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February 2, 2011

Wezen-Ball

The 2011 Preview Magazines Are Here!

by Larry Granillo

An early focus of Wezen-Ball was on my collection of baseball preview magazines from over the years. You know the ones I’m talking about: they come out every January/February, just in time for Spring Training, and they preview each team for the upcoming year, usually including predictions for division finishes, playoff teams, and postseason awards. The major magazines over the last thirty years or so have been The Sporting News, Street & Smith’s, and Athlon Sports. I’d use my collection, which started when I bought the magazines new each year in the 1990s and continued back into the ‘70s when I started scrounging around eBay, to look at old predictions, old articles, and old, contemporary views of some of our favorite players. I mean, who doesn’t get a kick out of seeing this quote about Wade Boggs from 1982:

What is it about Wade Boggs? All he does is slap out all those base hits, yet he continues to wear a Triple-A label. He's been a first baseman, outfielder, and third baseman. ... Surely he ought to find a niche with some club, even as a pinch-hitter, although he isn't laden with home run power.

Today’s announcement here at Baseball Prospectus, then, could not have come at a more perfect time, as I picked up my two favorite preview magazines at the store just yesterday, Athlon and The Sporting News. How about a quick look at what they tell us to expect in 2011?

First things first, both magazines agree that, come October, we will see the Red Sox prevail over the Phillies for their third World Series trophy in the last eight years. They also agree on MVP awards for Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols, as well as a Rookie of the Year award for Aroldis Chapman.

TSN sees Jon Lester and Clayton Kershaw taking home the Cy Young Awards, and Dustin Ackley walking away with the American League Rookie of the Year award. Athlon, on the other hand, sees CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay getting the Cy Young honors and Desmond Jennings receiving the top rookie honors.

Rangers, Yankees, Cardinals, and Giants fans should also be happy, with both magazines predicting playoff nods for the four teams, though TSN sees the Cards sneaking in via the wild card while Athlon sees them taking the division. To make up for it, Athlon gives the NL wild card to the Rockies and the Reds get the Central division from TSN. In the American League Central, the White Sox, Tigers, and Twins are given 1-2-3 predictions by TSN. Athlon, however, predicts a Twins/White Sox/Tigers finish.

All of that is well and good, but, unless we know the track record of the two magazines, it doesn’t really tell us much. Thankfully, it doesn’t take any more effort than walking over to my bookshelf to find out. Pulling the last two issues of each magazine, I see that the prediction business isn’t all that easy. With four predictions of two World Series, the magazines combined to correctly identify only two correct participants in eight tries: in 2009, TSN correctly predicted a Yankees title (over the Cubs) and Athlon correctly foresaw a Phillies defeat (albeit at the hands of the Red Sox).

The awards voting wasn’t any better. In twenty-four races (six per year per magazine), only three awards were correctly predicted: in 2010, Athlon picked Buster Posey to win the National League Rookie of the Year and TSN picked Felix Hernandez to win the Cy Young. In 2009, TSN also correctly predicted an Albert Pujols MVP. For the rest of the awards, the magazines predicted mostly safe, big names, like Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Johan Santana. The most ridiculous prediction came from Athlon in 2009, when they went out on a limb to give Jonathan Papelbon the Cy Young Award.

Of course, none of this is all very serious. Hundreds of columnists and writers make their (mostly wrong) predictions every year. It’s just what you do as the season approaches, a way to get excited for what’s about to come. But only Athlon, The Sporting News, and a small number of other places publish magazines with the express purpose of previewing (and predicting) the season. It seems fair, then, to take a look at how well they do, even if it doesn’t really make a difference. Plus, I always find it fun and interesting.

I will almost certainly come back and revisit these magazines (and others) in the next couple of months. In the meantime, though, Boston and Philadelphia fans should enjoy these lofty expectations. They’re the only bragging rights you can get until Spring Training comes around.

Related Content:  Predictions

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

R.A.Wagman

Welcome aboard. I guess I should have been reading Wezen-ball...sorry...I, too, just picked up my Sporting News preview mag. If nothing else, I like to have a simple, light-weight roster reference on paper with some stats to peruse throughout the season. But I mist now say that I hate the way they actual publish teams in order of their predicted finish - it would be so much more convenient if they used alphabetical order. And while I see that they no longer publish non-MLB stats on their roster pages, I'm not sure if that is an improvement on last year's publishing of all stats at all levels, even injury rehab stints. It looks like 40-man roster players who spent all of last year in the minors have no stat lines at all. Silliness.

Feb 02, 2011 11:25 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

I'm pretty much with you on both points, R.A., though I'm not sure I would've noticed the non-MiLB stats yet. The alphabetic order always made the most sense to me. It looks like they have some better stats in the back of the magazine, though. I like seeing the fielding stats back there, even if we know that they're not that useful. One of the things that always made Athlon number one in my book was their back-of-the-book stats, and now it looks like TSN is trying to copy that.

Feb 02, 2011 12:05 PM
 
Matt Kory

If anything the fact that the mainstream preview magazines are saying my Red Sox will win the World Series makes me less confident in that eventuality. What I'd really be interested in finding out is where they come up with this stuff? I mean that in all seriousness. What is their process? Is it based on anything other than "this is what I think"?

Feb 02, 2011 12:17 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

My guess is a straw poll.

Feb 02, 2011 12:18 PM
rating: 0
 
WoodyS

I like the idea of this article, but it lacks the depth and analytical content that characterizes most BP work. Why not compare the forecasts in a systematic way?

Feb 03, 2011 07:46 AM
rating: -3
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Thanks, Woody. You're right - there isn't a lot of depth/analysis in it. It was meant more as a "I'm excited the preview mags are finally here! Let's take a quick peak at what they've predicted!" After all, isn't that the first thing anyone does when they pick up one of these?

My role here at BP is as more of a "blogger". Like I said in my introduction, I've basically brought my Wezen-Ball blog under the banner of Baseball Prospectus. This means you're bound to see some quick hits, some long, in-depth pieces, and a bunch of stuff in-between. The hope is that the BP crowd will find something they like in all of that.

That all said, I'm almost certainly going to do something a little more in-depth with these magazines. I've been meaning to do it for a couple of years now and just haven't had a chance to. I even have a database all set up with the various predictions of each magazine over the last 15-30 years!

Feb 03, 2011 11:43 AM
 
chewbalka

A quick hit welcome....looking forward to your next article.

On the subject of magazines do you know why TSN stopped publishing their Scouting Report versions? I bought one of the Lindy's last week because it has a toolbox/skills chart for most players but I really miss the TSN one.

I was also disappointed when SpringTrainingMagazine stopped publishing in 2004. They are still online but sadly no longer do their top 100 prospects list, one of the earliest I remember seeing and a very solid one looking back now.

Your article also inspired me to dig out my all time favorite, The 1995 Mann Fantasy Baseball Guide. I always wondered why I never saw that magazine again but I see now that Steve Mann is an agent with the Hendrick's brothers so I understand it was more of a one off thing.

Feb 03, 2011 13:13 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Man, good questions. You might even know more about these magazines than I do.

My guess about why they stopped publishing the other guides: TSN has had some money issues these last 10 years or so, and it's got to be expensive to create those guides. I mean, they don't even print the Record Books anymore (which I think is quite sad).

Street & Smith's and TSN are actually the same thing now. Which is too bad, because, in the 80s/90s, they were two very different and complementary guides. I still like my Athlons the best, though.

Feb 03, 2011 21:21 PM
 
Brian Hays

Baseball preview magazines....as a creature of habit and tradition, I too have been buying them since I was in high school. And even though I've moved on to newer and MUCH better things, there is still nothing that brings me as much joy as picking up that first magazine of the season.


Kind of like pitchers and catchers reporting, only a month earlier.

Feb 03, 2011 19:56 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Exactly! The preview guides are the first concrete sign that spring training is coming. Always gets me pumped up.

Feb 03, 2011 21:22 PM
 
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