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
10 June 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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The 2014 Binghamton Mets in GIFs

The Manchester experience in 16 moving pictures

Less than two months into the 2014 season, the B-Mets already have played their last regular season game of the year in Manchester, NH.  They leave New Hampshire with a 7-3 record at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium after shutouts, blown leads, big hits, occasional downpours, and a 14-inning finale.  Through all of it, the Binghamton roster has remained almost completely unchanged.  Only backup catchers changed places, with Blake Forsythe (on the DL for his entire 2014 B-Mets stint) dealt to Oakland and Nelfi Zapata (who did not appear in a game in Manchester) replacing Xorge Carrillo after the latter’s call-up to Las Vegas.  That’s effectively a stable 25-man roster to work with.

While I try to cover minor league games with as much useful information as possible, I have my limits.  When it comes to giving an illustrated first-hand account that goes beyond what the box score will tell you, I can at least fake competence.  But when people start asking about mechanics, I’ve got nothing.  I don’t like watching games from behind home plate and I can’t tell a curve from a slider.  I can juggle multiple electronic devices and capture photos and video while live-tweeting a game though.  So I added a video camera to my usual game pack and quickly realized that getting sharp video at night games just wasn’t happening.  Oh well.  What does it all add up to?  Damned if I know.

Let’s kick things off with Wilfredo Tovar enthusiastically grounding into a double play.  Is this something he learned during his stint in the big leagues last year?  Wherever he got it from, that’s a heck of a follow-through.

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18 May 2014 – Binghamton Mets at New Hampshire Fisher Cats

20 innings or bust!  Fine, bust it is…

Brian Burgamy breaks a bat grounding out

Three hit batters, two broken bats, two blown leads…  So much was busted for the B-Mets on Sunday that everyone was going to need a day off after this 14-inning marathon.  What’s that, they had a doubleheader on Monday?  No rest for the winners, I guess.  The B-Mets salvaged a win after blowing a 7-run lead and making the kids wait until after 6pm to run the bases, sweeping the Fisher Cats in their final trip to New Hampshire in 2014.

Box Score

Tyler Pill was coming off two losses in Manchester and the B-Mets were coming off two narrow victories in which they held comfortable leads, so I had low expectations for Sunday’s game.  In a surprise twist, Pill pitched effectively, going five scoreless innings before giving up two runs in the 6th and getting pulled after recording two outs.  His stuff wasn’t overpowering, topping off at about 89mph, but it was the slow stuff in the high-70s that was keeping the Fisher Cats at bay.  When Pill went with mostly high-80s fastballs in the 6th, the Fisher Cats pounced on him and got on the board.  T.J. Chism came in and got the B-Mets out of the inning without further damage.

Kevin Plawecki drives in a run in the 3rd inning

The B-Mets offense did enough damage of their own early in the game to make those two runs largely insignificant.  Cory Vaughn followed up his double on Saturday with another double his first time up on Sunday.  He would come around to score on a Wilfredo Tovar single.  The next run came an inning later on a Matt Reynolds triple and a Kevin Plawecki single.  Jayce Boyd singled to put runners at the corners for Cory Vaughn.

Cory Vaughn hits a sacrifice fly in the 3rd inning

This time, Vaughn flying out was productive, driving in a run as a sac fly.  That would be it for Vaughn’s offense for the foreseeable future; he would finish the night 1-for-5 with a sac fly and a HBP before going 0-for-7 with a walk over his next two games.  That streak of two doubles over the weekend was it for Vaughn’s hot streak and his trouble at the plate in 2014 continues.

Darrell Ceciliani begins a home run swing

Darrell Ceciliani followed Vaughn’s sac fly with the game’s only home run.  The Mets scored two more runs over the next three innings, putting them up 7-0 before Pill started having trouble.  Trouble was also getting started with Wilfredo Tovar.

Wilfredo Tovar fouls one off himself and doubles over in pain

We’ve seen a lot of Mets taking a beating over the course of this series.  Kevin Plawecki took two pitches and a foul ball on Friday, then Matt Clark left Saturday’s game after being hit by a pitch.  Sunday was Tovar’s day, which started when he fouled one off himself in the top of the 7th.  Tovar has been getting a bit frustrated at the plate lately and this certainly didn’t help.  But this was just the beginning.

T.J. Chism runs into trouble in the 7th inning

The rest of the team felt the pain in the bottom half when T.J. Chism started things off with three consecutive hits to left field.  With the pressure on, Chism walked the next batter to bring up Ryan Schimpf, who was so feared on Saturday that he was given an intentional walk.  That wasn’t an option with the bases loaded, so he had to settle for a hit by pitch.  After allowing the first five batters of the inning to reach base without recording an out, that was it for Chism.  He would go on the disabled list the next day, so something was clearly wrong.

Jon Velasquez was handed the unenviable task of getting three outs with three runners already on base.  Those runners wouldn’t be a problem for long.  Velasquez gave up a double that cleared the bases to the first batter he saw but settled in and got through the inning, wrapping things up on a 95mph fastball with runners on second and third.

The B-Mets would get their lead back in the top of the 8th, but it was short-lived.  Jack Leathersich gave the run back in the bottom half but kept the game tied until the end of the 9th.

Chase Bradford and Adam Kolarek would each pitch two scoreless innings to give the B-Mets another four chances to score a run.

Oh, for the love of god, enough with the bunting!

Which they tried to do by bunting.  For three straight innings, the Mets bunted when they got a runner on base (twice that was by HBP).  In the 10th and the 11th, we got the scene above: out at second, just barely safe at first.  We’re in extra innings and the Mets are giving away outs.  Things went differently in the 12th, for better and worse.

Wilfredo Tovar leaves the game in the 12th inning after being hit by a pitch

Wilfredo Tovar started things off by getting hit by a pitch that had him on the ground in pain.  He would leave the game after being helped off the field but would be back in the lineup on Monday.  With Dustin Lawley running for Tovar, Kyle Johnson got a sacrifice bunt down successfully and moved Lawley to second.  Lawley took third on a ground out, but he would be stranded 90 feet from home.  The Fisher Cats answered back in the bottom half with speedy pinch hitter Kenny Wilson walking, stealing second, and stealing third with one out.  Wilson wouldn’t make it any closer to scoring than Lawley had.  Both teams would then strand runners on second in the 13th as this game looked like it would never end.

Matt Reynolds singles to drive in Kyle Johnson for the winning run

Kyle Johnson wouldn’t be bunting when he came up with the bases empty in the top of the 14th.  Instead, he hit a double.  A single from Brian Burgamy moved him to third and another single from Matt Reynolds brought him home for the first run in six innings.  That would be it, leaving it up to a depleted bullpen with only Saturday’s relievers left unused.

John Church would get a one-run Binghamton lead in the bottom of the 14th, leaving only Cody Satterwhite in the bullpen.  Church got things started with a pair of strikeouts and then got an easy ground ball to end the game and finally let the kids, if there were any left in the stadium, run the bases.

The 42nd out…

Final Score: Bingamton 9, New Hampshire 8

That’s it for the B-Mets at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in 2014.  See you next year…

17 May 2014 – Binghamton Mets at New Hampshire Fisher Cats

Rainy Lara’s weaknesses: 7th inning, Ryan Schimpf

Rainy Lara’s previous outing at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium consisted of 7 scoreless innings with just 3 strikeouts.  Despite the results, Lara was clearly gassed by the 7th inning and got lucky on a couple of fly balls to center.  This time around, the strikeouts were up but so was Lara’s 7th inning luck.  Ryan Schimpf had accounted for all of New Hampshire’s offense with a pair of solo home runs before Lara went an inning too far and nearly threw away a 4-run lead.  John Church did his best to limit the damage and Cody Satterwhite pitched a perfect 9th to close out a narrow 6-5 victory.

Box Score

They’ll let anyone to second base around here…

Rainy Lara kept things quick and clean for the first three innings, giving up only two hits while striking out three over that span.  The Mets struck first in the top of the third with three runs on hits from Travis Taijeron, Wilfredo Tovar, Brian Burgamy, and Kevin Plawecki plus a Matt Clark HBP.  Clark was in serious pain after being hit but stayed in the game to run the bases.  Cory Vaughn took his place as DH the next time through the batting order.

Lara got three more strikeouts in the 4th, but only after giving up a solo home run to Ryan Schimpf.  Schimpf hit a second solo home run in the 6th, but that was the extent of New Hampshire’s scoring over the first six innings.

The Mets added a run of their own in the top of the 6th on a Travis Taijeron double that missed being a home run by mere inches.  It was still enough to score Jayce Boyd, who walked earlier in the inning.

Darrell Ceciliani scores from first on a pair of throwing errors

The 7th inning got started with a Darrell Ceciliani single that apparently bugged New Hampshire pitcher John Anderson.  Repeated pickoff attempts have a way of going bad, though Rainy Lara got away with a whole bunch at once earlier in the game.  For Anderson, three was his limit.  Ceciliani made it to third base when the pickoff went awry and then scored when the throw to third had the same result.  I guess that’s one way to get rid of a runner…

In a surprising twist, Cory Vaughn, batting well under .200 this season, hit a double with two outs.  Kevin Plawecki, batting well over .300 this season, then doubled Vaughn home on what appeared to be a routine fly ball.  That would do it for the Mets’ offense, but when’s the last time they blew a 4-run lead?  Oh, right, last night…

It’s never a good sign when runners are rolling around the bases…

Three hits and one out later, Lara was pulled from the game with the lead cut to 6-3.  John Church would go on to allow both inherited runners to score, but neither team managed anything other than a strikeout or groundout over the rest of the game.

Cody Satterwhite strikes out Jon Berti to end the game

Final Score: Bingamton 6, New Hampshire 5