Monday, August 27, 2018

The Greatest of Topps Flagship

1972 Fred Gladding - 0.4 WAR
I recently came across an article from MLB Cut4 in which various baseball writers and personalities ranked their favorite Topps flagship card from every year dating back to 1951. The writers were asked not to pick their favorites based on the most valuable or famous cards, rather cards that held particular importance to them. The results were all over the place, with favorites ranging from the 1972 Fred Gladding to the infamous 2012 Skip Schumaker.

The article got me thinking about my own favorites across the history of Topps, and I briefly pondered creating a list of my own. But considering I started collecting in 2004 and my collection features primarily 21st-century cards, I found myself needing to learn more about the history of baseball and the history of baseball cards before I jumped into a project of that nature.

2012 Skip Schumaker - 0.8 WAR
And what better way to do this, I thought, than to explore the history of baseball cards through card checklists, statistics, and a ton of research.

Though baseball's advanced metrics are a common topic of controversy in 2018, I am a huge numbers buff, and I absolutely love digging through the stats to learn about players and the history of the game.

One of the most common advanced statistics used today is WAR, that is, Wins Above Replacement. While not a perfect statistic, WAR attempts to provide a single number to measure a player's contributions to their team. Though not always the most precise, WAR is an easy way to determine how well a player is performing in a given year. It will also serve as my guiding light as I attempt to determine the cards that captured the greatest seasons of baseball history...well, let's pretend history started in 1951, as did Topps Flagship.

I'm going to take a look at every Topps Flagship set dating back to 1951, evaluate the top performers at each position using WAR, and catch a glimpse at how well Topps represented baseball's greatest players year in and year out.

On the surface, this would seem to yield predictable results. Mike Trout has dominated for the past several years, and there is zero chance you won't see his card (or several) in a modern set. But modern baseball card production has certainly shifted since its inception in the first half of the 20th century, and it will be interesting to see how the industry has changed over the years.

For instance, did you know that Stan Musial was the most valuable player by WAR from 1951 to 1955, yet he didn't have a single card in Topps Flagship during that period? I find this mind-boggling, and I hope to uncover more oddities like this throughout this project.

Uncovering the greatest of Topps Flagship is soon to come, starting with 1951 later this week. And I hope you'll follow me on this journey through baseball card history.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Something Old, Something New: Cards from Nick at Dime Boxes

I recently received a wonderful 'Welcome Back' package from my pal Nick over at Dime Boxes. It's been a couple of few years since I last received a bubble mailer of cards (February of 2015, to be exact), so I was ecstatic when I got home late last week to see a loaded bubble mailer sticking out of my mail slot.

The bubble mailer was nice, but the cards within were spectacular. I mean, take a look at this beat up 1966 Walt Alston manager card. I've largely dabbled with the modern stuff over the past few years, so finding this well-loved piece of vintage cardboard is certainly fun. It also inches me a card closer to completing the 1966 Dodgers Team Set--three down, twenty-five to go.

That beautiful Alston wasn't the only throwback card in the mailer. Nick also included this fun Dodgers team card from the 1964 set. It's too bad the Dodgers don't have a celebratory card in this year's set...

Finding cards from the 60s was certainly a welcome surprise, and coming across this Kellogg's 3-D card was also a bit unexpected. Despite spending the first half of this decade collecting, I never actually had one of these in my collection. Super fun.

Nick also passed along some modern cards, this Turner from perhaps the best product of the past few years: Stadium Club. I'm a huge fan of Justin Turner, both for his wonderful play in a Dodgers uni and for his magnificent red mane. I'm a redhead myself (though balding far too quickly), so redheaded players in the majors is a fun time. My exit from collecting coincided with Turner's rise in Los Angeles, so I was never able to collect many of his cards. I'm hoping that changes moving forward.

I don't have a whole lot to say here. You've just got to appreciate the wonderful photography in Stadium Club. Beautiful card.

More fun photography, this time from Flagship. Nick sent me a ton of Flagship, knocking out a ton needs from the past few years. While there were certainly some awesome cards, I definitely needed to comment on this wonderful Rob Segedin. First, it's a card for freaking Rob Segedin--not a household name by any means. Rob hasn't seen the majors since last season and probably won't find his way back onto the Dodgers roster this year, but this RC is fun. Second, how often do we see horizontal cards of outfielders throwing from the outfield? It stood out to me, so I'm guessing it's not all that common.

A Cody Bellinger card! The market was flooded with Bellinger (and Judge) cards last year after a strong rookie campaign, though a Belli card had yet to enter my collection until now. 

Thanks again for the cards. Nick! 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

"Midseason" Predictions: Division and Wild Card Winners

There are a number of days I look forward to every year. Food-centric holidays, for instance, are near the top of my list: Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday. Vacation days are always great, as well. And since I started working full-time, I've started to appreciate Fridays more and more.

When it comes to baseball, I, like every other fan, look forward to Opening Day. And because that never comes quickly enough, the day pitchers and catchers report is typically circled on my calendar. But there is something special about July 31st--the trade deadline.

Sure, as a Dodgers fan, I am bit blessed. The trade deadline usually sees the Dodgers buying big. Rich Hill and Josh Reddick in 2016, Yu Darvish in 2017, and Manny Machado and Brian Dozier this year. Of course, that world series win has still been elusive (damn you, Astros!) but it's a fun time nonetheless.

It's also a good time to update my predictions for the year. I typically do this every year and post them on Twitter, and this year is no different. Let's take a look at some terrible takes from April.

Some of these are spot on, though there are certainly some misses. I'm fairly certain Dave Martinez isn't going to take home the Manager of the Year award this season...

Let's go through the list and make some updated predictions.

National League West
Pre-Season Prediction: Dodgers
Mid-Season Prediction: Dodgers

The Dodgers are loaded. The Dodgers were loaded before they landed Machado and Dozier at the deadline, but now they've added to potent bats to the lineup and are going to slug their way to the division crown a la the 2017 Houston Astros. Just don't look at the bullpen depth chart behind Kenley's not loaded.

National League Central
Pre-Season Prediction: Chicago Cubs
Mid-Season Prediction: Chicago Cubs

The Cubs were the darling of baseball a few years ago, though they seem to have dropped off a bit since last year's disappointing (but still great) season. Anchored by Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez (a candidate for MVP), and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs offense is strong. The pitching staff on the other hand...yikes. Expect better numbers from them in the second half as they stave off the Brewers to take the division.

National League East
Pre-Season Prediction: Washington Nationals
Mid-Season Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies

The Nationals are, by far, this year's biggest disappointment. They have veteran talent (Harper, Murphy, and Rendon), young studs (Soto and Turner), and the best pitcher in baseball (Scherzer), the underwhelming start is surprising. It's hard to look at that talent and not think they can make a run at the division, but I think they'll fall just short of the upstart Phillies.

Jayson Werth's beard foresaw the Nationals' demise and got the hell out of there. 

NL Wild Card Winners
Pre-Season Predictions: D-Backs and Cardinals
Mid-Season Predictions: Brewers and D-Backs

The Brewers are a strong team, though the pitching can use some work. Lorenzo Cain is quietly having a tremendous year and deserves MVP consideration. The second wild card will be tight, with the Braves, D-Backs, Pirates, and Nationals all pushing for a spot, but I think the D-Backs will take it.

American League West
Pre-Season Prediction: Houston Astros
Mid-Season Prediction: Houston Astros

They're the best all-around team in baseball. They have one of the strongest pitchings staffs in recent memory and an incredibly powerful offense. I'm not a fan of a certain mid-season move, however.

American League Central
Pre-Season Prediction: Cleveland Indians
Mid-Season Prediction: Cleveland Indians

The AL Central is the worst division in baseball. The Indians didn't do much at the deadline but would have to fail catastrophically fail to lose the division lead.

American League East
Pre-Season Prediction: Yankees
Mid-Season Prediction: Red Sox

The Red Sox have been a juggernaut this year. The Yankees have too. You can find thousands of words about them elsewhere. Red Sox take the division.

AL Wild Card Winners
Pre-Season Predictions: Red Sox and Twins
Mid-Season Predictions: Yankees and Athletics

The Twins have definitely underwhelmed and won't sniff the postseason. The Athletics have surged over the past few weeks and should very quickly take over the floundering Mariners in the standings. The will Yankees get the first wild card despite winning 100 games.

World Series Winner
Los Angeles Dodgers over Houston Astros in seven games. I'm sticking with this. Oh please let me be right.


I'll be back in a few days to make some award predictions. In the meantime, let me know what you think of these predictions in the comments.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Refocusing the Collection

I've been pondering my return to collecting and blogging for a few weeks now. When I put collecting on hold a few years back, I purged a ton of my collection. I had to fit the entirety of my collection into a single plastic tote bin, forcing me to sell many of my higher-end cards, send care packages to a number of people, and donate a ton of cardboard to my local Salvation Army (I really hope those cards found a good home). That tote bin is now located about 3,200 miles away in my dad's cellar, and I haven't seen those cards in a couple of years.

I'm not entirely sure what I even have anymore. I know I kept most of my major player collections: Matt Kemp, Shawn Green, and Clayton Kershaw. I ended up moving many of my Adrian Beltre cards, and I did away with a few of my secondary PCs as well. I plan on Facetiming my dad soon to get a better idea of what I still have, and hopefully, I can get those cards shipped out to NYC asap. 

While the status of my player PCs is up in the air, I am positive that I kept around my Topps Team Set Project--that is, the Dodgers team set from every year of Flagship dating back to 1952. Considering my budget and space concerns, I figured hunkering down on this project would be a solid place to pick up collecting. 

I've been out of the game for a few years, but I have managed to pick up a few cards here and there to help my cause. And I really do mean a few. 

A pair of cards from 2018 and one from 2017. That's about all of the Dodgers I've found out of Flagship in the past few years. 

I can't say I'm the biggest fan of either design. Flagship removed the borders way back in 2016, and while I was okay with the move at the time--I was ready for something new--I'm ready for the return of borders. (I guess I should go out and buy some more Big League). These 2018 cards aren't the worst, design-wise, but the partly-masked team logos bug me a bit. Even worse, however, are the players' first names that are slightly covered by the "wave". Oh well. The rest of the design is nice. 

Buying packs of Flagship is not the best way to go about finishing (and starting) these sets, so I'm jumping back in the trade market and I may make a few purchases on COMC. I just updated my Trade Bait page, which is a little bare, but I hope to add to that after I get my collecting back in NYC. 

Jumping back into collecting is exciting, and you can probably expect a few more posts in the coming weeks in which I evaluate my collection and continue to focus it for the future. For the time being, I'm starting small. Let's build some sets! 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Third Time's the Charm: A Return to Bloggerland

I have really made a habit of "return" posts, now haven't I? After putting blogging and collecting to the side a few years back, I've made a number of short-lived returns to blogging. First, it was to talk about 2015 Stadium Club, a beautiful set that featured Adam Dunn's sunset card (with the A's no less!). Two years later I came back to announce the new plans for my blog: a digital revolution. The plan at that point was to focus on digital cards from Topps Bunt, an app I used religiously for months before finally coming to my senses, and to produce my own digital cards through Photoshop magic. Well, my computer promptly gave out after that, I lost my old version of Photoshop, and I've never been able to get back to making them.

Amidst all of this, of course, I moved across the country, finished college, got a full-time job, and moved to Brooklyn (about 60 years too late for this Dodgers fan). While my absence was largely due to my inability to collect or produce my own digital cards, these important things also got in the way.

Well, I seem to have run out of excuses for blogging, and I can happily say I am returning.

No, really! I mean it this time!

Look, I have real, physical cards! From a 2018 Bowman Mega Box!

I've been following the blogs and collectors on Twitter during my absence, and I noticed a huge demand for these boxes. I was lucky to find a box at my "local" target (though it's local, it takes me about an hour to get to because of the subway, which is just gross). I guess the demand had to do with autos of future superstars Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuna Jr., but there are tons of other excellent young players in this set. I managed to pull these sweet x-fractor cards of Gleyber Torres and Walker Buehler, who both have excellent chances to reign in Rookie of the Year awards this season. 

I also purchased some flagship a few months back, and while I'm not a big fan of the design--bring back borders!--I managed to snag this sweet Aaron Nola SP. 

Though I made some purchased this year, I really haven't had the chance to fully jump back into my collecting ways. For one, the entirety of my collection is still holed up in California. Secondly, cards are extremely difficult to find in NYC. I rarely have luck at Target when I do make the trek there, and I've yet to find a local hobby shop (any suggestions NYC people?).

Yet, I miss participating in this wonderful blogging community. I miss the thrill that comes with opening up a pack of cards. I miss this blog.

While I won't post as frequently as in the past (save my two failed comeback attempts), I hope to get at least one blog post out a week. Many of these will be card-focused, though many will also revolve around my thoughts on baseball and the Dodgers. The blog will undergo a few changes in the coming weeks, and I still hope to get Photoshop to make custom cards a reality. Regardless, I'm hoping the third time's the charm: I'm returning to bloggerland.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Life on Bunt: The Autos

So I attempted to make a blogger comback in the summer, promising more posts about the digital world of cards, but that plan quickly broke down as soon as I set up camp in New York at the end of August (an update on that soon). Life got busy pretty quickly and the writing just never happened. I did, however, continue to collect on Topps Bunt, and today's post will feature some of the cooler cards I obtained over the past few months. I'll also have some posts in the coming week or so on some of the non-autos from my Bunt Collection, as well as some of the physical cards I've bought over the past three months. I'll probably put together a couple of care packages for some of my blogger buddies as well--stay tuned for that post and let me know if you are looking for anything in particular.


Though Bunt has a ton of downsides ("fake" digital cards, limited app capabilities, pricey currency for high-end cards) it has been a boon these last few months. Making friends has been a bit difficult at my new college, and, with the exception of chilling with my girlfriend on the weekends, my social life has hit an all-time low. Anybody in the blogosphere live in New York City or Long Island? Needless to say, I've spent a good number of hours entertaining myself on Bunt, and I've managed to build quite the collection. Oh, and I've done it without spending a dime.

Like most freemium apps, Bunt reserves their high-end cards for users who spend money on the app. Being poor and unwilling to spend money on my fake card collection, I have refused to do so. Still, I have worked to swing some deals notching me high-end cards, though many of my better cards have derived from award chases, a component of the app where users who collect a certain selection of cards by a certain date are given award cards. Take the Clayton Kershaw Laces Auto/Relic below, for example. Bunt ran a 12 Days of Bunt promotion a few weeks ago and released four holiday themed cards a day for its duration. Users who managed to collect all 48 cards by December 26th were awarded the beauty below.

Despite Bunt's numerous flaws, the chase component of the app provides a fun and unique aspect to collecting that we don't have in physical card collecting. Still, Bunt does like to screw over its non-paying users, often including limited edition cards that can only be purchased with diamonds near the end of the chases. Yes, I am speaking from experience. Yes, I am still a bit upset.

I'm slightly less upset about this sweet Bellinger auto that was given out as an award card, and is limited to just 74 copies. Though I wasn't awarded the card, I managed to pick it up in a trade. Bellinger was certainly a highlight in the greatest season of Dodger baseball of my life, and I'm excited to see just how high he can climb next season (World Series MVP would be nice).

Though Bellinger was great all season for the Dodgers, the great play by Austin Barnes in the second-half, coupled with Yasmani Grandal's big slump, pushed Barnes into the starting role throughout the playoffs. I've been a fan of Barnes since the Dodgers acquired him in the Dee Gordon deal a few years back, so I'm glad his potential is finally being recognized at the big league level.

Barnes only has a few cards available on the app, one of them being this signature which I acquired via trade shortly after it was released. I don't think my physical collection has any of Barnes in it, so I think I'll have to fix that when 2018 Flagship is released. 

This triple-auto featuring Bellinger, Turner, and Maeda was the highlight of my collection for a few weeks and remains one of the coolest cards in my collection. I'm still a bit confused by the trio of Dodgers they selected for this card though (I would have opted for Seager instead of Maeda and created a triple-sig of Dodger pitchers). Anybody know if there are any physical cards that resemble this one?

All throughout the past four months I've had my eyes set on trading for a Sandy Koufax auto, though I never had anything enticing enough to swing a deal with other collectors. That said, I finally managed to get my hands on some Koufax digital ink recently.

It's too bad this is in my digital collection rather than my physical one, but I'm happy to be its owner nonetheless. This card was one of my favorites from Stadium Club a couple of years back, so it was certainly cool to nab a signature version.

Though Bunt's downsides often make it frustrating to play, it does provide users with a simple and easy way to trade cards and share their collections. I doubt I'd be able to afford any of the autos above, so being able to collect them on Bunt is a fun consolation prize.

Be sure to check out my full collection on Bunt. I'd be happy to swing a deal with you and hook you up with some cool cards. My username is Chavezravinin (note: there is no 'g' at the end).

Sunday, August 20, 2017

More Topps Bunt? I Think So

As I've reentered the hobby (sorta) and gotten back to into collecting (kinda), I've had quite the urge to bust some real packs. Alas, with my imminent move to NYC in just over a week, buying real cards is simply not in the cards (hehehe).

Once again, I've had to scratch this itch by turning to the digital realm, spending fake coins on fake cards for real pleasure.

I seem to learn more and more about how things operate in Topps Bunt every day, most recently discovering how awards work.

Users are awarded "Award Cards" for meeting certain collecting goals. The awards featured most predominately in the game are associated with collecting parallels of an entire team. There are ten parallels for each base card, each with a corresponding point multiplier for the fantasy aspect of the game: White (1x), Green (1.2x), Red (1.5x), Blue (1.7x), Orange (2x), Teal (2.5x), Purple (3x), Black (3.5x), Silver (5x), and Gold (10x). If a user collects all ten white, green, and red cards, they are give an award; awards are also awards for collecting blue and orange, teal, purple, black, silver, and gold. The way cool Steve Garvey card above is the award card for collecting all ten black parallels of Series One Dodgers, and it's limited to just 316 copies (at least until other users earn the award).

Cards are released in real-time along with their real life counterparts, and awards are given out for Series 1 collections and Series 2 collections.

Though collecting in the digital realm is not quite the same, I do enjoy the Topps Now inserts -- cards that are realized almost on a daily basis that recognize big moments and historical feats. I picked both of these guys up, numbered 848 and 500 respectively, in a pair of trades over the past week.

Kyle Farmer, a young Dodgers backstop, was called up a few weeks ago and got his first taste of big-league action against the Giants with the Dodgers down 2-1 in the bottom of the 11th inning. Farmer lined a double down the right field line for the win, his first big league hit, and this card (albeit digital) captures that wonderful moment.

Though I love myself some fantasy baseball, I'm not a big fan of the fantasy portion of the app. Scoring is heavily skewed in favor of hitters, and the scoring is a bit confusing. Still, I participate on a daily basis, choosing my nine best players in the hopes that I'll score enough points to win some prizes. Prizes offered range from a pack of cards to equipment tickets, tickets that can be traded in for limited edition cards. Case in point, this sweet faux-vintage Kershaw. I don't recognize the design, so I'm assuming Topps created it strictly for this set, but please let me know if I'm wrong.

Speaking of Clayton Kershaw, I also nabbed this beauty in a trade last week. I feel like I should recognize the moment shown here, but it's simply not clicking at the moment. The days of A.J Ellis feel so long ago, so it's weird to think he only changed jerseys around this time last year.

One of my newest additions came as quite a surprise, as I received a trade offer in which I received eight low numbered inserts and the sweet Duke Snider relic seen below.

I was irrationally excited for a digital relic (a plain one at that), but they aren't easy to get a hold of, so it's definitely a cool addition.

Shortly after I wrote my last post on Topps Bunt, I swapped my Paul Goldschmidt auto for this Corey Seager Jumbo Patch (again, very plain, despite the digital format that allows Topps to maybe throw in some color). In hindsight, I probably could have extracted more value from the Goldy auto, being that autos are more valuable than relics despite the card count, but I'm happy with the swap.

At the end of the day, I've found this app to be quite addicting, good fun, and a welcome alternative to traditional card collecting. I'll most likely continue to use the app daily, at least until real cards are once again a reality.

Bunt Username: ChavezRavinin