Recently, a national writer asked (and answered) the following question in one of his daily columns: “Can Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez Be the First All-Pitcher MVP Duo Since 1968?” That same day I had a customer who was considering a dual autograph card of Bob Gibson and Denny McLain (the 1968 MVPs), and so I mentioned the article to him and engaged in some good baseball debate. After a few minutes the customer changed the subject by asking, “So, what are the hottest Felix Hernandez baseball cards right now?”
My customer went on to say that he had long known about Kershaw and had a decent selection of that southpaw’s cardboard, but although he knew King Felix was a good pitcher, he had just never really thought about gathering any of his cards. In fact, other than the fact that he pitches for Seattle, and he thought Felix had won a Cy Young award (he has, in 2010) this customer who collects mainly modern cards could not recall much about the Mariners’ ace.
Chances are, that collector is not alone.
In spite of his record and the overall greatness of his game, the Venezuelan ace is not exactly a huge name in the baseball card/memorabilia collecting hobby at this point. He even has a cool moniker (“King Felix”) but it has not been enough to make his baseball cards greatly sought. And make no mistake about it, the powerful righty has fashioned a record that does not have to stretch to be called great. His career earned run average is barely over 3.00. Durable, he’s made 30 or more starts every year since 2006.
And he’s still only 28.
This year, Hernandez had an amazing streak of 16 starts with two or fewer runs over at least seven innings before it was finally stopped by the Detroit Tigers on August 16. Earlier in that run he had broken the record as previously held by another powerful right arm, the great Tom Seaver. And even though it has been several years since Hernandez has been called upon to pitch meaningful games in September, his recent outings have shown that the big man is rising to the task.
He has a lot in common with a couple of notable pitchers from the past.
Hernandez made his major league debut at age 19. Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Dwight “Doctor K” Gooden both made their MLB starts in the year before their 20th birthdays. It is interesting to me that each of these men represent different baseball “generations” as Hunter began in the 1960s, Gooden debuted in the 1980s and Hernandez began in 2005.
These three men have more in common than their rookie year age. Again, they pitched in different eras which affects the size of rotations in which they pitched, whether or not there was a designated hitter, bullpen usage, and more. Even so, the comparisons are interesting with each hurler winning one Cy Young Award during his first 10 years in the league and hold very similar stats:
- Catfish Hunter161-113, .588 pct. 3.13WHIP 1.126Ks 1520 in 2456 IP
- Doc Gooden154-81, .655 pct. 3.10WHIP 1.175Ks 1835 in 2128 IP
- Felix Hernandez 124-91, .577 pct. 3.08WHIP 1.173Ks 1920 in 2036 IP
Of course, Catfish would go on to a Hall of Fame placement and four of those first ten years saw him pitching in the postseason. Gooden would become almost as well known for off the field problems as for his pitching, but he also had World Series exposure, and pitched in the biggest market baseball has to offer. It does make a person wonder what Felix’s cards and memorabilia would be like if he pitched for a winning team in a big market? What kind of icon would he already be in Yankee pinstripes?
Actually, this makes the question of which of his baseball cards are the “hottest” a bit more interesting. Another 2005 debuting pitcher was the Tigers’ ace, Justin Verlander, and comparing their rookie cards provides some interesting fodder.
Using the database from Beckett, it is revealed that Hernandez has eight cards recognized as rookie cards. Verlander has 47 cards listed with the “RC” designation. That is almost a 6-to-1 ratio. When it comes to signed baseball cards the ratio evens out considerably with Verlander having 686 different autographs available (at the time of this article) and Hernandez 649.
The most expensive Felix Hernandez card according to that database is the autographed 2004 Bowman Chrome Gold Refractor (#345) of which only 50 were signed. It has a value of $800 ascribed to it. The same card for Verlander, but the 2005 version, lists for $1,000 (he did not have such a card in ’04.)
If we are going to answer the question regarding what King Felix cards are “hottest” right now there are a couple of measurements by which we might find an answer. One is to look at what are his most active cards on the internet giant, eBay, are at the moment.
As you might expect, cards that feature the autograph of the pitching ace or those with unique pieces of game-used material dominate the activity surrounding the King. At the time of this article the following cards were still being auctioned off and had considerable “action” surrounding them:
- 2007 UD Premier Felix Hernandez & Jered Weaver Dual Autograph #19/25
- 2014 Triple Threads Felix Hernandez Jumbo Jersey #1/18
- 2014 Topps Triple Threads Felix Hernandez Dual Patch 1/1 Book
- 2014 Bowman Platinum Felix Hernandez Printing Plate
Another measurement is to consider what the most recently sold cards of the star have been and the amount for which they have sold. As with most high end card sales today this list is dominated by cards that have been graded at the top. However, several “raw” card are also on the list, and they help to form an idea of what is “hot” with regard to Seattle’s star.
- 2004 Bowman Chrome Auto Xfractor, BGS graded 9.5, Sold for $350.00
- 2004 Bowman Chrome Auto Xfractor, BGS graded 9.5, Sold for $339.99
- 2014 Topps Finest 1994 Retro Superfractor 1/1, Non-autographed, Sold for $256.51
- 2004 Bowman Chrome Xfractor, Non-autographed, BGS graded 9.5, Sold for $249.99
- 2013 Topps Finest Baseball’s Finest All Star Refractor 2/10, Non-autographed, Sold for $249.00
- 2014 Allen & Ginter Wood Mini Hand-numbered 1/1, Sold for $209.99
- 2014 Prizm Black Matrix Finite Prizm 1/1, Sold for $208.38
These are some nice prices for the cards, but compared to Kershaw, and even Verlander, it seems that the King may still be somewhat undervalued in actual hobby dollars being spent. It will be interesting to see what happens to those values should the question “Can Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez Be the First All-Pitcher MVP Duo Since 1968?” be answered with a “Yes.”