Feb 27, 2009

Dreaming of Topps Heritage....

...literally. Just before I woke up yesterday, I had a dream involving collating a master set of Topps Heritage. I was on a bus in a dusty town somewhere in rural America. Everyone seemed to be a little downtrodden on the bus as we traveled along a bumpy road. There was no music or videos on the bus, only the sound of the engine and the sudden crying of a middle-aged woman behind me. She began to exclaim aloud, "I can't afford that. I only have 6 shortprints. I was only able to get one box." I need 100 shortprints to get what I desire. I was going to turn around and ask what she desired, but I didn't have the nerve. Instead, I started thinking..."I don't have any shortprints. What can I offer her? I don't even have any base cards. The Heritage has not reached my sphere of influence."

A man stood up at the front of the bus and came towards me. He says, "I have to get off the bus. Can you lend me some shortprints so I can get to the next town?" I reply, "But I have none, I don't expect a box until next week at the earliest. And then I'll only have six for myself. That won't be enough for anybody." He started shaking me, "I need the shortprints, I need them, just a few more. I can have the set....I'll do anything."

And then he shook me back into the waking world....I have no Heritage...and the shortprints always give me nightmares.

Feb 21, 2009

Ranking the Sets: The Junior High Years: 1993-1996: Introduction

Over the next few weeks (months?), I will be doing a comprehensive (as I can) commentary and ranking of sets from the period when I collected the most cards. This period I refer to as the junior high years, 1993-1996. At this point in my life, other distractions such as girls, garage band music, and after school sports did not encumber my full-on obsession in baseball card collecting, sorting, and trading. I frequented many card shows and card shops and thought I had a good grasp of what sets were out there and perceived value. Previously, I was strictly a Topps collector. Only 69 cents a pack in 1992! Because I had no allowance or birthday money to go beyond that price, that was all I could get by pleading with my mom for some loose change. I also discovered the wonders of breaking an entire box at once during this time period.

This time period was also a tumultuous and game-changing one for the hobby. Say welcome to super premium sets, new technologies that are ubiquitous to this day, Pacific Trading Cards, foil as far as the eye can reflect, and the insert card explosion. Say good bye to cardboard card stock, packs that cost less than $1.00 (for the most part), ease of collecting all the sets in a year, and the Donruss/Leaf company as we knew it (I believe purchased by Pinnacle after the release of 1996 Leaf).

Here's a quick rundown of what to expect:

Description of design
The set's place within the manufacturer's lineup in that year
Pack and box configuration (source: 2003 Sports Collectors Digest Price Guide)
Price at the time of release or when I looked to purchase it (souce: an overly hazy memory)
Insert set worth pursuing (for me)
Nostalgia in the set/insert sets
Positives of the set (some might not have any)
The annoyingness factors of the set (some might not have any)
Rookies of note divided into tiers (some might not have any)
Any originality aspects
Impact on the hobby (immediate and/or lasting)
Favorite card (s) (even for some sets I dont like)
Other notes

h/t to Ben Henry's Baseball Card Blog who finished a 1990-1994 countdown last year.

This is also a personal ranking of sets since these are the ones I had held most in my hands through the years.
There were 120 released sets by the major manufacturers featuring modern players. They will be ranked by my subjective ratings and rantings. Please comment along the journey

Next up...Set #120......1995 Pacific Prisms

Feb 20, 2009

Fantasy Baseball: Preliminary Draft Strategies Part I

These are some basic strategies that I have followed for myself over the past 8-9 years. I may not have adhered to all of them completely since sometimes I like to do experimental drafts. Some of them are really basic, and after reading them, you'd be thinking to yourself: " Who doesn't know that?" Well, you'd be surprised after all the obviously bone-headed picks that myself or other people have made that had miniscule chances of working out. Some strategies are for both types of leagues (rotisserie and head to head). Others are league-specific.

1. Know the depth charts of all the teams. Obvious alert! This is like saying know that players play baseball. With that said, plate appearances matter. A platoon guy can be useful if you are in a daily lineup change league and can pinpoint when he's playing. But the odds are that there were full-time players still available when this guy was drafted. Full-time, of course, does not mean helpful to your fantasy team.

2. Know the pitching staffs of all teams. The starting rotation is important, or at least the first four starters are. The so-called fifth starter starts less games and has a much higher ERA than the rest of the rotations. If you're using 5th starters, you better be in a 14 team or more league. For the bullpen, be familiar with the closer, the set-up guy, and the young guy with the huge fastball. Pitchers get hurt, managers get impatient. On that note...

3. Don't reach for closers. I learned my lesson the hard way on this one. Billy Wagner, how I loathe you now. Francisco Rodriguez will be picked way before he should just because of the 62 saves. Last year, I thought I followed this one pretty well. I like to take one who I think is a "safe" closer somewhere between rounds 8-11. This is not a guarantee as Huston Street owners from last year can attest. I ended up with Mariano Rivera in round 9. Then, I target two guys on teams that are not supposed to do so well. Prime examples in '08 were George Sherrill of Baltimore and Brian Wilson of San Francisco. I ended up with Wilson on practically every team. Was he a great pitcher? No. Did he get saves? Yes. I also draft a high strikeout middle reliever somewhere in rounds 16-19. They don't always pan out as eventual closers or even good pitchers...Scott Linebrink in '07 and Scot Shields in '08 come on down! But they are the first ones you can cut when you need to fill an essential roster spot or they can pay off dividends down the road. Brad Lidge in 2004 was a perfect middle reliever. 150 strikeouts, is that possible again?

4. Consider position scarcity when drafting. This is a difficult concept to grasp since there are a few nuanced layers to it.

5. League Matters: The American League is stronger than the National League. Pitchers switching leagues see a slight downturn in performance when moving to the American League. The American League East is one tough division. This does not mean draft great pitchers on these teams such as Sabathia, Halladay, Shields, etc should be devalued. Just be aware especially for sleeper picks and fringe-type players. There is also the hypothesis that greater competition breeds great success. If only all fantasy leagues were like that....

6. A player's context and situation matters. Where are they normally hitting in the lineup? Will they split time? Do they have a spot in the rotation? Do they show a severe home/road split like Ervin Santana in'06 for pitchers or name a Colorado hitter in almost any year? Is there a lefty/righty split? Is there a day/night split? Home park especially plays a role. Be wary of power hitters in San Diego, but love pitchers there. Like Philadelphia power hitters, be wary of pitchers. (These are just examples, there are relevant park factors for all statistics). This again, does not mean you should avoid Cole Hamels or Adrian Gonzalez completely because of their ball park. It means to figure it into their values accordingly.

Next time.....a mock draft thought exercise.

Feb 19, 2009

The World Series Phillies Project: Introduction

Since this past year, the Phillies won the World Series for the first year in my lifetime (1980 was the year before I was born), I have decided to commemorate it in my own decidedly unique way. Sure, I already own the official cap and jacket and hooded sweatshirt and two T-shirts and have every newspaper clipping framed, but I wanted to add my own spin to commerorate the past and celebrate the present Phillies.

Using my baseball card obsession with an unhealthy focus on order, I have decided to undertake a five pronged collecting project involving cards (of which I am essentially starting from scratch)

1. Collect every rookie card of any Phillie who made an appearance in the postseason during 1980 and 2008. This one can be daunting. I may have to limit it to non-autographed rookie cards for awhile with Ryan Howard lurking. Rose, Schmidt, and Carlton will also not be easy to find. Also, limiting it to players who played in the postseason keeps it a little simpler. I may want to include other contributors such as Kyle Kendrick in 2008 or Nino Espinosa in 1980, but that would be a bonus.

2. Do a continuation series of each of these players careers. Start with their first card year on the Phillies and have all base cards up to and including their last year on the Phillies. Notable inserts could be pursued, though I'm not sure which would be available.

3. The Mike Schmidt Project: It is an expansion of parts 1 and 2: to pursue all cards, oddball and otherwise of Schmidt during his playing days.

4. The Steve Carlton Project: Similar in scope to part 3 above.

5. Get a game-used jersey (or bat) card and autographed card of each of these players possible. Also, can include other prominent Phillies of the past such as Dick Allen, Johnny Callison, Del Ennis, Granny Hamner, Robin Roberts, etc.

I am currently putting together the checklist. This is taking a lot of time. If anyone knows of any resources out there, especially for parts 3 and 4, please let me know. At some point, I'll post the "I'm sure I'm missing this" list for this on the sidebar.

Feb 18, 2009

Fantasy Baseball: Preliminary Draft Thoughts

I haven't yet begun my preparation for my various fantasy baseball leagues, but there are always a few thoughts percolating about how to pursue draft strategems and game plans.

Typically, I play in a standard 5x5 league (The categories are R, HR, RBI, SB, and AVG for hitters and W, K, SV, ERA, and WHIP for pitchers). I tend to split between rotisserie-style and head to head leagues (Rotisserie is when you accumulate statistics for the entire season and then are ranked against the peers in your league in each category. Head-to-head is when you compete each week against one team and accumulate wins based upon how many categories you win).

I typically draft in a typical snake draft, randomly chosen. I have not participated in auctions before. But unlike fantasy football, not having a high 1st round pick won't doom you to a life as an also-ran. Of course, having a high 1st round pick means you don't have to think as much about who to pick. I have done well and done poorly picking from either location. The key is to have an idea about what to do after the first pick and how to adjust to the flow of the draft. Because you will encounter people in your league with distinctly different strategies. Though in the past couple years with the explosion of internet sites, the advice and strategies have normalized and the information has become more easily accessible.

Not that this fact is a bad thing, it just makes having a unique strategy more difficult. For example, in 2001 I drafted Ichiro in the 9th round in half my drafts. Someone like that would not slip through the cracks so easily. I targeted and received Miguel Cabrera in 2004 in the 8th round or I had drafted Grady Sizemore in 2006 in the 5th round. Talent is more easily identified than before and you can know all the up and comers with a click of a mouse. Steady veterans are where you can sometimes get a value relative to the draft position.

Draft strategies have also evolved. For example, in 2002, the consensus first two picks were Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Other strategies have not evolved. Slugging first baseman offering little else are overvalued as 1st round picks if you can't guarantee a 50 HR season. Examples that have been drafted in the first round after career years that have not lived up to the hype are Mark Teixeira (2006), Prince Fielder (2008), Ryan Howard (2008), Carlos Delgado (2004), Jeff Bagwell (2002). Drafting is a matter of choice, preference, and educated guesswork.

Next time, some basic strategies I tend to follow. These are not ironclad, I shift with the flow of the draft a lot of the time.

Feb 8, 2009

My World of Baseball Part VI: Baseball Cards

I first read about statistics in two places: newsapapers and the back of baseball cards. At one point, when I was 12, I had memorized the batting averages of everyone in the 1989-1991 Topps sets. I spent a lot of time sorting through them, let's just say that.

Baseball cards, to me, are an encapsulation of the previous season with an image of the player, the player's uniform, position, and team, and the previous year's stats (hopefully with career stats). For a large base set (think Topps or Upper Deck), you can see most of the players on a team's roster along with season highlights such as league leaders and postseason highlights. They are also a reflection of the times they were printed. I mean, have you ever seen 1975 Topps, or 1995 Fleer? (if you haven't, someday there will be an updated version of scans of these cards)

I am collector. They offer me a combination of nostalgia, a sense of purpose (limited, in this sense, though it may be), and I like it, so there. I still get a thrill from opening a pack. I still get yet another thrill from getting a favorite player or even getting an insert. I am a product of collecting in the 80s and 90s after all. Inserts are what to live for (well, they are shiny).

My collection began when my mother bribed me some mornings to get ready for pre-school or kindergarten. I was a notoriously slow cereal eater. I still am; it is very easy to get distracted by objects that are not in the bowl. Back then, she was perfectly happy to spend 35 or 40 cents so that she could get to work on time. I soon graduated to getting cards when I didn't expect it....on trips to the grocery store or the mall. Ah, compromise.

Now, I collect for the joy of it. I have a bookshelf dedicated to it and a closet in another state to maintain the other pieces. At some point, I will combine them so I can conduct proper trades with people and not have too many duplicates that I don't know about.

History in your hand, excitement in tearing wax or foil, happiness in a familiar face, always growing in number...baseball cards. With more detail to come.