Friday, December 2, 2011

Hey Topps!!! These Guys Want a Word With You!!!

Three Left Handed Starting Pitchers. Snubbed by Topps???
It's been a couple of days now, and the hysteria regarding the announcement of Topps 2011 All-Star Rookie Team has died down for the most part.  But for me, something still isn't quite right.  You see, all these years, I thought that the MLB managers were the ones voting on who makes this team.  I know it's been verified in the past, and it probably still is the case today.  But is it wholly possible that the Topps Company has a hand in manipulating the ballot?  

Up until 2009, there were always two spots for pitchers on the ASRT:  one for a right-handed pitcher, the other for a left-handed pitcher.  And that was it.  It didn't matter if the pitcher was a starter or reliever.  But there would always be one RHP and one LHP.  Now of course, there have been exceptions when there was a tie involved, and that was the case in 1985 when Brian Fisher and Roger McDowell shared the position for RHP.  In 2010, it all changed.

One of the leading contenders for the position of RHP for the 2010 Rookie ASRT as the RHP was Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals.  Strasburg pitched in 12 games (all starts), 68 innings of work, had a record of 5-3, an ERA of 2.91, struck out 92 of the 274 batters he faced.  He met the expectations he set for himself as the #1 draft pick in 2009.  Granted, he got injured by the end of the year.  But the overall frame of work made him a worthy candidate.

Another was Texas Rangers' closer Neftali Feliz.  In 2010, Feliz pitched in 70 games, about 69.1 innings of work.  He went 4-3, with an ERA of 2.73, struck out 71 of the 269 batters he faced, a minuscule WHIP of 0.880, and saved 40 games.  He was even named to the 2010 AL All-Star Team and was named the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year.  By and large, he had one heck of a year and was many people's pick to be named the RHP in my contest last year.

Then the announcements came out.

And lo and behold, Stephen Strasburg was named the RHP for the 2010 ASRT.  But wait, Neftali Feliz was named onto the team also.  In what became the flashpoint to the conspiracy theory, Feliz was awarded as the first specific "relief pitcher" to the ASRT.  There were now THREE pitchers among the honorees (the LHP was Jamie Garcia of the Cardinals).  And the collecting public responded with a loud "WHAT??!"

Earlier in the year, Topps had announced an exclusive agreement with Strasburg.  He wound up being the face of the 2010 Topps Update Series lineHe was the big prize added to the Topps Million Cards Giveaway.  He was so important, apparently, that Topps created his first Topps card exclusively for this immediately after his MLB.  He was added to factory sets as card #661, and was added to the Update Series, also as card #661.  But both cards, while having the same blurb on the back of the card, had different pictures on the front.  And the pictures themselves were different than the one used for his MCG.  (To get a better rundown, Baseball Cardpedia has the whole thing covered here).  And the kicker to all of this???  Based on the MLB Properties rule regarding rookie cards, NONE OF THEM QUALIFY AS ROOKIE CARDS!!!

Strasburg was a money making machine for the Topps Company.  While they weren't getting the benefits from the secondary market, the collecting public went on a feeding frenzy for everything Strasburg.  Code cards for the CYMTO giveaway were high priced commodities as soon as it was first announced that his card was being added to the prize list.  His Topps Heritage "exclusive" was a prized chase card at the 2010 National.  They even made a SSP card of him with pie on his face.

So the conspiracy theories started (starting here is a bunch of speculation...I have no idea what is really going on or what the company's motivations are...just humor me, will you?).  As Topps' golden boy, he was added to the 2010 ASRT so that his name would be permanently etched in Topps' history.  Feliz, who in any other year would have rightfully been named the RHP for the team, was relegated with a new "honor":  first RP to the team.  This way, both get in, and Topps ideally would be spared the grief bestowed onto them by the masses.  Want to know why there were TWO cards for each of the eleven players on the '10 team (one with and one WITHOUT the Rookie Cup) in the 2011 Topps eponymous set?  One guess.  His initials are SS.

When the 2011 season ended.  The thought was that, "Okay.  Topps HAS to follow last year's team with three pitchers again:  one right-handed starting pitcher, one left-handed starting pitcher, and one relief pitcher, regardless of what hand he used to throw the ball."  The MLB Rookie Tracker listed a lot of strong candidates for each of these three spots.  Then the announcement was made:
  • Starting Pitcher:  Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
  • Relief Pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
And that was it. 


Both Hellickson and Kimbrel are right-handed pitchers.  Both were named the AL and NL Rookies of the Year in 2011. Both are good choices.  I congratulate both and have nothing against them being picked.

But what happened to the LHSP??! Where did that go?  Did Topps decide just to put ALL the starting pitchers in one list and ALL the relief pitchers on another list in the Manager's ballot?  Or did Topps just decide not to include the LHP in the announcement?  Not only were Corey Luebke, Zach Britton, and Danny Duffy, the three pitchers listed above, robbed of their chance of Topps immortality (people still remember guys like Paul Gibson, Jeff Musselman, and Ed Vande Berg, all LHP's, because they were name to the ASRT in the 80's), but so were relievers like Aroldis Chapman of the Reds, Chris Sale of the White Sox, Tim Collins of the Royals, and Jake McGee of the Rays (if we were going with the rules from 2009).

Based on my contest, Cory Luebke would have been the LHSP for the team.  What do you think? Should there have been a LHP selected?  If so, who would have gotten your vote?  Luebke?  Britton?  Duffy?  A relief pitcher?  Somebody else?  A poll will be put up shortly asking whatever remaining readership I have left to vote on this issue.


JayBee Anama


Ryan G said...

Strasburg was Topps' baby last year so he had to make the team. On the other hand, does there need to be a distinction between lefty and righty? I prefer the starter and reliever cards instead. Otherwise you're saying that just because a pitcher throws with a certain hand he's different from others! That's discrimination blah blah blah! Seriously, it may not be traditional, and a lefty lost a cardboard trophy, but this way is better to me. Now if Topps continues to mix things up every year just to sell a couple extra packs the award will lose its meaning.

Anonymous said...

"Topps immortality"? Do people really pay attention to that anymore? It's not like the rookie cup on the cards is even visible anymore, now that it's been shrunk down.

The award has already lost its meaning. And I'm surprised Strasburg didn't make the team again this year.