by Phoenix Desertsong, Major Sports Nut
This post is sponsored by ThePit.com
Searching online for the best sports cards to invest in for 2020? You're likely bombarded with lists of some of the most expensive cards in baseball, football, and basketball. You’ll also be told to review the 50 most watched sports cards on eBay to know what’s currently hot.
But, there's a quicker way to find the best baseball, football, and basketball cards to buy right now.
What’s Wrong with Watching the Most Watched Cards on eBay?
There are two problems with watching the most watched cards on eBay.
First, just because a card has a lot of people watching it, that doesn’t mean it actually has a huge market. This is especially the case with cards that are 1/1 or have other low serial numbers. While there’s always a market for these cards, they often make poor investments because they rely on a bidding war taking place to get high prices. If only one highly interested party shows up for the auction, the “hammer price” will doubtless be disappointing to the seller.
Yes, there’s always collector demand for these sorts of cards, and it’s cool to own something so truly rare. But, you need to be willing to bet on what a very small demand pool will give you, since so few collectors have the cash to buy unique or greatly limited cards. Or, you need to hold the card for a very long time. For investment purposes, these aren’t the cards you want to focus on.
If you’re serious about sports card investing, you need cards that are both sought after and can be sold at any time for a fair return.
The second problem with cards that often come up on eBay as “most watched” is that they may represent minor league prospects or players currently on a hot streak. These tend to be more speculative buys, and if you’re fine with gambling, they can either pay off or sink you.
Sure, you’ll see names on this list you’ll recognize like Mickey Mantle, Michael Jordan, and Tom Brady. But, many of these iconic players' cards usually have high price tags already, and have much of their market value already baked in due to their popularity.
While eBay is an established marketplace for sports cards, it isn’t a great place to actually track what cards are great investments... unless you already know exactly what you’re looking for!
There’s also the strategy of watching the cards with the most bids on eBay. While this approach is a more direct way of finding the cards that people are not wanting to let get away, it is also likely to lead to bidding wars. That’s not really a sound investment strategy, as you’ll probably pay far more for the card you want than it’s worth in the long-term marketplace.
So, what’s the best source of recommendations for investment-quality players and cards? You’ll want to check out ThePit 50 sports card indices.
What is ThePit.com?
ThePit.com is a bid/ask marketplace where you can trade sports cards online like stocks without transaction fees. The Pit50 indices include hot graded rookie cards. Card prices on ThePit are usually lower than the lowest buy-it-now price on eBay by a significant amount.
When you remove the transaction fees, shipping cost and (increasingly) sales tax associated with trading cards requiring physical delivery (as on eBay), you save 15 percent or more on a card right away!
What are ThePit 50 Indices?
ThePit 50 indices are based on the top graded cards in each of baseball, football, and basketball. It takes the current “Sell Now” price of the card on ThePit multiplied by its graded population - which is publicly available information. The idea behind the indices is to establish a total population value (“market cap” in Wall Street terms) for individual cards in specific grades. This allows sports card collectors and investors the ability to truly treat sports cards like stocks.
Graded cards are more valuable than their raw counterparts in grades PSA 9 and 10 & BGS 9.5 and 10, and collectors only grade cards they feel are valuable. So, knowing which cards have both high populations and high sell prices lets you know what cards have the best market and overall value. Thanks to this index, you can take a lot of the guesswork and hours of research that go into figuring out what’s hot and what’s not.
So, what are some of the best sports cards to buy right now? Let’s see what thePit 50 index tells us in baseball, football, and basketball.
Best Baseball Cards to Buy Right Now in 2020
thePit Baseball 50 takes a unique approach to finding the best baseball rookie cards currently on the market. The index uses Bowman Chrome Refractor Autographs graded BGS 9.5/10 Auto by Beckett Grading Services. Using population multiplied by the current bid price on thePit, every month this list is updated, giving you the top 50 Bowman Chrome Refractor Autos on the market.
Of course, Mike Trout is #1 and in a league of his own. In July 2019, the other members of the top 10 include Ronald Acuna, Jr., Cody Bellinger, Aaron Judge, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Juan Soto, Mookie Betts, and Carlos Correa. There’s also future Hall of Fame players like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander, as well as current big stars like Giancarlo (Mike) Stanton, Alex Bregman, and more.
If you follow the game even casually, these names probably all sound familiar. But what’s key to thePit 50 is that it tracks only the key rookie cards of these players. There are so many baseball card products out there today that it’s overwhelming. When choosing what cards are worth putting your money into, Bowman Chrome Refractor Autos tend to hold the best value. In this way. thePit Baseball 50 helps narrow the focus to the top cards you want to own!
Best Football Cards to Buy Right Now in 2020
Quarterbacks dominate the football card market and always have. Occasionally, a running back or wide receiver will have a big game or strong year and see a nice appreciation in their rookie cards. But if you look at the thePit 50 Football index, you’ll see it dominated by the best Quarterbacks in the league - with Tom Brady rookie cards being far and away the most valuable.
Patrick Mahomes II and his 2018 Panini Prizm Rookie Card jumped right in behind Brady's 2000 Bowman Chrome PSA 10 on the index with his Super Bowl win. He's followed by Aaron Rodgers, and other strong, young quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield, Dak Prescott, and Lamar Jackson.
Best Basketball Cards to Buy Right Now in 2020
Michael Jordan has and probably always will be the best player ever to invest in when it comes to basketball cards. For a time, LeBron James rookie cards were surpassing high grade copies of the iconic 1986 Fleer Jordan rookie in price. "The Last Dance" ESPN Documentary helped Jordan's rookie cards to soar to even new heights, however. Current superstars like Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Trae Young are also at the top of the list.
Kobe Bryant is another name you can’t go wrong with when investing in basketball cards. Established stars like Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant make appearances in the Top 50, as well as future Hall of Fame players like Dirk Nowitzki. While vintage players have value (such as the 1980 Bird/Erving/Johnson scoring leaders card), the latest stars are the most actively traded.
Why Trade Sports Cards Online at ThePit?
Since 2000, thePit allows you to build a sports card portfolio and trade online. This also saves you from other realized costs such as sales tax. Then, you can cash out your balance to PayPal at any time (with a 10% fee) or have the physical cards listed in your portfolio shipped to you for a reasonable flat rate. It’s safe and secure.
All you have to do is create a free account at ThePit.com, fund your account with a VISA or Mastercard. Then, you’re good to start buying and selling.
Let us know in the comments what you think of the site!
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Card Fanatic
This post features products available at ThePit.com - where you can trade sports cards and hobby boxes like stocks!
Topps Update prices soared in 2019. Why is that? Has the popularity of the 2011 Mike Trout Topps Update rookie card worn off on the entire brand? Because these sets often have what are considered the “true” Major League rookie cards for MLB players, it’s no surprise that sets with big name players have value. But, why have they sold so fantastically well in 2019?
Update sets have existed for a long time, going back to when they were called Topps Traded back in 1981. These sets consisted of players who were traded during the season. They also included rookies that were called up during the season.
In the past, Update sets were typically factory sets, in which you got the full set in one purchase. This was a popular trend in the 80s, fueled by competition between the three major brands (Topps, Fleer and Donruss). For Topps Update, sets were sold in complete form all the way through 1994. But, in 1995 Topps turned Update into a set that had to built the traditional card collecting way, through opening packs.
Topps seemed to decide that variations were the way to sell the Update product, which started out as “Traded” and would later become called Updates & Highlights and later just Update. That was probably a good move, since the popularity of the factory sets depended entirely on whether there were hot rookie cards that people wanted to chase. By turning them into pack sets, rather than complete sets, they could include some inserts and create a chase for the rookies and stars in the set.
Turning the Update sets into a pack-based product worked out well for Topps. Eventually, they would start including relic cards and even autograph cards. They later included photo variations and other short printed versions of cards in the set.
Photo variations and other short printed cards are hot with collectors, especially player collectors. So, even though the Update sets don’t have large base checklists, pulling individual cards is actually more difficult than you would think. Now, you don't just chase key rookie cards. You now have multiple other cards of those rookies to chase, as well.
Is Topps Update produced in smaller quantities than the Bowman sets? There isn’t any data to show this, but there is definitely a crazy amount of demand for these sets. Having short printed (SP) variations, especially ones that are serial numbered, has made the Topps Update set a major favorite every fall. The scarcity of the SP's clearly helps to create enthusiasm for the product.
People really do like the photography and design of the Update cards. But, what drives the recent Update sales are the pure amount of good players included in the sets. Then, when you consider the short-printed photo variations and serial numbered parallels, suddenly you can be opening multiple cards of the same player - something that is pretty cool for collectors..
Let’s take a look at three of the best Topps Update sets in recent memory: 2015, 2017, and 2018 Topps Update.
* * 2015 Topps Update * *
Key players: Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, and Noah Syndergaard
Kris Bryant is featured right on the box of 2015 Topps Update. After a 2018 season that was awful by his standards, Bryant bounced right back in 2019. Bryant’s rookie card is the chase card in the 2015 Topps Update set, along with the rookie card of Indians superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Beyond the big five names, there are also rookie cards for hot 2019 players like Gio Urshela of the Yankees and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto also has a rookie card in the set. It also has the rookie card of Texas Rangers’ slugger Joey Gallo. You’re guaranteed at least one auto or relic card (aka a “hit”) in every box.
Available on thePit:
2015 Topps Update Series Baseball Hobby Box 2015 Topps Update Sealed Box - ONLY $125!
* * 2017 Topps Update * *
Key players: Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge was incredible in his 2017 rookie season and while injured some in 2018 he still put up good numbers. 2019 was extremely unkind to Judge on the injury front, though. Fortunately, Cody Bellinger decided to become the talk of baseball during the first couple months of 2019. With his National League MVP, he’s become the key player to chase in the 2017 Topps Update set.
2017 Topps Update also has rookie cards for Oakland A’s star third baseman Matt Chapman, Astros’ third baseman Alex Bregman, Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, Yankees first baseman Luke Voit and rising starting pitcher Domingo German, and Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi.
Many collectors opt for the Jumbo box which has 10 massive 50-card packs. A regular box of 2017 Topps Update contains only one autograph or relic card, but the Jumbo box guarantees an autograph AND two relic cards.
Available on thePit:
2017 Topps Update Series Baseball JUMBO Hobby Box
* * 2018 Topps Update * *
Key players: Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Gleyber Torres
2018 was a GREAT year for rookies. The Braves had Ronald Acuna Jr and Ozzie Albies perform, and Acuna broke out in a BIG way in 2019! Juan Soto was a nice surprise for the Nationals, won a World Series, and has become one of the hottest players in the entire hobby.
Shohei Ohtani lived up to his hype in 2018, though injury set him back big time in 2019. Even unable to pitch, he still provided value with the bat. Gleyber Torres turned out to be an awesome steal by the Yankees. He’s bloomed into an everyday power-hitting infielder who has become an anchor for the Bronx lineup.
There are also rookie cards of 2019 breakout performers like Austin Meadows and Shane Bieber in the set. So, there is even more potential for this set from an investment standpoint.
Available on ThePit:
2018 Topps Update Series Baseball Sealed BLASTER Box
2018 Topps Update Series Baseball BLASTER Sealed 16 Box CASE
2018 Topps Update Series Baseball Sealed Hobby Box
Which is your favorite of these three Topps Update sets? Do you think 2019 Topps Update will come anywhere close to the value of these two sets in the coming years?
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
While Jonathan Villar is better remembered as an Astro, Brewer, and Oriole, his career began as a Philadelphia Phillie. That much is obvious from his 1st Bowman Chrome card from 2010. But, the speedy Villar who had a little pop never played a regular season game for the Phillies. He was traded along with Anthony Gose and J.A. Happ for Roy Oswalt.
That trade worked out OK for both sides. But, while he looked just as ready to contribute from the look of his 2011 Bowman Chrome card with the Astros, Villar got off to a slow start with his new team in his first two stints in 2013 and 2014. But, he started putting things together in 2015, when he was traded after the season to the Milwaukee Brewers for pitcher Cy Sneed.
It wouldn’t exactly be a trade the Astros would regret. Of course, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman would shine for the Astros. While Cy Sneed had a decent 2019 MLB debut and is still part of the Astros plans, Villar exploded in 2016 for the Brewers. But Villar put up impressive numbers for the Brew Crew: 19 HR and 62 SB with a decent 285.369.457 slash line. Unfortunately, Villar stumbled in 2017 and wasn’t much better in 2018 until the Trade Deadline.
In one of the best trades the Orioles made in a long time, the Brewers and O’s swapped second baseman in a classic “change-of-scenery” trade. The guy the Orioles gave up, Jonathan Schoop, was a disaster in Milwaukee before becoming a free agent at season’s end. Schoop would turn things around in Minnesota in 2019, but of course, that still left the Brewers on the losing end of this trade.
Villar would finish 2018 well for the Orioles and turn in a career year with the O’s in 2019. It wasn’t completely out of nowhere. Villar had a strong breakout year in 2016 with the Brewers with 19 HR and 62 SB (77.55% success rate.) He has just the 2020 season left to play before reaching free agency. The question was how much of it will he spend with the Orioles? It turns out it will be none of it.
Jonathan Villar Goes to Miami
Steamer 2020 Projection .261/.330/.422, 20 HR, 82 R, 70 RBI, 32 SB
The Marlins made a shrewd move, giving up just a potential backend starter for the rights to Villar in 2020. While at first glance it seems like a strange move, there’s a lot of sense in it. It was a clearly spendthrift move by the Orioles, but the Marlins clearly saw his value. Not only is he instantly one of the Marlins best players, but he helps solidify an uncertain second base and shortstop situation. It’s also likely he plays some third base for Miami, as well.
Being that it’s a walk year for the infielder with a great power/speed skill set, many teams would be happy to have him. It would certainly be good for his “hobby cred” to go to a contender. It’s likely the Marlins are taking this into account - thinking they can get someone better than who they gave up in this deal at the Trade Deadline.
In the meantime, the Marlins get a good player and don’t really mind his salary to keep an improving team respectable. The Marlins also picked up Jesus Aguilar, so this is a team that may not be trying to contend, but it is trying to move forward. Also, while it may seem cliche, Villar and Aguilar could serve as mentors for the Marlins’ young talent like Isan Diaz, Harold Ramirez, Lewis Brinson, and others.
While Villar’s first rookie was the aforementioned 2010 Bowman Chrome, his first auto - with the Astros - was in 2011 Bowman Chrome. You can get the autos for under $5, and even graded ones under $20. He’s a nice potential mid-season flip, if he can put up another 20 HR/30 SB-plus season worth of production.
If Villar continues to put up his 2019 level of production, that would be helpful in getting the Marlins to trade him to a contender. As it stands, if they hold him all year, they probably won’t offer him a qualifying offer after the 2020 season, meaning no draft pick compensation. So, whatever they get in return at this point is a bonus. But for Villar, a move to a contender would be good for both him and his cards. As it is, he’s probably better off in Miami anyway, where he’s definitely wanted.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Lifelong Sports Nut
If you’ve been following Major League Baseball top prospects for even just a few years, you will know the name of Jurickson Profar. He was a highly touted prospect for a reason. On his 2011 Bowman Chrome Prospects card, you could see Jurickson simply oozing with talent. The smile on his face as he takes a practice swing in the photo screams a guy that just loves to play some baseball.
But, Profar didn’t get to play nearly as much baseball as he, the Rangers, baseball fans, and card collectors would’ve liked. Injury after injury kept eating into his playing time. When he would try to get a chance in the majors, he just couldn’t put things together before yet again losing a chunk of the season to some injury. Eventually, he finally got to play a full season, even if it took until 2018...
So, when he finally broke out with the Texas Rangers in 2018, it still felt like a disappointment. To hit .254 with 20 HR and 77 RBI - and stealing 10 bases WITHOUT being caught - would be a pretty nice season for most players. After years of getting hurt and not really establishing himself in his limited chances, 2018 was a nice break for Profar. He played all over the diamond, while mostly at third base and shortstop. Unfortunately, he didn’t rate well at any position on defense.
A Second Chance for Jurickson Profar?
The Rangers decided that they would sell high on Profar’s decent success with the bat and on the bases. They let him go to the Oakland A’s in a three team trade that netted them pitchers Kyle Bird and Brock Burke, as well as minor league infielder Eli White. Ironically, White is somewhat similar to what Profar has become - a guy without a position who’s useful enough with the bat and on the bases to have a role with some MLB team. Bird and Burke each had lousy MLB debuts, but both showed promise in the high minors.
The A’s were certainly disappointed in their return. They ended up trading Emilio Pagan and a competitive balance round draft pick to the Rays in the complex three team swap. Profar hit only .218/.301/.410 and was "worth" minus 10 runs at second base. Meanwhile, Emilio Pagan was one of the best relievers in baseball for the Rays. The Rangers are probably thrilled that they got what they did.
There were some positives. Profar still hit 20 HR. He stole 9 bases and was only caught once. The switch-hitter murdered left handed pitching. His batting average on balls in play was a piddly .218. Surely, you’d expect Profar to have a bit of positive regression, right?
A Third Chance for Profar with the Padres?
Being one of the most cost-conscious organizations in the league - to put it nicely - the A’s decided that they would cut bait on Profar. While a projection arbitration salary of $5.8 million is hardly awful for a guy who will likely perform closer to his 2018 than his 2019 results, the A’s decided to move on. They decided to swap their struggling infielder for catcher Austin Allen and a player to be named later.
After their trade of Luis Urias to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Padres had a three-way fight for playing time at second. Ian Kinsler was terrible in 2019. Greg Garcia is a useful utility Infielder quite likely stretched in full time duty. Ty France had monster AAA numbers and was the guy with the most upside. But, you can't blame the Padres for wanting somebody with Profar's pedigree.
Padres GM A.J. Preller is quite familiar with Profar from his days in the Texas front office. While the familiarity is certainly a factor, it's not like there wasn't a use for him. His Steamer projection for 2020 alone makes him a clear starter at second base even with his fielding difficulties.
Steamer 2020 Projection (125 games): .250/.331/.431, 18 HR, 67 R, 64 RBI, 7 SB
Because of his propensity for injury, his projection accounts for at least some missed time. But even if that time, FanGraphs has him bring worth 2.2 WAR. That's a slightly above average player. Going into his age 27 season and being projected to earn $5.8 million through arbitration is fine for the Padres. The A's just wanted to move on.
What did the Padres give up? Austin Allen didn’t impress in his major league debut, but scouts project him to grow into more of his raw power. He could be a nice find for the A’s, for sure, even if he’s just their third catcher at the moment. He’s not nothing, although a very underwhelming return considering what a star Profar was expected to be.
The good news for Profar is that he definitely has a starting job with the Padres. If he can get his throwing issues under control, he could be at least a passable defensive second baseman. As even a slightly below average fielder, his bat and speed are still good enough tools to make him a 3 WAR player. It would be good to see him hit the ball harder with more consistency. But, in just 2019, his expected wOBA was .323 VS his actual .301 wOBA was enough of a gap to show he was unlucky.
Will Profar reemerge in the baseball card hobby? Right now, it doesn’t seem like he will. It's highly unlikely he suddenly becomes a 30 HR & 100 RBI stud out of nowhere. Could he finally have some good batted ball luck and put together a really nice year, though? There may be some untapped potential there yet. In any case, it’s easy to like this trade for the Padres.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Fanatic
When Chone Figgins was announced for the 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, his name immediately trended on Twitter. Of course, Figgins was a popular player for the then Anaheim Angels, who he won the World Series with in 2002. But, no one has really ever thought of Figgins as a Hall of Fame player, and it will be quite funny if he gets even one vote from a Baseball Writers Association of America member.
Still, despite probably not being a so-called “Mariners legend” - outside of the obvious overpay the Seattle Mariners made for his services - Chone Figgins was a good ballplayer. It should be noted that Figgins hit for the cycle on September 16, 2006 - hit a single, double, triple, and home run in the same game - making him forever a part of the PSA “Hit for the Cycle Club” Set Registry.
The Chone Figgins rookie card mentioned in that registry is the key focus of this Rookie Card Review, 2002 Bowman Chrome #249. Considering that a mere 11 examples of the base card and 9 examples of the refractor have been graded by PSA, it’s safe to say that hobbyists didn’t think of him as a future Hall of Fame “hopeful.” But since the announcement of him simply appearing on the ballot, interest has spiked in this rookie card and its refractor. It’s a nice looking card, featuring Figgins in an old style Anaheim Angels uniform in the follow-through of a successful swing, watching the ball likely hitting a gap somewhere.
Chone Figgins’ Angels Success
The 5-foot-8 switch-hitting utility player hit a lot of gaps, hitting .291/.363/.388 for a 99 OPS+ in his 8 years with the Angels, being an above-league average hitter 4 out of 8 seasons. His offensive value was boosted by his stolen base ability, averaging over 40 plus steals a season. Figgins also played second base, third base, shortstop, center field, right field, and left field in his career. Defensive Runs Saved sees Figgins as a disaster in the outfield, below average at second base, and significantly below average at shortstop. But at third base, which became Figgins’ best position, Figgins was above average.
In fact, Figgins had one of the best contract walk years you could imagine in 2009. Not only did he have a solid .298/.395/.393 slash line (110 OPS+) with 42 steals, he had a career high 101 walks and an absurd 29 Defensive Runs Saved at third base. These numbers helped Figgins secure a 4-year, $36 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. That contract would turn out to be a disaster.
The “Mariners Legend” Chone Figgins...
Seattle didn’t treat Figgins well. Not only did he get moved to second base full-time where he was below average (-10 DRS in 2010 alone), but his bat just never really got going. He played in 161 games, but mustered only a pitiful .259/.340/.306 slash line. His only saving grace was 42 stolen bases against only 15 times caught.
The 2011 and 2012 seasons were even worse. Not only did Figgins suddenly become extremely injury prone, but when he did play, he couldn’t even hit .200. After hitting around .180 - .190 in limited action in those years, the Mariners released him after the 2012 season, eating his $8 million salary for 2013.
Figgins wouldn’t even make his way back to the Major Leagues in 2013, although he catch on as a bench player with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014. It wasn’t a great final stint in 38 games, and he was released by the Dodgers in mid-August. He did manage 0.7 WAR though, so he wasn’t a total negative. While Figgins retired a rich man, and did sign a one-day contract to retire as an Angel, I’m sure that’s not the way he wanted to spend the second half of his career.
But, to be fair to Figgins, he was an All-Star caliber player for several years. He could steal bases with the best of them and had great on-base percentages. If there was any knock against him, it was his misadventures in the outfield - not entirely his fault. While Figgins is never going to be more hobby relevant than in the wake of this news, his Angels career and his rookie card are worth remembering.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Red Sox Crazy Fanatic
Unlike fellow Red Sox top prospect Triston Casas, Bobby Dalbec may be close to his Major League debut. In 2019, Dalbec did plenty of damage at Double-A Portland in the Atlantic League. His first 30 game stint was encouraging, hitting 7 home runs without embarrassing himself. Dalbec will be 25 in June 2020, so very soon the Red Sox will want to see what they really have in their top prospect. Like Casas, Dalbec has immense raw power, rated a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Also Like Casas, Dalbec has a below average hit tool, meaning he doesn't really hit for average. Unlike Casas, he may never develop into more than a .250 hitter at the MLB level.
However, Dalbec has other things going for him. Dalbec has much more advanced plate discipline and tons of walks at Double-A. He has also been trimming his strikeout rate Which is another good sign. The only troubling thing so far is he walked very little on his promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket. That can partially be explained away by Dalbec potentially trying to prove himself at the minors most advanced level. He did show the power and didn't strike out more than he did at Portland.
The other plus with Dalbec perhaps is what will make him a much better real life player than may be ever reflected in his card prices. Casas may be a passable third baseman with his above average arm, but his future is likely as a slightly better than average first baseman on defense. On the other hand, Dalbec projects to be a better than average fielder with an excellent arm at the hot corner. Because he is likely much more versatile on defense, the Red Sox may be happy to just have him for his fielding ability and take any power he offers as a binus.
Obviously, Dalbec looks to be a nice useful player. But being on the doorstep of the major leagues with really only raw power, walk, and nice fielding skills to his credit, is there much potential for the hobby to embrace him?
Bobby Dalbec's key rookie card is 2016 Bowman Chrome Draft. While his auto is popular, it still sells for less than that of Single-A slugger Triston Casas. Is Dalbec undervalued, especially being so close to the majors? Or are hobby prospectors more intrigued by Casas' ceiling? Both have plenty of prospect hype, but Dalbec can likely help very soon at the MLB level. Considering you can find his base Chrome - and even the refractor - very recently in the dollar bin, he could be a nice player to hoard and flip very soon if that's what you'd like to do.
The big question is Dalbec ready for regular MLB duty. Many prospect evaluators Believe he has more room to grow. His Autos aren't super cheap, and there still is some prospect hype baked into thatorice. A lot has to do with how the Red Sox front office handles him. The red sox may not be the team he starts for in the near future, as the Red Sox may need to evaluate whether Dalbec is better off as a trade chip as they try to creatively rework their roster.
Of course, staying with the Red Sox may be good for his future, but if he can become a starter somewhere else and succeed, that’s even better for both Dalbec and his rookie cards. In any case, Dalbec seems to be very close to Major League action. Whether he becomes a backup corner infielder, a second-division starter (that is, for a below-average team), or an all-star is all up to how he fares once thrown into the MLB fire. His base Chrome would be my choice, although his auto is still cheap enough that if you believe he can carry his power, arm, and glove to a starting job somewhere, it’s worth a look.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Big Huge Red Sox Crazy Fan
Triston Casas is the type of baseball prospect that hobby prospectors salivate over. Many scouts believe that the Red Sox top prospect could develop into a middle of the batting order hitter. His Raw Power scouting grade from FanGraphs is a 70 with 80 potential - 80 being the top grade. His current in-game power grade is a 35 with a 65 potential.
As for results, his 137 wRC+ mostly at A-ball is fine, and just turning 20 and graduated to High-A ball, he still projects as at least an average Major League player. The big question with him is if his hit tool - ability to hit for average - will rise from the current 25 to the potential 50. The good news is he doesn’t strike-out a ton for a young power hitter and he does take some walks, so his profile is actually pretty good.
His key rookie card is the 2018 Bowman Chrome Draft Auto. The last raw one that sold on eBay was mid October 2019 for $49.99 plus $3.50 shipping. We’ll call it a $50 to $55 card. The cheapest you’ll find on eBay the night of this writing is $60.
There are a couple of other Bowman Chrome Draft autos of Casas that are selling, however, that include the Class of 2018 auto (the refractor numbered to 250) and the Draft Night auto (refractors numbered to 99 and gold refractors numbered to 50). These are attractive targets because there are simply so few of them. The class of 2018 refractor auto you can find for about $40 plus shipping. The draft night auto you’ll be lucky to find for $85 - that comp is already graded PSA 10.
As a collector, I actually favor the serial numbered autos, but my opinion is that the refractors of the 2018 Bowman Chrome Draft auto are the best investment for ROI. That’s because it’s his official 1st Bowman card and the card with the biggest market. That being said, having already graded copies of extremely limited edition cards is a nice “go for broke” strategy. If you want to play it safe, there’s the non-auto 2018 Bowman Chrome Draft which you can find in high grade for $15-20.
Personally, I’d play it safe with Casas for the time being. Yes, he is the #1 Red Sox prospect, but he just hit .254 at A-ball. Yes, his batting eye is decent and he made noise when he did make contact. I need to see more progress before I would invest in his future, outside of maybe some raw Chrome 1st Bowman cards or colored parallels of his base Bowman Draft card.
All of these points about buying and selling sports cards are just my own informed opinions. They should NOT be taken as professional investment advice. Always do your own research, as the card market can shift drastically without much notice. Remember, this is a hobby, so you must be prepared to be stuck holding any cards you collect.
Transparency notice: As of this writing, I currently own no Triston Casas cards, but may purchase some Chrome base cards or colored parallels purely for Personal Collection purposes.
Pedro Martinez has two cards in the 32-card 1991 Cal League set, and they are #1 and #32. The first card is the more commonly available of the two. It’s a typical minor league card that doesn’t appear to have the greatest printing quality. Also, Pedro didn’t look too happy in the portrait. However, Pedro very much enjoyed his time in the Cal League, which he dominated.
Pedro pitched to 8 wins and no losses with 10 starts at Bakersfield. He enjoyed a 2.05 ERA in 61 ⅓ innings, as well as a 12.2 strikeout rate per 9 innings against only a 2.8 walk rate per 9. It was definitely a sign of things to come, huh? Anyway, Pedro dominated the league so much that the Dodgers called him up to Double-A San Antonio, where he also pitched well. He finished at Triple-A Albuquerque, where he pitched OK, although not great.
Pedro’s other 1991 Cal League card, #32, is a much nicer looking card. It’s also apparently extremely difficult to find, especially in top condition. Even raw, they can sell for $15 or more. What makes it a nicer card is the photo, which is a shot of Pedro throwing a warm-up pitch from the mound, while smiling.
Both cards also list his Dominican League (Santo Domingo) stats on the back, which is awesome. Good luck finding anything better than a PSA 8 of #32, though.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Pedro Martinez Fan for Life
The first ever Pedro Martinez rookie card is pretty much where you have to start with any serious Pedro Martinez rookie card collection. For a minor league card, it’s not bad. The design is a bit bland, but the portrait isn’t bad - albeit dark. It’s a piece of history in any case, hearkening back to when Pedro played in Montana.
Pedro didn’t pitch too badly at his first minor league stop in the Pioneer League. He compiled an 8-3 win loss record with a 3.82 ERA in 14 starts. He had a decent strikeout rate with 82 strikeouts in 77 innings. Pedro was still honing his control, though, as he walked 40 in those 77 innings. It’s not a bad performance, in any case. However, he was actually out-pitched by lefty Mark Mimbs. Who? Yeah, exactly. (Although, Mimbs actually did pitch for the Pawtucket Red Sox in 1997, so that is an interesting Red Sox connection, I guess…)
There was a time where these 1990 Sport Pro Great Falls cards held a lot more value. But, in June 2019, one PSA 10 example of the Great Falls Pedro Martinez card sold for just $25. You can grab a PSA 9 copy for under $15, but why wouldn’t you just want a 10? There are 901 PSA 9 copies VS 545 PSA 10 copies. They aren’t exceptionally rare. Still, this is a must have card for any Pedro Martinez rookie card collection.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Pedro Martinez Fans for Life
While not one of Pedro Martinez’s premier rookie cards, the 1992 Donruss card from their “The Rookies” subset has a few things going for it. First off, this card does feature Pedro in a major league uniform, in Dodger Blue wearing his familiar number #45. Secondly, unlike previous editions of “The Rookies,” Donruss actually released this set in packs rather than in a boxed set. Why is that good? It means that gem mint copies of this card are much harder to find than you’d expect.
There are 2075 graded examples of the 1992 Donruss Rookies Pedro Martinez card, yet only 275 of those have graded out as a PSA 10 Gem Mint. There are 1295 PSA 9 examples, which is why that’s what you’ll much more commonly find for sale.
As a serious Pedro Martinez collector, you’ll most likely want the PSA 10. In late 2019, you can find PSA 9 copies for about $15-20, but the PSA 10 copies tend to be $30 or more. You’ll find a similar case for Pedro’s former teammate, Manny Ramirez, who actually has a whopping 2500 graded examples of his card in the set, yet only 270 graded PSA 10. That card, interestingly has similar price points. So, it’s pretty cool to have these two in the same set.
(It’s worth noting that Tim Wakefield also has a rookie card in the set, as well as all-star second baseman Jeff Kent. Of course, Wakefield doesn’t have many graded examples, although neither does Kent, interestingly enough.)
Of course, this card also depicts Pedro on the mound. Many of his early cards do not. I’ve also always preferred rookie cards with players in Major League uniforms, which is something I know many collectors prefer. All in all, this is a pretty nice and affordable Pedro Martinez rookie card that still holds some value from the Junk Wax era when graded PSA 9 or better.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Baseball Stat Freak
Justin Smoak was one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball in 2019. According to StatCast, he was the 9th unluckiest hitter in terms of xwOBA minus actual wOBA. That 9th place is misleading as a bunch of the guys ahead of him are backup catchers or utility type players. There are only a couple of guys we'd even care about as far as fantasy or rookie cards are concerned. Those two are Marcell Ozuna and Kendrys Morales.
As for Smoak, his quality of contact suggests his .208 batting average and .406 slugging percentage are much too low. StatCast expected a .245 batting average, which is also his career average. For slugging, StatCast expected a .476 mark, also not far off of his career average. With his career high 15.8 percent walk rate in 2019, Smoak should've had a .367 wOBA. That's a whopping 40 points higher than his actual wOBA.
To put that in perspective, his expected rates put him in the neighborhood of the actual results of Bryce Harper and Joc Pederson. But his surface numbers put him more in the production range of big disappointments like Paul DeJong and Dexter Fowler. Sure, they're about league average. But, Smoak is a well above league average hitter. As he has since been signed by the Milwaukee Brewers, apparently their front office feels the same way.
Going into his age 33 season and free agency, Smoak could be a really nice bargain. Of course, Smoak is also the exact type of player that teams are shying away from. With all the young talent Toronto is stockpiling, it was a foregone conclusion he wouldn't be back with the Blue Jays in 2020. The Brewers, on the other hand, are happy to guarantee him just $4 million for 2020, plus an option for 2021 at $5.5 million with a $1 million buyout.
It's likely no surprise that people aren't too excited about Justin Smoak rookie cards. He also doesn't have a Bowman Chrome Auto, which makes his card market a little harder to gauge relative to his peers. His top rookie autos are several 2008 Razor cards and 2008 Upper Deck Team USA. Of course, the Upper Deck cards are more sought after. For base rookie cards, there are the serial numbered 2010 eTopps and 2011 Topps rookie cards.
Because of his poor surface numbers, particular Smoak rookie cards don't sell that consistently. But if you are looking for one card to target, it would be colored refractors of his 2011 Topps rookie card, as those are the cards targeted most consistently.
A strong 30 HR and 100 RBI could still be in Smoak's future. While Milwaukee isn't a big market, a strong season from both him and the Brew Crew could help the value of Justin Smoak cards. What do you see in the cards (pun intended) for Justin Smoak's future?
by Phoenix Desertsong, Baseball Fanatic
On September 17th, 2019, Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski and his grandson Mike reunited at Fenway Park for the first time in awhile. It’s a dream come true for the 29-year old rookie outfielder for the San Francisco Giants who hails from Andover, MA. After playing four years at Vanderbilt, Mike has spent seven seasons in the minors, all for the Baltimore Orioles system until this year. His ascent to the Major Leagues was years in the making, and now he makes his debut at Fenway in left field, the position his grandfather roamed for many years for the Red Sox.
While it’s highly unlikely that we’re seeing the beginning of a Hall of Fame career for Mike Yastrzemski, his numbers in 2019 are pretty solid. Through 96 games, Mike hit .265/.324/.509 good for a 115 OPS+. Mike Yaz also had 19 home runs and 51 RBI. In his minor league career, he had decent, but sort of average numbers. In fact, the projection systems all saw Mike Yastrzemski as more of a 4th outfielder with some pop.
On that very first game at Fenway Park, Mike Yastrzemski hit his 20th home run of the season. It was a home run broadcast everywhere, a league-wide sensation. "Little Yaz" would finish the 2019 season hitting .272/.334/.518 with 21 HR. With the sudden success of a Hall of Famer's descendant, it's little surprise that Mike Yastrzemski rookie cards have been hot since that special moment at Fenway.
So, why is Mike Yastrzemski so good all of a sudden? Part of his success is fueled by a much better batting line on the road vs home and success against lefties as a left-handed batter. His 2019 season BABIP was .325, which isn’t incredibly high. Outside of a brutal month of June and some back issues, "Little Yaz" has actually been even better than his overall batting line would suggest for most of the season. But, is it sustainable success?
What Does StatCast Say About Mike Yastrzemski?
While Mike Yastrzemski is indeed related to Carl, it’s not fair to compare him to his Hall of Fame grandfather. But because his numbers don’t seem fluky on the surface, we need to look at his actual quality of contact. Right off the bat - pun not intended - StatCast shows us that he may be a bit lucky after all. But, it’s not that drastic. Mike’s expected batting average is .251, which is certainly significantly lower than his actual mark of .272. But, his expected slugging percentage of .484, when you filter out the loss in batting average, isn’t much off his current performance.
While Mike Yastrzemski may not develop into the slugger his grandpa was, StatCast’s expected wOBA of .341 isn’t that far off of his actual .357 wOBA, and still quite above league average. There are a couple of other things in his favor, too. StatCast tells us that Mike has above average sprint speed on the bases and an above-average jump on the ball in the outfield. While he has only stolen two bases, he’s been running the bases well, and he’s been a plus defender in the outfield, mostly in left and right field.
Although he’s hit some weak balls, he’s been barreling the ball well, and his hard hit percentage is in the 74th percentile. Having above average power and a respectable on-base percentage while adding above average baserunning and fielding to the mix is a decent package. Right now, Mike Yaz really looks like a league-average corner outfielder. He’s not blowing anyone anyway, but he was a really nice pickup for the Giants.
Why Did the Orioles Give Up on Mike Yastrzemski?
I’m not so sure that the Orioles expected Mike Yastzemski to become a solid regular all of a sudden. He was invited as a non-roster player in spring training and obviously showed enough to the Giants scouts that they wanted to trade for him. The Giants surrendered starting pitcher Tyler Herb, who would go on to pitch fairly well in AA Bowie for the Orioles before struggling mightily in AAA. It’s clear that the Orioles made a mistake with this deal.
Credit goes to the Giants scouting in clearly selecting a player who was ready to breakout. Soon as he went to AAA for the Giants, he tore the Pacific Coast League to pieces. Even though it’s an offense-friendly league, his .316/.414/.676 slash line with 12 HR in 40 games was obviously impressive. With the Giants outfield situation a mess for most of the year, Mike Yaz has found a home in left field alongside brilliant defensive outfielder Kevin Pillar.
It’s safe to say the Orioles regret making that trade, because it’s very possible that Yaz would be roaming Camden Yards with Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander right now. While it’s not clear that Mike Yastrzemski is going to become much more than what he is right now - a very useful player - the Orioles have to be kicking themselves. The Giants are more than happy to have him, as he’s a legitimate MLB starting outfielder.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Red Sox Fanatic
Brandon Workman has enjoyed a stellar career year for the Boston Red Sox. He’s been such a fantastic relief pitcher, in fact, that he’s become the Red Sox closer. His strikeout rate is off the charts and he’s allowed just one home run in 66 ⅓ innings! Perhaps even more incredible is despite seemingly unsustainable BABIP and HR/9 marks - and a high walk rate - Workman’s incredible season isn’t just a mirage.
It’s time to turn to my favorite statistical analysis tool for baseball: StatCast. Just look at these numbers:
Barrel Rate: 0.8% (Top 1% of league)
Expected Batting Average: .174 (Top 2% of league)
Expected Slugging Percentage: .237 (Top 1% of league)
Actual wOBA: .209 (Top 1% of league)
Expected wOBA: .256 (Top 5% of league)
Expected wOBA on contact: .311 (Top 5% of league)
Hard Hit Percentage: 28.9% (Top 6% of league)
Strikeout Rate: 35.5% (Top 4% of league)
(Note that all numbers are as of 9/16/2019)
The only bad number that StatCast spits out? His walk rate, 15.5%, which ranks in the bottom 1% of the league. Workman is simply not allowing much hard contact and he’s striking guys out, both things you really want a pitcher to do.
According to FanGraphs, the fielding-independent pitching metrics suggest that even with that high walk rate and miniscule HR allowed rate, his FIP is 2.52 and his expected FIP - which uses an average HR/9 rate - is 3.44. Obviously, those are all acceptable numbers for a closer. Overall, FanGraphs rates Workman as earning 1.9 WAR. Not bad for a guy that the ZiPs projection system saw as a barely above replacement-level middle reliever.
But Wait, It Gets Better for Brandon Workman!
By Baseball-Reference’s WAR, which instead uses Runs Allowed per 9 innings, and not the FIP metric, Workman has been worth 2.8 WAR to the Red Sox in 2019. When you realize that Workman has been worth 2.9 WAR in his entire career including 2019, you realize what an incredible breakout this has been.
So, what’s changed about Workman? Here’s a guy who had a decent rookie season back for the eventual 2013 World Champion Red Sox as a relief pitcher. Then, he had a brutal 2014 season as a starter, after which he missed all of 2015 and 2016 (except for a few brutal rehab appearances in the minors in ‘16) with arm injuries. But, Workman bounced back nicely in 2017, pitching excellently for Pawtucket and pitching pretty well between AAA and MLB in both 2017 and 2018.
In 2013 and 2014, Workman had a sinking fastball and a change-up in addition to his four-seam fastball, cutter, and curveball. After arm troubles, when he returned to full health in 2017, those sinker and change-up were taken out of his repertoire. But he has the same three pitches in 2019 that he did in 2017 and 2018. So, what’s the difference?
One obvious thing that’s different is the average fastball velocity. Workman’s four-seam fastball has averaged 92.8 MPH this year. That’s up a lot from 2018 when it was 91.2, and even higher than 2017 when it was 92.2. The added velocity is definitely a big part of it, but what’s more incredible is the spin rate.
The spin rate on Workman’s fastball is 2121 rpm, up from 2003 and 1982 the previous two years. Those increases in velocity and spin rate have led to a whiff rate of 35.9 percent, a huge jump from 18.3% in 2018 and 17.0% in 2017. That nearly doubled whiff rate has made Workman’s fastball practically unhittable, with a measly .129 batting average and .145 slugging percentage against. StatCast agrees with those numbers with .135 and .174 expected marks.
Brandon Workman Loves to Throw You a Curveball, A Lot
Interestingly, Workman only throws the four-seamer 33.1% of the time, down from 38.9% in 2018 and 51.2% in 2017. What’s replaced many of those fastballs, and a few of his cutters, is his curveball. It’s pretty much the same pitch as 2018’s curveball, although with more spin than 2017. Despite a lower whiff rate of 28.9%, batters have only hit .133 against it. While StatCast sees that as unsustainable, it still expects a batting average of merely .193. You can’t go wrong with that curve.
The most interesting part of this StatCast pitch arsenal data has to do with his cutter. Despite only throwing it 19.8% of the time, it clearly has been the culprit of many of Workman’s issued walks in 2019. His cutter has a whopping 20.4% walk rate. And if that sounds high, it should, as his cutter has never had higher than a 10% walk rate since StatCast began tracking pitches in that way. But, there are a couple of upsides to the cutter. It has a whopping whiff rate of 43.6%, and despite only having a K% of 26.5, has been an effective third pitch overall. Batters have only hit .083 against it, although StatCast expects a .178 batting average. Still, that’s pretty good - even with all the walks it’s ended up creating.
What this data tells us is that Workman has thrown the curve more than ever in 2019, and it’s helped both his fastball and cutter play up. While it’s clear that we may not be able to expect him to replicate this success going forward, it is clear that Workman has found a really nice pitch mix that works for him.
How Will Brandon Workman Do in 2020?
Workman was eligible for arbitration in 2019, and settled for a $1.15 million contract. That’s turned out to be a massive bargain for the Red Sox. Going into his final year of arbitration, Workman should easily expect a substantial pay raise. Through 9/16/19, Workman has a 9-1 win loss record with 14 saves and 15 holds. He does have 6 blown saves, though, but not all of those were as a closer. You may not think wins hold as much water as they once did, especially for a reliever, but that does look awfully nice on his baseball card.
Of course, if Workman’s agent does his homework, there’s a lot to like about Workman going forward. All of this pitch data is very easily accessible. Being credited for 9 wins and 14 saves means something, too - in fact, Workman’s WPA+ (Win Probability Added) on the season through 9/16 is 8.98. Of course, there are two components to WPA (WPA+ and WPA-) and his overall WPA is 2.18, which is still quite good. That mark isn’t far behind one of the best relievers in baseball - Josh Hader - at 2.36, and just ahead of Liam Hendricks, the solid A’s reliever, at 2.16. So, Workman has been a very valuable reliever.
The advanced stats keep working in Workman’s favor in terms of StatCast expected stats, too. His expected wOBA of .256 ranks right in between the Houston Astros’ top relievers in Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna. Also, he’s not far behind his own teammate, Darwinzon Hernandez, at .253. That’s good company. His actual wOBA, though? Get this, it’s the lowest of any pitcher with 100 Plate Appearances. Workman’s performance has literally made Workman the most dominant reliever in baseball in 2019.
Talk about an arbitration case in Workman’s favor! Even if he stumbles a bit in the last couple weeks of the season, Workman has still been incredible. Should he be the Boston Red Sox closer going into 2020? There’s absolutely no reason he shouldn’t be.
Of course, there is Darwinzon Hernandez, who Jhoulys Chacin memorably compared to his former teammate Josh Hader. As the StatCast data shows, Chacin is right. If you believe the StatCast metrics - and there’s little reason not to - the Red Sox have one of the best 8th and 9th inning combos in the game going into 2020. Not a bad setup.
Because of this, it’s possible that the Red Sox explore a contract extension with Workman this offseason. It’s also equally possible that the Red Sox lean on his good, not great past performance and go into 2020 with Workman on a one-year deal to prove he’s for real. But as we’ve broken down here in great length, Workman is definitely a changed pitcher. If he can work on reducing the walks on his cutter, he could, in fact, be the best closer in ALL of baseball. That’s pretty incredible stuff.
Is Brandon Workman the Boston Red Sox Closer of the Future? Perhaps. Brandon Workman IS the Boston Red Sox Closer of RIGHT NOW, though, for sure. That future title may go to Darwinzon Hernandez, but you never know. Workman is only 31 years old, very young for a relief pitcher. As long as he’s not overused or overworked, Workman likely has a very nice late-inning career ahead of him.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Minor League Baseball Fan
Congratulations to outfielder Jarren Duran of the Boston Red Sox for being recognized as the Baseball America High-A Player of the Year! For Salem in the Carolina League, Duran hit .387/.456/.543 with 4 HR, 19 RBI, and 18 SB in 50 games. That’s good for a 191 wRC+, which is obviously quite nuts.
However, Duran actually spent most of the 2019 season at Double-A for the Portland Sea Dogs, where he hit a mere .250/.309/.325 with only 1 HR and 19 RBI. Even when you account for his 28 SB (against only 8 times caught), that’s good for only a 87 wRC+. However, despite his hiccup with the bat, Duran is a potential plus defensive outfielder, although he’s still transitioning from his original position of second base.
FanGraphs isn’t hugely big on his future potential value, giving him a 45 where 50 is a potential average Major League player. They’re high on his speed, of course, giving him a 70 out of a potential 80. But his other current and future potential values are not what you’d expect from a Player of the Year.
Hit: 40 / 55
Game Power: 30 / 40
Raw Power: 45 / 45
Speed: 70 / 70
Field: 40 / 50
Throws: 40 / 40
Future Value: 45
Of course, if Duran does become the plus defender in center field his speed and athleticism suggest, he would instantly be at least a league-average center fielder in the Majors. Saving runs in center field is extremely valuable. It should be noted that Duran was an excellent second baseman, but the Sox organization felt his athleticism was wasted at the position. The below-average arm doesn’t matter as much in center field, either.
The rest of the scouting report suggests that if he refines his baserunning instincts, he could be an easy 30 SB threat in the Majors. The question is if his hit tool develops enough to become a .300 hitter in the Majors. His plate discipline is decent enough and if he takes full advantage of his speed, the Sox have a really good player here.
It should be noted that the Steamer projection already sees Jarren Duran as a .281/.324/.402 hitter right now. Before you factor in his potential stolen bases, that’s already a 86 wRC+. Of course, that projection is heavily influenced by that Single-A outburst. But for a 23-year old with an ETA of 2022, the Sox could have a really nice late bloomer that can play both second base and center field.
What do you think of Jarren Duran as a prospect? I find it hard to get excited about a guy who dominates Single-A then stumbles so badly at Double-A. Of course, the former 7th-round draft selection Duran has his fans. Heck, he was included in the famous (infamous?) Gary Vee Direct 360 set. Unsurprisingly with the Baseball America prospect spotlight now placed on him, Jarren Duran’s cards are now listed in the $8 to $10 range.
As of this writing, the Gary Vee Direct 360 card is the only official Bowman rookie card for Duran and two minor league cards from the Salem Red Sox and New York Penn League (from his time in 2018 with the Lowell Spinners). Duran is definitely an intriguing prospect and I like his potential, but I tend to put my faith in FanGraphs scouting ratings. Could Duran blow away his ratings and ride his speed all the way to the top? He certainly could. Only time will tell.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Lifelong Red Sox Fan
The Red Sox had some pretty good players back in the 1970’s. But, one you may not have heard nearly as much about was Sonny Siebert. A starting pitcher who was better known for his years with the Cleveland Indians, Siebert was mediocre in two of his four full seasons with the Red Sox. However, he was quite good in 1970, and won 15 games with a fine 3.44 ERA. He would be much better in 1971.
The Sox acquired Siebert along with Vicente Romo and Joe Azcue for Dick Ellsworth, Ken Harrelson, and Juan Pizarro. As Red Sox trades go, this was actually a good one for Boston. Azcue and Romo were replacement level, but Harrelson and Pizzaro only had one good year for Cleveland and Ellsworth never really did much after that. Pizzaro would have another good season later with the Cubs. Of course, that means the Red Sox won this trade, because although Siebert was mediocre in 1969 and 1973, he was quite good in between.
A lot went right for Sonny Siebert in 1971. Not only did he pitch very well, winning 16 games with a 2.91 ERA, but Sonny also had a great year with the BAT. That’s right, folks. American League pitchers still had to come to bat until 1973. What’s particularly incredible about Siebert’s 1971 season with the bat is that in no other season did he come close to being that good. In 1971, he hit .266/.289/.532 with 6 HR and 15 RBI. His career marks? .173/.204/.270 with 12 HR. Crazy fluke or not, it was a really nice year for Sonny.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Lifelong Red Sox Fan
Red Sox Trivia Time! Who was the best Red Sox player in 1993 by Wins Above Replacement? If you guessed Roger Clemens, you’d be wrong. Heck, even if you’d guessed young shortstop John Valentin you still won’t be correct. It was a 37-year old starting pitcher. His name: Danny Darwin.
Along with Frank Viola and a young Aaron Sele, Danny Darwin helped pick up the Red Sox pitching staff from an unusually poor season from Roger Clemens. Yes, Clemens was about merely average in 1993. Unfortunately, despite a pretty good starting staff, Paul Quantrill kept losing games - despite actually being a pretty decent reliever for most of his career.
Also, despite Mo Vaughn having a good year, Mike Greenwell putting up one of his typically good years, and John Valentin being a very nice young player, the lineup wasn’t great. That’s with future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson at DH, being, sadly, rather mediocre. Those Red Sox finished 80-82 under Butch Hobson.
Of course, none of that was Danny Darwin’s fault.
Danny Darwin’s Career Before the Red Sox
Actually, Darwin had a very interesting career. He actually only made 371 starts in his career out of his 716 career appearances. He actually spent a good deal of his career in the bullpen and was bounced back and forth from the starting rotation and bullpen for most of his career. However, after a nice run with the Texas Rangers, he went to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he had one and a half above-average seasons before being traded to the Houston Astros. He pitched very well and returned as a free agent.
In Houston from 1986 to 1990, Darwin would be worth 13.4 WAR, 5.3 of that coming in his 1990 season when he won the NL ERA title with a 2.21 mark. Darwin started 17 games that year with 3 complete games while also finishing 14 games and saving 2 games. Still, the Astros saw fit to see him leave as a free agent. The Red Sox were only too happy to add the solid Darwin to their pitching staff.
Danny Darwin with the Red Sox
By the time he got to the Red Sox in 1991, the “Bonham Bullet” had already put together a pretty nice career as a “swingman” - a guy who worked both as a starter and a reliever. Unfortunately, Darwin’s first season with the Red Sox didn’t go so well. In 12 starts, he delivered a 5.16 ERA while dealing with shoulder problems and battling pneumonia. Fortunately for both the Red Sox and Darwin, this would not be a free agent bust.
In 1992, Darwin rebounded with one of his typical swingman seasons. He started 15 games and finished 21 more, appearing in 51 total games over the season. Overall, his efforts were worth 2.6 WAR. But where Darwin truly excelled in 1992 was in the starting rotation in the season’s second half. He pitched only one game out of the bullpen. In his 15 starts, he had a 3.50 ERA and 2 complete games. It was a precursor to his best season in the major leagues, 1993.
In 1993, Darwin started 34 games, pitching 2 complete games, 1 of them a shutout. Despite a solid 3.26 ERA and 1.068 WHIP, his 4.29 FIP was a harbinger of things to come. Darwin had a really nice season, but things would go south after that.
In the strike shortened 1994 season, the wheels fell off for Darwin. He started 13 games, and while he went 7-5, had a miserable 6.30 ERA. He was up and down and had a couple of clunkers mixed in between brilliant performances. But arm trouble led to him blowing up in June, after which he was shut down. It looked like the beginning of the end for Darwin, and it was certainly the end of Darwin’s Red Sox career.
Danny Darwin’s Last Hurrahs
After an awful 1995 season split between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers, Darwin caught on with the Pittsburgh Pirates at age 40. He actually pitched pretty well with a 3.02 ERA in 19 starts! Darwin was good enough to net relief pitcher Rich Loiselle from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline. That trade actually was a win for Pittsburgh, who got a very good rest of 1996, a solid rookie campaign as closer in 1997, and decent returns in 1998 before he forgot where the strike zone was and was never good again. Meanwhile, the Astros, who’d been happy to reacquire Darwin, watched him struggle and get released at season’s end.
But, that wasn’t the end for Darwin. He’d catch on with the White Sox in 1997, pitching 21 games, 17 of them starts. His 4.13 ERA was a bit of a mirage, but it was good enough for the Giants to acquire him along with Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez in a trade that famously didn’t work out well for the Giants. The White Sox ended up with a solid closer in Keith Foulke and a decent set-up man in Bob Howry. Darwin and Alvarez would both be mediocre, Hernandez would be fine, but Alvarez and Hernandez would end up with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays next season.
Darwin would hang around with the Giants for 1998, getting into 33 games, 25 of them starts, and wasn’t particularly good at all. In fact, Darwin was “worth” -1.1 WAR that season. That was the end of Darwin’s playing days. However, Darwin has hung around the game and as recent as 2019 is still a minor league pitching coach.
Danny Darwin’s Career Overview
Overall, Danny Darwin was worth 39.8 WAR over 21 seasons. That includes some really awful seasons where his WAR totals were negative. He was actually significantly better as a reliever, although overall he was a decent slightly better than league-average starting pitcher when he got the call.
Starter: 371 starts, 2396 ⅓ innings, 4.04 ERA, 53 complete games, 9 shutouts, 2.2 K/BB ratio
Reliever: 345 appearances, 620 ⅓ innings, 3.06 ERA, 171 games finished, 32 saves, 2.29 K/BB ratio
The obvious knock against Darwin were his platoon splits.
Vs Right-Handed Batters: 6216 PAs,.234/.281/.361 - .641 OPS
Vs Left-Handed Batters: 6500 PAs, .277/.338/.437 - .775 OPS
In today’s analytically-driven game, Darwin probably would’ve been limited against left-handed batters and probably relieved much more than he started. It’s also possible he would’ve faced fewer batters per season, which may have saved him some of the arm trouble. Darwin was indeed “Dr. Death” on right-handed batters and more analytically-inclined deployment may have made Darwin one of the greatest swingmen of all time.
Of course, Darwin’s career was just fine as it was. He gave Red Sox fans a great 1993 effort and along with his above-average work in 1992 made that 4 year contract at least mostly worth it. He’s still in the game today passing on his extensive knowledge of pitching to younger pitchers. Here’s to a great baseball career that hasn’t even yet ended. Thanks for all your efforts, Danny!.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
The last team captain of the Boston Red Sox, Jason Varitek spent parts of 15 seasons with Boston. He made his major league debut with a base hit in his first and only major league at-bat in 1997. Varitek was acquired by the Red Sox along with pitcher Derek Lowe in the infamous trade for relief pitcher Heathcliff Slocumb. It’s not even close who won that deal, even if Lowe had never done anything. Varitek was the starting catcher in 10 different seasons for the Red Sox and only wasn’t in 2001 due to injury.
Varitek was also one of the most popular players in recent Red Sox history. He was loved by the pitching staff and anecdotally was an above-average defensive catcher. While he was a bit below average in throwing out opposing base stealers, I can say that he worked with some pitchers that were notoriously slow to the plate. The defensive metrics see him as an overall defensive negative, but a lot of those negatives came from his brutal final season in 2011. From all the years I watched him play, I’d say he was at worst perfectly average behind the dish - but above average as a pitch receiver.
Jason Varitek Was Mr. Average
While being average is really not exciting, in baseball being average is extremely valuable. If you look at Jason Varitek’s 162 game average, you’ll see that would he hit 20 HR and drove in 79 RBI in an average season. Those are solid baseball card stats, especially for a catcher. Because of his solid work behind the dish, though, those league-average offensive stats allowed him to be an above-average regular by WAR in 6 out of his 15 seasons.
2001: 1.4 WAR (in only 51 games)
2002: 2.1 WAR (132 games)
2003: 3.0 WAR (142 games)
2004: 4.0 WAR (137 games)
2005: 3.9 WAR (133 games)
2007: 2.3 WAR (131 games)
He wasn’t bad in his first full season in 1999, either, with 1.9 WAR in 144 games. But, Varitek did have some poor seasons with the bat. His rookie year of 1998 wasn’t too hot, and neither was 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, or 2009. But with a career OPS+ of 99, you can see that on the balance, he was perfectly average offensively. The good news is that Varitek’s dWAR (WAR from Defense) is a positive 8.8 for his career. So, in fact, Varitek was ever so slightly better than average, before you count his “intangibles” such as team leadership.
Why Jason Varitek and His 2004 Season Were His Career Best
Most fans may believe 2005 was Varitek’s best year in the Major Leagues. He won the Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, and made his second American League All-Star Game roster! OK, he did deserve the Silver Slugger.with a 122 OPS+. However, 2005 was also one of Varitek’s worst defensive seasons if you believe the defensive metrics from Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved. Still, his overall contributions were worthy of an All-Star appearance and were worth 3.9 WAR to the Red Sox.
Of course, in 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years! Best season ever!
OK, that’s not why, but yes, Varitek was a big part of the Red Sox success that season. Despite no accolades, he was worth a career-high 4.0 WAR to the regular season 2004 Sox. He also hit a career high .296 and a career high on-base percentage of .390. His offensive contributions amounted to a 121 OPS+. Defensively, Varitek was 3 runs above average by Total Zone’s metrics and perfectly average by DRS.
In the postseason, Varitek was OK in the Division Series. But, he was a major contributor in the classic ALCS against the Yankees. While Varitek was a non-factor in the World Series, it didn’t matter.
Speaking of the postseason, in 2007, Varitek’s bat didn’t show up in the Division Series, but it did in the League Championship against the Indians and in the World Series versus the Rockies. So, Varitek really did help the Sox win their 2nd ring in 4 years.
Jason Varitek’s Legacy
Various injuries and trouble in his personal life did affect Varitek’s on-field performance at times. But, Varitek was loved by his teammates and is anecdotally one of the more underrated catchers of his era. In fact, I can’t think of another catcher that was as consistently league-average as Varitek.
The only ones better I can think of offensively are Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez, and Mike Piazza. “Pudge” and Piazza are Hall of Famers and Posada has a case for a plaque. “Pudge” was easily the best defensively of his era. Joe Mauer was obviously great early in his career, too, which started towards the end of Tek’s own career.
Sure, Tek isn’t a Hall of Famer. But, he did have a very nice peak and hit better than you’d expect from your typical catcher.The defensive metrics also mostly show that Varitek was in fact a very good catcher on defense. We don’t have pitch framing metrics for that time period, but I can almost guarantee he would’ve been among the league leaders. In fact, had Varitek not played in the same era as Pudge Rodriguez, it’s likely he’d be remembered as one of the best of his era without question, behind only Jorge Posada.
It’s an old baseball saying that great teams are great up the middle. So, it’s no surprise that the Red Sox and Yankees had two of the best catchers in the game during their respective eras. Sure, Varitek didn’t come close to Hall of Fame standards. But, he was at least the #3 or #4 overall catcher in the American League in his peak years. Catchers like Tek don’t come along everyday, and you’d be hard-pressed to ever expect another one to come along.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
Christopher Trotman Nixon, better known as “Trot,” was a first-round selection of the Boston Red Sox. Despite how highly Nixon was regarded, his first few seasons in the minor leagues weren’t all that exciting. Nixon did get called up to the Major Leagues in 1996, and got 2 hits in 4 at-bats. His 1997 season at AAA Pawtucket was merely OK, although he did hit 20 HR and steal 11 bases.
But, it wasn’t until 1998 when he broke out at AAA in a big way, hitting .310/.400/.513 with 23 HR and stealing 26 bases. Trot was rewarded with a cuppa coffee in 1998 and didn’t do much to impress. The 1999 season, however, his true rookie season, would be a very good one.
As 1999 was the first season in which I personally began to watch MLB on a regular basis, Trot Nixon was a young star that I enjoyed watching play. In 126 games, Nixon hit .270/.357/.472 with 15 HR, 51 RBI, and stole 3 bases. Those Red Sox teams didn’t really run, after all. Also, despite 7 errors, Nixon flashed the leather with defense worth 15 runs above average thanks to his above-average range.
Trot finished only 9th in Rookie of the Year voting, although it was a pretty stacked year in 1999. His own teammate, Brian Daubach, in his own first full season finished 4th. It was also Carlos Lee’s rookie year, although he didn’t outperform Trot, although Chris Singleton, who finished 6th in voting, actually did. The winner that year was Carlos Beltran, which was honestly a smart decision, especially considering the career Beltran would have.
Trot Nixon’s Solid Numbers and 2003 Career Year
Because of various injuries, Trot Nixon never would display his once above-average speed in the major leagues. So, while he was once thought as a 20 HR/20 SB threat, that never came to be. What did come to be was that Trot translated his spectacular plate discipline and above-average power to above-average major league performance. Injuries would also limit his range in the field, but he’d still be an above-average defender overall for the most part until the tail end of his career.
However, from 1999 to 2005, Trot was never a below-average player. Keep in mind that 2 WAR is a roughly average regular in the major leagues playing a full season.
1999: 2.9 WAR in 124 games
2000: 2,5 WAR in 123 games
2001: 3.8 WAR in 148 games
2002: 2.9 WAR in 152 games
2003: 5.1 WAR in 134 games
2004: 0.9 WAR in 48 games
2005: 3.4 WAR in 123 games
Trot’s best year was 2003, a year that many expected the Red Sox to make the World Series. Of course, Aaron Boone made sure that didn’t happen… But Trot posted a career best slash line of .306/.396/.578 for a 152 wRC+ with 28 HR and 87 RBI. Those results were partially fueled by a slightly high .334 BABIP, but he did have a truly good year. He also hit very well in the playoffs and may have been the ALCS MVP that year had the Red Sox not been eliminated.
Nixon wasn’t a below average player until 2006, when he posted only 1.1 WAR in 114 games. Injuries finally caught up to him and he was never the same player again. He was truly awful after leaving the Red Sox for the Indians in 2007. and didn’t fare too well in 2008 with the Mets, either.
Trot Nixon’s Ability to Drive in Runs
There were a couple of knocks against Trot Nixon that limited his overall numbers. Firstly, he was dreadful against left-handed pitching (.630 career OPS vs LHP, ..872 career OPS vs RHP). The other major knock against him was that in the “clutch” it seemed like Trot was more likely to draw a walk rather than get a big hit. This may sound like a silly knock in today’s game where walks are much more highly valued. But, it is true that in high leverage situations, Trot hit just .256/.348/.433. That’s compared to .290/.380/.480 in medium leverage plate appearances and .270/.359/.466 in low-leverage PA’s.
However, I argue Trot was much more “clutch” than some commentators suggest. After all, Trot had 223 RBi in 864 plate appearances and 711 at-bats. That means Trot had an RBI for every 3.87 plate appearances and an RBI for every 3.19 at-bats. Those ratios are pretty spectacular. So, he made the hits he did get count! Trot was also an extremely good hitter in the 8th inning, with a career .879 OPS in that inning.
The reason he has a poor reputation in the clutch? He was below average in the 9th inning, hitting merely .220/.332/.390 (.722 OPS), and he hit a dreadful .200/.304/.300 (.604 OPS) in extra innings. Those things being said, not all of those 9th inning plate appearances were high leverage situations and 71 PA’s in extra innings is an awfully small sample size. He also has positive career marks in WPA (Win Probability Added) and WPA/LI (Win Probability Added in Late Innings). The one downside is that his “Clutch” score was negative in every season except 2004 and 2005.
So, was Trot Nixon bad in the clutch? Perhaps, as far as the leverage indexes are concerned. What I can say is that Trot helped his teammates trot across home plate in high leverage situations on a regular basis. In that way, I’ve always felt he was underrated.
Trot Nixon’s Time with the Indians & Mets, Retirement, and Career Overview
Somewhat ironically, it was Trot Nixon who played for the Indians that the Red Sox came back to beat down three games to one in the 2007 ALCS. After a lousy regular season, Nixon was actually a good contributor for the Indians in the ALCS. It was a strange feeling for him, especially when he came back to Boston, where he received a very warm welcome.
Nixon retired before the 2009 season after a subpar stint with the Mets and a failed comeback in early 2009 with the Brewers. Trot went home to Wilmington, North Carolina to spend more time with his two children. He now serves as a co-host for a high school football highlight show called “The 5th Quarter” for a local channel.
As it turned out, the Red Sox turned to J.D. Drew to replace Nixon. Somewhat ironically, Drew took Nixon’s #7 with the Sox. While it was a frustrating five years for Drew, who dealt with many nagging injuries, overall he was actually a very similar player to Nixon. Drew, of course, had a great 2007 playoffs and helped the Sox win the World Series. But, replacing the popular Nixon, he never really endeared himself to fans.
Trot Nixon wasn’t just a fan favorite for his consistent production, often underappreciated by non-Red Sox fans. He was a great teammate and his explosive temper actually endeared him to fans. Most of all, Boston fans loved him for his hustle and enthusiasm for the game. He constantly was getting his uniform dirty making great plays and hard slides on the basepaths. Trot became the inspiration for the term “Boston Dirt Dogs.”
Had Nixon been a bit better against left-handed pitching, he may have posted even better numbers; the Red Sox often spelled Nixon against lefty starters for guys like Gabe Kapler, Wily Mo Pena, and other lefty mashers. Still, from a sabermetric standpoint, Nixon was an above average player for a long time, even playing through injuries and ineffectiveness against same-side pitching.
Trot, hope you’re having a great time with your new career and with your family!
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
When I began following baseball around the turn of the 21st century, the Red Sox and New York Yankees rivalry was as hot as ever. One of my favorite players to watch right from the beginning was Bernie Williams…of the Yankees. That's right. The long time Yankees center fielder spent all 16 major league seasons in the Bronx. I saw him right towards the end of his prime. Today, I feel like he's become vastly underrated.
For eight seasons, 1995 to 2002, Bernie Williams was consistently one of the best players in baseball. His counting stats were never that impressive, but someone who consistently hits 20 HR, 100 RBI, steals 10 to 15 bases, and hits over .300 is going to be damn valuable. Whether coincidence or not, it so happens that Bernie's peak almost perfectly coincided with the Yankees eight year Dynasty. What held him back, interestingly enough, was his "Gold Glove" defense.
That's right. The 4 time Gold Glove winner was actually a below average center fielder. Sure, he made the plays. The problem was that he didn't really have great range as a center fielder. I certainly never thought of Bernie as bad a fielder as the defensive metrics have him. In retrospect, he was probably better suited to a corner, but staying in center field is what gave him such impressive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers. He finished with 49.6 WAR according to Baseball Reference. That is nothing to sneeze at, but well short of the Hall of Fame standard.
However, Bernie was a postseason hero on several occasions and probably a better fielder than Total Zone would lead you to believe. He also won FOUR World Series with the Yankees and hit very well even in losing efforts. I always thought of Bernie Williams as a future Hall of Famer? Will he ever get a plaque in Cooperstown? It's highly unlikely, but he is on the Today's Game Committee ballot for 2022.
Then again, Chris Bodig makes an excellent case for Bernie Williams as a Hall of Famer on his excellent website Cooperstown Cred. I happen to agree with his arguments. But while I am usually a stats oriented guy like he, I'm going to look back at his peak performance merely as a fan…
Of course there will be some stats and a particular focus on his breakout career year. But, mostly, observations extrapolated from my experience and memories as a teenaged fan. Of course, even then I was obsessed with stats…
Bernie Williams and His Early Career
Like many baseball stars I grew up watching, Bernie Williams' career began in the Junk Wax era of card collecting. In fact, Bernie's first cards debuted in 1987, the widely considered beginning over the Junk Wax overproduction. It's also the year of my birth.
Anyway, 1987 ProCards was the official cardboard debut for Bernie Williams. Several other minor league issues would follow in 1988 and 1989. Bernie's first official rookie card was 1990 Bowman, which thankfully has a glossy Tiffany version if you're looking for his key rookie card to collect. It's a great card. Bernie also appeared in 1990 Donruss, Topps, and Score.
Bernie's major league debut wouldn't come until 1991, but by 1992 he would become an above average player in MLB. Bernie would post a 2.0 WAR Mark in just 62 games in 1992 and a 2.5 WAR Mark in 139 games in 1993. Building my "Junk Wax" Dynasty, I would be very happy to fill out my roster with a young Bernie Williams.
Bernie's Breakout Season of 1995
After a strong showing in the strike shortened 1994 season, Bernie would have his best season in the Majors by WAR. It would be the beginning of his 8-year peak. He would amass 6.4 WAR, with the best defensive season of his career by defensive WAR (1.7)... Ok, enough stats…
I wasn't watching baseball at that time, but 1995 was the year that Bernie was becoming the player I'd later admire. His 18 HR and 82 RBI were nothing to sneeze at. He did steal 8 bases, but was caught 6 times. However, he also hit .307. Keep in mind this is back when batting average was still far, far more important than on base percentage. These were stats that fans were excited about.
The Yankees were getting really good, too. While the hobby was going into decline around this time, what kid didn't want to have some Bernie Williams rookie cards? He was a young star, and he was legit.
Bernie Williams: The Best Hitter of the Late '90s Yankees Dynasty, Who Was Almost a Red Sox...
Chris Bodig goes into it in great detail in his piece on Bernie Williams on Cooperstown Cred, but even as a more casual fan in the late 90's, I knew just by watching him that Bernie Williams was the best hitter on the Yankees. I often wished he played for the Red Sox. Well, ironically, it almost happened just as I was getting into following the sport seriously…
After the 1998 season, the Boston Red Sox actually made Bernie Williams a six year offer for $90 million - with a seventh year option on the table. Keep in mind, Mike Piazza signed a seven year $91 million deal with the Mets not long before that, at the time, the largest contract in baseball history. Arguably, that one worked out pretty well…
The great news for the Yankees is that they decided to offer a seven-year deal worth $87.5 million, which he accepted. The even better news is that the Yankees would've instead signed Albert Belle… and we all know where his career went after that. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, they not only lost Mo Vaughn to the Angels, but they essentially replaced Vaughn with.Jose Offerman (who actually was quite good in 1999, believe it or not).
There's a non zero chance that had Bernie gone to Boston, the Sox may have won both the 1999 and 2000 World Series. In retrospect, the Yankees should consider themselves very fortunate that Bernie returned to the only organization he'd ever known. They likely would have won in 2003 and 2004, as well. (No one was beating Schilling and Randy Johnson in 2001.)
Oh, what could’ve been…
Is Bernie Williams a Hall of Famer?
From my observations, Bernie Williams was absolutely, positively a Hall of Famer. He had as many, if not a couple more, big hits in the postseason as Derek Jeter - who is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The Yankees not only may not have won all four of those rings - they may not have even gotten to the postseason some years without the consistent bat of Bernie Williams. As the Yankees primary cleanup hitter, he was the centerpiece of their offense. Period.
It also helps that Bernie Williams is also one of the most likable people to ever play the game of baseball. His second career as a jazz musician has also been a phenomenal success. Since he made so much money in his career, Bernie uses his musical talents mostly for charitable causes. If he’s not a Hall of Fame ballplayer, Bernie’s a Hall of Fame human being.
Bernie Williams is one of those guys who I’ll just throw WAR out the window and put him in the Hall of Fame anyway. As it is, modern center fielders are vastly underrepresented in the Hall. If he’s not elected into the Hall by the Today’s Game Era Committee in December 2021, I will be greatly disappointed.
Bernie, I wish you continued success in all you do!
You can visit Bernie’s official website: www.bernie51.com
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
While not eligible for my Junk Wax Dynasty series, Rich Garces himself did in fact begin his career in the infamous era of overproduction for sports cards. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for Garces, setup men don't get much love at all in the sports card hobby. Who they do get love from are the sports fans, and that's what matters most, right?
As 1999, Garces' breakout year, was my first full year following Major League baseball and my hometown Red Sox, his remarkable performances stand out in my memory.
Rich Garces and his Early Career
Garces actually had two cups of coffee with the Minnesota Twins in 1990 and 1993. He certainly didn't embarrass himself, but the Twins never really gave him a chance. But because of his decent cuppa in 1990, Donruss, Fleer Ultra, Upper Deck, Bowman, Stadium Club, and Topps all gave him a rookie card. Topps even named him a Future Star. Despite Topps having a terrible track record with those Future Star predictions, they were actually somewhat correct in this case.
The Twins released Garces in October 1994 and he caught on with the Chicago Cubs in 1995. Remarkably, he pitched fairly well in 7 games, before being put on waivers and claimed by the Marlins. He didn't pitch so well for them. So, he would be released by the Florida team and find his way to the Red Sox.
Rich Garces and the Red Sox (1996 to 1998)
In 1996, Garces got his first real taste of the major leagues after impressing at AAA. It wasn't pretty, but he managed to post 0.4 WAR. He certainly didn't embarrass himself. The performance was good enough for the Pacific Card Company to name him one of their Gems of the Diamond for the 1997 Pacific Prisms set. Unfortunately in 1997, Garces pitched very little at the major league level and was roughly replacement level when he did. But, his spectacular results at AAA prompted the Red Sox to give him another chance.
Garces was actually not too bad in 1998 with the Red Sox. While he posted unimpressive numbers in AAA, he got his chance in MLB. He was pitching in one of the biggest years of offense that baseball has ever seen. Garces actually posted a career high 0.7 WAR with a solid 3.33 ERA in 30 games. Of course, like had happened so much already to Garces, he found himself released at the end of the season. Of course, the Sox would change their minds and resign him.
Rich Garces as a Premiere Setup Man
Garces actually spent a good chunk of the 1999 season at Triple-A being dominant. It would take the Sox a bit to realize that keeping him down was probably stupid. When he finally came up to stay, the portly Garces was already a fan favorite. He would respond with his best performance yet for a playoff bound Red Sox team.
Particularly astonishing about Garces was his ability to stifle left-handed batters even as a right-handed pitcher. Despite not having much of a fastball, Garces made a living as a relief pitcher with a sharp curve ball and splitter. That splitter would be his bread and butter pitch at his peak.
Despite his 1.55 ERA in 1999, it would not be his career year. Despite an ERA of 3.25 in 2000, Garces was actually much better, posting a 2.0 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to Baseball Reference in 64 games that season. Whether you believe in WAR or not, his 2.0 mark along with his 1.7 WAR in 1999 is actually a fair representation of his actual value to those Red Sox teams.
Somewhat tragically for the hobby, there were no major card releases for Garces in either 1999 or 2000. We'd have to wait for 2001 Topps and Topps Chrome to collect Garces in a mainstream release again. He did have a couple of minor league cards and a 2000 Red Sox Photocard.
The Twilight of Rich Garces' Career
For the rest of his career, Garces was a decent, if unspectacular middle reliever. Even in 2001 for the Red Sox, he wasn't quite the same, although he was worth 1.1 WAR in 62 games. After a dreadful showing in 2002, Garces was done in Major League Baseball, although he attempted a couple comebacks before retiring as a player to become an independent league pitching coach.
Thanks for the memories, El Guapo!
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
J.D. Drew hit .278/.384/.489 with 242 home runs over a 14-year career. His glove was worth 69 runs in the outfield according to TotalZone. For his solid bat and above-average glove, Drew was worth a substantial 44.9 WAR. That’s comparable to Hall of Famer Edd Roush and Indians & Tigers legend Rocky Colavito. He has more career WAR than early 20th-century hall of famers Hugh Duffy and Roger Bresnahan. I’m not saying that J.D. Drew belongs in the Hall of Fame. But, at one time, there is a possibility that he could’ve gotten there.
Drew’s 1998 Fleer Update Rookie Card is a really nice looking piece. His card #U100 in the set got plenty of attention from prospectors in the baseball card hobby. As a can’t miss prospect, over six thousand J.D. Drew Fleer Update cards were sent in to PSA. As of May 2019, there are 819 PSA 8, 3477 PSA 9, and 2066 PSA 10 copies in existence. Today, you can buy a copy of a PSA 10 graded J.D. Drew rookie card for $4 to $5 plus shipping. What happened?
J.D. Drew and the St. Louis Cardinals Years
Actually, J.D. Drew turned out to be extremely good. After murdering AA and AAA in 1998, Drew had a torrid 14 game introduction to the major leagues, hitting .417/.463/.972. But, in 1999, after hitting well in AAA, his first rookie season was actually pretty mediocre with the bat (91 OPS+) but exceptional with the glove in center field (17 runs above average). So, in real life, he was worth 2.7 WAR, but that had to be a let down for everyone who had invested in his rookie card.
The 2000 season was a good one, though, for Drew. He’d hit 18 HR, steal 17 bases, and have a .880 OPS, good for a 121 OPS+. 2001 was a monster year, as he hit for a 160+ OPS. But even then, he started missing games here and there with nagging injuries. This would be a theme throughout his career. He would only play more than 140 games in a season three times. Even so, he racked up 18.1 WAR in 6 seasons with St. Louis.
J.D. Drew and His Career Year With the Atlanta Braves
After the 2003 season, Drew was traded along with Eli Marrero for Ray King, Jason Marquis, and Adam Wainwright. It would be a good trade in the end for the Cardinals as Wainwright blossomed into an ace pitcher. But it was also good for the Braves, who got Drew’s biggest season and the only season in which he hit more than 30 HR - .305/.436/.569 with 31 HR and 12 steals for 8.3 WAR.
Drew was looking pretty good at this point with 26.4 WAR in 7 seasons Interestingly, though, Drew had zero All-Star game appearances, despite being an All-Star level player in all but 2003, and he only played 100 games that year and still collected 2.5 WAR. That’s because his power numbers were good, but not great, and he missed a lot of games with nagging injuries.
J.D. Drew, the Dodgers, and the Red Sox
A two-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers proved fruitful as he posted 3.2 and 4 WAR seasons. What’s most impressive is that his 3.2 WAR season was in an injury-marred 2005 campaign in which he played only 72 games. The Red Sox really liked what they saw in 2006 and gave Drew a five-year, $80 million contract.
While many Red Sox fans seem to remember only the beginning and end of that contract ,Drew actually was pretty good with the Red Sox. After an injury-marred 2007 in which he still managed to play 140 games but diminished at both the plate and the field, he was actually an important piece of the Red Sox’s run to winning the 2007 World Series. In 2008, Drew played very well and earned his first All-Star game appearance, and then he got hurt again...
Fortunately, Drew managed to be just as good in 2009 and actually played 140 games. But in 2010, despite playing 139 games, his nagging injuries were clearly eroding his ability at the plate, although he was still a 3 WAR player thanks to still being above league average and very good on defense. In his first four seasons with the Red Sox, he collected 12.2 WAR. That’s not a horrible return on investment for $64 million over four years.
Unfortunately, at age 35 in 2011, the wheels just fell off for Drew. He would actually be “worth” -0.9 WAR for the Red Sox in 81 games, a season in which the wheels fell off for the Red Sox in general. Had he not been hurt, Drew could’ve helped save that 90-win season. But, he was clearly a washed-up player at that point. A lot of people remember the broken down Drew, and it’s too bad because he actually was a pretty good player.
Could J.D. Drew Have Ever Gotten Into the Baseball Hall of Fame?
The problem is that being “pretty good” doesn’t get you in the Hall of Fame, nor does it help you do well in the baseball card market. Drew was a very calm and quiet player and many people had the impression that he refused to play unless he felt one hundred percent. But, as someone who watched Drew a great deal, I can say that when he did play, he played very hard. He had a great batting eye and a great swing that could do a lot of damage when he was locked in.
Drew was also a very underrated fielder, I feel. His power numbers such as home runs and RBI weren’t eye-popping, but he made up for those with his on-base skills and overall ability to hit for extra bases. He was a perennial All-Star level player that just missed too much time and never really became beloved by any fan base.
Had Drew not missed substantial time in several seasons, it’s quite likely that he would be on the Hall of Fame bubble, right? It’s more likely that Drew’s quiet demeanor and unimpressive power numbers would’ve pretty much eliminated any chance of people seriously considering him for the Hall. Drew actually had a great career, considering how many injuries he suffered.
Still, he suffered his injuries playing hard and he stuck with the game he loved for nearly a decade and a half in the Major Leagues. That’s worth remembering. So, his rookie card being worth only $5 in top condition is actually quite a shame, although as far is the card market is concerned, it’s probably correct.
Still, J.D. Drew is a better baseball player than you may remember. I know he was better now than I realized back then. But, from a sports card investment standpoint, wow, did he let a lot of people down. Of course, it’s not Drew’s fault that over 6000 copies of a piece of cardboard were submitted to PSA for grading. (Plus who knows how many more to Beckett?) He just played the game he loved hard, and made the Cardinals look pretty good for choosing him fifth overall in the draft.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
Many baseball card collectors consider the 1963 Topps #553 Rookie Stars card to be a Willie Stargell rookie card. While that is absolutely true, the legendary Pittsburgh Pirate shares his rookie card with three other outfielders. As is the case with many early rookie cards, Hall of Fame ballplayers share their cards with lesser names. But, since these guys share a Rookie Card with a Hall of Famer, why not see how their careers turned out?
Brock Davis was certainly never a star at the MLB level. In fact, he’d only get into 242 games over parts of 6 seasons, amassing a whopping 0.2 WAR over that time. He carried a decent .331 OBP in his career, but had only one home run and not much else.
Jim Gosger never had much of an MLB career, although he hung around for parts of ten seasons. His 1963 debut with the Red Sox was a dreadful 19 plate appearance cup of coffee. Gosger actually wouldn’t resurface in the Majors until 1965, when he wasn’t a star but instead a league average hitter who gave the Red Sox 1.4 WAR in only 81 games. He would be perfectly acceptable in 1966 as well, but he’d be traded midseason to the Kansas City A’s with a couple other players for three players, including Jose Tartabull, who would be awful for the ‘66 and ‘67 Red Sox. (Tartabull’s son Danny would be a decent player, though). Gosger would carve out a basically replacement level career as a reserve outfielder. He was definitely NOT a star, with a career total of 2.3 WAR!
John Hernnstein is the worst player here, amassing NEGATIVE -2.0 WAR in his short career, 239 games over parts of 5 seasons. Not much to say about him other than he hit 6 home runs in 1964 for a Phillies team that had no business playing him in 125 games.
Meanwhile, this Willie Stargell fellow would amass 57.5 WAR over 21 seasons all for Pittsburgh. He’d hit .282/.360/.529 for an .889 career OPS (147 OPS+). He also hit 475 home runs. While he was a below average defensive outfielder and first baseman according to TotalZone, Stargell was easily a Hall of Fame player.
Considering the other three guys COMBINED for 0.5 WAR, I think it’s safe to say this is a Willie Stargell rookie card with three random guys. (Although, one is a Red Sox player so it counts for my Red Sox collection, which is funny to say!)
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
In 2010, Topps created a series of cards called “Cards Your Mom Threw Out” featuring vintage Topps cards with either a new “CMT” back or the original back. These are actually fairly sought after cards by collectors, especially those with the original backs. For me, as a Red Sox fan, the Luis Aparicio CMT-138 is one that’s a nice card to have, as 1973 was not only the last hurrah for “Looie,” but also a pretty good season overall.
Aparicio came to Boston before the 1971 season for second baseman Mike Andrews and infielder Luis Alvarado. Andrews had some nice years for Boston, and would have one more good year in 1971 before fading away. Alvarado never did much of anything. 1971 was a down year for Aparicio and was actually worse than replacement level according to Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (-0.5 WAR). He’d rebound in 1972 to be a league average shortstop (2.0 WAR). But 1973 was a nice final season for the future Hall of Fame shortstop.
In 1973, Aparicio hit only .271/.324/.309 with the bat, which wasn’t too good, but he did walk more than he struck out and added 13 stolen bases. He was only caught once, too. During the season he passed the 500 SB milestone to finish with 506 steals. Besides his value on the base paths, Aparicio was worth a whopping 11 runs above average according to TotalZone. That was after being “worth” -8 runs in 1971 and -4 runs in 1972. In his career, Aparicio would be worth 149 runs above average over 18 seasons. He won nine Gold Gloves in his career as an elite defender.
Luis Aparicio’s original 1973 Topps card is hardly a pricey one. You can find one graded PSA 8 for under $10 and one in PSA 9 for around $20 to $25. There are only 8 PSA 10 1973 Topps Aparicio cards, and those can fetch several hundred dollars. Aparicio would also have a 1974 Topps card.that are actually similarly priced, with only 4 PSA 10 copies currently graded. Luis Aparicio’s later cards with the Red Sox aren’t super expensive, but since he’s a Hall of Famer who made a living with his speed and glove, he’s worth adding to any vintage baseball card collection.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
While 1960 Topps is rightly better known for a much more valuable Red Sox rookie card in Carl Yastrzemski, another Boston rookie card also deserves attention: starting pitcher Earl Wilson. The right-handed Wilson actually didn't start off that well in his early two stints in 1959 and 1960. In fact, he returned to the minors in 1961. However, when he came back in 1962, he stayed in the Majors for quite some time.
Earl Wilson had a decent first full season in the Majors in 1962, with a 3.90 ERA in 31 games and 28 starts. Also, since pitchers still had to bat in the American League for most of his career, Wilson added 3 home runs at the plate in 1962. Throughout his career, Wilson hit .195/.265/.369 with 35 home runs, not at all shabby for a pitcher.
In his first couple of seasons, Wilson was rather wild, walking 111 in 1962 and 105 in 1963. But his control vastly improved in 1964, which was actually one of his worst seasons in the Majors. From 1959 to 1966, Wilson was worth 8.2 WAR on the mound and 3.9 WAR at the plate, with a 4.10 ERA (95 ERA+) in 156 starts and 174 total appearances.
From these numbers, it would seem Earl Wilson was a solid but unexceptional pitcher for the Red Sox. That much is true. But, as with many decent players that the Red Sox had throughout the 20th century, they traded him away before he delivered on his promise.
In mid-1966, Wilson was traded to the Detroit Tigers for utility player Don Demeter. While Demeter was a decent player in parts of 1966 and 1967 for the Red Sox, Wilson was exceptional for the rest of 1966. He'd produce 12 WAR for the Tigers over 5 seasons with a 3.51 ERA in 145 starts (149 total appearances).
Wilson's career would end in 1970 with the San Diego Padres, but he ended his career with 27.6 WAR in 11 seasons. The Red Sox would've been happy to have him from late 1966 to 1969, missing out on 3 of his best seasons in the Major Leagues. Had that trade not happened, Wilson would’ve been part of the 1967 Impossible Dream team. Who knows what he may have brought to that team’s starting rotation?
It always seemed like the Red Sox were one or two pieces away from winning championships, and Earl Wilson could've been one, just like so many others the Red Sox gave up on too soon.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
Most people think of Baseball Hall-of-Fame third baseman George Kell as a Detroit Tiger. That’s not surprising, as he played in parts of eight seasons with the Tigers and was a Tigers broadcaster for thirty-seven years. But, he started out with the Philadelphia A’s, and the Tigers actually traded Kell to the Boston Red Sox in 1952!
George Kell was part of a nine-player trade that involved Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky going to Detroit. After the trade, Kell hit .319/.390/.453 for the Sox in 75 games. In 1953, Kell would hit 307.383.483 and enjoy a 3 WAR season.
Unfortunately, 1953 would see Kell hit only .258/.361/.290 in 26 games for the Sox. He’d be traded to the White Sox for infielder Grady Hatton and $100,000. Hatton would finish out 1954 well with the Red Sox. Kell would have one more good season with the White Sox in 1955.
There are actually a fair amount of George Kell baseball cards out there depicting the Hall of Fame ballplayer on the Red Sox. The most valuable are graded examples of 1953 Topps #138 and 1954 Bowman #50.
George Kell’s 1953 Topps card is valued around $300 for PSA 8 (Near Mint POP 76) examples, over $600 for PSA 8.5 (Near-Mint+ POP 5), and $1,750 for PSA 9 (Mint POP 8)!
Kell's 1954 Bowman is much more affordable at around $80 for a PSA 8 (POP 84 + 7 with an Off-Center Qualifier), $115 for a PSA 8.5 (POP 3) and $475 for a PSA 9 (POP 9)! There are about the same amount of PSA 8 and PSA 8.5 of each of these cards in existence, but they are still fairly rare.
While George Kell’s legacy is as a Detroit Tiger, his short, fairly productive time with the Boston Red Sox makes his key cards quite valuable to any serious Red Sox baseball card collector.
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