Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Danger of Pitchers Signing Autographs

Ink and arms don’t mix

Here at Collect the Mets, we guarantee you one card-related crackpot conspiracy theory every year.  It’s part of the differentiated value we offer in our efforts to deliver content that you won’t find anywhere else (often with good reason).  Last year, we broke the story about the Curse of the Pinstripes, which has yet to claim any victims in 2013.  So far, no current-year Mets players have had Mets pinstripe jersey cards released in 2013 (Update: Zack Wheeler was the lone current-year Met with pinstripe jersey cards released in 2013), though at least Matt Harvey and Jeremy Hefner are known to be out for 2014.  If either of them has a Mets pinstripe jersey card in one of the final products of the year, that provides retroactive validation of the curse.  If not, well, then we don’t get any nice pinstripe jersey cards, which is frustrating for collectors.

This year, the Mets suffered injury after injury from even before Day 1.  Johan Santana was the big question mark for 2013, but it turns out that he was little more than an underscore.  After an injury in spring training, Santana went back under the knife and was lost for 2013.  That’s how it went for Mets pitchers for the rest of the year, right up to Matt Harvey’s postseason announcement that he would be undergoing Tommy John surgery and would miss 2014.  With bookends like that, much will be written about the Mets’ injury woes in 2013, but most blogs will leave out one crucial element: the fact that so many pitchers signed large quantities of autograph cards right before their injuries.  Can this be a coincidence?  In a word: absolutely.  Everyone is looking for a pattern in pitcher injuries (see our own Good Pitcher Effect), but their commonality masks any clear causality.  Which makes it just as likely as anything else that signing autographs leads to pitcher breakdowns.

Injured With Autographs

Jeurys Familia (Topps Series 1, Topps Gypsy Queen, Bowman, Bowman Inception, Panini Pinnacle, Topps Tier One, Topps Chrome, Topps Finest)

Jeurys Familia was once considered one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects alongside Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.  By the time he made his MLB debut in 2012, he was projecting more as a late-inning reliever or closer than a starter.  He entered 2013 as one of only two Mets eligible for Rookie Cards but was no sure bet to make the team out of spring training.  While he did just barely make the Opening Day roster, he made only eight appearances before going on the 60-day DL on May 9 in need of elbow surgery.  After three months of rehab, Familia returned to Queens for his final appearance of 2013, giving up one run on two hits and two walks while striking out one to open the 9th in an 8-5 Mets loss.

Familia was the go-to guy for Mets autographs in 2013.  His Rookie Card eligibility made him a safe bet to appear in most of the products released in 2013 and an attractive option for autographed inserts.  With autographs in Topps Series 1, Topps Gypsy Queen, and Bowman, he must have been signing well before the start of the season.  The timing lines up, but were the autographs a factor in his injury?  Let’s just say yes for the sake of the narrative.  His continued presence in just about everything else this year means that he must have been signing autographs during rehab.  Could that sabotage his recovery?

Luis Mateo (Bowman Platinum, Bowman Chrome)

As part of the 2012 Brooklyn Cyclones all-star rotation, Luis Mateo saw his prospect status rise considerably.  While not as polished as teammate Gabriel Ynoa, Mateo was the highest-regarded pitcher from that Brooklyn rotation and made the jump to St. Lucie for the 2013 Season.  After one start for St. Lucie, he was called up to AA Binghamton to make a spot start, which is where everything went wrong.  He suffered an elbow injury during the game, spent more than a month rehabbing in an attempt to avoid more severe injury, and then had Tommy John surgery in June after a pair of relief appearances for St. Lucie.

And then he had his first autograph cards released in July in Bowman Platinum.  As with Familia’s first autos, these were almost certainly signed before the start of the season.  Mateo would also have autographs released in September in Bowman Chrome, but it is not known when he signed these (Rafael Montero and Matt Reynolds signed theirs in the summer).  That’s two big autograph signers and two busted elbows.  But wait, there’s more.

Shaun Marcum (Topps Series 2, Topps Tier One)

There were many people who doubted that Shaun Marcum would ever throw a pitch for the Mets.  With a reputation for being injury-prone, Marcum’s signing came at significant risk.  So it came as no surprise that his season ended in July with shoulder surgery.

And then he had 670 autograph cards released in Topps Tier One the next month.  He was also supposed to have autographs in Topps Series 2 in June, but those were issued as redemptions.  Did his spring training injury delay his signing until May or June?  If so, the timing lines up with his injury.  That’s two elbows and a shoulder now, though we have no causative link.  But when has that ever stopped anyone?

Corey Oswalt (Topps Heritage Minor League Edition)

Knee injury, only signed for one product late in the season – let’s just mark this one “Not Applicable” and move on.

Matt Harvey (2011 Bowman Platinum signed in July 2013)

And the big one.  Matt Harvey was one of the few reasons to watch the Mets in 2013, so the news in August that he had a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) was devastating.  Harvey drew out the decision of whether to have Tommy John surgery until October, when he announced that he was opting for surgery.  That takes him out for all of 2014 and makes it questionable as to whether he will be back at full strength in 2015.

Matt Harvey has no autographs in any 2013 products.  He signed about 500 total autograph cards for Panini’s 2012 products, which were released into this spring.  Before that, you have to go back to 2010 to find any Matt Harvey autograph cards.  So why is he here?  It turns out that Harvey signed his 2011 Bowman Platinum autographs on July 25, almost two years to the day after that product was released.  And about a month before his injury was announced.  Based on a carefully-selected small sample of cases, we can conclude that autographs kill elbows and maybe shoulders.  What happens if we widen our sample a bit and take a look at a few more 2013 Mets pitchers?

Injured Without Autographs

Johan Santana

Let’s just all agree that the Curse of the Pinstripes has been working overtime here and take Santana out of the running for this one.  In fact, of the three Curse victims, Santana is the only one to ever play for the Mets again afterward, throwing the Mets’ first no-hiter in the process.  Before getting stepped on and having it all come crashing down.  Maybe the Curse is stronger than I thought…  Santana has never been a big autograph signer, so he doesn’t really fit here.

Jonathon Niese

The 2013 (and likely 2014) Opening Day starter, Niese had high expectations this year even with the emergence of Matt Harvey as an ace and the anticipated arrival of Zack Wheeler.  Now in the role of the veteran following the trade of R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana’s re-injury, it was up to him to stabilize a rotation out of control.  So it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to see him hit the DL in June with a partially torn rotator cuff.  The injury only sidelined him for a month and a half though and Niese closed out the 2013 season at Citi Field.

After having plenty of autograph cards from 2009 to 2012, Niese has been a no-show so far this year except for a few multi-player sticker autograph cards (numbered to 15).  With no recent autographs, we can’t blame any injuries from this year on signing.  Maybe not signing autographs is the culprit here.

Jeremy Hefner

2013 was Hefner’s opportunity to step up and claim a spot in the Mets’ diminished rotation.  After securing the spot start / long reliever role in 2012, Hefner found himself at the back end of the rotation when Santana and Marcum were unavailable to start the season.  After a shaky start in his new role as a regular starter, Hefner dominated over a 6-week stretch starting in the beginning of June, pitching 51 innings over 8 starts with an ERA of 1.76, 40 strikeouts, and just 8 walks over that span.  His next start would be the shortest of the season, lasting only two plus innings with 8 runs and 10 hits given up.  His next four starts weren’t much better, going no longer than 6 innings and giving up no fewer than 3 runs in any of them.  By mid-August, Hefner was on the DL with Tommy John surgery looming in his future.

You sure can’t blame this one on autographs because Hefner doesn’t have any.  He remains one of the most prominent Mets without a certified autograph card, a problem that won’t be helped by elbow surgery.


Hefner signed his first autographs while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.  And then went back under the knife for a second round…

Bobby Parnell

After Frank Francisco went down with injury, the Mets needed a new closer.  Bobby Parnell stepped up and pitched better than the results indicated, falling victim to blown saves resulting from the actions of the players behind him on more than one occasion.  And then a neck injury sidelined Parnell, with his season ending in surgery.

Parnell hasn’t signed autographs in a few years, plus this is a neck injury and not an arm injury.  There’s no connection here, so this is another one to mark “Not Applicable.”


Well, that escalated quickly…  Parnell seemed to recover from that neck injury without incident, but something didn’t seem quite right going into the 2014 season.  After an Opening Day blown save, it was revealed that Parnell had a partially torn UCL.  And in case you missed it, he also had autograph cards in 2013 Panini Select, released during the offseason.  Looks like we’ve got another one.

Jenrry Mejia

Once considered one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects (sound familiar?), Mejia made his debut in 2010 when Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel were desperate to keep their jobs.  Mejia became the sacrificial lamb, called up to pitch middle relief in low leverage spots as you would expect competent management to do with one of your top starting pitching prospects.  Or not.  Mejia’s development was further derailed by Tommy John surgery in 2011, making the fact that he even still existed news for Mets fans when he returned to the majors in September 2012.  His 2013 spring training injury on the other hand was nothing unexpected.  Injury #2 had him working his way through the minors on rehab until late July, when he made his 2013 debut with a trio of sevens: 7IP, 7H, and 7K to go with zeroes in the runs and walks columns.  Top prospect Jenrry Mejia was back, and not a minute too soon for a rotation with a rotating cast on the DL.  Which Mejia would rejoin a month later with bone spurs in his elbow for injury #3.

Mejia hasn’t signed autographs since 2010, so there’s no way to connect them to his 2013 injury unless Topps is sitting on an unused stockpile somewhere.  But did those 2010 autographs, combined with his erratic use on the mound that year, contribute to his 2011 injury?

Michael Fulmer

Ranked as one of the top prospects in the Mets system at the start of 2013, Fulmer has endured setback after setback.  A torn meniscus during spring training delayed his start to the season, then just nine starts in he was hit by a batted ball and removed as a precautionary measure.  Following that, he returned to the DL with a shoulder strain.  He is expected to be ready to go for spring training next year.

As the 44th overall pick in 2011, Michael Fulmer made the rounds in the draft pick autograph products that year.  Since then though, we haven’t really seen much from him.  Topps used a few of his sticker autographs in 2013 Bowman Chrome, but those were almost certainly old stock.  Unless he did some signing for an upcoming product over the summer, there’s nothing to see here.  Except for a series of unfortunate injuries.

Cory Mazzoni

Speaking of a series of unfortunate injuries…  Elbow neuritis in April, strained hamstring in July…  It sure seems like a lot more than that.  Mazzoni only appeared in 13 games in 2013, none of which were any of the times I saw the B-Mets.

As for autographs, Mazzoni is another one with lots of 2011 autos and not much since then.  The only 2013 Mazzoni autograph I’ve seen is the one I got from him in person at a game (while he was on the DL of course).  Another unrelated case.

Taylor Whitenton

After an injury in spring training, Whitenton has completely dropped off the map.  Let’s just call this the bottom of the barrel and stop here.

Not Injured With Autographs

A few prominent pitchers made it through the 2013 season without injury and with a few autographs to show for it.  Do they provide evidence disproving our hypothesis or do they have injuries coming in the near future?  Only time will tell.

Zack Wheeler (Bowman Platinum, Topps Chrome, Topps Finest)

Scouts reported that Wheeler was MLB-ready in spring training, but a strained oblique during batting practice caused him to lose key prep time, making a start in the minors inevitable.  From there, it was just a matter of which money-saving deadline the Mets would hold out for.  Wheeler made his MLB debut in June and nearly reached his innings limit when he was shut down for the season in September after complaining of shoulder stiffness.  The injury wasn’t considered to be serious and likely would have only caused him to miss a start if it had taken place earlier in the season.

Wheeler only had about 30 total autograph cards as a Met released before his MLB debut, then had hundreds between Bowman Platinum, Topps Chrome, and Topps Finest.  Was the impact of these signings starting to catch up to him in September?  He’s one to keep an eye on next year.


Even with the Curse of the Pinstripes piled on after 2013 Topps Triple Threads, Wheeler remained healthy for the 2014 season.  He also signed a few more autographs, but surely not enough to be cause for concern, right?.  He will miss all of the 2015 season following Tommy John surgery.

Rafael Montero (Bowman Chrome, Leaf Metal Draft)

Montero is one of the next top pitching prospects due to debut for the Mets, assuming that he isn’t traded first.  After a year split between AA and AAA, Montero could be ready at any time in 2014.  This past July, Montero signed his first certified autograph cards.  No injury followed.  So there’s that.

Domingo Tapia (Leaf Metal Draft)

Tapia has been one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects in the low minors, though his 2013 wasn’t quite in line with his past performance.  A cooking injury sidelined him for a bit in May, but otherwise he’s been fairly consistent at 100+ innings over each of the last two seasons.  Tapia was a surprise to see with an autograph in 2013 Leaf Metal Draft.


Inconclusive.  There’s really nothing that can be said with any certainty without a more comprehensive analysis.  For our purposes though, we can come to a completely unscientific sensationalistic conclusion based on a carefully-selected set of data points and declare that signing autographs contributes to pitcher injury.  I was joking when I started this, but the timing in some of these cases makes me wonder if there might be something to it after all.  While it certainly isn’t a direct cause, could autograph signing be one of many factors that make pitchers susceptible to arm injuries?  There’s so much we don’t know about pitcher injuries that it could be possible.

Holding Myself Accountable

A look back at a look ahead at the Mets in 2013

Earlier this year, I answered a few questions about the upcoming 2013 season.  To see if I had any clue about what I was talking about, I pulled out my answers and compared them to the reality of the 2013 season.

Offseason grade: B-

You can’t really judge the process by the results, but the Mets’ problems in 2013 weren’t caused by their offseason deals.  Buck and Byrd performed at least as well as expected and brought back a couple of prospects, so Mission Accomplished there.  Shaun Marcum was Shaun Marcum, Collin Cowgill’s stay was mercifully short, and Travis d’Arnaud didn’t get much of a look due to injury.  As for the big-name outfielders the Mets didn’t get in the offseason, well, Victorino was probably the only one worth his contract and I think I’m the only Mets fan who wanted to see him on the Mets.

Johan Santana won’t matter

As it turns out, Santana landed squarely on the worst case scenario line.  While I didn’t pick that as the likely outcome, I didn’t think Santana would be a factor in 2013 and he certainly wasn’t.

The Mets had to keep David Wright

Take a look at the Game 162 lineup.  Now picture it without Wright.  Yeah, the Mets need him.  We got a look at the Mets without Wright when he was on the DL and it wasn’t pretty.

Zack Wheeler: Impact Rookie

Wheeler did well in his rookie stint, but he didn’t blow everyone away like Harvey did.  Still, he’s a solid starter in a rotation that featured Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Harang at the end.  Travis d’Arnaud will take his rookie eligibility into 2014, so he wasn’t the right pick either.  The real impact rookie this year was Juan Lagares, who was one of the top defensive outfielders in baseball in 2013 while being merely replacement-level at the plate.  He set a Mets rookie record with 16 outfield assists, just three short of the Mets season record.  Lagares was overshadowed last year by Matt den Dekker, but an injury in spring training kept den Dekker in the minors until the end of August.  Lagares is on his way to becoming a star if he can get it together at the plate, but that’s a big if.

An honorable mention has to go to Scott Rice, who made his MLB debut with the Mets on Opening Day and pitched himself to hernia surgery in September.  Along the way, he earned his first Rookie Card, though he has yet to appear in an MLB-licensed product (Lagares on the other hand is still waiting for his first Rookie Card).  Not bad for someone originally drafted in 1999.

Mets finish at 76-86, 4th in the NL East

I was a couple of wins over on the record and one place under in the standings.  Who knew the Phillies could fall so far so fast?  With the Marlins seemingly loaded with prospects, the Phillies could find themselves in the basement as early as next year.

On the plus side, the Mets didn’t contend for half a season and then flush themselves down the toilet.  2013 was a series of ups and downs, though the end result was the same as last year.  Take out the injuries and add some better players and maybe you have a team that can stay strong all season.  But that’s still a bit of a stretch.  They didn’t fail in their usual way, so that’s something.

Ike Davis Strikes Back

Well, three words out of four ain’t bad…  Davis looked terrible at the start of the season, even worse than he did last year.  A month in Vegas helped him a little, but the power never came back.  He finished with just 9 home runs in 103 games, well off his usual pace.  A full season of Ike was not something to look forward to after all.

Elsewhere, there were some fun moments.  Sweeping the Yankees in four games, including a walkoff to end Mariano Rivera’s final appearance at Citi Field, was nice.  Matt Harvey’s starts were always must-see TV, even if the Mets often found a way to lose.  The Harvey/Wheeler doubleheader may have been the most anticipated day of Mets baseball all season.  And of course Harvey’s start at the All-Star game and the Futures Game started by a pair of Mets prospects were memorable, even if they weren’t actual Mets games.

The Jordany Valdespin question has been answered.  Wilmer Flores is still largely an unknown, as is the pronunciation of Familia’s first name.  Bobby Parnell did a great job as closer, though injury ended his season early and gave us LaTroy Hawkins, Vic Black, and Frank Francisco as possible closers.  Gabriel Ynoa is a stud, Luis Mateo not so much, and Hansel Robles regressed.  Las Vegas seems to be working out, but there may only be another year of it left.  And no, the outfield question did not get resolved in 2013.  There was a lot to see this year, even if we already knew how it would end.  The season is a journey and this one is over.

29 September 2013 – Milwaukee Brewers at New York Mets

Unlikely heroes bunt out a win as the Mets celebrate Mike Piazza

This time last year, R.A. Dickey set out to earn his 20th win in front of an enthusiastic crowd.  This year, the big milestone on the line was Eric Young Jr’s pursuit of the NL stolen base lead as the Mets attempted to equal last year’s record of 74-88.  Backing them up was a sellout crowd that came to see Mike Piazza inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame and stayed to see the Mets close out the season with a 3-2 win.

Mike Piazza evokes memories of home runs, playoff appearances, and black uniforms.  There would be none of those for the Mets from here on out, but it’s fun to look back at better days.  Denied entrance to Cooperstown this year, the Mets made Piazza the newest member of the Mets Hall of Fame surrounded by his family and the family of Mets greats from years past.

And a whole lot of cameras.  Absent were Al Leiter, whose job with MLB Network was keeping him busy as the Indians, Rangers, and Rays fought for the last two playoff spots, and Tom Seaver, who was all but ignored aside from a brief first-name mention from Piazza.

This wasn’t the time to look back at the Mets’ lone representative in Cooperstown as Piazza looks poised to join him whenever the writers get their act together.  Piazza graciously accepted the award, spoke highly of his former teammates, and let the fans know how much their support has meant to him over the years.  It was a true class act from a Mets great who hasn’t had much to do with the team lately, so this could be a changing of the guard.  Next up: Cooperstown and the Citi Field wall of retired numbers.

Terry Collins, not especially beloved by the fans but respected by the players and the front office, entered the game with a two-year contract extension all but finalized.  A progression of injuries and a team straight out of Las Vegas certainly didn’t help his case, but it does give some context to three losing seasons with the Mets.  Collins does know how to work with people, in stark contrast to his previous managerial roles.  In this regard, it makes sense that he made a special trip to the outfield before the game to thank the fans for their support.  It was a simple gesture, but it shows that someone in charge of something understands that the team needs the support of the fans.  Now let’s see what he can do with some better players.

Eric Young Jr. has proven that the Mets’ lack of a leadoff hitter is a significant deficiency.  While I wouldn’t say that he’s proven that he deserves to be a starter in 2014, he should be a safe bet to make the team.  Tied for the NL lead in stolen bases, Young put himself in position to get the top spot for himself with a leadoff single in the bottom of the first.  To the surprise of nobody, he was off in advance of the first pitch and easily took second for his 45th steal of the season.

Would he stop there?  Of course not.  A few pitches later, he took third when Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy couldn’t get a good grip on the ball and threw far too late to catch Young.  With one out, David Wright popped out to shallow right field, too shallow for a runner to tag up at third and score.

Or so you would think.  This should have been an out.  Even with Young’s speed, the ball got to Lucroy in plenty of time.  Lucroy on the other hand couldn’t get to Young in time to make the tag, catching the ball well into the infield and needing to spin around 180 degrees for any chance at getting Young.  Young did his job as a leadoff hitter and put the Mets on the board first.  That should have been enough, but this wouldn’t be a Mets game if it were that easy.

Jon Niese, who cruised through the first three innings, started the fourth with three singles.  Jeff Bianchi tried to score on the third, but Eric Young Jr. didn’t want anyone else to take away his spotlight, so he fired a throw to Juan Centeno, who made the tag for the inning’s first out.  Niese walked Yuniesky Betancourt to load the bases, but he looked like he would escape the inning without incident when Sean Halton hit an easy double play ball.  Umpire CB Bucknor thought otherwise and a run scored on the blown call, tying the game at 1.

Terry Collins did his part by arguing the call, but nothing he could say would change the call or, apparently, get him ejected.  Logan Schafer followed with a dribbler that nobody could get to, driving in a run to give the Brewers a 2-1 lead.  Scooter Gennett hit the fifth single of the inning, but someone didn’t get the memo about not running on Juan Lagares.  Centeno tagged Halton to end the inning, for real this time.  With the Mets’ bats silent since Young’s leadoff single, that blown call could decide the game.

Vic Black is a contender for high leverage relief appearances next year, so it’s good to see how he reacts under pressure.  After an out and a four-pitch walk to Norichika Aoki, Black was determined to undo his mistake via pickoff.  A little too determined.  On the third consecutive pickoff attempt, Josh Satin couldn’t get a glove on the ball and Aoki took second.  With the pressure on (largely due to his own efforts), Black got the next two batters to fly out to end the inning.

Juan Lagares gunned down Sean Halton to end the Brewers’ scoring in the 4th and Lagares came out on top again when their roles were reversed leading off the bottom of the 8th.  On a ground ball to short, Lagares reached first safely when Halton couldn’t keep his foot on the bag and made no attempt at a tag.  Juan Centeno followed with a perfectly dropped bunt that he was able to turn into an infield single.  Milwaukee second baseman Scooter Gennett was caught off guard despite this being Centeno’s second bunt attempt and, after bumping into Bucknor, couldn’t get into a stable position to field the throw.  That opened the door for Lagares to score and tie the game at 2.

Juan Centeno, not David Wright or Daniel Murphy as had been rumored, would be the only Met to lifted for a pinch runner, though it wasn’t to give him an ovation.  Matt den Dekker took over as the runner at second, which apparently Lucroy didn’t pick up on when he fielded Wilfredo Tovar’s bunt and threw to third instead of first.  With the lead run on third and nobody out, most fans would expect a run here.  Between the Brewers’ inept defense and the Mets’ absent offense though, nothing was certain.  Josh Satin popped out for the first successfully recorded out of the inning, bringing the offense full circle to the player who started the day’s scoring and now had a chance to end it.

Eric Young Jr. didn’t need to do much.  A base hit or a deep fly ball would bring den Dekker home.  Instead, he smashed the ball into the ground just in front of home plate for a groundout that the Brewers executed without an error.  As den Dekker slid across home plate.  With the lead secured, Justin Turner and his beard came in to put the Mets’ offense to bed for the year.

Frank Francisco was brought in to be the Mets’ closer, but things didn’t exactly go as planned.  After a disappointing 2012, Francisco missed most of 2013 while rehabbing from injury.  With the Mets up 3-2 going into the 9th, Francisco was handed his first save opportunity of the year and an opportunity to end his Mets career back on track.  His first test would be former Met Carlos Gomez, who popped out to start the inning.  A strikeout brought in Aramis Ramirez as a pinch hitter and Milwaukee’s last chance.  Ramirez watched as Francisco sent strike three over the plate to end the game.  If you picked Frank Francisco to save Game 162 for the Mets, well, you must not follow baseball.  Still, that’s the way it happened as we say goodbye to Citi Field for 2013.