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.