Did someone from Sports Illustrated grab a sports almanac from the future to predict the Houston Astros' 2017 World Series victory?
Obviously not. But in 2014, the magazine correctly determined that the Texas MLB team, once considered the "laughingstock of baseball," would cinch the title, their first, specifically this year. The team won 5-1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 on Wednesday.
"Your 2017 World Series Champs," read his headline on the magazine's June 30, 2014 cover, which teased "an unprecedented look at how a franchise is going beyond Moneyball to build the game's NEXT BIG THING."
The cover features a photo of outfielder George Springer, who was named the 2017 World Series MVP.
"SI's editor Chris Stone and I, along with baseball editor Emma Span, had consulted on the proper year to choose," Sports Illustrated senior writer Ben Reiter wrote last week, when the 2017 World Series began. "We settled on 2017 because the Astros' young nucleus would by then be reaching its prime, because it seemed to more or less hew to the front office's own timeline—which, they promised, would eventually include a payroll hike—and because three years, in baseball, is actually not the blink of an eye."
Like many savvy baseball fans, Sports Illustrated figured out that the Astros had a pretty good chance of winning the World Series because of the that they built their team in recent years.
The Astros were particularly struggling in the years prior to 2014. However, during those years, they were able to acquire top draft picks because they were continuously ranked low. This prompted sports enthusiasts to speculate that the team would grow to become great. It has become an increasingly popular technique for strengthening struggling MLB teams.
"One result of their poor performance was that the Astros this year became the first team to have the first pick in three consecutive amateur drafts," Reiter wrote in his 2014 Sports Illustrated article. "This was never a goal, they insist, but a by-product of their long-term plan. Even so, it represented an opportunity. The right player might be the finishing piece on the championship teams they envision. They dreaded making the wrong decision."
The Astros picked well. In 2011, they got the 11th draft pick and chose Springer. In 2012, the team chose Carlos Correa, a 6' 4" high school shortstop from Puerto Rico who was the No. 1 draft pick. He was the 2015 Rookie of the Year and also helped lead the Astros to victory in the 2017 World Series.
"The Astros...never claimed to own a crystal ball, or that they would never make a mistake. They always expected to make many of them," Reiter wrote. "Their goal was to make marginally more correct decisions than their competitors, in the long haul, and to do so they implemented an analytically rigorous system that not only processed all of the bleeding edge metrics they could find or create, but also heavily incorporated data from old fashioned sources: scouts, who could see things about a player's potential and character that numbers couldn't."
"The most remarkable thing of all about the Astros is this," he added. "They told everyone exactly what they were going to do—and then they did it."