Beware the Hype Demon

If you havent heard about Strasburg, you have probably been marooned in the Swiss Alps with no internet or have been held against your will in a bunker somewhere. Im not going to discuss the merits of his injury, but I do want to touch on how this lesson factors into the buying habits of the general collecting public. See, the hype machine has become a ridiculous tornado of cash surrounding a few different people in the hobby over the last few years, and so far, none of them have lived up to the billing. Starting with Reggie Bush, moving to Joba Chamberlain, and ending with Strasburg, its funny how things have worked out. Now, with Tim Tebow beginning to make an enormous hobby impact in Football, I am wondering if people will ever learn.

Lets travel back in time to 2006, speed up to 88 mph and we are off. The Texans have the first in the NFL draft pick after a pretty terrible 2005 campaign, and Reggie Bush, the franchise back of the future is sitting there for them to build their team. He has had a monster career at USC and many of the scouts are saying he could be the next Barry Sanders. No matter that he has little size to carry the ball with that frequency, and his field awareness is oft criticized, the fans don’t care. They want Reggie. In a shocking twist, the Texans pass, and go with Mario Williams, leaving Bush to fall right into the lap of the Saints. His cards start selling at crazy astronomical prices, and his Exquisite patch auto climbs above $2,000 selling on eBay when the product is released. His draft counterparts Vince Young and Matt Leinart start to ride on his coattails even, with their cards selling for crazy money as well. Now, lets jump back in the Delorian and see what’s up. Bush has done little to nothing since his rookie season, and was actually in danger of being cut before this season. The Saints did win their first title, but it had NOTHING to do with the talents of Reggie Bush. In fact, if not for Adrian Peterson’s fumble-itis, his fumble on a punt return in the first half of the NFC championship may have stopped them short altogether. His cards still generate more than the normal run of the mill back, but they are never going to be back where they were in 2006.

Similarly, Joba Chamberlain had copius amounts of hype surrounding his arrival in the Yankees’ farm system. His cards were selling for amounts that would make a Sox fan cry, and many people thought he was going to be the next Roger Clemens. When the 2007 Bowman products hit shelves, people clamored to get a hold of his autographed rookie. So much so that his 2007 Chrome superfractor sold for close to $10,000. I was literally in shock that someone would pay that much for a guy destined to be a middle reliever or a middle of the rotation starter, but none-the-less, people were freaking out. It had a lot to do with where he was playing, and I always said that if his name was Jerry and he played in Pittsburgh, no one would care about his future. In 2010, he has settled into a setup role with the Yankees, but is no where near where he was back in 2007. He has already had a few shots as a starter with the team, only to be put back into the bullpen when success was limited. Cards that were selling above $300 in 2007 are now under 50 bucks, and there is even a fabled BGS 10 on eBay with no bids at under $150.

These players were far down the page in a long list of failed top prospects, but Strasburg is on a level all his own. Although his career is far from over, its probable that he is not going to get to the spot he was expected to be come the middle of his run. Fireballers like Strasburg have a propensity to burn out, even to the point where teams are starting to go in a different direction if they have the option. However, that is not even half of the craziness surrounding his upcoming surgery. The main batch of crazy here was the prices people were paying for his cards, despite the fact that a best case scenario in Tim Lincecum was valued far below the investment they were making. Even if Stras had come to be what Lincecum is now, the prices were ten stories above the value ceiling. That didn’t stop people from paying thousands for his stuff, and now I am the one who is among the many saying “I told you so.” Even worse, those bowman autos that were once climbing above $600 dollars are now unable to sell at even half of that price.

Not stopping there, I can now say that buying Strasburg stuff far exceeds the terrible investment anyone ever spent on guys like Bush and Chamberlain, mainly because the investment people had made had no chance of ever panning out. If you were a fan, that’s fine, spend what you want, but that’s not the way many collectors approached Strasburg “prospecting.” Even at the price tag he was selling for, people were lining up to pay top dollar just in case he became the next “better than” Tim Lincecum. Instead, they ended up with a season and a half, plus rust shaking time of sitting on cards that will probably never make it back to where they paid.

Like Strasburg, Tebow is creating a hype storm in football that rivals a lot of what guys like Matt Leinart brought in 2006. Despite a lack of an NFL level skill set, and a team with that has barely any weapons at all, people are paying huge prices for cards that don’t even feature game worn swatches. Tebow has managed two TDs in the pre-season, more than any of the other QBs drafted this year, but both were “well, but” touchdowns that have a line after the initial explanation. The first TD happened during garbage time against the third stringers, and the second TD was a three yard pass against the scrubs, only after a long run from another player. These “successes” also don’t take
into consideration that his terrible throwing motion, arm and accuracy led to an interception by a player who probably will only play special teams, among other problems. If he had these types of problems against the backups, what happens when guys like Darrelle Revis have a shot at his throws on a curl route to Eddie Royal?

Many people don’t understand why I hate on Tebow as much as I do, and I will say that some of it comes from the hype machine itself. I cheer against the sand that is kicked up around guys that have potential but nothing to show for it yet, and it’s the same reason I never buy into their cards. I almost always root against the hype machine, mainly because so much of the hype stands against normal reasoning. If the hype machine actually put out what we put in, maybe my tune would change, but for right now, the results are pretty much a landslide in the opposite direction. Because America is such a please me now society, no one is willing to wait on buying cards of a guy who is being helped by his hype. Even though prices will almost surely decline rapidly once production levels out to normal expectations, no one cares. Card collectors NEVER learn their lesson, and I have a feeling that they wont stop creating hobby titans like Strasburg and company.

Does this mean that we need to adjust the way WE collect? No, it just means that we have to be more careful when the hype machine comes knocking at our door. Let the others live and die by their dollars spent on unproven “pre-superstars,” and instead take the bird in hand every time. Remember, its not “prospecting” when you are buying high and selling low.

Be Careful When Evaluating Pre-Season Play

Im excited that football is back. It was a practical barren wasteland of summer for me without it, and I must admit that I even watched part of the Hall of Fame game to get myself hyped up for the season. Fantasy is getting going too, and the SCU league is back with many of the same people who played last year. The one thing I see, is that with the start of the preseason, comes unnecessary hype for players who shouldn’t even be on the radar. Of course, there are collectors who cant tell the difference, so let this serve as your warning.

Every year, there is a player or rookie that plays well in the preseason. Whether it’s a few TDs here and there, or even an explosion of production, someone always makes these first four weeks their bitch. Inexperienced football prospectors jump on the cards of these guys, without the realization that doing well in the preseason rarely translates to more than a spot on the team for most guys. There is always an exception to the rule, but for just about every other player, its not worth your time to think about buying in.

A great example is David Clowney. Clowney was a rookie in 2007 and exploded for three or four TDs in one preseason campaign for the Jets or some high profile team like that. I remember there were two or three of his cards that sold in upwards of 15 dollars per auto at that point, even though Clowney was never going to be more than a special teams or utility player. Even though he did extremely well in that preseason, he has only caught 1 regular season TD pass.

Josh Morgan is another example, even though he has had more of a role for his team. In 2008, Morgan was a sixth rounder for the Niners who had a tremendous 2008 preseason. Because of a lack of options at receiver, people thought he would be getting on the field quite a bit as a result of his performance. Since 2008, he has only caught 6 TD passes and has less than 1000 yards in two seasons for San Fransisco. Not the worst case scenario, but for a guy who’s autos sold at over 20 bucks at one point, its not a good showing.

The moral of the story is that Preseason is a terrible judge of talent. Just because a player can excel against the scrubs of the scrubs, doesn’t mean he is going to have a great career worth you spending money on. Before going nuts on spending because a player scores a TD in week one, maybe its better to look at who he is playing against. If a guy only puts up reasonable numbers against the third team, what is he going to do against the starters playing at full speed? Its like using the Pro Bowl as a true measure of a game. The preseason is used as a way to fill out the rosters and to test the game plans, not as a way to adjust the depth chart at the top. Someone may win a job here and there, but those jobs are usually backups and special teams. For a guy like David Clowney, it was probably the time of his life, but for collectors, its not something you should view as the end all and be all of worth in the league.

The National Card Show: Strasburg Heritage Hitting Ebay

If there is one thing that I expected to be extremely popular at this show, it was the Strasburg Heritage giveaway numbered to 999. Because it comes from a popular set and it is numbered, I expected it to be MORE than well worth the time of the collectors who waited up to a few hours in line to get it. Color me surprised that they are selling this low.

Other than the Strasburgs, the national card show redemption cards have been selling very close to what they were last year, with a few NOTABLE exceptions, so I guess this year is more the rule than the exception to the rule.

More tomorrow.

2010 Elite Auto Leaderboard

Now that Elite has been out for about a week, I always find it interesting to find out who has the top autos and what they are going for. I have a feeling that this is the way things will shake out until the season starts, which says a lot about who the collectors think will have the most success. As I have commented on before, a player’s college may still have residual effects on value until they become more engrained with their current team, however, at this point, NFL team makes just as much difference.

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1. Tim Tebow /199 – $120-$125: No matter how much I shout from the mountain tops that Tebow’s college career means nothing in the NFL, people will still bank on him. I have never seen a middle of the first round QB outsell the QB picked number one before the season starts, but then again, “with Tebow anything is possible.” Saw that on a bumper sticker today, in TEXAS, next to a jesus fish. NOT KIDDING.
2. Sam Bradford /199 – $90-$95: Bradford is the #1 pick and really has every right to command a top value of the class. However, once he gets behind the Rams TERRIBLE offensive line that is in complete shambles, value will drop considerably.
3. Dez Bryant /249 – $70-$75: Bryant has Cowboys on his side, and also a ridiculous amount of talent. He is in a place where there hasnt been a good receiver not named Austin or Owens, and that will help tremendously. Value should stay right where it is.
4. (Tie) CJ Spiller /199 – $65-$70: Spiller was drafted as the top RB and he is getting that value wise too. However, in Buffalo, he isnt playing for as good of a team as Mathews, and Mathews seems to be primed for a ROY season behind a good line. However, RBs are always a wild card when it comes to production.
4. (Tie) Ryan Mathews /199 – $65 – $70: Ryan Mathews is a target of mine because I think San Diego is a great place for a rookie running back to thrive. Right now, he is my prediction for ROY, unless Spiller or Bryant finds a way to be as awesome as they can be.
6. Jimmy Clausen /249 – $60-65: I think Clausen will turn out to be the best QB of the class because he plays on the best team. Matt Moore is not the answer, and Clausen looked to be most pro-ready heading into the draft.
7. Ndamukong Suh /399 – $45-$50: Suh is one of the best Defensive prospects of the last decade, and could possibly be a perennial powerhouse in Detroit. However, its still Detroit, and that is a problem until the team gets a lot better.
8. Jahvid Best /249 – $35 – $40: With Kevin Smith out and recovering from a debilitating knee injury, Best will be the starter. However, as with his previously mentioned teammate, the Lions are terrible enough to bring down his prospects of gain.
9. Golden Tate /249 – $30-$35: Tate was a great player in college, and he is looking to take over the number 2 spot in a barren wasteland of offense in Seattle. He is a great looking talent, but receivers can easily go the Harvin way or they can go the Limas Sweed way.
10. Toby Gerhart /299<
img src="http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=4&pub=5574773276&toolid=10001&campid=5336520001&customid=&mpt=[CACHEBUSTER]" /> – $25-$30: Gerhart is a Viking RB, and when you put those two words together, you get value attached to the player. He is going to be taking Chester Taylor’s vacated 3rd Down role, and hopefully he excels for us. However, with the addition of Ryan Moats to the backfield, its a good chance he may get reduced carries and touches off the bat. That’s bad for business.
Honorable mentions: Dexter McCluster, Armanti Edwards, Arrelious Benn, Gerald McCoy
With this class being more of a defense focused bunch, there is a good chance this is not a good year for buying a lot of wax, but with people like Tebow and Bradford, who knows. Tebow isnt going to play possibly at all the first season, and Bradford should have a terrible beginning to his career. That will be left up to players like Bryant, Spiller and Mathews to pick up the slack. I am hoping that at the very least, there will be good products to match the need for wax buyers, but with a lack of Ultimate, SPA, and Exquisite, there is definitely going to be issues on that front. Maybe Chrome and Limited will perform well enough that it wont matter.

What Is Going On With Elite?

Now that Elite has been out for a few days, we are getting a good picture of how much the cards are going for. Suprisingly, prices are not as expensive as I thought they would be, which makes me wonder as to how collectors are perceiving the strength of this draft class. Even the top running backs of the class are selling lower than I expected, as the Peterson effect would usually have prices of Spiller and Matthews through the roof. On top of that, players like Dez Bryant, who play for highly collected teams arent feeling that bump like I have seen in similar situations for previous years, and im not sure that it all has to do with how the cards look. So, that begs the question of whether or not it’s the class or the product.

When it comes to the argument that the class is responsible for a normal pricing bump that follows the first post premiere NFL uni product, I think there is definitely merit. This draft was so defense heavy, that most of the elite prospects were Defensive Linemen who normally wouldn’t command high prices. Outside of the defensive line, there were a handful of great CBs, LBs, and other player positions that have no demand in the hobby in normal cases. Bradford is the top QB of the class, but he is being outsold by Tebow, who is looking more like a career backup than anything at first glance of his skill set. Bryant is the top WR of the class, but he fell far in the draft due to character issues. Spiller is the top RB by a nose over Ryan Matthews, but people arent buying in to his stuff like they would in previous years because its more generally understood that Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson were more the exception to the rule than the rule itself. That, and most of Johnson’s success came in his second year, not his rookie year like Peterson.

As for the actual product, this may be the first time that NFL uniforms may have been detrimental to a product. Even though people like me bought into a product we normally avoid like the plague due to college stuff, other collectors were expecting it. Then when you also factor in that the design is more simple and plain than previous years, all those collectors that usually shout “OOOO SOMETHING SHINY!!!” when they buy a card, may not be as excited. Again, even though I am just about 100% focused on design and love simplicity over the eyesores of last year’s thunderstorm cards, there are a lot of people that want foil and other crap like that because they think it looks better (or may have vision problems that prevent them from liking good looking stuff).

Overall, Elite will have a following regardless of anything because it has brand recognition, but I am acutally pretty surprised that prices arent higher. Although Im not sure as to why its happening completely, im sure it’s a combination of all of the above. I will say that it takes a lot for me to want a box of something, and I bought some of this product. At the very least, that says that things are getting better with Panini rather than worse. They still have buttloads of sticker products with no hint of any veteran cards worth buying, they may love ridiculous amounts of parallels, they may have floating swatches, but they did good by me here by including NFL uni cards as early as possible. Considering that people like me are rising at a more rapid rate due to the way products are being produced, you would think that things would be at a much higher price point. Obviously, something else is at work.