One of the worst things that can happen to a collector is to observe a player’s monstrous breakout season, purchase his rookie card, and then watch him struggle to replicate that production for the rest of his career ensuring that you will never recoup the money you spent.
If you were burned in the past by investing in a player after a breakthrough season, don’t let it discourage you too much, but make sure to learn your lesson.
A great case study collectors can learn from features players in the 2011 National League MVP race, when Ryan Braun narrowly edged out Matt Kemp for the award. Braun would finish 2011 with a .332/.397/.597 line along with 33 HRs, 33 SBs and 7.8 WAR.
Kemp would finish the season with a slightly stronger .324/.399/.586 line with 39 HRs, 40 SBs and 8.2 WAR. Both players were still entering their prime, and considered as talented players but their careers have hit plenty bumps since their respective breakout seasons.
Braun would of course infamously be discovered to have used PEDs and was suspended 65 games in 2013. He would also suffer through few injuries that would cause him to miss time across a few seasons, and hamper his production.
He would, however, still manage to put 18.2 WAR in the five seasons that followed his MVP including a really good, runner-up season in 2012, and solid seasons in 2015 and 2016. His 2005 Bowman Chrome base auto BGS 9.5 can be purchased for $125.
After the 2011 season, Kemp would never come close to duplicating his production. From 2012-2016 Kemp would only put up a cumulative 4.4 WAR, including a goose egg in 2016, which meant he was reduced to becoming a replacement level player.
There were some injuries involved, questions about his dedication, and issues with playing some pretty bad defense. Kemp’s 2005 Bowman Chrome base auto, BGS 9.5 can be purchased for $109.
So what can we learn?
Well in the case of Matt Kemp, the inconsistency of his five seasons before 2011 should have raised some flags. His 2009 was a good year when he registered a 4.8 WAR, an .842 OPS along with 26 HRs and 34 SBs. But aside from that season, he did not put together another healthy, solid production year.
He did however have a couple stinkers including his 2010 where he was actually worse than a replacement level player, registering a -1.1 WAR.
Therefore, my key advice when thinking about a player coming off a career year is to look at their previous couple of seasons and ask why weren’t they as good then? Were injuries involved, did the player experience a lot of luck in their breakout season or did they simply mature or change something in their game?
It’s important to not get caught up in the excitement of a breakout season and take a step back to analyze just how good the player truly is.
In the case of Ryan Braun, the only lesson we can take away is to expect the unexpected. Braun was pretty steady in his four seasons before his breakout, consistently putting up fantastic numbers at the plate. Unfortunately collectors cannot predict PED links, or injuries.
Sometimes all we can do is make the best decisions with the information we know.