Yes, they’re still publishing preseason baseball annuals

Preseason baseball magazines used to be a 'must-have' for the diehard fan.

Joe Camporeale/Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago, I picked up a preseason annual at an airport.

Some of you will no doubt be surprised that preseason annuals are still published. Most of the rest of you are no doubt saying, “What’s a preseason annual?”

A preseason annual is a “magazine” that you’ll find on a “newsstand." Within this “magazine,” rosters will be analyzed, predictions made, statistics from the previous season reviewed.

In olden times, we couldn’t wait for the annuals to show up, because they made the long winters seem just a little shorter. In the ‘80s, the annuals kept us going until Bill James’ latest Baseball Abstract appeared in the local bookstore. My favorite was Bill Mazeroski’s Baseball, probably because it was outsized, but Street & Smith’s was probably the most widely read for a long time.

For all the obvious reasons, the annuals have been less relevant since the Internet became populated with the same sorts of material. And of course the Baseball Prospectus book is sort of the ultimate preseason annual if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty.

But check a newsstand next week (or next March) … the annuals are still going! Some are aimed for fantasy baseball owners, but some are not. I picked up Athlon Sports Baseball — this was in Boston, so I got the Big Papi cover — and there’s just a short section in the back devoted to fantasy rankings.

AROUND THE HORN

This was not the first annual I’d purchased since the 1990s. I’ve actually got a bunch of them. But those were bought out of habit, or loyalty to fond memories, the way you (or I) buy (or used to buy) CDs by bands who stopped making interesting music years ago.

This time, though? I resolved to read the entire annual all the way through. Not because of some half-assed principle, but because I find myself falling out of touch. Not just during the winter. With so many teams and so many games, I lose touch.

Who’s slated for second base in Miami? Who’s taking over at first base for the Rockies? I might remember some terse news story from December, but then again I might not.

So I decided to pick up an annual, and was pleased to find that they soldier on. I don’t remember why I chose Athlon’s, but maybe because it’s not geared toward fantasy. I just wanted to read about the teams, and Athlon’s is chock-a-block full of information about the teams, with hardly any filler or advertisements.

Somehow the economics still work, as the team “chapters” are written by name authors including Andy Baggarly, Bob Dutton, Derrick Goold, Tyler Kepner, John Perrotto, Phil Rogers, and John Shea (to name just the guys I’ve actually talked to at some point in the last few years).

If you’re looking for something earth-shaking from Athlon’s Baseball, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Here are the five projected American League postseason teams:

Rays, Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers and Athletics.

Seem familiar? It should. Four of those teams were in the playoffs last year. The only change has the Rangers beating out the Indians for a spot. Last year the Indians nosed out the Rangers for the last spot.

Same thing in the National League …

Nationals, Braves, Cardinals, Reds and Dodgers.

… with the Nationals replacing the Pirates of last year.

All of which seems perfectly reasonable! In fact, looking at Baseball Prospectus’s latest Playoff Odds Report — which has the advantage of three extra months of information — we find only two differences, one of them relatively insignificant.

BP gives the Giants a slightly better chance than the Reds of reaching the postseason, which is notable largely because Athlon’s actually has the Giants finishing third, behind the Diamondbacks (but that was before Patrick Corbin’s season-ending injury). But the difference between the Reds and Giants is so small that it’s fundamentally meaningless, which means Athlon’s prediction, made months ago without the benefit of some well-crafted computer simulation, comports with the numbers as well as anything else you’ll find.

The significant (and thus most interesting) difference?

BP now has the Angels atop the AL West, by just a hair over the A’s and a few hairs over the Rangers. This might seem preposterous because nobody’s been talking about the Angels, but PECOTA’s not stupid and it’s not preposterous.

Last season, the A’s overachieved some, the Angels underachieved, and the Rangers … well, the Rangers have a whole division’s worth of injuries, with their pitching rotation looking especially soft. They’re certainly in the mix, but at best they’re merely co-favorites in the West, with the Angels and Athletics. And the Mariners aren’t so far behind, although their injured starters constitute a big red flag.

Really, my favorite thing about Athlon’s Baseball is that it’s a perfect snapshot of a brief, soon-to-be-forgotten moment in time. These are the standings that made perfect sense before the season actually started and a bunch of overgrown kids started doing kid things and getting hurt and slumping and stuff. These are the writers who reflect the conventional wisdom of the time, which in some cases includes Ultimate Zone Rating and fWAR, and in others still includes batting average and fielding percentage. It’s essentially all here, in one colorful 8-by-10½ package.

And this time I read every single word.