Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Top 50 On Cardboard- #26 Stephen Strasburg

My Top 50 On Cardbaord
Stephen Strasburg

2010 Bowman Platinum Stephen Strasburg RC 

The summer of 2010, in the world of baseball cards, was all about Stephen Strasburg.  The previous summer the Washington Nationals used the first selection to pick the San Diego State hurler and from there the story writes itself.  Collectors are always drawn towards shiny objects, and Strasburg was the shiniest object that had appeared in the hobby in quite some time.  My opined him a sure fire ace before he even began his career during the spring of 2010.

Strasburg was an extremely polished college pitcher and breezed through the Nationals minor league system in quick order posting an 8-3 record in 17 starts with an ERA of 1.90 and 94 strikeouts in 75 innings.  Strasburg made his debut on June 8th of 2010 and was pretty incredible from the get go.

Strasburg pitched 7 innings, struck out 14 batters, and only yielded four hits.  The much anticipated debut of Strasburg and subsequent craze was unlike anything else I have seen in following the sport and baseball card hobby over the last thirty years.

Hobby Impact-
Topps has never had a problem with production quantities, but at certain points during the summer of 2010 I think the unthinkable might have actually happened.  Collectors had been hearing the Strasburg hype for several summers.  His dominance in the minors drove some of his USA Baseball cards up, and as Topps began putting out Strasburg rookie cards their prices skyrocketed too.  After his debut performance they were pretty much ridiculous.

I believe in the talent of Stephen Strasburg and have no doubt that is a really good pitcher and will continue to be a really good pitcher.  There is a point however where, as a collector, you have to seriously question whether or not a pitcher with less than a year's worth of professional experience was really worth several hundred dollars for an autograph.

I asked myself that question sometime during the summer of 2010 and decided to unload some of the Strasburg cards in my collection which featured Strasburg in a USA Baseball uniform.  I kept a lot of his base rookie cards, especially if they were essential for completing a set.  I actually ended up with a Topps Chrome (that was the year they were extremely curved) and sold that card too.  Here's a look at one of my USA Baseball autographs I owned from the 2008 Upper Deck Timelines set.

2008 Upper Deck Timelines Stephen Strasburg Autograph 

The Strasburg USA Baseball cards (I owned two, only have a scan of one) sold for somewhere in the low triple digits, while his Topps Chrome card and all it's natural curviness sold for almost $150.  Pretty good amount of money for a few rookie cards.  Base Strasburg rookie cards were pretty easy to move too and would often even sell for more than $5.  Pretty impressive for a modern rookie card.  Inserts, short prints, and serial numbered cards could get really ridiculous.

That was 3/4 of the summer of 2010.  Then Strasburg was diagnosed with a tear in his elbow, under went Tommy John, and then there was the debacle of 2011.  Not his fault, more below.  The end result for Strasburg's hobby status is this: He is a really popular and pricey player to collect, but his cards have lost some of their value over the last two summers.

The best example might be his Topps Chrome rookie card which was selling for $150, or thereabouts, during the summer of 2010 and can now be found for $70 to $80. Pretty significant price drop, but again still pricey for a guy who has four years of experience and will be looking for his 30th career win on Opening Day next season.

The fact remains though that the Strasburg rookies are some of the better cards of the best decade and have a chance to be pretty iconic if the career of Stephen Strasburg pans out into anything resembling an above average to excellent pitcher.  I still think he has an excellent chance of making it happen.  Strasburg does not turn 25 until the middle of next summer and it would appear that the Nationals are trying their best to surround their cornerstone pitcher with some good young talent.

The base Strasburg rookie cards are all very affordable at the moment.  If you add to sneak a Strasburg autograph into your collection I would recommend:

2010 Topps 206 Stephen Strasburg Autograph 

The card sells for more than some of the other Strasburg autographed rookies, but it's also not a sticker autograph and looks a little bit nicer than both the Topps Chrome and the Bowman Platinum card.  By more expensive I am talking $20.  If you are going to spend $75 on an autograph, what's $95 to $100.  Nothing.  If you want a nice looking Strasburg rookie with a signature on it, this is a winner.

On The Field Impact-
This is usually the part of the post where I throw a bunch of numbers at you and tell you how great the player in my post is and why you should value you them as a card collector.  Strasburg is a challenge.  According to JAWS he is the 1,127 best starting pitching of all-time.  One of his similar pitchers through age 24 on Baseball Reference is Bob Knepper.  There's nothing wrong with Bob Knepper, but would you pay $75 for an autograph of a Bob Knepper rookie card?

No, the real argument for Stephen Strasburg on the field revolves around the fact that he is still only 24 and there are some very good signs that he is going to be a very good pitcher in the Majors.  Whether or not he's a good enough pitcher to support his card following and prices remains to be seen, but here are a couple of Strasburg factoids that I like to bring up in support of him being an excellent pitcher.

While the Nationals limited Strasburg to only 28 starts during the 2012 season, he posted an ERA right around 3 and managed to win 15 games.  If Strasburg had been available for the NLDS, as a Cardinals fan, I have no doubt that they would have won the series.  During the 2012 season Strasburg posted an ERA+ of 126, which would have placed him in the Top 10 for the National League had he qualified for the league leaders.  He posted nearly identical stats for the Nats during the 2013 season, minus the wins, but he also played on a fairly mediocre team.

There are a bunch of other things that I could post about the potential greatness of Strasburg, but we've all been hearing it for years.  When I doubt Strasburg, I sit down and watch a Nats game.  I mute Bob Carpenter though.  I suggest you do the same.

Favorite Card-
One of the things missed in the Nationals stockpiling all of the talent during the past few years is the fact that, as the team formerly known as the Expos, they have always struggled to have an identifiable player.  The Expos had good players, but when you think of Andre Dawson is your first thought of him as an Expo?  Tim Raines has always been a yes for me, but Larry Walker is a Rockie, Pedro is a Red Sox, Dawson was a Cub, etc.  

Strasburg, Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon offer the franchise it's first group of star players which it might actually retain and build around to produce a winner.  It's weird.  If you ever watch a Nationals game on television and they start talking about the team's past it's like having a really odd and uncomfortable conversation.  It could just be Bob Carpenter's fault, but I really think it might be hard to bring up history when you are on the wrong side of it.  

Which brings me to my favorite Strasburg card:

2012 Topps Archives Stephen Strasburg

and you are asking why this card?  First, the 1984 Topps set was one of my favorite sets as a kid.  I really liked the design.  Each team within the set has a unique color combination for the player name and team name.  The Expos combination was the purplish name with a pink team name as displayed on the Strasburg card.  It's a little thing, but I always liked the subtle shout out Topps gave the Expos even if the Nationals are a little too embarrassed to do it themselves.  

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