Monday, December 1, 2008

A brief note on Preview Guides

Every February, as pitchers and catchers report to Florida and Arizona for Spring Training, a certain batch of magazines make their way to racks at local stores: the annual baseball preview guides, from publishers like Athlon, Street and Smith’s, and the Sporting News. And, every February for the last ten years (and counting), I go out of my way to find these magazines and take them home. I read the recaps of the previous season, the one or two feature articles, and the overview of each team, as they discuss the strengths and weaknesses of a team’s bullpen or middle infield or bench. (I've mentioned this before.)

At some point, I realized that looking at these old preview guides years later, with some historical perspective, was sometimes more interesting than reading them the week they come out. I mean, how much more interesting is the following sentence today with some historical perspective than it was 10 years ago: “The outfield combination of [Sammy] Sosa and [Henry] Rodriguez could combine to hit 60 home runs this season [in 1998], but they could also strike out 250 times”?

Once I realized how much enjoyment I could get out of these older magazines, I started buying even older issues from places like ebay. And now that I have issues from 22 different years, I decided to get a little more technical. Being the computer guy that I am, I began cataloging my collection in a computer database, including what issues I own, what players are on the covers of these issues, and, most importantly, what predictions the magazine made, from division finishes to MVP and Comeback Player of the Year.

With the database now up-to-date, I’ve decided to take a look at the data itself. How well do the different magazines do in making their predictions? Are there trends in what teams they predict to finish well (or poorly)? Do the MVP and Cy Young and Rookie of the Year predictions do a good job at selecting top-tier players, if not for that year then in the future? If we read through the old profiles, can we find players who we've forgotten about even though they were highly touted by their contemporaries? Can these contemporary accounts help give us an insight into future Hall of Fame voting? Are there players who have long runs (10+ years?) of contemporary acclaim but who end up pushed aside by history and, if so, why? What else can this collection of magazines tell us about baseball over the last 30+ years? Those are some of the questions that I hope to investigate here as I look deeper into this collection.

So, while it may not be interesting to everyone out there, it is interesting to me and I can't be the only one. With that in mind, I'm going to continue to track these guides and write about the interesting things that I find in them. Plus, these posts are mostly for myself anyway, so what's the harm? My first one or two posts on this subject should be up soon enough.

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