By Jason Wojciechowski on April 7, 2004 at 10:05 PM
Sports Illustrated's baseball preview issue was generally not remarkable. It was the standard preview issue, despite the first couple of pages being spent on a look at "new" statistical analyses. Most of the previews were written from the same "batting average, RBI, wins, and saves" perspective that baseball writing has had for years, and the comments by scouts were no better.
The bright spot in the issue was writer Daniel G. Habib. Habib was put in charge of the AL Central team previews, and did a remarkably stathead-y job with it. By my count, he mentions pitcher wins once (in reference to Bartolo Colon), saves once (Eddie Guardado), and RBI, miraculously, not a solitary time.
He repeatedly used on-base percentage and slugging / extra-base-hit rate in evaluating hitters and ERA and K-rate for pitchers. He pointed out that Shannon Stewart, despite good on-base ability, doesn't have the power or arm to be a real asset as a corner outfielder, especially since he's almost certain to decline over the three years his new contract covers. This kind of argument is familiar to statheads, and this particular argument has been repeated time and again at places like Baseballs Prospectus and Primer and the more stathead-oriented blogs, but to find it in a major, conservative (in terms of its sports analysis, not necessarily its [nonexistant] politics) publication is jarring, yet welcome.
Habib's writing doesn't play second fiddle to his superior analysis, either, which is something I admire about guys like Joe Sheehan, Aaron Gleeman, and Alex Belth, to name a few of the more prominent stathead-y writers.
Habib doesn't have a long trail reaching back into time on the Internet, and it appears that someone with his name graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard in 2000, so it appears that this is a case of SI being open to hiring forward-thinking writers, rather than a case of an established writer joining the stathead movement. I take this as a positive sign, and look forward to the day when Peter King is the only writer touting the Devil Rays because they signed some big RBI guy from the year before.
Since I'm not going to Harvard any time soon, though, I should probably give up any hopes of helping revolutionize baseball coverage in SI.