Posts Tagged ‘upper deck’

Check You out on the Flip Side: Brian Jordan

Well to quibble and parse words and whatnot: he can’t make key defensive plays at any point, I mean the ball has to be hit to him or an infielder has to throw a difficult ball to him – otherwise his job at first base is pretty pedestrian by defensive standards.

Still, Jordan had a reputation as a great defensive player. In fact, his .988 career fielding percentage is tied for 28th best with people like Freddy Lynn, Mike Devareaux, Paul O’Neil, the great Paul Blair, Tim Raines, Andy Van Slyke, Jay Buhner, Steve Finley and others. There’s a fair number of Orioles on that list – Raines and Buhner are the only ones who never played for Baltimore. And guess where Jordan was born? You got it: Baltimore.

Do the defensive metrics back up his fielding percentage and reputation? Sort of. His dWAR (defensive wins above replacement player) is 16.1, oddly enough most of his value came as a right fielder.  What’s most misleading about this card is that Jordan played just 27 games at first in his career and played 1,382 games in the outfield. I always remembered Jordan as an outfielder but, based on this card, assumed he was an ill-suited first baseman – shows you can’t believe everything you read.

Jordan was quite the underrated player. From 1995-2002, he accumulated 30.8 WAR (Fangraphs), the 35th most during that span and just a few ticks behind the immortal Frank Thomas. During that stretch, he hit .291/.341/.473 and averaged 18 HRs, yet made an All-star team just once.

Jordan’s last season was the year this card was printed. He didn’t exactly go out on top. Still, I’ll always remember him as the foil to Deion Sanders. Sanders was the flashy one who was better at football than baseball. Jordan always seemed rather workmanlike and was clearly better at baseball than football. Either way, he fielded his position well, hit decently and was one of the better players for a seven-year stretch – not much more you can ask for from a career.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the butchering of the English language. First, Jordan wasn’t really a first baseman. Second, “has prospered in the major leagues as the productive offensive…” just makes no sense. How about: “has prospered in the major leagues a productive offensive…” Third, the whole end of the sentence is Goobeldy Gook. This is up there with the all time greats when it comes to poorly written back of the base ball cards. It really should have been part of the 1987 Topps set.

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h2h Corner ~ Check You out on the Flip Side: Brett Tomko

I don’t know if this is at all accurate, but this could be the first baseball card that alludes to a player being in the “best shape of his life.” Unfortunately, Tomko’s improved overall strength didn’t exactly help him in the transition to the big boy league:

1999 with the Reds: 172 IPs, 6.91 K/9, 3.14 BB/9, 4.92 ERA, 5.06 FIP, 1.37 WHIP

2000 with the Mariners: 92.1 IPs, 5.75 K/9, 3.90 BB/9, 4.68 ERA, 4.94 FIP, 1.43 WHIP

I find his decline in K-rate somewhat startlingly, sure he went from a league that features the pitcher to one with a designated hitter, but he went from starting most of his games to relieving – perhaps that pitcher was a massive cushion for Tomko. Regardless, he totally needed that strength improvement program.

The card also notes that Tomko has four excellent pitches. While we don’t have pitch value data going back to the beginning of his career, I find it hard to believe he had one excellent pitch. From 2002-2011, his wFB totaled -20.1 and his wSL was -16.1. About the only thing the card got right is that his curveball was improving: his wCB was 3.7 in 2002 and 0.8 from 2002-2011.

Lastly, at the time of the Griffey trade, there was no way people saw Tomko as loaded with talent. If the Mariners thought he was loaded with talent, he would have started more than 12 games over two years and wouldn’t have been traded just two years and 127 innings later.

In fact, he was traded three times from 2000-2002 and, once he made it to free agency, travelled up and down the west coast signing with the Giants, Dodgers, Padres, and Athletics. He, perhaps, pitched poorest for the Dodgers, earning the nickname: “Bombko,” which, in any other sport, might be a positive thing. Tomko’s 1.25 HR/9 from 1997-2011 is the 31st worst during that span (and look at the ballparks he pitched in).

While his career fell short of its promise, his personal life is rosy: Tomko is married to Julia Schultz (her google image search is NSFW but worth it) and has become an artist – I wonder what he wants to paint (certainly wasn’t corners like Bob Tewksbury, hardy har har).

And the most interesting thing about Tomko: his father won a contest naming the Cleveland Cavaliers; his entry stated, “the name Cleveland Cavaliers represents a group of daring, fearless men.”

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h2h Corner ~ Check You out on the Flip Side: John McDonald

I really don’t want to drag McDonald through the mud…but the person who wrote the back of this card must have about the loosest grasp of the game of baseball as anyone.

Since when does a pivotal base runner steal just six bases? If your previous career high was 3 stolen bases two years ago, saying he established a career high is meaningless. Rickey Henderson or Tim Raines establishing a career high, now that’s back of card worthy.

Similarly, two years before this card was printed McDonald accumulated 14 RBIs. It’s just not interesting (or maybe in that fact that it is so uninteresting it has become interesting) that he beat that total by two.

The author did get something right – it looks like McDonald was good defensively in 2005. He had the third best UZR of his career, so there’s that.

In actuality, 2005 was McDonald’s best season, but not because he stole six bases or knocked in 16 guys. No sir. It was the only time his average on balls in play was above .290 (his career number is .267). It’s really amazing that he has stuck around for 13 seasons. I can’t imagine the author of the back of this card lasted that long.

Still, his career isn’t without note. In 2007, he was voted the most popular Blue Jay (beating Roy Halladay). He is often known as the “Prime Minister of Defense” which, apparently, is a play on the first prime minister of Canada (yeah I thought they just let those Mounties run the country also).

But, most notably, McDonald is one of two players in major league history, according to Wikipedia, to be traded for himself.

Of course the most momentous trade of McDonald’s career would come in 2011, when the Blue Jays shipped him and Aaron Hill to Arizona for Kelly Johnson. The desert wasn’t kind to McDonald who batted just .169/.222/.203 for his new team, but he’s been average on defense!

As a glove man, he’s fantastic. As a baseball player, he’s better than Willie Bloomquist.

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h2h Corner ~ Check You out on the Flip Side: David West/Frank Viola


And I thought the grammar on the back of the Topps cards were bad. Man, Upper Deck, which was so hot in 1990, really flubbed this one. There are so many missing words in this that it’s ridiculous. How hard would it be to write: “West was key part of 5 pitcher deal to the Mets for Frank Viola. He was drafted #4 by Mets in June ’83.” And, by #4 they mean a fourth rounder, not that he was the fourth overall pick.

So he wasn’t as big of a bust as you would surmise. He did spend 10 seasons in the majors, finishing with a 4.66 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 1.41 K:BB rate in 569.1 innings. He had one decent year for the Twins, in 1991, when he started 12 games and finished with a 4.54 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. He really helped the Twins get to the World Series that year, as he threw 5.2 innings in relief in the ALCS without allowing a run. Of course, his World Series was terrible, as he finished with an ERA of infinity (he allowed four runs without recording an out).

Two years later, he had arguably his best season (2.92 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 1.71 K:BB) for the Phillies. Thanks to Mitch Williams, his utter relief failures are not as heavily remembered. In the NLCS, he allowed five runs/four earned in 2.2 innings and in the World Series, he allowed three earned runs in just one inning of work. He made well over $2.5 million in his career, tasted victory and defeat and even played in Japan. Still, he was by no means the key part of the Frank Viola trade (at least in hindsight).

In addition to West, the New York Mets sent Rick Aguilera, Tim Drummon and Kevin Tapani to the Twins.

Adding in those elements makes this not a particularly astute move by the Mets (but what else is new). While West was worth -0.3 WAR for the Twins, Aguilera was worth 16.1 WAR, Drummon was worth 0.7 WAR and Tapani was worth 17.5 WAR. At the time of the deal, Aguilera (who has an awesome beard) was 27 and owned a career 3.58 ERA and 1.29 WHIP for the Mets over 473 innings. Aguilera was especially valuable in 1991, posting a 2.35 ERA with 42 saves and a 1.07 WHIP – heck he even received some MVP votes. He also threw 8.1 innings in the play-offs, earning five saves and allowing just one earned run.

Tapani also turned in a banner season in 1991: 34 starts, 244 innings, a 2.99 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 3.38 K:BB rate. He finished seventh in the CY Young voting, but you could make the argument that he deserved to be top four, at least. Tapani didn’t fare so well in the 1991 ALCS, getting shellacked by the Toronto Blue Jays. But he redeemed himself in the World Series: he started two games, pitched 12 innings and went 1-1.

That’s a blueprint for building a championship there. The Twins gave up one decent starting pitcher who was near 30 for a bunch of younger cheaper pieces.

So what about Viola? At the time of the deal, Viola was 29 and would be worth 9.6 WAR for the Mets. He was effectively done after 1993, just four years after the deal.

Still, he had a fantastic career. He gave up the 3,000th hit to Rod Carew in 1985. When it was all said and done, Viola started 420 games, the 27th most in baseball history by a southpaw. He won 176 games of those games, the 43rd most by a lefty. Of course he also lost 150 games, tied for the 34th most by a southpaw (with Hal Newhouser and Ken Hotlzman). Viola finished with 1,844 Ks, the 26th most all-time by a lefty. Not bad.

I always love looking at these types of deals – it seems that giving tons of young cheap talent for near-30s “stars” comes back to bite the team giving the young talent more often than not. Still, you have to give the Twins credit for dealing Viola who had just helped them win a World Series two years before.

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h2h Corner ~ Check You Out On the Flip Side: Matt Stairs

stairs backstairs frontThis card is from 1992. Apparently at that point in time, Matt Stairs was svelte enough to play second base. But, in all fairness, he probably wasn’t. In reality, I assume Matt Stairs wasn’t moved off second base because of the logjam, but rather because he couldn’t field the position worth a lick – and that is okay.

In 1991, he did kill the ball in AA, posting a .333/.411/.509 line. He would reach the majors in 1992, but played in only 13 games for the Expos. In 1993, he played in only six games – all in the outfield.

He resurfaced in the majors in 1995, during which he appeared in 39 games for the Red Sox. The following season he played in 61 games for the Oakland Athletics.

Finally, in 1997, as a 29-year-old, Stairs would get full time duties; presumably the function the Expos moved him off second base for six years previous. Stairs would hit .298/.386/.582 with 27 HRs. Over the next three seasons, he followed up with similar campaigns that saw him hit 26, 38 and 21 HRs.

After that, he joined the Cubs, did his usual thing, then went to Milwaukee the following year, then Pittsburgh, then Kansas City for two+ seasons, and then Texas for 26 games and Detroit for 14 games. After Detroit, he was in Toronto for a full season and part of the next, before joining the Phillies, hitting a home run and appearing in 115 games .

In sum, after 16 years of playing, Stairs went to the post-season with the Phillies and changed baseball history. I didn’t even remember that Stairs, a Canadian, started his career with the Expos. I certainly had no idea he started out as a second basemen. It’s funny, this game. You begin as a bright-eyed 24-year-old power hitting infielder who can take a pitch, and low and behold 16 years later you hit one of the most important homeruns for the city of Philadelphia.

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h2h Corner ~ Cardboard Gods, an interview with Josh Wilker Pt. II

Did you miss part I of my discussion with Josh Wilker, author of “Cardboard Gods,” the book? If so, check it out, you don’t want to miss his thoughts on fantasy baseball, baseball cards, facial hair and stat geeks.

You know numbers, you know history, you know greatness. What do you think about how the current record book sits? Continue reading

h2h Corner ~ Cardboard Gods, an interview with Josh Wilker Pt. I

The biggest benefit for a nerd like me having a side job like this is the access to the luminaries in baseball. Last year I was able to interview the fantastic Jonah Keri.

This year I am equally privileged to have received an early copy of Josh Wilker’s book “Cardboard Gods.” As Rob Neyer is an infinitely better writer than myself, I’ll let his words capture my thoughts upon finishing the enthralling read (it took me four days): “Josh Wilker writes as beautifully about baseball and life as anyone ever has.” Perfect. Just like the book. Continue reading

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