Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Problem With Topps 2012 #US29

So Topps' original 2012 Update Series had Brad Lidge as card #US29. Lidge, released by the Nationals in June, has not played ball since his release.

So Topps removed Lidge from '12 Update Series, and they replaced him with...are you ready?

Jonathan Sanchez. Of the San Francisco Giants Kansas City Royals Colorado Rockies (disabled list).

I have a feeling that #US29 will never be worth much more than the cardboard it was printed on, which means I'll probably be the sucker that pulls every parallel and printing plate ever created for the card. The gods laugh at me, constantly.

Here's a listing of the other switches for Topps' 2012 Update Series, format is 'Card Number, Replacement, [Originally Planned]':

  • US29 Jonathan Sanchez [Brad Lidge]
  • US53 Omar Infante [Josh Reddick]
  • US71 Brett Myers [Jon Rauch]
  • US79 Mike Baxter [Brandon Allen]
  • US83 Carlos Lee [Humberto Quintero]
  • US86 Anibal Sanchez [Yonder Alonso]
  • US159 Ben Sheets [Zack Stewart]
  • US165 Jacob Turner [Omar Vizquel]
  • US180 Roy Oswalt [Livan Hernandez]
  • US190 Francisco Cordero [Marlon Byrd]
  • US212 Trevor Bauer [Brett Lawrie]
  • US266 Brandon Lyon [Mike Aviles]
  • US272 Ichiro [Trevor Cahill]
  • US286 J.A. Happ [Nick Punto]
  • US307 Ryan Roberts [Josh Reddick]

I would have rather pulled an Ichiro and a Trevor Cahill than an Ichiro and a Jonathan Sanchez, but I'm betting the licensing costs for Sanchez were a lot less than Cahill...

I'm busting a few jumbo boxes of Update Series this week (or early next) - stay tuned for the analysis.

You Know Your Blog Was Mentioned When...

Your stats look like this:
Many thanks to Greg at Night Owl Cards for the mention, it caused quite a jump in page views today.

Project:Cardboard - 1957 Topps for Charity?

My previous career was as a nonprofit mind tends to drift towards engaging disparate causes to raise funds/awareness for causes...this is an idea I've been chewing on for a few days now, and I would like your feedback.

Basically, the idea is to crowdsource the collecting community to build a set of 1957 Topps Baseball cards and then auction the set, giving all proceeds to a charity collectively chosen by the donors of the cards. Below is a rough prospectus and guidelines for the project.

I would LOVE feedback, and would greatly appreciate if anyone wants to volunteer to help out. Send me an email if you'd like more information:

Project: Cardboard

To engage the hobby in noble crowdsourcing endeavors for the benefit of others.

Connecting the past with tools of today for a better tomorrow.

Project Objective
To (1) assemble an entire set of 1957 Topps baseball cards, all of which are contributed by collectors, then (2) auction the set, and then (3) donate the gross proceeds to a children-focused charity.
Card Process
  1. A collector will send a card to the Project Lead, and the Project Lead will provide an email receipt to the collector when the card is received.
  2. A scan of the front and back of the card will be posted to the Project’s blog, and the Project’s checklist will be updated to show the card has been received.
  3. The card will then be stored in a protective casing, the least of which would be a penny sleeve and top loader, and placed with the rest of the set inside a fireproof, waterproof safe.

 Duplicate Cards
  • If a two or more of the same cards are received, then the card with the best overall quality will be included in the base set and the card with the next best overall quality will be included in the supplementary team set. 
  • Any card that is not of the best or next-best quality will be made available for trade or auction as determined by the Project moderators. 

Non-Set Card Contributions
Collectors are encouraged to contribute cards to the Project that are not from the 1957 Topps baseball set. These cards will be used to facilitate trades to complete the 1957 Topps baseball set or to otherwise offset the Project’s operations.

Auction Process
The start date of the auction will occur no sooner than 30 days after the date of the set’s completion. The 30-day period is to allow enough time to properly document, market, and prepare the set for auction.

Charity Contribution Process
Within 48 hours of the set being completed an email will be sent to all Project contributors with a list of 10 charities who could receive funding from the set’s auction. Within 7 days of the email being sent, each contributor must elect one of the 10 charities to receive the collector’s votes by replying to the original email and indicating their choice of charity. A collector’s votes will be determined as follows:
  • 25 votes – For each professionally-graded 1957 Topps baseball card contributed 
  • 10 votes – For each 1957 Topps baseball card contributed 
  • 2 votes – For each significant non-set card contribution, as determined by the Project’s moderators. 
The final vote tally will be announced within 3 days of the close of voting, and the two charities with the most votes will receive proceeds from the auction, relative to the number of votes received between the two.
·         For example, Charities A and B receive the most votes with Charity A receiving 500 votes and Charity B receiving 300 votes, for a total of 800 votes. Charity A would receive 62.5% of the proceeds (500/800=.625) and Charity B would receive 37.5% of the proceeds (300/800=.375).

Card Quality
The Project’s aim is to build an entire set of 1957 Topps baseball cards regardless of each individual card’s quality; however, we understand that higher quality cards are more coveted, which is why the set will be constantly updated with the highest quality card we receive. Considerations, in the form of extra votes for the charity recipient, are afforded to contributions of professionally-graded 1957 Topps baseball cards.

The purpose of the Project is to contribute to charities, not to facilitate trades. However, we understand that some cards have a high value and may require special considerations. Trades will be considered in the following circumstances:
  • The Project has been active for at least six months. 
  • The proposed contribution is not already included in the set at the time the trade is proposed. 
All trades must be approved by a simple majority vote of the Project’s moderators. Cash or other financial incentives will never be offered for trade.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Listia - A New Bastion for Cardboard?

Listia will soon replace the eBay as the hub of all low-value card transactions because of their abundance of seemingly free auctions. They represent a marketplace that does not demand an egregious barrier to entry to their sellers and allows the buyers to more accurately value low-end goods offered from buyers.

I have picked up numerous autographs, relics, and other hard-to-find cards on the site and have invested no cash in the project (however, my most valuable resource, time, has been taxed).

The secret to my success is to be as active a seller as possible in a category other than cards, preferably one that allows a high credit-to-postage return (hint: don't ship anything). This strategy serves my needs twofold:
  1. There is a constant stream of credits into my account that requires no financial outlay
  2. Allows access to a much larger marketshare of customers than the card collecting community, thus causing the demand for the supply to be much higher.

Because I have no need to rely on any cards I list to bring in considerable amounts of credit, I can afford to auction my cards for low credits (usually between 1-10) and charge for shipping. Charging for shipping greatly lowers the amount of credits you will receive, so it's not a strategy I recommend for most.

I charge $1 shipping to cover PayPal fees ($.33), postage ($.45), envelope, sleeve, toploader ($.07), and leaves a little bit left to cover other miscellaneous costs. The upside to this is that I haven't lost any money, which is hugely important in the hobby.

The same sale on eBay, which you would probably see listed as a single insert card for $0.99 with free shipping, would cost you an extra $.09 in final value fees and you would lose $.01 in revenue, it may seem like not a lot, but that $.10 represents an additional 10% loss!

The site is still developing, and can act very clunky at times, but it is a great place for value trades and finds.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The 1:1,438,162 Pull

My previous post included mention of a surprising set of pulls from a single hobby box of 2012 Topps Chrome: a base, X-Fractor, and Atomic Refractor of card #4, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox.

I queried to conclude the post, "What are the odds of that?"

Well, the odds of making that set of pulls in one box are 1:1,438,162 boxes, not packs, boxes.

I considered trying to collect a rainbow of these cards (rainbow, for those unitiated in the hobby's parlance, means each color parallel of the card [and is also probably the worst descriptor ever]), but then promptly traded away the base and the Atomic Refractor - the X-Fractor continues to haunt.

Does nobody collect X-Fractors? I can get rid of every other parallel with no problems, but the X-Fractors are an enigma.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Un-Perfect Collation

Many hobbyists will grumble on and on about manufacturer’s poor card collation. ‘Card collation’ refers to the mix of cards in any given pack, box, case, etc. An example of poor card collation would be pulling duplicate cards in the same pack or pulling seven Drew Pomeranz rookie cards and one Yu Darvish rookie cards from the same case of Topps Jumbo.

However, I posit that this incessant critiquing has led to an environment with even worse outcomes for the average sports card collector, and an unprecedented boon for the sports card manufacturer.

I recently busted a hobby box of 2012 Topps Chrome; a standard hobby box of 2012 Topps Chrome has 24 packs of 4 cards (a total of 96 cards). Here are the results of the box (ratio in parentheses):
  • 78 - Base
  • 1 - Die-Cut (1:24)
  • 2 - Rookie Auto (2/hobby box)
  • 8 - Refractor (1:3)
  • 4 - X-Fractor (1:8)
  • 1 - Blue Refractor (1:21)
  • 1 - Gold Refractor (1:50)
  • 1 - Atomic Refractor (1:383)

With the exception of the Gold and Atomic Refractors, I pulled exactly what the stated ratios indicated I would pull. And I pulled no duplicate base cards. And the first and last cards in the packs were always base cards. There were 18 insert cards, and no pack had more than one insert card (so six of the packs had no inserts). And, to be fair, I am very pleased with the pulls.

Some might say, “No duplicate base cards, wow, what great collation!” Or, “Topps finally stopped screwing the collectors!” Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Had those 78 been chosen by perfectly random draw, what is the likelihood that I would have pulled 78 unique cards out of the 220 card base set? (Spoiler alert: it’s a very, very, very, small number).

Let’s do a quick refresh on probability; the product of all of the independent events’ is the cumulative probability of a series of events occurring. This cumulative probability is represented in the formula: y(1)*y(2)*y(3)*y(4)….*y(n), where y(n) is the last probability in the series. For example, the probability of pulling a flush (five cards of the same suit) from a standard deck of 52 playing cards in one five-card hand would be calculated as: (52/52)*(12/51)*(11/50)*(10/49)*(9/48)=.001981, or 0.1981%, or odds of 1:504.85.

If each pack of Topps Chrome had three base cards and one insert card, then the probability of those base cards all being unique would be calculated as: (220/220)*(219/220)*(218/220)=.986. 99% - not bad!

What about that second pack, what are the odds of pulling three more unique base cards? 94.6% - well that’s still pretty good, right?

But what are the odds of pulling two consecutive packs that have no duplicates? Let’s do the math: .946*.986=.933. Dang, those odds are great!

By the time we get to our last pack to find cards 76, 77, and 78, there is only a 28.04% chance that those three cards will all be unique; some would argue that those are pretty good odds. But here’s the kicker, the odds pulling 78 unique cards from a base set of 220 cards is 0.0000166% - or 1:6,038,332

And what if the Gold and Atomic Refractor had not been in the box and I pulled two more base cards, what are the odds that those two would also be unique, along with the other 78? Those odds are 0.0000069%, or 1:14,596,708.

The perceived need for great collation diminishes the likelihood that what we receive is random or ‘special’. My two favorite cards from the box were the Gold and Atomic Refractor because there was no good probable chance I would pull either, let alone both.

But this lack of randomness is great for folks like me. I’m devising an algorithm to predict which exact cards are in a pack based on just the first few cards on the top or bottom of the pack.

The cherry on top of all of this? Although I pulled no duplicate cards, I pulled the same player three times on three different cards: a base card, an X-Fractor, and the Atomic Refractor. What are the odds of that? 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Cardboard At-Bat – Manny Ramirez ‘shop Job Revealed!

I grew up a fan of the Oakland Athletics. I took BART to many games and one day hope to take my daughter to a game (when the stadium and its immediate environ do not elicit the worst connotations of a concrete jungle.

Thankfully, we live near Sacramento and were ever too happy to hear the Manny Ramirez would be joining the River Cats before he got called up to the A’s.

In the meantime I was busting packs of Topps 2012 Series 2 and stumbled upon the oddity that is Manny Ramirez #393 in Series 2:

The card must have been Photoshopped, right? Topps doesn’t seem nimble enough to have such a great action shot of a player like this from Spring Training. Intrigued, I did some serious sleuthing.

First, the A’s never used grey jerseys in Spring Training (I checked, they only played with green jerseys). Even if they had played with grey jerseys occasionally during Spring Training, Manny only played in one away game, on March 3, and they wore green jerseys.

Second, the colors on the jersey just seem a bit off. I’m pretty sure 99% of the general card collecting community would not notice, but the yellow border seemed too small and the green was just a bit wrong. Take a look at the jerseys in this picture of Josh Donaldson and Cliff Pennington and compare it with the Manny picture:

Nothing about the picture seemed right. I started noticing little things in the background, like maybe a brick façade and the oddly orange hue of the spectators. Brick façade, orange hue…brick façade…orange hue…Oakland…it didn’t make sense. Until I thought about the other side of the Bay…AT&T Park and the SF Giants.

Could it be? Manny played for the Dodgers for a while so he must have played at AT&T wearing an away uniform. But would Topps do something that simple, just swap out the logos on the uniform and change some color schemes. Surely they have their own photographer, so we would never know where the photo came from, right?

It took about two minutes of searching, and I found the source for the Topps 2012 #393 Manny Ramirez (Oakland A’s) -  a picture of Manny Ramirez of the Los Angeles Dodgers taken during a Dodgers vs. Giants game on June 28, 2010, taken by Jed Jacobsohn of Getty Images:

Now I feel like I need to become Manny Ramirez Topps 2012 #393 SuperCollector. I secretly hope that I will  get bipped with these cards forevermore.

For your viewing pleasure, here's a side-by-side of the original and the 'shopped pictures:

Lunacy of the Topps 2012 Golden Giveaway

Was anybody else disconcerted that the odds of finding a “rare” Topps Golden Giveaway coin are 1:6,666? Couldn’t they have rounded that up to 1:6,670? Maybe Topps employees are closet Dodgers fans and they are trying to disparage Willie Mays by associating him with the mark of the beast?

I digress, but let’s proceed. Here are the stated odds for Topps Golden Giveaway winning codes:
  • Golden Moments Cards - 1:15
  • Gold Foil Golden Moments - 1:200
  • 1/1 Golden Moments Card - 1:20,000
  • 1/1 Topps 2012 Series 1 Base Card - 1:6,060
  • 1/1 Topps 2012 Series 2 Base Card - 1:6,060
  • Rare Coin - 1:6,666
The 1/1 Golden Moments Card (which include an actual piece of 14 karat gold!) are 1:20,000; because this is the smallest number of any insert, we will use it as our baseline for the analysis. Assuming perfect distribution, if you were to redeem 20,000 codes you would also receive:
  • 1333 - Golden Moments Cards
  • 100 - Gold Foil Golden Moments Cards
  • 3 - 1/1 Topps 2012 Series 1 Base Cards
  • 3 - 1/1 Topps 2012 Series 2 Base Cards
  • 3 - Rare Coins (rounded to nearest whole number)
Unfortunately, Topps will be charging shipping on all Non-Prize cards (the Golden Moments cards and their gold foil versions) at a rate of $2.92 for the first card $0.53 for all additional cards, so our prize horde from this analysis would costs $761.48 for Topps to ship out…lunacy.

But you say, “Hey, I don’t care, I just want to play the game for some trade bait!” Well, friend, based on the stated odds and the calculations above, for those 20,000 codes entered, one could expect 18,667 digital coins that are equivalent to…um, well, less than a pack of junk wax. Taking that a step further, 18,667/20,000 is also 14/15, which – surprise! – are the same odds of winning a Golden Moments Card (1:15).

Checking out the ‘bay, lots of Golden Giveaway codes are running anywhere from $1-$2 per code. Let’s pull the median, $1.50, and buy 15 codes – a grand sum of $22.50. We get the hits as expected, 14 digital coins and one Golden Moments card. Add that to the Topps shipping of $2.92 and we have just paid $25.42 for that one Golden Moments card.

Now go back to the ‘bay and look at the prices for recently completed listings for these special Golden Moments cards – how many have sold for more than $25.42? Lunacy, it abounds!

It seems there are suckers to be had out there, and why would we let this golden opportunity pass by? Golden Giveaway codes fall at 1:6 for hobby and retail packs, and 1:1 in HTA packs. Remember, the codes are in both Series 1 and 2 and the upcoming Update set. Of the three, right now, Series 1 is the weakest because of poor rookies and its time on the market. Blowout Cards has the lowest prices on Topps 2012 Series 1 hobby packs at the time of this post, and here’s an analysis of cost per code:
  • Hobby Box – $34.95/box (36 packs, 6 codes): $5.83/code
  • HTA Jumbo Box - $67/box (10 packs, 10 codes): $6.70/code
  • Retail Box (dacardwolrd) - $25.95/box (24 packs, 4 codes): $6.49/code
So should we all rush out and buy up the Topps Series 1 Hobby Boxes? If our sole motivation was Golden Giveaway codes then, yes, we should. I don’t recommend it.

Let’s speculate some more – you have $70 to spend and you can drop it on any of the three aforementioned boxes. What would be the best combination for recouping your costs? You could buy two Hobby Boxes for $70 and get a total of 12 codes and two guaranteed hits. Or you could buy one HTA Jumbo Box for $67 and get a total of 10 codes and three guaranteed hits. The tradeoff is very clear: you could choose (a) two extra codes or (b) one more hit and $3.

Because your codes are likely to sell for ~$1.50 on the ‘bay (and then you have your 12% ebay+PayPal fees, plus $.30 PayPal surcharge), you’ll never sell those two extra codes for as much as you would save when buying one HTA Jumbo Box, plus you’ll get an extra hit, to boot!

I have some more thoughts on the Golden Giveaway, such as the oddity that the 2012 Update Series Sell Sheet (.pdf download) includes the following promotion: “ONE-OF-ONE GOLD BASE SET PARALLEL: A parallel of the Topps Baseball Update Series base set with a piece of real gold embedded in the card! ONE OF ONE!” This parallel set is not mentioned on the official rules of the Golden Giveaway website, so I’m sure Topps will tweak the rules of the promotion around the launch. 

Again, lunacy.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fluff & Stuff - Why Topps' Allen & Ginter is a Waste of Money

Topps’ 2012 Allen & Ginter cards look very, very pretty. Would you expect anything less from a retail pack that costs $3.25?

But why would you spend that much on a pack of 6 baseball cards if you were likely to only get 5 baseball cards from the pack?

With each card already costing $3.25/6= $.541, would you want to assume the risk that you would only pull 5 cards, increasing your cost per card to $.65 (20%)?

Your $.54 Yorkshire TerrierFalling at 1 for every 8 packs, Topps A&G includes insert series like Historical Turning Points and World’s Tallest Buildings; falling at 1 for every 5 packs is Man’s Best Friend, Giants of the Deep, Musical Masters, People of the Bible, Culinary Curiosities. And then there are the other non-baseball inserts like Guys in Hats and Fashionable Ladies.

There are five inserts falling at 1:5, so you are guaranteed that at least one of your cards will not be baseball-related (hope you enjoy card MBF-7 Yorkshire Terrier!). And chances are you will get more than one card that’s not baseball-related, too, once you account for those 1:8 inserts and the other minis.

Why would Topps insert this Fluff & Stuff to a set – do collectors really care pulling a Holy Trifecta of Joe Mauer, Jemile Weeks, and Jesus Christ? No, I doubt that anybody specifically went a bought box of A&G to find a card depicting the Signing of the Magna Carta.

The Fluff & Stuff was inserted for the love of money. Every ballplayer and other personality in the set had to agree to let Topps use their likeness in the set (this can be done in a litany of different agreements, but Topps needed their permission). So each one of those agreements cost Topps a little cash, and with each additional personality the cost of the set goes up.
Who licensed to Topps the rights to include The Agricultural Revolution or the Gray Whale in the set? Or the Bowler Hat? Or The Bride?

A single Fluff & Stuff cost Topps no more than the artist’s efforts and the cost of materials, which was probably a lot less than $.541.