Why some key Rookie Cards lag behind the rest
This is the tale of two pitchers. Both made their major league debuts at Citi Field against the Yankees on consecutive days this past May. Both pitched well but were denied wins because of the failings of the rest of their team. One would be sent back to the minors after four starts, only returning for a brief stint with two starts and a relief appearance before roster expansion. The other would spend the remainder of the season in the majors and would be a leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year. One would have Rookie Cards in two products by the end of August while the other had his first professional cards released just two weeks before his debut and, four months after his debut, is still waiting for his first Rookie Card. The one with two Rookie Cards despite only brief MLB appearances is Rafael Montero. The Rookie of the Year contender with no Rookie Cards is Jacob deGrom.
On the surface, this looks like just the luck of the draw. Some players get the royal Rookie Card treatment, others get overlooked. Most of the time, the difference is due to when a player debuts during the year. August and September debuts usually correspond to lots of Rookie Cards the next year, while late June and July debuts result in just a few Rookie Cards later in the year. The reason for this is lead time – the time it takes to incorporate a new player into a sports card product. Historical evidence suggests a minimum two month lead time for modern baseball card products. That mostly explains what happens with mid and late season debuts, but what about early season debuts? That’s where things get more interesting and the Montero/deGrom dichotomy takes shape.
One of my goals with this blog is to explore the connection between the players on the field and their cardboard incarnations. When it comes to when, if, and how often players receive Rookie Cards, a key factor is prospect inertia. A player with several baseball cards as a prospect is more likely to have Rookie Cards earlier and more often than a player with one or no prospect cards. It would be logical to assume that the same factors that determine whether a player will have cards as a prospect would affect their Rookie Cards. For that to be the case though, changes in prospect status would need to be reflected in a player’s cards. As we’ll see over the last four years, this is not necessarily the case.
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May contain trace amounts of MLB players
Last year, Topps added a premium thick card product to the Bowman lineup in the form of Bowman Inception. Unlike the other Bowman products, Inception features autographs on thick card stock with a mostly matte finish. For the subject matter, Inception mixes a few token RC autos (to appease the MLBPA) with a mix of top prospects.
Inception’s Initial Offering
Which is how we wound up with this pairing: Jeurys Familia, the default Mets Rookie with autographs in everything, and Travis d’Arnaud, the top prospect received in the R.A. Dickey trade. This was d’Arnaud’s first Mets autograph, but otherwise there isn’t much notable here. The concept may have been new, but the generic ballpark sky background and the focus on established prospects and Rookies took away any sense of excitement. Would things be any different the second time around? Well, sort of.
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We have all lost the will to win
Last year, the second Cyclones night game in Lowell was rained out. This year looked like it could be a repeat with the tarp on the field and thunderstorms rolling through at the scheduled game time of 7:05pm. First pitch was delayed by more than an hour, but this game would take place. This sloppy mess of a game that went on for more than three hours with six errors and countless more misplays that might as well have been called errors. Nobody particularly dominated but the Spinners lost control in the 6th to hand the Cyclones an 8-5 victory in front of a crowd of dozens.
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Bark in the Park is bad news for Katz
The Cyclones made their annual trip to Lowell on Sunday and three of MLB.com’s newly-announced midseason top 20 Mets prospects were in play for the opener. Michael Conforto (#4) would drive in Amed Rosario (#7) for the game’s first run, but Marcos Molina (#16) didn’t have his best stuff on the mound and didn’t get any favors from the Brooklyn defense (including his own). Down 3-1 after three innings, Molina settled in and the Brooklyn offense stepped up to take game 1 9-3. The comeback was sparked by Michael Bernal, who entered the game in the bottom of the third when Michael Katz had to be driven off the field after an injury.
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Now we’re getting serious
Like anyone with a big stack of autographed baseballs, the last thing I want to see happen to them is for the autograph to fade away to nothing over time. Unfortunately, there isn’t much literature out there on this problem, just collections of anecdotes. Over the past year, I’ve conducted a couple of tests to help make sense of the mechanisms involved and give me an idea of where to go next. With the preliminary research out of the way, it’s time to go full-scale and test the key variables to finally answer the question of what a baseball should be signed with. To get up to speed, start with these posts:
Faded Memories in Ink on Leather
Synthetic Leather Baseball Ink Test Phase 2
Baseball Ink Test Preliminary Results
But first, let’s go over what I’m not accounting for. One concern that this test will not resolve is about the effect of different pen pressures and stroke styles on the longevity of a signature. Theoretically, an autopen setup could be used to carefully control these aspects of the test, but I don’t have one. Also, these factors are out of the control of the receivers of an autograph, so I’m not sure what could be gained. This is an area where this test will fall short of full technical rigor and I would be negligent if I failed to point that out.
Also beyond the scope of this experiment is the effect on temperature and humidity on the different aspects of this process. These factors could significantly affect the flow of ink from the pen, the application of the ink to the ball, and the durability of the ink over time. Environmental conditions will be the same for the initial application of all ink and will be the same within each test location, though these locations will not be maintained to guarantee identical conditions between locations. Some variation is accepted as a limitation of this test.
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Six out of eleven ain’t bad
Full list of 2014 Mets draft picks
After drafting just five players with any baseball cards in 2013, the Mets came up big in 2014 with 11 of 39 picks having certified autograph cards. Most of these were from 2013 Leaf Perfect Game, which has asserted itself as the premier pre-pro product and should merit a look when it returns later this year. While the Mets did sign all of their picks in the first 20 rounds, most late-round high school picks declined to sign, taking away five players with 2013 Leaf Perfect Game autographs: Luke Bonfield, Tommy Pincin, Keaton McKinney, Jordan Hand, and Jonathan Teaney. McKinney and Hand also have various memorabilia cards, leaving top pick Michael Conforto as the only signed Mets pick from 2014 with memorabilia. The loss of nearly half of the potential autographs in this draft class is unfortunate, but the remainder still rates as the best-ever draft day autograph crop.
2013 Mets Draft Class Autographs
2012 Mets Draft Class Autographs
2011 Mets Draft Class Autographs