Monthly Archives: June 2014

Cards and Fame

Evaluating player popularity with a small sample of card prices

Over at For The Win this afternoon, Ted Berg speculated about the most famous baseball players and players who should be more famous than they are. Here’s the list:

Most Famous Should be More Famous
F1 Derek Jeter M1 Mike Trout
F2 Alex Rodriguez M2 Miguel Cabrera
F3 David Ortiz M3 Yasiel Puig
F4 Albert Pujols M4 Andrew McCutchen
F5 Bryce Harper M5 Clayton Kershaw

Unsurprisingly, no Mets made the list and Derek Jeter topped the list of fame. Jeter, who currently leads AL shortstops in this year’s All-Star voting despite clearly looking like he is ready to retire, is so popular that nobody would be all that surprised if he is elected to start the All-Star game in 2015, when he will no longer be playing baseball. This popularity translates well into card sales, which is fine for me because I can sell off any good Jeters I pull and buy the equivalent Wright, Harvey, etc. for a fraction of the price.

Card prices were not among the fame criteria considered in the FTW piece. Shocking, I know. Translating between prices and popularity isn’t a trivial matter. In addition to player popularity, card prices factor in product popularity and scarcity and are affected by proximity to Rookie year. Comparing even between cards from the same year numbered to the same amount is a virtual impossibility. To extract popularity, we first need to narrow our focus to a single card set (or multiple sets, but that gets a bit more complicated than I am willing to get into for this exercise).

The characteristics we need for the ideal popularity comparison set are rather contradictory. We need something with enough scarcity to get prices well above the noise but not too much scarcity to give us too small a sample size to work with. We also need a set that includes all of the likely candidates, particularly the ten players listed in the FTW article. Release date also needs to be a consideration; too recent or too far back limits the available sample and could put us outside the supply/demand saturation zone that will see the most stable prices. All of this adds up to a parallel insert set numbered between 50 and 99 released about three months ago. One set meets these criteria: 2014 Topps Heritage Black Refractors (numbered to 65).

Historically, Topps Heritage parallels sell significantly higher than equivalent cards from other products. David Wright black refractors like the ones shown above (numbered to 64 and 65) typically sell for about $25, about double what similar cards from other products sell for. This is good for our purposes because it will spread out prices to make the top players clearer. The 2014 set consists of 100 cards covering 9 of the 10 players mentioned by Berg (Alex Rodriguez hasn’t been seen a whole lot lately) and loads of other stars. Rookie Cards feature two players and will be ignored due to the premium typically associated with RCs. Cards from 2013 Rookies may see a bit of a boost to their prices that overstate their popularity. Beyond that, this should give us a fair assessment of hobby popularity, or at least the best we can get from a single 100-card set.

In the last 90 days, 20 different 2014 Topps Heritage black refractors (not counting RCs) sold on eBay for more than $40 at least once (total sample sizes varied from 6 to 16 copies sold). Several were sold via Best Offer, which does not display the actual sale price but does sort appropriately, allowing for an approximation of the sale price. One clear outlier (a $7 Clayton Kershaw purchased via Buy it Now) was omitted. Shipping prices were not considered and are assumed to be low enough to not significantly alter the results. Average sale prices shook out like this:

TB CP Player RCY 2014TH-RK
M1 1 Mike Trout 2011 $227.83
F1 2 Derek Jeter 1992 $225.90
M3 3 Yasiel Puig 2013 $102.29
F5 4 Bryce Harper 2012 $75.15
5 Michael Wacha 2013 $48.14
M2 6 Miguel Cabrera 2000 $46.76
M4 7 Andrew McCutchen 2005 $44.75
8 Manny Machado 2013 $39.00
M5 9 Clayton Kershaw 2008 $38.92
10 Wil Myers 2013 $38.55
11 Stephen Strasburg 2010 $38.42
12 Matt Harvey 2012 $35.98
F4 13 Albert Pujols 2001 $35.62
14 Justin Verlander 2005 $35.50
15 Buster Posey 2010 $34.48
16 Jose Fernandez 2013 $34.32
17 Troy Tulowitzki 2005 $28.89
18 Carlos Beltran 1995 $24.81
19 Matt Kemp 2005 $23.95
F3 20 David Ortiz 2007 $23.52

There are a few clear tiers here, with Mike Trout and Derek Jeter occupying the $200+ level. Yasiel Puig (2013 Rookie) and Bryce Harper fall to the $50+ level, and Michael Wacha (2013 Rookie), Miguel Cabrera, and Andrew McCutchen make up the $40-50 level. Nine more players fall in the $30-40 level, including most of the rest of the players from the FTW lists. The final four, Tulowitzki, Beltran, Kemp, and Ortiz, only made the list because of one outlier above $40 each and would probably be joined by five or six more players in the $20-30 range.

What can we conclude from this? When it comes to premium cards at least, Mike Trout is in the same neighborhood as Derek Jeter. It’s a steep drop-off from there, with most big stars settling in at about one fifth to one sixth of the top tier price once they are far enough removed from Rookie status (3+ years). Taking out Ted Berg’s picks and last year’s Rookies gives us a shortlist of oversights from this small checklist: Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey, Justin Verlander, and Buster Posey. And then there’s David Ortiz, who is clearly the biggest reach on Berg’s list (outside of New England at least).

2014 Mets Debut Autographs

The Mets dump the youth movement

A few weeks ago, the fans were clamoring for Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores to get regular playing time and for the Mets to call up some of their top pitching prospects. Sure enough, Lagares and Flores got into more games and Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom made back-to-back debut starts against the Yankees. A month later, Lagares is on the DL, Ruben Tejada has seen a resurgence, Montero was sent down to AAA where he hit the DL, and deGrom is still chasing his first big league win despite some outstanding starts. On top of that, a slumping Travis d’Arnaud was sent to AAA, where he is actually doing quite well. So much for the youth movement… While the kids are away, Bobby Abreu has been seeing regular playing time, Daisuke Martsuzaka is back in the starting rotation, journeymen relievers Buddy Carlyle and Dana Eveland were called up from Las Vegas to aid an exhausted bullpen, and Taylor Teagarden took over for d’Arnaud and started his Mets career off with a grand slam, the kiss of death for Mets newcomers. Through all of this, the team, well, has not been good. With no impact prospects looming on the horizon and no money available to bolster the Mets’ meager payroll, there’s not much to be optimistic about. How about them Cyclones?

Curtis Granderson Jose Valverde John Lannan Bartolo Colon
31 March 2014 31 March 2014 31 March 2014 2 April 2014
Chris B. Young Kyle Farnsworth Bobby Abreu Eric Campbell*
2 April 2014 2 April 2014 22 April 2014 10 May 2014
Rafael Montero* Jacob deGrom* Buddy Carlyle Dana Eveland
14 May 2014 15 May 2014 31 May 2014 2 June 2014
Taylor Teagarden Dilson Herrera* Erik Goeddel* Dario Alvarez*
10 June 2014 29 August 2014 1 September 2014 3 September 2014

*MLB Debut

Previous Editions

Age before prospects

The Mets spent freely (relatively speaking) in the offseason and it looked like it paid off with 15 wins in April. Despite Curtis Granderson not hitting, Bartolo Colon occasionally getting shelled, and Chris Young missing more than half of the month due to injury. A week into May, the Mets were 16-17 coming off being swept by the Marlins, so maybe things weren’t working out quite so well after all. Cast-off veterans Jose Valverde, John Lannan, and Kyle Farnsworth were called on to shore up a bullpen left in shambles when Bobby Parnell joined the TJ club, but Lannan has already been sent away and Valverde and Farnsworth won’t be far behind. This team needs some fresh faces, so of course they called up Bobby Abreu, shown here when his face was fresh in 1997. That makes two of this year’s new additions with autograph cards from 1997. Time to give some of the kids in Vegas a shot at the big leagues.

The 2013 Topps Series 2 Mets: Where Are They Now?

13 faces you may have forgotten

2014 Topps Series 2 launches today with cards featuring many of your favorite Mets, from David Wright to, um, Vic Black? Gonzalez Germen gets to celebrate doubly today; not only is this his first day back after being activated from the DL, but it is also the day his first Rookie Card is officially released. That is in stark contrast to last year’s Series 2 rookie Collin McHugh, who was beginning life in Colorado on the day he first graced a Rookie Card solo. As for the rest of last year’s crop of Mets in Series 2, their fates varied but most found themselves somewhere other than with the Mets within the year. At the time, I predicted that the team set image would be part of a “Where are they now?” article. One year later, I have made it a reality.

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