Speculation : June # 1’s

'09 Harper

With the convergence of multiple baseball card manufacturers and the Internet in the 90s’, many collectors turned into speculators and, therefore, investors. Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft has taken place every June since 1965, but the attention on the players has intensified ten-fold during that time. If you were a baseball fan in 1966, you probably didn’t know that Steve Chilcott, a High School Catcher from Lancaster, California was the first overall pick in the country (by the Mets). And, even if you did, it wasn’t anticipated that he would have a baseball card until he (someday) reached the Majors. The end result was that he had a seven-year minor league career, never had a baseball card and the Mets could have had Reggie Jackson instead.

 

Bryce Harper, the #1 pick in 2010, was the hottest card in the industry in 2011 and he’s proved his worth ever since with a career that includes a MVP award. The same phenomenon took place in 2010 with Stephen Strasburg but he ended up on the operating table before the 2011 season was over.

 

Let’s look at the top picks over a 20 year span and see how the hype turned out…

 

> 1997 – Matt Anderson, Tigers P…a tall pitcher with a triple digit fastball, he never had any real success at the major league level.

 

> 1998 – Pat Burrell, Phillies OF…got to the majors in 2000 and had a fairly productive career that included over 300 HR’s, but never a star.

 

> 1999 – Josh Hamilton, Devil Rays OF…lost his way to drugs and personal issues and was actually out of baseball before resurrecting his career with the Reds in ’07…eventually established himself as a  star with the Rangers and won the AL MVP in 2010…however, the last few years of his career are remembered mostly for injuries.

 

> 2000 – Adrian Gonzalez, Marlins 1B…two teams gave up on him before he established himself with the Padres in ’06…signed a huge free agent contract with the Red Sox in 2011 and has had a successful career that is winding down in 2018.

 

> 2001 – Joe Mauer, Twins C…the face of the Twins franchise since his debut in ’04, he has won three AL Batting Titles…despite 2000+ hits and the ’09 MVP, he’s never been a superstar.

 

> 2002 – Bryan Bullington, Pirates P…an example of why the Pirates weren’t relevant for so many years.

 

> 2003 – Delmon Young, Devil Rays OF…was a productive player for a few years including finishing 2nd in the ROY voting in 2007, but his career was over before he turned 30.

 

> 2004 – Matt Bush, Padres SS…a complete bust, he ended up in jail before resurrecting his career as a relief Pitcher with the Rangers…Justin Verlander was picked next in this draft.

 

> 2005 – Justin Upton, D’Backs OF…now on his 4th team, his 266 lifetime HR’s show the potential, but he’s good, not great…and inconsistent.

 

> 2006 – Luke Hochever, Royals P…out of baseball, his lifetime ERA in nine seasons was 4.98.

 

> 2007 – David Price, Devil Rays P…with 130 career Wins, a Cy Young award and a $200+ Million contract, you’d think he’d be thought of as an elite SP…not to collectors or Fantasy players.

 

> 2008 – Tim Beckham, Rays SS…didn’t have a decent major league season until 2017 at age 27…hitting .179 this season.

 

> 2009 – Strasburg

 

> 2010 – Harper

 

> 2011 – Gerrit Cole, Pirates P…finally realizing his full potential in his 6th big league campaign.

 

> 2012 – Carlos Correa, Astros SS…only 23 and already a star on a World Series championship team.

 

> 2013 – Mark Appel, Astros P…has given up the game at age 26 after five minor league seasons…his lifetime ERA is 5.06…Kris Bryant was the next pick.

 

> 2014 – Brady Aiken, Astros P…didn’t sign with Houston and was drafted as the 17th player by the Indians in 2015…in “A” ball last year, he was 5-13 with a 4.77 ERA.

 

> 2015 – Dansby Swanson, D’Backs SS…essentially given away by the D’Backs to the Braves in a trade prior to the ’16 season, he’s still trying to prove his worth with a lifetime .253 BA…Alex Bregman was the #2 pick.

 

> 2016 – Mickey Moniak, Phillies OF…still only 20 but his minor league BA of .244 in over 800 AB’s doesn’t look impressive…Nick Senzel was taken right behind him.

 

So, if you “invested” in the initial baseball cards of these 20 players, what kind of success would you have realized? Harper & Correa would be blue chips while some others might still be in your portfolio. The sage advice is to collect, not speculate.

 

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April Showers & BABIP

Santana Phillies

As the calendar turned to May last week, there were at least two types of Fantasy Baseball team owners in the audience. There was the one with a sore elbow from throwing Cheetos at the TV screen while the MLB highlights were being shown. And then there was the one with a partial tear of the rotator cuff from patting himself on the back. April can be a cruel month for Fantasy aficionados, as your players are either in the penthouse or the outhouse with 1/6 of the season in the books.

 

In the 1927 version of “The Jazz Singer”, Al Jolson told us that April showers bring the flowers that bloom in May. For the position players on your Fantasy team, April success or failure will probably bring regression to the mean in May…or June…or July. If you’d like to have a sneak preview of what the immediate future holds for these hitters, maybe studying BABIP would be of assistance.

 

Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) measures how many of a batter’s balls in play go for hits. The formula is (Hits-Home Runs) / (At Bats – Strikeouts – Home Runs + Sac Flies) The average BABIP for hitters is in the range of .290 to .310. Players that deviate from that average to an extreme are usually due for a regression. Don’t be confused into thinking that “regression” is a negative term. When discussing statistics, a move from .400 to .300 is a regression but so is a move from .200 to .300. Another important factor is a player’s individual BABIP over a large statistical sample. Fast base runners who hit more groundballs will have a higher BABIP…Ichiro’s lifetime number is .338. Flyball hitters create the other end of the spectrum…Joey Gallo’s lifetime number is .257.

 

Obviously, BABIP can have a direct impact on a hitter’s batting average (BA). If a player has an extremely high or low BABIP early in the season, it means that whether it is good defense, bad luck, cold weather or a slight change in skills, there is high probability that the player will regress back to their career BABIP figure. With the help of charts from FanGraphs.com, let’s look at some of the early-season results (through May 4th) on both sides of the equation.

 

Top 12

 

1) J. D. Martinez, Red Sox OF/DH .434 – This has led to his .342 BA and lots of production, however, his lifetime BABIP over 7+ seasons is .344.

 

2) Dee Gordon, Mariners OF OF .415 – He’s doing just what Seattle hoped by batting lead-off and being a catalyst…this type of hitter usually has a high BAPIP but he may trend toward his lifetime number of .348.

 

3) Yoan Moncada, White Sox 2B .407 – This shouldn’t be a big surprise if you recall that his exit velocity is one of the highest in baseball…not enough of a track record at this point.

 

4) Jorge Soler, Royals OF .406 – If he’s on your Fantasy roster and you’re excited about his .309 BA, you might want to temper those expectations moving forward.

 

5) Jed Lowrie, A’s 2B .402 – If you’ve been wondering how a 34 year-old veteran can have the best month of his career, this is part of the answer…his lifetime figure in over 3,500 AB’s is .298.

 

6) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF .400 – This isn’t really that much of an outlier…his number as Rookie of the Year in ’17 was .357.

 

7) Mallex Smith, Rays OF .400 – With his speed, he’ll have a good number (maybe .340) but this stat isn’t sustainable.

 

8) Daniel Robertson, Rays 2B .396 – Who? Are we really sure which Daniel Robertson this is? Last season in 212 AB’s, his BAPIP was .282.

 

9) Tommy Pham, Cardinal’s OF .391 – In case you thought last year’s break-out was smoke & mirrors, think again…the 2017 number was .368.

 

10) Ryan Flahery, Braves 3B .391 – Every year, there’s a player like this early in the season. Even the Braves don’t believe it, as they’ve already handed his job to Jose Bautista.

 

11) Rhys Hoskins, Phillies OF .391 – This number is 150 points higher than his amazing 2017…maybe somewhere in the middle is reality.

 

12) Dansby Swanson, Braves SS .388 – His Fantasy owners have been encouraged, but don’t lose sight of last year’s figure that finished at .292.

 

 

Bottom 12

 

174) Carlos Santana, Phillies 1B .169 – If you’re wondering why a hitter might have a BA that is 80 points below his lifetime number, this could be part of the reason.

 

173) Aledmys Diaz, Blue Jays SS .173 – Batting .210 but has 6 HR’s in 100 AB’s…there might be some upside for 2018.

 

172) Adam Duvall, Reds OF .176 – The power is still there (5 HR’s) and last year’s BABIP was .290, so this should get better.

 

171) Dexter Fowler, Cardinals OF .176 – Too much of a track record for this to be real…his lifetime number in 11+ seasons is .334.

 

170) Anthony Rizzo, Cubs 1B .179 – A slow start and a DL stint has his Fantasy owners in a snit…this might be a reason not to panic.

 

 

169) Gary Sanchez, Yankees C .194 – 9 HR’s & 28 RBI’s with this number? Imagine the results when he starts tending toward 2017’s figure of .304.

 

168) Matt Carpenter, Cardinals IF .197 – Watch for significant improvement, as his lifetime number is .318.

 

167) Logan Morrison, Twins 1B .197 – Maybe some improvement but his lifetime number is only .270.

 

166) Yonder Alonso, Indians 1B .198 – The poster-child for launch angle, he’s off to his usual slow start…he has 8 HR’s & 21 RBI’s, so when he begins creeping back toward a .300 BABIP, the results will be worthwhile.

 

165) Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals 1B .203 – Still has top-rated exit velocity, so don’t write him off just yet…his BABIP last year was .335.

 

164) Ian Desmond, Rockies 1B/OF .208 – The good news is his .325 lifetime number…the bad news is that in today’s baseball environment, some age-32 players start to slip.

 

163) Edwin Encarnacion, Indians DH .208 – A smart Fantasy player would have traded for this slugger in April…he’s already started to come around with 9 HR’s.

 

What’s interesting are the results since these profiles were written on Sunday, May 6th.

 

> Santana has thirteen (13) RBI’s in four games.

 

> Duvall had a walk-off HR on Wednesday.

 

> Rizzo had three extra-base hits and 5 RBI’s on Wednesday.

 

> Desmond hit two (2) HR’s on Sunday.

 

The highest lifetime BABIP in the live-ball era? Ty Cobb & Rogers Hornsby both come in with a figure of .369.

 

 

 

 

 

He Hit The Ball Real Hard

'17 Moncada SP

Back in the days when ESPN was actually entertaining, Dan Patrick & Keith Olbermann seemed to have an endless amount of clichés that always fit even boring sports highlights. From “En Fuego” to “They’re Not Going To Get Him” to “The Whiff” to “You Can Try To Contain Him But You Can’t Stop Him” and so many more, the viewers were always in on the joke. When it came to baseball home runs, the go-to comments were “Gone” and “He Hit The Ball Real Hard”. With today’s analytical environment, you have to wonder how the boys would feel if they knew exactly how hard a player hit that ball?

 

My closest friend is a long-time baseball fan who goes all the way back to rooting for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in the 50’s. He was also a successful Fantasy Baseball player from 1984-2013, so his knowledge of the game and players had to be very detailed. Recently, we were talking baseball and I mentioned that “exit velocity” can help Fantasy players get a better read on the potential of a player. He looked at me and laughed because he thought I was messing with him and just making up a whimsical statistic. As a (now) casual baseball fan, he can’t be blamed for the skepticism because so much has changed since he stopped scouting players just a few years ago.

 

In 2015, Major League Baseball installed a state-of-art tracking technology in all 30 big league parks. It is called Statcast and allows for the analysis of a massive amount of baseball data. We’re talking Trackman Doppler radar and high definition Chyron Hego cameras. This allows all of us to quantify the raw skills of players in a way that was never even conceived when we first became fans of the game. This is where terms such as “spin rate”, “launch angle” and “pitch velocity” were born and they’re influencing our game every day.

 

“Exit Velocity” has a very simple definition…”How fast, in miles per hour, a ball was hit by a batter”. In the current era of baseball where records are being set for both Home Runs and Strikeouts, it tells teams the kind of damage a player can create when he hits the ball. The easiest example from 2017 is Joey Gallo of the Rangers who had a batting average of .209 and struck out 196 times in 449 At-Bats. In another time and place, he might have been sent to the minors but that’s no longer the case. Why? Because he had the 3rd highest exit velocity in baseball last year (93.1 mph) and that equated to him producing 41 HR’s, 80 RBI’s and a .867 OPS. His average Home Run traveled 421 feet! The best in the game was a rookie…Aaron Judge! He struck out over 200 times but finished with an OPS of over 1.000 while being 2nd in the MVP balloting. In case you might believe these are isolated examples, think about this…in April, Strikeouts exceeded Hits during a calendar month for the first time in baseball’s 150-year history. If Bob Dylan was a baseball fan, he’d say that “the times they are a changing”.

 

As the first month of the 2018 goes into the books, who are the players with the best exit velocity so far? Are they stars, phenoms or over-looked part-timers? Here are the top twelve (with a minimum of 30 batted ball events)…

 

1) Yoan Moncada, White Sox 2B (96.6 mph) – Formerly the #1 prospect in baseball, he’s lost his sheen after hitting .231 in 199 AB’s last season. Don’t give up on this 23 year-old just yet…a .922 OPS in 2018.

 

2) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF (96.2 mph) – Last season was no fluke.

 

3) Nelson Cruz, Mariners DH (96.1 mph) – He’s still good at age 37…led the AL in RBI’s last season.

 

4) Franchy Cordero, Padres OF (96.1 mph) – Didn’t even make the opening day roster, he has 5 HR’s in 54 AB’s…with 22 K’s

 

5) Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays OF (95.9 mph) – Another player who started the year in the minors, his .995 OPS in the early going is hard to ignore.

 

6) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF (95.7 mph) – Another thank you note to Derek Jeter.

 

7) J.D. Martinez, Red Sox DH (95.7 mph) – Will do lots of damage in that line-up.

 

8) Miguel Cabrera, Tigers 1B (95.5 mph) – Over the hill? Maybe not.

 

9) Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals 1B (95.5 mph) – Maybe we shouldn’t be fooled by that .188 BA.

 

10) Jose Abreu, White Sox 1B (95.4 mph) – One of the most consistent bats in the game.

 

11) Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees OF (95.0 mph) – 39 K’s in 101 AB’s just might be the pressure of New York.

 

12) Shohei Ohtani, Angels DH (94.9) – Here’s the trivia question for your baseball buddies…which is higher, Ohtani’s exit velocity as a hitter or his average fastball velocity as a pitcher? They’re actually very close, but his fastball wins at 97.4 mph.

 

The next time I talk baseball with my friend, maybe the subject will be “Barrels”.

 

 

Panicking In April

'16 Betts Trib

For Fantasy Baseball players, April can be an excruciating month. All that research you’ve done since last October is no longer just analysis, it is reality. As many pundits have reminded us, being impacted by a “small sample size” is a fool’s game but when players you counted on have already started to let you down, emotions often trump logic (my apologies for using the words “trump” and “logic” in the same sentence).

 

In November, the Old Duck wrote some “Picks n’ Pans” for The Fantasy Baseball Guide – Professional Edition that were published prior to the start of Spring Training. As I look at the standings in my three auction-style keeper leagues, how are my predictions doing in the early going? And, in some cases, was I smart or dumb to not take my own advice from four months earlier?

 

> Albert Almora, Cubs OF – In November, I was touting him as a youngster who might get more playing time in ’18. Then, when Ian Happ tore up Spring Training, Almora’s stock went down. Now that Happ has come back to earth, this prediction might not be so bad. He has a .831 OPS in April.

 

> Javier Baez, Cubs 2B – I panned him again this year due to the lack of plate discipline in his game. His 7 HR’s & 24 RBI’s in April are proving me wrong.

 

> Austin Barnes, Dodgers C – His significant playing time in last year’s playoffs led me to believe he’d get regular playing time behind the dish. Two (2) RBI’s in April says that isn’t the case.

 

> Mookie Betts, Red Sox OF – My suggestion to draft him at almost any cost has worked out well for Fantasy owners.

 

> Ryan Braun, Brewers 1B/OF – I told readers to not pay for more than 350 AB’s…his production has been solid, but he’s missing lots of games.

 

> Jeimer Candelario, Tigers 3B  – A sleeper pick, I said he was worth watching….290 BA / .359 OBP with 4 HR’s & 11 RBI’s seems really solid.

 

> Wilmer Flores, Mets IF – My hope was that the Mets would consider giving him regular playing time in his age-26 season…hasn’t happened yet but a .819 OPS over the last three weeks can’t be ignored forever.

 

> Cesar Hernandez, Phillies 2B – Told everyone to grab him and despite the ascension of Scott Kingery, Hernandez is playing everyday with a .431 OBP from the lead-off spot.

 

> Odubal Herrera, Phillies OF – Thought he would bounce back from a disappointing 2017…his .839 OPS in April tells the story.

 

> Adam Jones, Orioles OF – A good player who has always been slightly over-rated, I didn’t see any upside at age 33…so far, he has 24 K’s & 2 BB.

 

> Amed Rosario, Mets SS – Felt that his ’17 debut showed he wasn’t ready…his .242 BA and 20/4 K-to-BB ratio in April says nothing has changed.

 

> Chase Anderson, Brewers P – Seemed to have turned the corner in ’17 and his 3.25 ERA & 1.05 WHIP in April agree.

 

> Zach Davies, Brewers P – Felt that his ’17 season was somewhat lucky…his April ERA of 4.45 appears to make the case.

 

> Arodys Vizcaino, Braves P – Thought he would be a solid choice as the Closer…not many Save opportunities so far, but the numbers look good.

 

Let’s hope your predictions were just as good…or better. As for me, I also drafted Dee Gordon (cheer!), Chris Archer (boo!), Nick Pivetta (cheer!) and Adam Wainwright (boo!)

 

Whoever you chose, don’t forget that it’s just a small sample size.

 

 

The Color Of Baseball

'55 Robinson 5.5

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball celebrated the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Each year, that remembrance takes me back to my youth and thoughts about prejudice, intolerance and the innocence of childhood.

 

As a kid growing up in Boston, the Red Sox and Ted Williams were my passion. I knew every player, their stats and their uniform numbers. One of the things I didn’t really notice was that all the members of the team were white. Once my parents gifted me with a transistor radio and I was able to pick up the Dodger broadcasts from Brooklyn, it was easy for the “Bums” to become my favorite National League team. It also opened my thoughts to the society around me because the Dodgers had numerous players of color who had followed Robinson to Brooklyn. The Red Sox were the last team to roster a Black player (Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green) and it happened in 1959, a full 12 years after Robinson’s debut. Tom Yawkey owned the team from 1933 until his passing in 1976 and even today, his legacy is tainted by this lack of inclusion by the franchise.

 

It was my first real understanding of bigotry and Jackie Robinson’s #42 being worn by all Major Leaguers every April 15th sparks my love of that Dodger team.

 

In the late 1950’s, a Brooklyn Dodger fan was asked, “If you were in a room with Hitler, Stalin and Walter O’Malley and there were only two bullets in your gun, who would you shoot”? He replied, “I’d shoot O’Malley twice”. Such was the passion of the post-World War II Dodger faithful and the hatred they felt for the man who took their team away.

 

As immortalized in Roger Kahn’s 1972 book, “The Boys of Summer” and chronicled in the 2007 HBO documentary, “The Ghosts of Flatbush”, the Brooklyn Dodgers of 1947-57 created the modern template of how fans feel about their team. Joy, disappointment, loyalty, reverence, sorrow and elation are just some of the emotions that a true fan feels about baseball and we can never quite explain it properly to someone who has never had the experience.

 

This visit will combine baseball cards and SABRmetrics, as we’ll find the rookie cards of the legendary members of the Dodgers and also review each one’s contribution to the team through the use of “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR), the statistic developed to determine the true value of a player. The card values are based on cardboard in “Excellent” (EX 5) condition.

 

> 1B Gil Hodges, 1949 Bowman #100 ($110) – Played his first full season in 1948 and was an All-Star every year from 1949-1955…even had a couple of productive seasons in the late 50’s after the team moved to Los Angeles…his lifetime WAR of 45 isn’t quite Hall of Famer caliber, but he was one of the most beloved players on the team.

 

> 2B Jackie Robinson, 1948 Leaf #79 ($5,000) – He was already 28 years old by the time he joined the Dodgers and still played ten magical seasons at Ebbets Field, which included six NL pennants. Accumulated an impressive WAR of 61.4 in his relatively short career. As a side note, he was already retired when Pumpsie Green was first in the Red Sox line-up.

 

> 3B Billy Cox, 1949 Bowman #73 ($25) – The interesting back-story is that Cox was traded to the Dodgers from the Pirates after the ’47 season in a deal that sent Dixie Walker to the Bucs…Walker was one of the players from the South who made no secret of the fact that he wasn’t happy about having a Black teammate…Cox played with the club for eight seasons and retired after the ’55 Championship campaign with a lifetime WAR of 10.

 

> SS Harold “Pee Wee’ Reese, 1941 Play Ball #54 ($375) – Played for the Dodgers in the early 1940’s before spending three years in the military during the war…came back to be the Captain of the legendary team and was an All-Star for nine consecutive seasons beginning in ’46…inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984, he had an impressive lifetime WAR of 66.2.

 

> OF Jim “Junior” Gilliam, 1953 Topps #258 ($135) – Primarily a 2B, Robinson moved to the OF to accommodate Gilliam’s Rookie of the Year arrival…at Dodger Stadium, his number 19 is retired along with numerous Hall of Famers…a fixture in the line-up for 14 seasons, his lifetime WAR is 40.9.

 

> OF Duke Snider, 1949 Bowman #226 ($425) – Patrolled centerfield and was invariably compared to his contemporaries Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays…was on every All-Star team for the first 7 years of the 50’s and played for 18 seasons…inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980, his lifetime WAR is 66.5.

 

> OF Carl Furillo, 1949 Bowman #70 ($55) – While not considered a star compared to some teammates, he was an integral part of the team during the 50’s and led the NL in ’53 with a batting average of .344…has a lifetime WAR of 35.

 

> C Roy Campanella, 1949 Bowman #84 ($300) – “Campy” was the child of an Italian Father and Black Mother, who arrived in the majors the year after Robinson…played only ten seasons before being paralyzed in an off-season automobile accident in 1958, he  won 3 NL MVP awards in the 50’s…elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, he accumulated a WAR of 34.2 in his relatively short career.

 

> P Don Newcombe, 1950 Bowman #23 ($90) – Another star of the Negro Leagues, he broke in with the Dodgers in 1949 and proceeded to win 56 games in his first three seasons…after two years in the military during the Korean War, he came back to win 56 more the next three campaigns and won the MVP & Cy Young awards in ’56…his WAR was 29.5 in ten seasons.

 

> P Preacher Roe, 1949 Bowman #162 ($65) – Also acquired in the 1948 Dixie Walker trade, he was a mainstay of the Brooklyn rotation from 1948-53 and made four All-Star teams…his 12 seasons produced a lifetime WAR of 35.1.

 

> P Carl Erskine, 1951 Bowman #260 ($50) – Helped the “Bums” to five pennants during his eight seasons in the rotation including a 20-6 record in ’53…his lifetime WAR is 16.6.

 

Those 11 cards would sure look nice on a shelf in your den, wouldn’t they? Of course, we’ve saved you some money because even though Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale joined the team while it was still in Brooklyn, their stardom materialized after the move to L.A. Was one of your favorites left off the list? Maybe Andy Pafko, Sandy Amoros, Don Zimmer, Clem Labine, Don Hoak or Ralph Branca? In that case, you’re a real fan.

 

One of my favorite stops for lunch is salad/soup/sandwich place where you order at the counter, take a spot at a numbered table and wait for a member of the staff to bring your food. I always choose table number 42.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Littlefield Effect – 2018

Littlefield

John Littlefield is now 64 years of age, but his name still resonates with baseball card collectors and Rotisserie League Baseball team owners. He only spent two seasons in the major leagues but what wouldn’t the rest of us give to always be known as “a former big league Pitcher”?

 

The baseball card connection is easy to explain, as Littlefield played in the early 80’s when the card industry exploded with new manufacturers. The Topps company had a virtual monopoly on baseball cards from 1956 – 1980 but in 1981, licenses were given to both Donruss & Fleer and despite the competition, all three companies were guilty of less-than acceptable quality control of their products. There were numerous examples all through the 1980’s of mistakes, misprints, corrections and embarrassments. The most infamous incident involved the now legendary 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken card that was distributed with a picture of the player holding a bat that had an obscenity written on the bottom of the barrel. Fleer tried to correct the card quickly but never really got it right, producing a total of five different variations.

 

Littlefield’s card legacy was early in the cycle, as his 1982 Fleer card was originally distributed with a reverse negative of the picture, turning the 27 year-old right-hander into a southpaw. Fleer corrected the card, thus making the original a very scarce item. Even today, the corrected version is a “common” card worth about a nickel, while the difficult-to-find “error” card will set you back about $30.

 

Littlefield’s enduring legacy to Fantasy Baseball comes from the original 1984 “Rotisserie League Baseball” book that started this amazing hobby played by millions of fans. As the founding fathers of the game had actually started playing a form of the game in 1981, they shared many stories of the fun, camaraderie and strategy they had experienced in those early years. A segment of the book talked about “The Littlefield Effect”, an interesting factor that impacted the value of players at their first few Drafts. While the early 80’s isn’t really that long ago, it was long before the digital age of affordable PC’s, the Internet and instant information. The Roto inventors decided that the best time to have the player Draft was on the weekend following opening day in order to have reasonably valid information about the official MLB 25-man rosters. After all, stats were only published weekly in the USA Today and league standings were always at least a week behind the actual games.

 

The timing of the Draft, however, led to 4-5 games being played prior to the auction / player selection and box scores were readily available in daily newspapers. Could a few games really have a major impact on the value of a player in a 162 game season? John Littlefield answered that question in 1981. In 1980, he had a very productive rookie campaign with the Cardinals, appearing in 52 games with a 3.14 ERA, 5 Wins & 9 Saves. In December, the Cards made an 11-player trade with the Padres and Littlefield headed west. To say that the ’81 Padres were terrible would be a compliment. In the strike-interrupted 110 game season, they went 41-69 and the entire team only hit 32 home runs. Ozzie Smith was the Shortstop and despite leading the NL in At-Bats, he hit .222 with 0 HR’s & 22 RBI’s.

 

The Padres opened the year in San Francisco and Littlefield saved the 4-1, 12-inning win. The next day, he registered another Save in a 4-2 victory. So, by the time the Rotisserie owners showed up for the Draft, it seemed logical that the Padres had anointed him as their Closer. With Saves being one of only four statistical pitching categories in the standings, his auction price ended up being $34, equal to 13% of the total 23-player budget of the winning bidder. As you might guess, the remainder of the 1981 season was very forgettable for Littlefield, as he suffered 2 losses and a blown Save later in April and was replaced as the Closer by a Pitcher named Gary Lucas. He pitched in 14 games at AAA Syracuse in 1982 with an ERA of 7.49 and his career was over at age 28.

 

For those of us who still play “old-school” Rotisserie Baseball and draft our teams on the Saturday following opening day, we also have memorable “effects” of our own. One of the classics was in 1994, when a Cubs outfielder named Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes hit 3 Home Runs on opening day. Even though he had never played more than 50 games in any major-league season, his price on Draft day was $22. He ended up with 8 HR’s for the season and never hit another one in his MLB career.

 

This past weekend, we gathered for the 35th annual Draft of our original Rotisserie league from 1984 and the Littlefield effect was still floating around the room with even more influence than normal. Why? With MLB changing their opening day schedule, we actually had nine days of box scores influencing our bids. Using projections from a highly-respected Fantasy site, let’s see how things played out at the table. As this is a keeper league, we’ll assume that there could be an inflation factor of 20% added to the 4 x 4 projections.

 

> The most obvious example for 2018 was starting pitching. Despite the fact that most of the top-tier SP’s were available, there were no bargains. One or two outings from these guys don’t change the prices but with inflation a definite factor, they all went for big bucks…Clayton Kershaw $38, Max Scherzer $38, Jacob DeGrom $34 & Stephen Strasburg $33. None of these were unexpected and within a reasonable range of their projections. The best of the next tier was Hendricks and his $23 price was close to projection while right behind him you’ll find Madison Bumgarner at a $17 price on the DL (right at projection). The next group of SP’s were overpriced and in some cases it was due to early season performance. The most blatant example was Patrick Corbin of the D’Backs whose two stellar outings raised his price from a projection of $8-$10 to an actual auction price of $25! Carlos Martinez also went for $25 even though his projection was around $17 and a number of others came in higher than expected such as Jon Lester & Johnny Cueto ($19), Jose Quintana & Kenta Maeda ($18) and Tanner Roark ($17).

 

> Closers are always inflated in a 4×4 format, but early-season results created even higher prices. The prime example is Brad Boxberger, who was named Closer late in the Spring and then picked up three Saves before the Draft. The result? He went for $27. Kenley Jensen’s early struggles brought his price down to $31 (well below projected value), less than Rasiel Iglesias at $33.

 

> Injuries also factor into this equation, as the sore back that caused JT Realmoto to miss the start of the season lowered his price to $11 instead of the $17 projection. Another example is Daniel Murphy going for $16 instead of $20+.

 

> Hot starts are always the key to this phenomenon costing teams more money. Examples include Colin Moran’s 4-hit, 3-RBI game the night before the Draft essentially doubling his price from around $10 to $20, Michael Conforto’s good health ramping him up to $26 instead of $19-$20 and Scott Kingery’s new contract resulting in a $23 Roto price.

 

> The Littlefield effect also rears its ugly head in the end game as owners are looking for bargains and stats. Would Nick Pivetta have been a $3 player if he hadn’t recorded 9 K’s and a Win two days before the Draft? How about Trevor Williams and his 2 Wins costing $7?  Or Tyler Mahle’s debut bringing up his value to $9?

 

> While “newbies” to the Roto game might think that we are dinosaurs, don’t forget that the timing also allows us to know who has the job on opening day. And the teams that were influenced by box scores may have to deal with the consequences as the seasons rolls on. However, if MLB keeps the same schedule for 2019, we’ll have the auction two days after opening day and John Littlefield may become even more obscure.

 

The good news for all of us is that whenever you hold your Draft, it’s your favorite day of the year.

The Heritage Of Topps – 2018

'18 McMahon

Everyone you know probably considers themselves an expert at something, but Fantasy Baseball players are at the top of the food chain. Even though we play the game for money and bragging rights, the real truth is that we actually think we’re smarter than MLB GM’s & Managers. After all, would Derek Holland be in your rotation? Or would Fernando Rodney be your Closer? Or would you take on $8 Million in salary to have Carlos Gonzalez take away AB’s from your top prospects? Or would you pay Yasmany Tomas over $10 Million to play in Reno? Or would you wait until opening day to decide that Luke Gregerson & Dominic Leone weren’t the answer in your bullpen? The Old Duck participates in a 15-team Fantasy Baseball “experts” league where it is abundantly clear that each owner considers himself to be smarter than the other 14, but none of them would make those moves. It isn’t arrogance, only knowledge gained from experience.

 

Avid baseball card collectors are no different in their approach to the hobby. After watching card manufacturers flail away at each other in the 80’s and overproduce products in the 90’s to the detriment of the industry, it’s easy to criticize almost any product offering. Card enthusiasts are quick to complain about too few autograph cards, but also aren’t happy when the autographs are on stickers applied to the cards because they want the authenticity of “on-card” signatures. They also don’t like redemption cards (when players have not yet had the opportunity to sign), but also whine when the better players aren’t included in a product. It is the nature of the consumer to always want more for less and consider themselves smarter than the folks in charge.

 

In an attempt to remove myself from this category (even temporarily), I’m willing to admit that the people at The Topps Company are brilliant!

 

In 2001, Topps was celebrating the 50th anniversary of their entry into the baseball card business. They utilized the framework of their historical 1952 set to develop a new product. Topps Heritage came into the marketplace with current players pictured on cards that had the format of the iconic 1952 set. The detail of the set and the photography took collectors back to the time when packs were a nickel and included a stick of gum. The set was designed for card enthusiasts to build it completely by opening packs and sorting through the cards. It even had some of the quirks of the original like short-printed cards, checklist cards and even bubble gum…even though the gum was enclosed in a plastic wrapper. To all of this, Topps also added some autograph & relic cards to make the set even more attractive. The real draw, however, was the 1952 look and the opportunity for kids of the 50’s to build a new set of cards for the 2000’s.

 

Topps Heritage has been a consistent top-selling product at a mid-range price (around $3+ per pack) ever since. Each year, the cards mirror the old design of the appropriate Topps set with new players and this year’s release (which just hit stores last month), uses the 1969 card as its platform. If you collected cards in the 50’s & 60’s, this is the product for you.

 

In the last few years, Topps has added a few more twists with short printed cards that have variations of throwback uniforms or an action image. They even tugged at old-timers’ heartstrings by randomly adding a section of white on some of the card backs emulating how they would have looked had a dusty piece of gum been sitting against the card…very cool!

 

The Old Duck purchases a few boxes each year and builds the set from scratch. Of course, you never really know what might appear inside the packs and the first couple of boxes this year yielded Chrome insert cards of George Springer & Zack Greinke, a Chrome Rookie Card of Victor Robles and Deckle Edge replica cards of Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw & Giancarlo Stanton. And, the best hit of all, a beautiful red ink autograph card of Ryan McMahon with a print run limited to only 69.

 

In honor of this year’s release, let’s look back at that beautiful 1969 set of 664 cards, which includes over 25 Hall of Famers. The card values are based on “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.

 

> #50 Roberto Clemente, $65 – Even late in his career, there is still a high demand for this legendary player.

 

> #95 Johnny Bench, $95 – Even though his RC was from the ’68 set, this is his first card with an individual image.

 

> #100 Hank Aaron, $65 – Hit 44 HR’s and led the NL in Total Bases…at age 35!

 

> #190 Willie Mays, $80 – He won the Gold Glove in ’68…at age 37!

 

> #260 Reggie Jackson, $400 – The Rookie Card of “Mr. October” on his way to 563 career HR’s.

 

> #480 Tom Seaver, $65 – Won the first of his three Cy Young Awards in 69 with a 25-7 record.

 

> #500 Mickey Mantle, $350 – The final card of “The Mick”, as he retired after the ’68 season with three MVP’s and 536 career HR’s.

 

> #533 Nolan Ryan, $200 – The 2nd year card of “The Express”, he was still finding his way as a 22 year-old coming off a record of 6-9 in ’68.

 

In addition to these big tickets items, you’ll also find Rookie Cards of Rollie Fingers, Bobby Bonds, Graig Nettles & Al Oliver. Thinking about a complete set in NM condition? Set aside about $10,000.

 

The “Heritage” will continue next year with memories of the 1970 set…