Friday, June 6, 2014

Where have all the relievers gone?

I have not been posting much at all the last few weeks.  New position, new schedule, blah, blah.  I also really haven't had much to say lately.  Hopefully that's just a phase.

I decided I wanted to do a little research project for myself.  I don't know if anyone will be interested in the results or if they really say anything about Topps' choices for inclusion/exclusion.

I have seen some posts here and there lamenting Topps checklist choices.  I myself had wondered whether relievers specifically were being represented.  So I decided to go back 30 years and compare 2013 Topps with 1983 Topps.

I had assumed that Topps was throwing in extra cards of the star players at the exclusion of role players and lesser known guys.  I wanted to find out if that 2nd or 3rd Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera in the checklist was costing us a card of another player.

In 1983 the base set was 792 cards.  Of that 689 were distinct player cards - 87% of the set.  (What do I mean by distinct cards?  Just base player cards.  No Super Veteran, no Record Breaker, no League Leaders, no Checklist back, no Award Winners.  And one card per player, with career stats on the back.)  In 2013 the base set was 660 cards, 618 distinct players - 93.6%.  That kinda surprised me.  I had intended to include Update and make it 792 vs. 990, but a) 618 was more than I had expected, b) I think Update is where all the redundancy kicks in, and c) I got tired of cataloging cards.   So that's a point in 2013's favor.

On the other hand - 618 cards is only 20.6 cards per team.  689 cards in 1983 was 26.5 cards per team.  Definite point in 1983's favor.

There were 58 cards in the 1983 set that had multiple position designations, including 18 different designations - 1B/3B, 1B/OF, 2B/3B, 2B/SS, 2B/SS/3B, 3B/1B, 3B/2B, 3B/C, 3B/OF, 3B/SS, 3B/SS/2B, C/OF, DH/1B, DH/OF, OF/1B, OF/2B, SS/2B, and SS/3B.  Apparently in 2013 nobody plays multiple positions, as Topps listed only one position per player.  (When did Topps switch?)

(warning: lots of numbers to follow, proceed at your own risk.)


 1983                                               2013
40                   cards                      36 
5.8%       pct of distinct cards        5.8%
1.5            cards per team              1.2

Not much of significance there. Topps seems to be treating first baseman roughly the same.


 1983                                              2013
38                   cards                      38
5.5%       pct of distinct cards        6.2%
1.5            cards per team              1.3

Not much change here either.   Slightly more of the allocation.


 1983                                              2013
49                   cards                      42
7.1%       pct of distinct cards        6.8%
1.9             cards per team             1.4

 Slightly less of the allocation here.  And less cards to begin with means 1/4 less third baseman overall.


 1983                                              2013
46                   cards                      39
5.8%       pct of distinct cards        5.8%
1.5            cards per team              1.2

More of the same.  Am I wasting my time?  I guess I should point out here that I went with whatever position Topps listed.  And for multiple position designations in 1983, I used the first position.  Except pitchers.  I had to break them up myself.


 1983                                              2013
146                   cards                      135
21.2%       pct of distinct cards        21.9%
5.6            cards per team             4.5

Similar to the first baseman.


 1983                                              2013
60                   cards                      44
8.7%       pct of distinct cards        7.1%
2.3            cards per team             1.5

 Okay, here's some change.  Topps is giving less love to the tools of ignorance.  1/3 less catchers per team in 2013 than in 1983.


 1983                                              2013
19                    cards                        9
2.8%       pct of distinct cards        1.5%
1.4            cards per team             0.7

That's a pretty decent drop.  I wonder if Topps is really just assigning a fielding position to players more often than DH in 2013.  Or are there really less DHs roaming the American League?


 1983                                              2013
139                   cards                      176
20.2%       pct of distinct cards        28.5%
5.4            cards per team             5.9

This is maybe the most significant change.  Starting pitchers are the only position that Topps is giving more cards to per team in 2013 than they did in 1983.  So that's a huge jump in allocation.


 1983                                              2013
126                   cards                      99
18.3%       pct of distinct cards        16.0%
4.9            cards per team             3.3

Topps really is giving less love to relief pitchers in 2013, but its not as significant a drop as I had expected.  Although Topps clearly didn't get the memo about the usage patterns of relief pitchers.  Over the last 30 years starting pitchers probably haven't changed much since 5 man rotations were the norm then as now, but clearly more relief pitchers are used in today's game.  10-11 man staffs have given way to 12 or even 13 man staffs.  Those extra 2 pitchers are relievers.  So the drop is more drastic than it looks.  In 1983, there were 5 or 6 relievers on staff at a given time.  In 2013 its more like 7 or 8.


 1983                                              2013
26                   cards                      0
3.8%       pct of distinct cards         0.0%
1.0            cards per team            0.0

I think most will agree that this is one area that Topps drops the ball.  Who doesn't want managers in the base set?  I sure do.

So, what did we learn?

Not much probably.  We learned that I'm left-brained and I like numbers.  But that's beside the point.

Back in 1983 there were 26 teams.  With 30 teams now, there would need to be 795 cards to have the same number of cards per team.  I don't know if that feasible.  That's an 850 card base set.  We're back in Topps Total territory (I think.  Total was around when I was out of the hobby.)  But I do like the idea of 26 Angels better than 20 Angels.


  1. In the position post I did, I addressed Topps giving up on noting multiple positions. I might have listed the year they stopped, but I don't remember. And I'm really, really lazy these days.

    1. Did I just plagiarize? Oh well, at least I plagiarized the best.

  2. As a 'grapher, I've been finding it harder to find cards of bullpen guys over the last few years. I mainly notice that because Sundays are the main days I go to Royals games and the pitchers are the guys I focus on. Thanks for proving me right.

    Make sure you get a bracket filled out for my contest. Your Hornets are out, but that doesn't mean you are!