Enter the Junk Auto Era

It took a former Yankees #1 prospect, hobby social media darling, and fellow collector, Phil Hughes, for some to finally see just how oversaturated the sports cards market is. In the tweet above, you will see how many signatures Phil signed for the upcoming Topps Archives Signature Series Retired. Topps paid Phil $4,000 to sign 800 cards, including an astonishing 74 “one of ones”. That money is well worth it as Hughes, as he’s known to do, came up with some fantastic inscriptions.

The problem here is that there are 74 different 1/1s in one brand of just ONE player. If you’re not a fan of Hughes, who peppered in a couple of good seasons throughout his 12-year career, that could be a pretty disappointing box break. It harkens back to when Topps had Ken Hrbek sign more cards & stickers than he has likely ever signed in his lifetime for releases spread throughout the entire 2021 calendar year. Hrbek autographs became so common that pulling one became universally known as being “Hrbek’d”.

Hughes did collectors a favor by pulling back the curtain on Topps’ watering down of the 1/1 market, which I’ve been saying for years is a big problem. Today, you can pull a 1/1 Mike Trout and while it will sell for astronomical figures, just how special is it when there will be multiple 1/1s of Trout in that same product as well as multiple 1/1 Trouts spread throughout 40 different releases in 2022? I don’t even think his certified autographs are special anymore considering he’s been signing non-stop since 2009.

Collectors criticized players like Mickey Mantle & Pete Rose for signing thousands of items after their careers ended but will turn a blind eye at Topps’ overproduction. Topps pays these beloved athletes $5 per signature and will turn around and sell a box with a guarantee to pull it for $500. At card shows and private signings, these athletes were making much more than what Topps paid so good for Mantle & Rose. Millionaires or not, if it helps them pay their bills, then so be it.

Rose, Mantle and others devalued their signature by signing till the very end, some seemingly on their death bed. That’s no different than Topps having Shohei Ohtani sign over 15,000 different cards in 2018. Vladimir Guererro Jr. has just one full season under his belt and currently has over 2,000 certified autographs on eBay. Collectors have been using the word Junk Wax 2.0 to describe the current market, I believe what we are facing is the Junk Auto Era and for those who lived through the 90s, we all know how this ends.

Card of the Day – ’08 Bowman Chrome

When Charles of Hawk to the Hall walked into his local hobby shop today he didn’t intend on buying any 2008 Bowman Chrome.  Luckily for him, he just could not pass up the $2 dollars a pack price tag and picked up a few packs. Inside, he found five Refractors, an autograph, and a dual autograph, titled ‘Head of the Class’, featuring popular New York Yankees pitchers, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes.

As far as the ‘Head of the Class’, which is one of the better pulls from last year’s Bowman Chrome… it’s not the first time these two hurlers have appeared on a card together. The first time was in 2007 Topps ’52 Rookie Cup Edition but the best-known and most valuable is a 2007 Bowman Sterling dual autograph which sells well despite both players still not having lived up to their potential.

I believe 2009 will be Joba’s year but I am still not sold on Hughes, who is beloved by collectors for joining the Beckett Message Board (and posting) a couple of years ago. Today, collectors still hold their “man crush” despite Phil’s long absence from the forum and even his own WordPress blog.

If these two breakout this year, expect this card to climb to back to “hype” levels again.

The Prospect Corner with Adam G.

Three days ago WaxHeaven.com had it’s biggest day in its 2 1/2 month history with close to 1,000 page views in one day thanks in part to Adam G. and his second write up of New York Yankees prospect Joba Chamberlain. Today, he has sent in his newest article on another hot prospect among Yankee fans and card collectors, Phil Hughes.

Phil Hughes

Well guys, I thought that by writing a follow up Joba Part II post I would be able to clarify some of my primary opinions about him, but it seems to have only stirred the pot over at the Baseball Think Factory. I’m not a Sabermetrics stud and I don’t even understand all the things stat people spend their time talking about, so I’m not too worried that a few of them had a few qualms with my work. I really just wanted to point out to the average fan and card collector that when compared to other options, Joba is a very promising guy to focus on. I am also interested in helping collectors understand the statistics that provide the best means of clarifying which prospects are worth investing in and what it all means in terms of the baseball card market. Maintaining a proper perspective is paramount to minimizing risks, and my intention for every post I write is to provide a bit of perspective when assessing a prospect. I’m flattered that the guys at The Baseball Think Factory would even bother reading my work. Thanks to the folks over at TBTF for taking an interest. At current it seems that most stat guys aren’t interested in cards, and most card collectors aren’t interested in heavy stat analysis, but I think if we can get the two sides to take interest in one another it can only mean good things for the card collecting hobby.

Moving on, I think now would be a good time to look at Philip Hughes while Joba Chamberlain is still fresh in our minds. I had the opportunity this past spring to watch Hughes pitch in Tampa for Spring Training and listening to the buzz from the Yankees fans while he was on the mound was amazing. Most fans will casually follow a ball club throughout the year and only pay attention to individual players after an outstanding major league performance, but the Yankees faithful know a lot about their up and coming talent and are very excitable. At times while sitting in the stands it felt like I was surrounded by George Castanza’s immediate family. There’s nothing quite like a Yankee’s fan.

Anyways, if I was a Yankees fan I’d be pretty excited right now, too. The Red Sox may have been the most recent victors of the World Series, but the Yankees are really loading up for a long term run. Besides Chamberlain, one young pitcher that has caught a lot of people’s attention is Phil Hughes. At 21 years old he had a minor stint in the majors this year, and although his season was marred by a leg injury, he still did very well for himself.

Those numbers aren’t bad, but I think Yankees fans were hoping for more. Before we brush off Hughes’ first big league stint as a luke warm non-event, I want to give you his monthly breakdown for 2007:

Generally I don’t like to base prospect evaluations off of month-by-month stat analysis, but I think it is worthwhile to note that Hughes spent his summer bouncing between AA ball, AAA ball and the major league team after his early season leg injury, and it seems that he took a while to find his stride. His August numbers could be due to all that bouncing around.

Looking at his September numbers, I think we can begin to see what kind of potential Hughes really has. Though his strikeout rate dropped compared to August, he showed better control with only 10 walks and managed a 2.73 ERA. Of course, every pitcher is capable of having a good month every now and then, so I don’t expect Hughes to keep his ERA under 3.00 all the time. However, I think Hughes could be a good candidate for a sub-4.00 and even sub-3.50 ERA within the next year and here’s why:

It is very likely that Hughes will be able to maintain a major league GB% close to 50%, and I think he could keep a K/9 rate of 7 or higher with a low BB/9 rate of less than 3. To give you an idea of where that would put Hughes compared to active players, let’s look at Andy Pettitte’s stat line from 2007:

Just for fun, here’s a few more comparisons from the 2007 season:

As you can see, there’s a lot of variance between each of these pitchers, but we can get a feel for where Hughes might fit in. I think something close to the following stat line might be a fair prediction for Hughes in 2008:

Considering that Hughes will benefit from some of the best run support in the majors, I think his win total is going to be fairly high. His ERA will fluctuate throughout the season, but once he settles into a rhythm I think he’ll string together some really nice starts. With his 2004 Bowman Chrome Auto RC currently trading steadily in the $80-90 price range, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it bounce up to $150 or higher some time next season if he doesn’t get traded to the Twins. If you haven’t picked up any of his cards yet, now would be a good time to look into that.

Now that we’ve looked at the 2008 season, let’s start thinking more long term. In order to come up with some decent 5 year projections for Hughes, here are the minor league stats from a few comparable pitchers that have spent a few years or more on a major league ball club (some pitchers do not have available GB% stats for their minor league career, so I will be using the GB% average from their time in the majors):

If these pitchers are any indication as to what we can expect from Hughes, I’d say that over the next 2 seasons Hughes will probably keep an ERA in the 3.75 to 4.00 range and then by the age of 24 or 25 we’ll begin to see him consistently post an ERA under 3.50 or better. As long as he stays with the Yankees and stays off the DL, I think he could win 15 games a year, and possibly 20 by the age of 25. If I was a Yankees fan, I’d be pretty excited about that.