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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A New Home for Chavez Ravining

I've been traded! I haven't stopped blogging, I've just moved to a new location and URL. Be sure to follow me at my new digs. And enjoy this sensuous photo of Yasiel Puig in the meantime. 


 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

A New Chapter for 2019

Earlier this week I received a large cardboard folder filled with photos of my younger sister and myself. Among photos of past birthday cakes, t-ball uniforms, and embarrassing photos of me with a mullet (oh, the nineties), I found several photos of my sister and me excitedly ripping open presents on Christmas morning, our faces filled with joy. After all, we were out of school the week before Christmas, and despite not having to do homework, that week was always a drag. I don’t remember if either of us had calendars on our walls, but we did have chocolate-filled advent calendars (sometimes two if we could convince each parent to buy us one) that we used to count down the days Christmas.

Of course, New Year’s Day is only a few days later, another holiday that calls for an exciting countdown (and more chocolate). I was always dazzled by the gleaming ball as it lowered down to announce the arrival of a new year, and younger me used to dream of attending the ball drop in Times Square. Of course, now that I live in NYC, I avoid Times Square as much as humanly possible, and I wouldn’t wish attending that event on my worst enemy. Seriously, hours of standing in the freezing cold, surrounded by thousands of people, and a severe lack of public restrooms. No thanks!

December, then, seems to be a time of countdowns in expectation of big things, new adventures, and, for many collectors, baseball cards. The baseball season is less than 100 days away, I still have several days left of my vacation, and, hopefully, I will be picking up some baseball cards in just a few short hours.

Since I restarted the blog back in August, I’ve managed to buy only a handful of packs, a fact that definitely impacts my posting frequency here on the blog. An unfortunate lack of space and money to buys cards has definitely dragged that down (darn you, student loans!), though a lack of card access has also been a problem. It’s difficult to find cards at my local Targets, and I haven’t ponied up to buys packs or singles online. I’m really more of an impulse pack buyer more than anything, and I haven’t fully returned to the hobby yet, in my eyes.

I’ve attempted to fill the void with other projects, including my Greatest of Topps series, though each post in that series takes a ton of time, and I haven’t really been able to get that off the ground and moving as much as I would’ve liked. Oh well.

Despite these personal blogging woes, I have been quietly working on something in the background—a new blog location and redesign. I’ve decided to ditch the Blogspot platform in favor of Wordpress, despite the lack of true and free customization there. I’ve been working to get the redesign to my liking and importing my posts, media, etc, and I’ve finally reached its completion.  

You can check out the new blog here: https://chavezravining.home.blog/

With the new blog, however, comes a shift in the blog’s focus. While I plan on explaining this in more detail at the new blog, I should mention that the blog will have a larger focus on the Dodgers. There will still be baseball card content (I promise!), but in an effort for more a more consistent posting schedule, I’ll also be sharing my thoughts on the Dodgers and the baseball landscape. Let’s just say I’ll be expanding my portfolio.

I’m excited to get started on this new step in my blogging career, and I’m happy to share more content with you moving forward. The entirety of this blog has been imported into WordPress, so you can always go back and check out old posts, images, and more. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you out there reading this. I can’t wait for 2019 to get started.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What WAR Tells us about Prediction: The Greatest from 1951 Topps Baseball

The 1951 Topps Baseball set is one of the first releases for Topps Baseball, and it's where this series will begin. Unlike Topps Baseball sets from 1952 and on, the 1951 set is a sort of hybrid set, featuring two separate 52-card sets: Red Backs and Blue Backs. Though Blue Backs are a bit more rare, the Red Backs contain some of the most memorable and best players of the 1950/51 seasons. In fact, not a single player from the Blue Back set appears on this list.

Of course, the 1951 set is famous for its game-based design, with cards featuring different baseball outcomes (foul ball, strike, double, bunt, etc.). This didn't seem to strike a chord with collectors, however, as Topps altered its designs and started producing the modern-looking sets we are familiar with today. While the 1951 set is not one of my personal favorites, it's hard not to appreciate the only set in Topps Baseball with black-and-white floating heads.

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Catcher

1951 Topps #1 Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra (5.3 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 - 6.0 WAR (1st for catchers)

Yogi led the league in WAR in 1950, and while he put together a great season in 1951, he actually ranked second in WAR to eventual MVP Roy Campanella (Dodgers) who does not appear in this set. Yogi's 1951 season was not his best by any measure, but he did manage a triple slash of .294/.350/.492 with a very low 3.4% strikeout rate. For comparison, batters in 2018 average a strikeout rate of 22.1%.

Top 3 Catchers in 1951: 
Roy Campanella (7.1 WAR) - No card in this set.
Yogi Berra (5.3 WAR)
Wes Westrum (4.1 WAR)



First Base

1951 Topps #31 Gil Hodges
Gil Hodges (5.0 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 - 3.1 WAR (5th for first basemen)

With the 1951 set only containing 52 cards, it's rather common for the best player at each position to not be represented on Topps flagship product. Take this Gil Hodges for example. While Hodges put up a fine season for the Dodgers in 1951, three other first basemen surpassed him in WAR. Of course, Kiner and Irvin played primarily in the outfield in 1951, but Stan Musial was by far the better first baseman. In fact, Stan Musial was the best player in the Majors in 1951. But as Brett Alan mentioned in a comment a few weeks ago, Musial "refused to sign with either company, finally relenting after Topps made a substantial charitable donation to convince him to sign" in 1958. And considering Musial was the best player of the decade, his absence in early-fifties Flagship is certainly a bummer.


Top 3 First Basemen in 1951
Stan Musial (8.6 WAR) - No card in this set.
Ralph Kiner (7.3 WAR) - See outfield. Played only 58 games at 1B. 
Monte Irvin (6.4 WAR) - See outfield. Played only 39 games at 1B. 


Second Base

1951 Topps #48 Eddie Stanky

Eddie Stanky (5.0 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 - 7.7 WAR (1st for first basemen)

Coming off of the best season of career in 1950 that saw him hit .300/.460/.412 and lead second basemen with 7.7 WAR for the Giants, Stanky wasn't able to match Jackie Robinson's production in 1951. Stanky put up 5.0 WAR in 1951 and knocked out a career-high 14 homers--impressive for a 5'8" dude--making New York an especially impressive place for second basemen that season. 

Top 3 Second Basemen in 1951
Jackie Robinson (9.0 WAR) - No card in this set.
Eddie Stanky (5.0 WAR)
Gil McDougald (4.6 WAR) - No card in this set.



Shortstop

1951 Topps #5 Phil Rizzuto
Phil Rizzuto (3.8 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 - 6.9 WAR (1st for shortstops)

Rizutto takes home the award for the most valuable shortstop in the 1951 set but was only sixth in the majors for WAR for shortstops, behind the likes of Eddie Joost, Alvin Dark, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Pesky, and Solly Hemus. That said, Rizzuto lead the league in WAR a year prior, producing 6.9 WAR with his typical stellar defense and strong bat. Standing at just 5'6'', Rizzuto took home the AL MVP in 1950 after a campaign that saw him hit .324/.418/.439. He failed to replicate that 1950 season (his best), batting only .274/.350./.346 with a pair of homers. 

Top 3 Shortstops in 1951
Eddie Joost (6.3 WAR) - No card in this set.
Alvin Dark (5.2 WAR) - No card in this set.
Pee Wee Reese (4.3 WAR) - No card in this set.




Third Base

1951 Topps #35 Al Rosen

Al Rosen (4.0 WAR)


Previous Season: 1950 - 6.9 WAR (1st for third basemen)

Al Rosen debuted in 1947 but only managed 65 plate appearances over the next three seasons. It was Rosen's tremendous 1950 rookie season that put him on the map, as he amassed 6.9 WAR while knocking out 39 homers. His 1951 campaign was not quite as strong, taking a step back in the power department, on his way to a 4.0 WAR season. 

Top 3 Third Basemen in 1951
Minnie Minoso (5.5 WAR) - No card in this set.
Bobby Thomson (5.1 WAR) - No card in this set.
Gil McDougald (4.6 WAR) - No card in this set.


Outfield

1951 Topps #15 Ralph Kiner
Ralph Kiner (7.6 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 - 5.0 WAR (7th for outfielders)

I went back and forth on whether or not to split up the outfield into three separate positions, but after realizing how long this research and writeup takes, I decided to lump the positions together. Ta-da! One outfield spot to evaluate!

That said, after taking a look at the WAR leaderboard in 1951, I really should have all three positions covered--Stan Musial, Ralph Kiner, and Ted Williams all put of tremendous years. Alas, only the powerful Kiner was featured in the 1951 set. After swatting 47 homers in 1950, Kiner knocked out 37 in 1951, putting up a triple slash of .309/.452/.627. Kiner only played 10 seasons in the majors, as a back injury forced him to retire in 1955, but what a career it was. 

Top 3 Outfielders in 1951
Stan Musial (8.6 WAR) - No card in this set.
Ralph Kiner (7.6 WAR)
Ted Williams (7.1 WAR) - No card in this set.




Pitcher

1951 Topps #21 Larry Jansen
Larry Jansen (5.7 WAR)

Previous Season: 1950 - 5.6 WAR (3rd for pitchers)

If I am being honest, I'd never heard of Larry Jansen before I started to research for the article. I mean, Larry Jansen isn't necessarily a name that jumps out at you. He's not Oil Can Boyd. He's not Quenton McCracken. He's...Larry Jansen. And our boy, LJ put up his best year in 1951, pitching to a 3.04 ERA and tossing 18 complete games. Boy, was the game different then.

Top 3 Pitchers in 1951
Robin Roberts (6.7 WAR) - No card in this set.
Don Newcombe (5.8 WAR) - No card in this set.
Warren Spahn (5.5 WAR)

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Despite featuring some iconic cards from some of the game's greatest players, the 1951 set failed to produce a single card of a positional leader in WAR for the 1951 season--that said, four of the players in the following list led their position in WAR for the 1950 season and the other three ranked in the top five players for their respective positions.

It seems, then, that the early iterations of Topps Baseball produced cards to catalog the best players of the previous season--the 1951 set features the best players of 1950, and so on. In short, the production of these cards wasn't necessarily predictive of the best players the following year. That said, predicting performance is notoriously difficult, especially considering the baseline statistics used to evaluate players back in the early 50s. While statistics used today (at least in stathead circles) like xFIP and xWOBA are predictive of future performance, these numbers were not used at that point, and certainly not by a company like Topps.

I was unable to locate a release date for the 1951 set. A release date for the product might provide some insight into how players were chosen for the set and further my hunch that the early Topps Baseball sets were ways to chronicle past performances rather than predict the top performers for the following year in an effort to maximize profitability. (Current-day Topps obviously takes a different approach to boost sales.)

Though I am still crunching the numbers, I predict that the sets produced for the remainder of the decade and into the 1960s will not always reflect the WAR leaders. For one, the baseball card industry was still forming and did not have contracts with all players (see Stan Musial). Of course, the set size and production of cards also play a role in this, as fewer players were represented on cardboard compared to today. And finally, the statistics used by baseball folks and the general public did not fully capture the performance of players in the most effective ways.

The 1951 set was a beauty that saw some of the most iconic cards of all-time. And though the set failed to produce cards of the top players of the 1951 season, it sure featured some tremendous players at the peak of their careers.

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 Jansen...it'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.

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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!