Wednesday, October 25, 2017

I Need More Gore

I originally planned to make this a Halloween-themed post, but it ended up being more of a statistical analysis post. Bear with me.

Halloween is almost here, and so I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about Gore.

Not Al Gore, crusader for climate cleanliness and inventor of the internet. I could discuss him and why he didn't become our 43rd President (*cough* Jeb *cough* scotus) but I won't.

Nor is this a post about Martin Gore, guitarist and chief songwriter of the legendary band Depeche Mode.  Isn't it about time they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? When are 80's bands gonna get some love?

But no... that's not the subject of this post, either. This is after all a sports card blog (although I have been thinking of tinkering with the format) and so the focus of this post is Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore:

Much like Martin and Al, Frank Gore is vastly underrated. Or maybe not. I have to admit I'm not as much of a football fan as I used to be (and it has nothing to do with the player protests.) With the NFL becoming a pass-happy league over the past decade or so, it's been hard for me to quantify which quarterbacks and wide receivers are truly great, and which ones are merely good players with inflated numbers. It should be easier to identify the all-time great running backs - but as you'll see, my knowledge is still incomplete.

As great running backs gradually became an endangered species, I began to keep an eye on the few who were still racking up "old school" rushing stats, specifically LaDanian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson. When Peterson was traded to the Cardinals - and then rushed for 134 yards and two TDs in his Arizona debut - I checked his career stats on Pro Football Reference to see where he ranks on the all-time list.

I assumed that "A.D." was in the top-10 all time in rushing yards and TD's. That's when I learned two things that surprised me:

Peterson is "only" 16th all-time in rushing (as of 10/25/17)... and Frank Gore is 7th.

Frank Gore has more career rushing yards than Peterson, Thurman Thomas, Marshall Faulk, Jim Brown, Tony Dorsett, and Eric Dickerson. By the end of this year he could pass Jerome Bettis, Tomlinson, and Curtis Martin. If he passes Martin - which is unlikely, but possible - he'll be fourth all time in rushing yards.

Emmitt Smith...Walter Payton...Barry Sanders...Frank Gore?!?

I honestly had no idea Gore was this good. I also had no idea that's he's 34 years old (well past the expiration date for NFL running backs) and still starting for the Colts. Also, I had no idea his nickname is ...wait for it...

The Inconvenient Truth

Obvious Al Gore reference aside, it is sort of fitting. I would never have considered Frank Gore as a top-10 or even top-20 all-time great running back. But he is. And here's my attempt to prove it.

Below is a list of every running back with 12,000 career rushing yards and a career average of 4 yards per carry and at least 75 career rushing touchdowns:

nameyardsYPCrush TDs
Emmitt Smith18,3554.2164
Walter Payton16,7264.4110
Barry Sanders15,2695.099
Curtis Martin14,1014.090
LaDanian Tomlinson13,6844.3145
Frank Gore13,3874.476
Eric Dickerson13,2594.490
Tony Dorsett12,7394.377
Jim Brown12,3125.2106
Marshall Faulk12,2794.3100
Edgerrin James12,2464.080
Marcus Allen12,2434.1123
Franco Harris 12,1204.191
Adrian Peterson11,983*4.899
*I'm assuming Peterson will gain 17 more yards this year

Now I see why Gore may have slid under the radar - his touchdown total isn't that impressive for someone who has carried the ball over 3,000 times through 13 seasons. In fact the low TD totals are downright strange; Gore has one season of double-digit rushing scores. Last year he rushed for 1,025 yards and four TDs. He also caught 38 passes - four of them for scores. (See what I mean about a pass-happy league?)

Rushing yards alone isn't a good indicator, it penalizes great backs with short careers and/or those who played a 12-or 14- game schedule. Average yards per game is a bit more equitable, and at the moment Gore is 35th all-time with 71.6 ypg. Remember how I said it would be difficult for him to catch Curtis Martin for fourth-all time in rushing yards? Gore would need to average 79.4 yards over the Colts' last nine games this season to do so. 

There is probably a website out there with much more analytical data that can accurately compare today's ball carriers like Gore and Peterson against the legends of yesteryear. But I just want to know for card collecting purposes.

I don't have a whole lot of (non-Packers) football cards, and I stopped buying packs and boxes around 2004 - mostly for budget reasons. Running backs who were great before '04 are in the Hall of Fame and their cards are in my star player box. Adrian Peterson is obviously a future HOFer, and one of a small handful of players I've sort-of collected over the past decade. 

But all of the other good-to-great backs over the past decade plus have befuddled me: Fred Taylor, Steven Jackson, Corey Dillon, Warrick Dunn, Ricky Watters, Jamal Lewis, Thomas Jones, Tiki Barber, Eddie George, Ricky Williams, Clinton Portis,  Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Shaun Alexander, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy.

Some of them are in my star box, some are in my commons binders. I've never been able to draw a line between them. But now I think I've found it.

Edgerrin James looked like a Hall of Famer to me (see the chart above) but he's not in. And if he's not Hall worthy than those guys definitely aren't. Frank Gore, on the other hand.. he belongs in the conversation of all-time greats. And he belongs in my star player box. 

Unfortunately I don't have any of his cards. Well, that's not entirely true. I have this one... my sealed factory set of 2005 Topps, which I bought for the Aaron Rodgers rookie card.  

I know there aren't too many football card traders on the blogosphere (and I've only received one return trade package over the past few attempts) so perhaps I'll grab some Gore on COMC, and maybe some other stars to bring my football card collection up to date.

Who is your favorite running back to watch or collect?  What players can you think of (in any sport) that are quietly building a Hall of Fame caliber career?


Sunday, October 22, 2017

All Good, Pham

This weekend I've been pulling some cards to sell on COMC in advance of their Black Friday extravaganza. I had 22 cards I definitely wanted to sell and another 6 or 7 I was on the fence about. Hoping to reach an even 30, I flipped through my 600-count box of dupes, commons, and low-end tradeables. Basically the stuff that didn't get claimed in 50/50.

What the heck could I possibly find in a commons box that would be worth the price of seller fees? 

Oh, nothing... just a photo variation SSP of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham.

Yep, this was just sitting in my commons box because I assumed it was a dupe. Somehow I caught the Cody Asche 'Jackie Robinson Day' SP right away but not this one. There was also a DJ LeMahieu '42' variation in the box I bought, which I sent out in a 50/50 trade. I probably would have done the same with this Pham, if anyone had claimed my Cards cards. Instead it's off to COMC.

While I'm happy to have a card that will sell for much more than the price of a common, I'm frustrated with myself for not finding it sooner - and with Topps for making photo variations in the first place. This is a cool card that I would keep in my collection if it were "only" an SP like the Asche; the 42 variations sell for a couple bucks each. Why doesn't Topps save these photos for Stadium Club or another product, instead of using 2-3 pics for the same card? 

I've had some good luck this year pulling photo variations and whatnot, but I still hate them.

At least the Yankees aren't going to win another World Series this year. Which is why I'm holding on to this card until they do. It will happen. Probably next year, after they trade for Giancarlo Stanton. Or 2019, after they sign Manny Machado.

Enjoy the World Series, everyone. It might be the last Yankee-free Fall Classic for a while.


Friday, October 20, 2017

I Love L.A.!

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the National League pennant last night, for the first time since 1988. Clayton Kershaw pitched six strong innings in an elimination game against the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs. (that sentence would sound ridiculous 3 or 4 years ago.)

L.A.'s pennant drought was the second-longest of this year's ten playoff teams; only the Nationals (who have never won a league crown) have waited longer.

Kershaw gets all the accolades but the Dodgers have plenty of other stars, such as rookie slugger Cody Bellinger, third baseman Justin Turner, and last night's hero Enrique "Kike" Hernandez.

As is often the case, the NL playoff games have been my stress relief from the anger and frustration of the AL playoffs. I've cheered for the Cubs sporadically over the past two decades, and it was a strange sight to see Wrigley Field so quiet as Kee-kay and the Dodgers offense kept piling on the runs.

The silence and the one-sided score gave me a lot of time to think (and watch the Devils win an overtime game against Ottawa.) I haven't ever disliked the Dodgers, but I haven't emotionally invested myself in them, either. Part of that is because their games usually start at about 10pm Eastern time, and I don't see many NL West games as a result. The record-setting payroll and roster construction had something to do with it, too.

But this year, I'm returning to my roots. The first year I truly became a baseball fan was 1988, when I was 8 years old. The first World Series game I remember watching from beginning to end was the Kirk Gibson game.

As any Dodger fan will tell you, that '88 team was unique in that it didn't have any true superstars. Orel Hershiser was untouchable that year - and he was the greatest pitcher my eight year-old eyes had ever seen - but there were no Hall of Famers on that squad. Nearly every World Series winner has at least one.

In fact I can hardly remember anyone else on that roster without looking it up. I know Mike Scioscia was the catcher, Mickey Hatcher played third base (I think?) and Steve Sax was at second. I don't even know who pitched on those seemingly rare occasions when Orel didn't.

But last night as all these old memories came flooding back to me I realized that, in some ways, the Dodgers were my first favorite baseball team. The first team hat I ever owned was a Dodgers hat I plucked off a display wall at a five-and-dime type store. I remember examining the logo like "I A? What's I A stand for?" It didn't dawn on me for a while that it was an interlocking L I was looking at.

The first time I visited Cooperstown was in the summer of 1991, for my 11th birthday. Best three days of my life. And the first day, my mom and aunt suggested we pop in to a baseball-themed photography studio. There was this stadium backdrop and you could pose as a baseball player with a glove, or a bat - and the team uniform of your choice.

I chose the Dodgers. I'd scan up the pic but my mom has it in Connecticut, in a stand-up frame on her dresser. Every time I see it I pause and smile. Fun times.

I've never been to Los Angeles (the furthest west I've been is Chicago) but it's on my bucket list. Dodger Stadium is the only classic ballpark I haven't been to, and the City of Angels is home to so many other interesting things and places and people. In fact earlier this week I had to do some research for my collections job when I came across something called "The Grove LA"..what the heck is that? I wondered.

Oooh, perdy. Just like my two favorite women, who happen to be L.A. locals (perhaps they'll show me around the Grove one my dreams.  

I guess you could say I love L.A. even though I've never been there and don't know much about it other than Hollywood, the Dodgers, and what I've heard in rock songs.

I'd love it a lot more if the boys in blue could bring a World Series championship to Chavez Ravine. Maybe Kershaw can be this year's Orel Hershiser.

Maybe injured shortstop Corey Seager can come off the bench and be this year's Kirk Gibson.

And hey, if Seager needs someone to pinch-run for him, maybe he can turn to his manager.

Do it again, Dave. Beat those f#@!ng Yankees.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Island of Misfit Cards

I'm planning to mail a very important package this weekend, and also a PWE -- or two, if there are any takers for these...

Recently I organized my card collection to make room for all the 50/50 trade packages (I'm still waiting on two, but I'll have to assume they're lost) and upon closer examination I found some of my cards were creased or miscut. 

I seem to remember someone on the baseball card blogosphere collects miscut cards but I can't remember who it was. If you're interested in these, leave me a comment and claim them. Here they are, the island of misfit cards:

This Rivera "Rookie" has been in my collection for 15 years or more; it was part of a complete set I bought for $5 at a card show. I can't believe I didn't notice how miscut it is.

 The first ever New Jersey Devils card...

...with stats from the 1981-82 Colorado Rockies. This was part of a team set my brother-in-law bought us as a Christmas gift.

This Cliff Johnson 1979 O-Pee-Chee was part of a Just Commons order, along with these two:

These aren't miscut, but they're way off-center. I probably paid about 15 cents for each.

This isn't miscut either, but Fleer mis-stamped the gold foil.

I won't include the creased cards in this PWE unless you ask for them. Here they are:

Some hockey Hall of Famers. I'm really bummed about that Gretzky mini.

PC cards that needed replacing. There's a '-6' embedded into the Bogaerts. I'm assuming that was meant to be a price, but it could have also been his postseason WAR. 

Again, if you'd like to claim these, leave me a comment and/or e-mail. I'm not looking for anything in return for these - I just want to give these misfits a good home.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Today's Best: Starting Pitchers

At the end of every baseball season I sort through the league leaders in batting and pitching categories, paying special attention to superstars building Hall of Fame careers, rookies who took the league by storm, and breakout seasons from players who might be better than I realize

I also do this for card sorting purposes. My star player box usually has a small bit of turnover after every season as I re-evaluate which veteran players are under-performing and which young guns or late-bloomers have earned their place among the superstars of their sport. 

Though I do analyze the just-completed season's stats as a guide, I don't consider a player a "star" based off one good season (unless that player is a record-breaking rookie.) In my book (er, box) a player's performance over the last three seasons is the key to considering that player a star. 

In some cases, an established veteran can stay in my star box even if their last three seasons have been sub-par. It might be difficult to get in, but it's even harder to be kicked out. This is partially because I dislike going through the trouble of making room in my commons binders - but mostly because it's hard for me to give up on a player who was once a perennial All-Star. I'm talking about players like Joe Mauer, Ryan Braun, and the player that inspired this blog post - CC Sabathia.

On Saturday, as the Yankees desperately tried to prevent the Red Sox from clinching the A.L. East crown, Sabathia took the hill for Yanks against Toronto. The Yankee broadcasters - specifically David Cone and Ken Singleton - discussed Sabathia's chances of reaching the Hall of Fame and the 300-win mark. 

That got me thinking. Not about CC's HOF chances (I think he's two good seasons away, the YES homers said he's one away) but what they said about 300 wins. I can't remember the exact quote, but the gist of it was that Sabathia is the last guy that has a shot.

Here is my rebuttal to that:

Clayton Kershaw is 29 years old. He plays for the best team in baseball, and the team with the league's highest payroll. Assuming Kershaw's arm doesn't fall off (not a given considering his recent injury trouble) he could easily duplicate the 144 wins he's already banked. That would give him 288 before he turns 40. 

Justin Verlander has an outside shot at 300 wins - and I would give him slightly better odds than CC Sabathia. Verlander will start next season as a 35 year-old with 188 career wins, nearly 50 behind Sabathia's total of 237. But if the longtime Tiger stays healthy (he's made 30 or more starts in all but one season) and stays with the Astros (who are built to win for the long haul) he could add another 75-80 wins to his total before he turns 40. 

Sabathia is only 63 shy of the magic mark - but he's already 37 (not that 37 is old, mind you!) and even with a stellar comeback season in '17, he's averaged just 8 wins over the past four campaigns. CC would have to exceed that into his age 41 season (or pitch until he's 42) just to reach 270 wins. Btw, 270 would match Mike Mussina's career win total, and Moose is not in the Hall of Fame (yet?)

Zack Greinke could get there as well. He'll be 34 this month, he has 172 career W's, and he pitches for a playoff team. Greinke's a gamer, but his social anxiety issues could lead to an abrupt retirement (he had to be talked out of retiring early in his career.)  Aside from that it's no sure bet Arizona will contend each of the next six years - but if Greinke can manage a 15-win average with the D-backs (or another team) he'll have about 260 wins banked before he turns 40.

What do Sabathia, Kerhsaw, and Grienke have in common? They started accumulating wins at age 20 (Verlander was 22 when he made his MLB debut) Pitchers just don't do that anymore. 

Felix Hernandez won more games at age 20 than he did at age 30. He's got 160 wins and won't turn 32 until early next season, but he's trending downward for a below-average Seattle team. I've considered pulling his cards from my star box, but I'll give him one more year to dig out of this decline.

In conclusion, while I disagree that Sabathia is the last potential 300-game winner in baseball, I can't imagine anyone other than these aces getting there. That's because all of today's top starting pitchers are approaching or exceeding 30 years of age.

These are the 12 active starting pitchers in my "star player" box, listed youngest to oldest:

Madison Bumgarner (8/1/1989)

Chris Sale (3/30/1989)
Masahiro Tanaka (11/1/1988)
Stephen Strasburg (7/20/1988)
Clayton Kershaw (3/19/1988)

Yu Darvish (8/16/1986)
Felix Hernandez (4/8/1986)
David Price (8/26/1985)

Max Scherzer (7/27/1984)
Zack Greinke (10/21/1983)
Justin Verlander (2/20/1983) 
CC Sabathia (7/21/1980)

I've combed through the list of other active starters to consider, and most of them are in the same age bracket:

Cole Hamels - quietly putting together a stellar career
Jon Lester - my Red Sox-colored glasses cloud my judgment on Jon
Jake Arrieta - late bloomer who may already be descending from his peak
Dallas Keuchel - I need to see what he does next year before I decide
Jacob deGrom - see above
Corey Kluber - it may be time to demote Darvish and send in the Klubot

It might also be time to acquire some Kluber base cards.

This is when I realized that one reason why there are no young aces anymore is because two of them - Jose Fernandez and Yordano Ventura - tragically passed away. 

Which leads me to another question - who is baseball's next great starting pitcher?
Is it Luis Severino? Noah Syndergaard? Robbie Ray? Julio Urias? Because unless Shohei Otani is coming to pitch in the majors next year I don't see any young pitcher breaking through the baseball world, the baseball card hobby, or my star box any time soon.