to create space. For all the talk about over handballing, sometimes he is dump kicking out of stoppages when he should actually handball! Look at how he receives the handball receive and kicks a high up and under kick that results in a turnover whilst you can clearly see he has Scrimshaw running past for an easy handball receive which would have resulted in a far better clearance and F50 scenario for Hawthorn.
Part of this analysis may be too dismissive of the fact that Mitchell went through a devastating injury not too long ago. A broken leg can take years to recover from - with some players never getting back to their previous form. This coupled with the fact that Hawthorn are a poor team this year ranking low in important categories like Inside 50's, Clearance, Goal Assists, Points scored etc – it makes life harder for Mitchell. You can easily take a glass half full approach with Mitchell and argue that much of his form this year is actually a slow grind towards Mitchell eventually getting back to his form of previous years.
Some of the evidence is actually there! As mentioned before, he is more disposals this year than last year (even when adjusted for shorter quarters), his metres gained (a statistic that often backs up Mitchell's lack of damaging disposals) has improved from last year and is actually better than his first year at the Hawks. His disposal efficiency (76.1%) is the best of his career and his score involvements at 5.4 have improved. This is all while averaging his lowest ToG year at Hawthorn.
It's hard to make an assessment on where a Brownlow medal winner is at in a team that is finally at the realisation point of a rebuild. Somewhat of a surprise is how many Hawthorn fans want to trade Mitchell. It makes sense given the timeline of the team but for a Brownlow Medal winner of only 3 years ago who has gone through significant injuries it's a over reactive. Maybe Mitchell himself wants to leave and find opportunities for success elsewhere? Either way, Hawthorn are going to be an interesting watch at the end of this year in regards to their decision making. They recruited heavily for a number of mature established AFL players (Mitchell, O'Meara, Scully, Wingard, Patton) who now realise that their ambition of playing for a future potential contender in Hawthorn won't materialise any time soon. Mitchell's future is an interesting subplot in what has been a disappointing year for one of the AFL's historic clubs.
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