Science for the Sports Nut

3 02 2020

Miami Gardens, Florida


Get the wax out of your ears, sports nut, because I’m about to teach you a thing or three.

Say for example that Johnny Jabonsky throws for 10 TD passes in his 2011 rookie season, then the same in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.  In 2018, he explodes for 50.  Then EA puts his mug on the front of Madden 2019.   Then in 2019, he only throws for 18 TDs.

Is the box cursed?

No, it’s called “regression to the mean.”

Plain words, he wasn’t really that good.  The 50 TD season was a fluke, so, predictably, the next season, he fell back closer to what he was all along.

The SI Jinx is also mostly regression to the mean.

EA and SI have the habit of choosing people for their covers that are riding statistically abnormally fluke performance waves — It’s merely a exigency of current events journalism.


Now, let’s do standard deviation education for the sports nut.

You’re a distance runner.  You enter the Olympic marathon.  You finish precisely one second slower than the gold medalist.  What color medal did you win?  Silver.

You’re a sprinter.  You enter the 100 meters.  You make it all the way to the finals, and you finish precisely one second slower than the gold medalist.  What color medal did you win?  Not only did you not win a medal, you finished so far behind that you’re an international embarrassment.

Why the difference?  After all, one second is one second, 9,192,631,770 vibrations of a Caesium-133 atom, officially.

It’s because a single second is a way bigger deal in a sprint that takes approximately ten seconds than it is in a fast jog that takes approximately 7800 seconds.  That’s standard deviation.  Adjusting single identical units that are big deals in some cases and little deals in others, to where they can be meaningfully compared to each other.

Note:  Most recent Olympics, 100 meters, first and last place were separated by a quarter of a second, while in the marathon, gold and silver were separated by 70 seconds.



It's your dime, spill it. And also...NO TROLLS ALLOWED~!

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