Sports Illustrated put out its annual SI Baseball Preview this week, which featured six regional covers (Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, James Shields and Clayton Kershaw), 42 pages of scouting reports with standings and playoff predictions, stat projections from rotowire.com and takes on every team from rival scouts. Additional MLB preview content, including news, analysis and video previews on every team by Tom Verducci can be found on SI.com.
With opening day just a few days away, we sat down to discuss the process of putting together all of this content with SI Assistant Managing Editor Stephen Cannella, who oversaw the SI Baseball Preview.
Cannella: I had the general idea to use “strikeouts” as the theme as far back as last August. Over the previous year or so our coverage had brushed up against the idea that the game was changing: the pendulum had swung away from the hitting dominance of the 1990s and early 2000s, but it was more than that. The game looks different than it did even in past pitching-dominated eras, and that difference lies in how many more strikeouts there are. Tom Verducci and I talked about it and we were both excited about it as a preview theme. Over the next five months we kept this idea in mind, and in January we got more specific—that’s when Tom decided we should focus on the Rays’ pitching staff as the state-of-the-art for this era. By the time spring training started, we had our scouts and writers lined up for who would cover each of the 30 teams. Copy started rolling in the second week of March and the issue came out this week.
What are the biggest challenges in managing this process?
Cannella: The timing is always tough. Things change a lot during spring training: players get hurt, get traded, play well or play poorly. Kyle Lohse signing with the Brewers and Vernon Wells being traded to the Yankees on the Monday that we closed, those are good examples of what can happen close to a deadline. In an issue of this size that relies so heavily on detailed information about rosters and lineups, keeping up with the news is a big challenge. That, and praying that none of our cover choices got hurt.
Why did you use the Rotowire.com projected stats in this year’s MLB Preview?
Cannella: We felt strongly that a preview should be forward thinking. The baseball analytics industry has become really good at predicting individual performance, and Rotowire is one of the best. I thought it would be fun to tap into that idea and have this issue tell readers more about what we think will happen this year than what did happen last year. It will be fun to look back in October and see how well we did. Hopefully we’ll do better with player projections than we usually do with our World Series prediction.
Why did SI feature six covers for the Baseball Preview?
Cannella: Several reasons, but the biggest is that baseball has more parity and is more unpredictable than ever before. Featuring six subjects reflects that: Every one of the six teams has a chance to contend this year, and all six pitchers we featured are poster boys for the strikeout trend we wanted to highlight. Multiple covers also gave us a chance to highlight some teams and markets that we don’t often feature prominently. Yes, we have Yankees and Dodgers covers. But I think it’s cool to see teams like the Royals and Rays get top billing too. I think the covers will create a lot of buzz in those markets.
How does the magazine work with SI.com?
Cannella: The magazine and the web site were very intertwined for this issue. Ted Keith, the SI.com baseball producer, and I worked closely to make the print and digital previews feel like parts of a whole. For our scouting reports, writers who covered spring training worked on the same teams for both magazine and web for the most part, producing different but complementary pieces for both. The hope is that the magazine and SI.com content work together and that readers will see reading on as the key to the full SI preview experience.
What can you tell me about the SI team of baseball writers?
Cannella: Well, the conversation starts with Tom Verducci. He’s the best baseball writer alive and will go down as one of the best ever. HIs three stories in the preview issue demonstrate his various strengths. “Generation K” shows off his ability to spot trends and distill the big picture into a perfect snapshot of what’s happening in the game at any given moment. In “The Rays Way” he drills down into the art and science of pitching development—it’s a terrific inside-baseball story packaged in great narrative. And in “Washington Heights” he brings a historical perspective to one of the teams of the moment, the Nationals. The rest of our team is fantastic as well. Ben Reiter, Albert Chen, Joe Lemire and Matt Gagne blanketed spring training and turned out a ton of great scouting report material for the magazine and the web. Ted Keith gets a special shoutout: Not only did he edit and produce the web package, he wrote five team previews as well. It was a lot of work, and everyone did a spectacular job.
Who do you predict will win this year’s World Series? Any sleeper teams?
Cannella: I will stick with the pick we made in the magazine – the Nationals. But as I mentioned earlier, so many teams can compete this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rays, Reds, Dodgers, Tigers, or the Angels as the last team standing. As for sleeper teams, I think the Royals, Indians and Padres have a chance to sneak up on people this season.
In the 42 years since Tom Dempsey kicked the longest field goal in NFL history, his mark has been matched three times but never surpassed. Now the most mysteriously enduring record in sports may finally be ripe to fall. Sixty-three should have fallen years ago, as kickers became more deadeye snipers – more explosive, more accurate and better schooled from a younger age-but the record remains intact, shared by a logjam of four kickers across 42 years of football. It has been protected by circumstance, strategy, worship at the altar of field position and, in no small part, the inherent challenge of guiding a football 63 yards through an opening 10 feet off the ground and 18 feet, 6 inches wide.
Lee Jenkins Investigates Why the Pick-and-Roll is the Surest Way into the NBA
The pick-and-roll has been a pillar of NBA offenses since Oscar Robertson and Lenny Wilkens were delivering pocket passes, but never has the set permeated playbooks as it does today. Powerhouses like James Harden, Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh may make it look simple, but Sports Illustrated’s “Data by Synergy Sports Technology” proves that a skilled pick artist has become a standby that teams are relying on more than ever before. Weber State coach, Randy Rahe is convinced that the pick is now invaluable to college basketball, “Pick-and-roll is such a big part of the NBA … so it only made sense to add more of it to our offense” (page 66).