Welcome to Regression Alert, your weekly guide to using regression to predict the future with uncanny accuracy.
For those who are new to the feature, here's the deal: every week, I dive into the topic of regression to the mean. Sometimes, I'll explain what it really is, why you hear so much about it, and how you can harness its power for yourself. Sometimes I'll give some practical examples of regression at work.
In weeks where I'm giving practical examples, I will select a metric to focus on. I'll rank all players in the league according to that metric, and separate the top players into Group A and the bottom players into Group B. I will verify that the players in Group A have outscored the players in Group B to that point in the season. And then I will predict that, by the magic of regression, Group B will outscore Group A going forward.
Crucially, I don't get to pick my samples, (other than choosing which metric to focus on). If the metric I'm focusing on is yards per target, and Antonio Brown is one of the high outliers in yards per target, then Antonio Brown goes into Group A and may the fantasy gods show mercy on my predictions. On a case-by-case basis, it's easy to find reasons why any given player is going to buck the trend and sustain production. So I constrain myself and remove my ability to rationalize on a case-by-case basis.
Most importantly, because predictions mean nothing without accountability, I track the results of my predictions over the course of the season and highlight when they prove correct and also when they prove incorrect. Here's a list of all my predictions from last year and how they fared. Here's a similar list from 2017.
In Week 2, I opened with a primer on what regression to the mean was, how it worked, and how we would use it to our advantage. No specific prediction was made.
In Week 3, I dove into the reasons why yards per carry is almost entirely noise, shared some research to that effect, and predicted that the sample of backs with lots of carries but a poor per-carry average would outrush the sample with fewer carries but more yards per carry.
In Week 4, I explained why touchdowns follow yards, (but yards don't follow back), and predicted that the players with the fewest touchdowns per yard gained would outscore the players with the most touchdowns per yard gained going forward.
In Week 5, I talked about how preseason expectations still held as much predictive power as performance through four weeks. No specific prediction was made.
In Week 6, I talked about why quarterbacks tended to regress less than other positions but nevertheless predicted that Patrick Mahomes II would somehow manage to get even better and score ten touchdowns over the next four weeks.
In Week 7, I talked about why watching the game and forming opinions about players makes it harder to trust the cold hard numbers when the time comes to put our chips on the table. (I did not recommend against watching football; football is wonderful and should be enjoyed to its fullest.)
In Week 8, I discussed how yard-to-touchdown ratios can be applied to tight ends but the players most likely to regress positively were already the top performers at the position. I made a novel prediction to try to overcome this quandary.
In Week 9, I discussed several of the challenges in predicting regression for wide receiver "efficiency" stats such as yards per target. No specific prediction was made.