The rookie card is the hobby's gold standard of ill-conceived investment plans; both the producer and consumer understand the rookie card's intrinsic value and exploit their downstream market.
If we presume that producer's position is to make as much money as possible and the consumer's position is to maximize the value of his purchase, and the rookie card holds the most promise for higher value, then it comes as no surprise that the producer would create as many rookie cards as possible and the consumer would buy as many rookie cards as possible.
Because the cost to produce the rookie card is equal to or minutely lower than any other card, the producer has no reason to not over-saturate the rookie card market.
Likewise, if the producer had the option to produce one rookie card but has two potential rookies that could go on the card, it is logical that they would choose the one rookie that would maximize their profits.
With these thoughts in mind, I present to you a basic analysis of four rookies that debuted in 2011: Eric Hosmer, Brandon Crawford, Jemile Weeks, and Mike Trout.
Hosmer debuted on May 6, 2011. Crawford debuted on May 27, 2011. Weeks debuted on June 7, 2011. Trout debuted on July 8, 2011.
Which player had the most cards debuted in his RC-year? (RC-year is defined as the year a player's rookie card debuted even if different than the player's debut year).
Did you guess Weeks? You should have. Although Weeks debuted a month after Hosmer and a month before Trout, Weeks' Rookie Card wasn't released until 2012, and Topps included his Rookie Card in their Bowman, Series Two, Allen and Ginter, Archives, Chrome, Gypsy Queen, Heritage, and Mini sets, and there were at least 127 different Jemile Weeks baseball cards produced by Topps in 2012 (includes inserts, parallels, etc.).
Trout, who you might have heard about, had 33 cards produced in his RC-year, and was included in only three sets: Bowman, Finest, and Topps Update. I guess Topps thought the market for Weeks rookie cards would be a bit more lucrative than Trout rookie cards.
Hosmer and Crawford debuted exactly three weeks apart, yet Hosmer had 66 different cards in his RC-year while Crawford had only 14, the least of all four players.
So what's the point?
There is no way to predict the demands of the market, but we can predict how rational actors should behave in any given set of circumstances. It is not surprising that the market gets flooded with hot prospect rookies, thus creating a huge imbalance when those prospects bust and under-the-radar players like Trout and Crawford begin to emerge. Imagine if Topps hadn't squeezed every last opportunity of producing Darvish, Harper, and Strasburg rookie cards and those cards were just as scarce as Trout's.
Mickey Mantle's 1952 Topps rookie card is so valuable because of the player and the relative scarcity of the card; there would be hundreds of variations of his rookie card if Mick had debuted in April of 2012, and they would never be worth much more than a few bucks.
Topps has already announced that Manny Machado, who debuted on August 9, 2012, will have his rookie card in Topps 2013 Series One, which means there will be about a bajillion more Machado rookie cards released in 2013, and they will probably be a dime-a-dozen by this time next year. Why didn't they include Machado in 2012 Update? Who knows. Topps found a way to include the players from the Sox-Dodgers trade in 2012 Update even though they didn't play for LA until August 25, 2012.
We are in a new junk wax era, but it's a much more targeted junk, tarnishing only those players as they shine when they shine.