Comprehensive Baseball Ink Test: Overview

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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2014 Mets Draft Class Autographs

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.

1 Michael Conforto 3 Milton Ramos 4 Eudor Garcia-Pacheco 5 Josh Prevost
6 Tyler Moore 7 Brad Wieck 8 Dash Winningham 9 Michael Katz
10 Kelly Secrest 13 Erik Manoah 18 Raphael Ramirez 40 Dale Burdick

Previous Editions:

2013 Mets Draft Class Autographs
2012 Mets Draft Class Autographs
2011 Mets Draft Class Autographs

2013 Futures Game Material Overview

Stars of tomorrow, jerseys from last year

On Sunday, Noah Syndergaard made his second futures game appearance, closing out the USA team’s 3-2 victory after starting off last year’s Futures Game at Citi Field.  It will be a few months before his jersey from this year’s Futures Game makes its way into cards, but last year’s edition is now widely available thanks to last month’s 2014 Bowman Inception.  In fact, Inception seems to have been the destination for much of the material from the 2013 Futures Game, leaving very little to fill the time before this year’s material appears (likely in 2014 Bowman Draft in November, possibly sooner).  While every year is different, here’s a look back at where the jerseys from the Mets prospects in last year’s Futures Game ended up.

For a guide to the various material types discussed here, see this breakdown of the 2013 NL All-Star jersey.

See all Futures Game material in the archives: USA Team | World Team

2013 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects

Players: Rafael Montero, Brandon Nimmo
Material: Primary

Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects is a typical landing spot for Futures Game material, so it wasn’t surprising to see the first 2013 Futures Game swatches show up here.  Of the three Mets though, only Rafael Montero and Brandon Nimmo were featured here and only with pieces of the primary fabric panels.  Noah Syndergaard would not have any material released in 2013.  Dilson Herrera, received in the August trade of Marlon Byrd and John Buck to the Pirates, does have jersey cards here but not as a Met, making them ineligible.  These cards have several serial numbered parallel tiers, but none of them contain any different material.

2014 Bowman

Players: Rafael Montero, Brandon Nimmo, Noah Syndergaard
Material: Primary, Secondary, Side Panel

As usual, the first Bowman product of the year included a few pieces of last year’s Futures Game jerseys.  And by “a few,” I mean 25 of each.  Unlike the more numerous Bowman Draft cards, these contained material from various different parts of the jerseys, including the small side panel sections, as seen in the Montero card above.  This set also featured the first Noah Syndergaard jersey cards as well as another non-qualifying Dilson Herrera card.

2014 Topps Pro Debut

Players: Dilson Herrera, Brandon Nimmo
Material: Primary, Secondary, Patch (Herrera only)

The first minor league product of the year, Pro Debut has a long history (all the way back to 2010) of including Futures Game material.  This year, it was where Topps burned off much of the material from lesser names, meaning Herrera (now shown as a member of the Savannah Sand Gnats and therefore eligible for inclusion here) and Nimmo.  While the material here is not identified as coming from the 2013 Futures Game, its origin is obvious.  The base jersey set (now called “Debut Duds” instead of “Minor League Materials”) featured two parallels (gold, numbered to 50, and silver, numbered to 25) with a mix of primary (front panels) and secondary (back panel) material.  No side panel swatches have been seen so far.  Dilson Herrera was also featured in the jumbo patch set (numbered to 5).

2014 Bowman Inception

Players: Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, Dilson Herrera (patches only), Brandon Nimmo (patches only)
Material: Primary, Secondary, Patches

After a wait of nearly a year, Bowman Inception finally delivered Noah Syndergaard’s 2013 Futures Game material in quantity.  Syndergaard and Montero were both featured in the base memorabilia set with many parallels and variants containing material of various types, with many (but not all) of the low-numbered variants containing patches.  This is also the product that got most of the remaining large patches, including the apple ASG logo and letter patches (the 2013 Futures Game logo patches from Montero, Nimmo, and Syndergaard remain available for future products).

More to come as additional material is released, likely next up in 2014 Bowman Platinum.

Product Spotlight: 2014 Topps Archives

Send in the clones

Two years ago, Topps brought back the Archives brand for the fourth time (following 1982, 1993-1995, and 2001-2005), once again changing the formulation to fit the modern collecting landscape. 2013 brought a few key changes to Archives, some of which were kept in 2014′s iteration along with a lot of significant additions. In the end though, 2014 saw the smallest autograph checklist ever in Archives and the least variety in card designs, with parallels attempting to make up the difference.

Card Design

Like last year, 2014 Archives uses a more vintage card stock than the 2012 version. The years selected for this go-around are a bit odd. 1973 is a classic design that looks great with today’s printing technology. 1980 is also a solid design, but it was one of the featured designs in 2012 Archives. Too soon? And then there’s 1986… If there’s an ’80s Topps design to skip, that’s the one. 1989, also featured in the die-cut minis in 2014 Topps Series 1 and Series 2, is a reasonable choice considering its 25th anniversary, shared with the movie Major League. Unlike previous years though, the short prints did not feature any additional designs and were instead limited to these four. Even the Fan Favorite Autographs only added the base designs from 2013 Archives. I really don’t get what Topps was thinking with these choices.

Mets Selection

Six Mets made the cut in the 200-card Archives base set. Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores are the default Mets Rookies in everything this year, Tom Seaver and David Wright are franchise players, and Matt Harvey and Curtis Granderson are somewhere in the mix for additional filler. Sadly, there’s not much star power on this team, so this is about the best that could be expected. One disappointment is that only the 1973 and 1989 designs are featured, but the SPs take care of the rest.  In terms of photography, most of these look like spring training photos, which look great on these designs.  The Wilmer Flores photo adds another to the list of Mets shown in Los Mets jerseys in 2014 Topps products.  The Granderson though looks awful.  And awfully familiar…

Once, twice, three times a photoshop

Really, Topps? You didn’t get even a single picture of Granderson in spring training? By the end of May, there is no excuse to be using lame photoshop jobs for a player signed last year. Series 1 and Heritage get a pass, Gypsy Queen is pushing it, but Bowman and Archives are simply unacceptable.


One other change to this year’s Archives SPs is the appearance of active players among the 50 SPs. Zack Wheeler is the lone Met in the 1980 design and Mookie Wilson and John Olerud have 1986 covered. With no alternate designs, many retired players appear in designs from outside their playing years, which was previously only seen in base cards. Also like the base cards, the SPs use the same pseudo-vintage card stock as the base set. The only things setting the SPs apart now are the card numbers and insertion ratios.


Like last year, all 200 base cards have a gold rainbow foil parallel numbered to 199. I still prefer the gold foil used in the 2012 Archives parallel, but I appear to be in the minority. New for 2014 and following in the silver trend seen in several other Topps products this year is a silver rainbow foil parallel numbered to 99. As in previous years, the SPs do not have parallels, which is a bit disappointing considering that most of the key RCs are SPs in 2014 Archives.

Mini Topps Deckle Inserts

In 2012 and 2013, the Archives Mets team set has been heavy on SPs and light on inserts. 2014 flips that around with only 3 SPs and a whopping 10 inserts. Unfortunately, three of those are of the mini deckle variety. The whole mini thing is so overdone at this point that, short of bringing back a Topps Leaders product, I would prefer to see all of these minis retired permanently. On top of that, the deckle edge die-cut pattern around black and white photographs with blue facsimile signatures creates one of the ugliest looks in all of sports cards. And yet it keeps coming back. I’m glad to see more John Olerud Mets cards, but I could do without this one.

1987 All-Star Inserts

This one is even more loaded, with Dwight Gooden, Gary Carter, Howard Johnson, and Matt Harvey featured here. These use the familiar design of the All-Star Commemorative Set cards inserted in rack packs from the ’80s. Unlike those cards though, these do not use glossy card stock and instead use the same standard card stock as most of the rest of the inserts. With so much of an emphasis on recreating vintage styles, the lack of high gloss here is a big miss and keeps this great design from really popping.

Other Inserts

But that’s not all. After getting Seaver in the 1972 basketball design last year, 2014 Archives brings us Seaver in the 1971 hockey design. Is football up next in 2015? Sadly, no Mets were featured in the most interesting insert set, the die-cut wood Firebrand insert set. 2014 Archives also featured two retail-exclusive insert sets, 1987 Future Stars and 1988 All-Stars (named “Retail Chase” for some reason). Howard Johnson and David Wright represent the Mets in those sets, respectively.

Fan Favorites Autographs

As always, the real draw among the common inserts is the Fan Favorites Autographs set. 2014 Archives features the smallest base autograph set of any Archives product with just 38 players signing this year. Five of those, John Olerud, Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Howard Johnson, and Lenny Harris, are shown as Mets. Unlike the two previous Archives products, active players were also featured in this checklist, though none of them were Mets. Also unlike the previous Fan Favorites Autographs set, this year’s set features a few duplicate players from the 2012 and 2013 sets; Johnson and Wilson were also featured in 2013′s set and Olerud appeared in 2012′s set as a Blue Jay. Oddly, the lightened signature area that was introduced in 2013 was removed this time around, making the signatures harder to see (particularly on blue areas like Olerud’s jersey). The biggest change though would bring back something only previously seen in 2005.

Parallel Autographs

Parallels! The only time Archives autographs have had parallels before was back in 2005, and those were rainbow foil (similar to this year’s silver parallels) parallels numbered to 10. 2014 Archives went in a different direction with multiple tiers of colored border parallels: gold (retail exclusive, numbered to 50), silver (numbered to 25), purple (numbered to 10), sapphire (numbered to 5), and printing plates (four each numbered 1/1). Like we saw last year though, that doesn’t work for the 1990 design, so instead we got tinted background variants for those, which ranged from somewhat noticeable to nearly indistinguishable. The 1986 design fared somewhat better, but that’s really lipstick-on-a-pig territory:

And so it goes. The other designs looked decent, but purple? Silver I get because of this year’s silver fetish, but purple is an odd choice. First 2014 Bowman introduces purple base parallels numbered to 10 alongside the usual purple ice parallels numbered to 10 (not to be confused with the unnumbered retail exclusive purple prospect parallels), now this. It’s an odd time for Topps to start being consistent with its parallel numbering.

Other Mets

Several notable former Mets appeared in the 2014 Fan Favorites Autographs set with other teams. Carlos Baerga and Orlando Hernandez had their first certified autographs since the ’90s and Don Zimmer had his final autograph card to be issued before his death. Rickey Henderson also had a limited number of cards issued as redemptions.

The Rest

In addition to the Fan Favorites parallels, 2014 Archives featured several other low-numbered Mets autographs. David Wright and Mookie Wilson were in the 1981 mini autographs set, combining an awful design with the hated mini format. Gary Carter and Howard Johnson had 1987 All-Star autographs while Wright was featured again in a Retail Chase autograph variant. Darryl Strawberry, who was featured as a Yankee in the 1967 Winners Celebrate box toppers, was featured as a Met in the autograph variant. And that rounds out the Mets in this year’s Archives.

The Verdict

From a retail standpoint, the reduced production run (about half of last year’s Archives, or about 800 hobby cases plus retail) and the hot-selling Major League autographs made 2014 Archives a successful product. From a collector standpoint though, the value was limited unless you were lucky enough to hit a big card. That’s the norm these days, so it isn’t a surprise. Some of the base autographs held decent value, but the parallels, rather than adding value, devalued many of the base autographs. All five of the base Mets autographs were readily available for under $10 and even some of the printing plate autographs could be had for less than $20. No matter how you look at it, adding more of the same can’t take the place of variety.

The Mets team set has a different composition this year but still comes in at about the same size as always. Fewer SPs, more inserts, fewer autographs, more parallels, and no relics. The first Lenny Harris certified autographs and the first John Olerud Mets autographs since 1999 were definite highlights, but Topps missed the mark on several fronts. Between the odd design choices (and lack of design variety), the lack of gloss on the 1987 All-Star inserts, the underwhelming overload of parallel autographs, the return of mini deckles, and the awful relic design (with no Mets at least), there’s a lot of room for improvement. And that’s not even getting into the absurdly tiny (4 cards!) Major League insert set and the last-minute cancellation of The Warriors cards. Two years after bringing back a classic, Topps is spinning its wheels more than realizing the potential of the Archives brand.

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.