When Sets Are Dominated by Just One Player’s Graded Populations!

Don’t shoot the messenger here. Modern cards prices have suffered throughout 2022. There are of course some exceptions, but there are some stark lessons that can be learned as 2022 fades away and 2023 comes into focus. One clear lesson is regarding Wander Franco rookie cards from the 2022 Topps set and the PSA grading population of his cards versus other cards in the set. But what about against other great vintage sets where the most popular rookie is also the most dominated card like Sandy Koufax in the 1955 Topps set? And what about Mickey Mantle’s dominance in sets where there are no major Hall of Fame rookie cards?

As of mid-November 2022, the total PSA graded population report for 2022 Topps baseball cards was 11,806 cards. That’s not exactly a flood of graded cards, but that was also due to the economics of grading and the values of a modern card. For any modern card from a base set (not the 1/1 and /25 parallels) the grades have to be a perfect 10. And if not, they better have a 9 grade or the value falls off a cliff.

It is not unusual for a key rookie card to have the highest population of graded cards from an entire set. After all, Sandy Koufax has the highest number of PSA graded cards of the 1955 Topps baseball set. But what about Wander Franco? Of PSA’s 11,806 graded cards, there are 26 graded variations of Wander Franco rookie cards. That’s not including any Topps Now cards either. This is 25 parallels or special editions of card #215.

This is not meant to be a bash on Wander Franco, but this is the most current example that I follow and I have made other comparisons as well.

Wander Franco’s base card now has a graded population of 6,002 cards without any notations in the grade. Of that, there are 4,035 graded as PSA 10 and another 1,760 graded as PSA 9. How do the people feel who got PSA 5 grades?

Again, there are 25 other parallels that have been graded for card #215 of Franco. Some of those have only a handful of graded cards but here are the parallels with no qualifiers counted which also have close to or more than 100 graded examples:

  • Wander Franco Gold at 237
  • Wander Franco Gold Foil at 210
  • Wander Franco Rainbow Foil at 395
  • Wander Franco Royal Blue at 90
  • Wander Franco SP at 307
  • Wander Franco SSP at 86

At the end of the day, without even tallying up the others that’s more 7,300 cards. And remember, at least as of our last date, of the base cards there are an estimated 750,000 which may have been printed. In short, the total PSA graded population is about 62% all Wander Franco cards. This is not making any reference to Topps Heritage, Topps Now and other issues which may have come out.

Not a single other player card has even 1,000 PSA graded cards from the 2022 Topps baseball set. There are 770 examples of the Julio Rodrigues Series 2-SP and then a random-roger splattering of cards that were sent in.

As for Sandy Koufax’s rookie card (#123) from the 1955 Topps baseball set, the PSA CardFacts shows the total graded card population as 184,707 for all PSA graded cards in that great set. The Koufax card has 7,942 base grades without qualifiers. It has another 1,237 with “+” graded and another 528 examples with “Q” designations. That’s 9,257 PSA graded Koufax rookies in total, or barely just 5% of the entire set’s graded population (and there are only 206 cards in the set versus the massive number of cards now). Here is how other base grades (without +/Q designations) compare to Koufax’s 7,942 base grades:

  • Dusty Rhodes (#1 card in set) at 1,223
  • Ted Williams at 4,356
  • Al Kaline (2nd year card) at 2,842
  • Skowron at 1,098
  • Ernie Banks at 3,139
  • Warren Spahn at 1,913
  • Hank Aaron (2nd year card) at 5,026
  • Jackie Robinson at 4,751
  • Monte Irvin at 943
  • Kluszewski at 1,257
  • Killebrew (rookie card) at 5,085
  • Ken Boyer at 1,019
  • Ed Mathews at 1,901
  • Roberto Clemente (rookie card) at 4,795
  • Gild Hodges at 1,333
  • Phil Rizzuto at 1,507
  • Willie Mays at 2,430
  • Yogi Berra at 1,780
  • Duke Snider (last card in set and HOF) at 1,772

And if you took an average of all common cards, that would be 500 graded by PSA alone without +/Q designations.

Now what about the 1955 Topps Koufax “zones” of the most common grades by grade without reference to +/Q designations:

  • PSA 3 at 958 examples
  • PSA 4 at 1,622 examples
  • PSA 5 at 1,619 examples
  • PSA 6 at 1,386 examples

It’s not just the 2022 set that has been dominated by one or two key player cards. And the 1955 Topps set is not alone in having the most graded populations being a superstar rookie card. Even the “scarce” Roberto Clemente card from 1955 isn’t all that scarce without considering centering and print quality. Here are the breakdowns of some other sets and their PSA graded populations versus players without breaking out the “+/Q” designations:

The 1956 Topps baseball has 337,855 graded examples in total (302,538 without +/Q) but it has no major rookie cards. The most commonly graded cards over 2,500 in White or Gray back without +/Q are:

  • Ted Williams (Gray Back) at 1,364
  • Ted Williams (White Back) at 3,748
  • Ernie Banks (Gray Back) at 1,035
  • Ernie Banks (White Back) at 2,570
  • Jackie Robinson Gray Back) at 1,800
  • Jackie Robinson (White Back) at 4,644
  • Hank Aaron (Gray Back) at 1,787
  • Hank Aaron (White Back) at 5,196
  • Roberto Clemente (Gray Back) at 1,586
  • Roberto Clemente (White Back) at 4,323
  • Sandy Koufax (Gray Back) at 1,385
  • Sandy Koufax (White Back) at 4,160
  • Willie Mays (Gray Back) at 4,643
  • Willie Mays (White Back) at 478
  • Mickey Mantle (Gray Back) at 7,188
  • Mickey Mantle (White Back) at 636
  • Duke Snider (Gray Back) at 2,739
  • Duke Snider (White Back) at 123
  • Harmon Killebrew (Gray Back) at 2,483
  • Harmon Killebrew (White Back) at 83
  • Bob Feller at 2,014
  • Whitey Ford at 2,026
  • Luis Aparicio (rookie card) at 2,576

Mickey Mantle cards are generally the most valuable cards from the 1956 Topps set in a relative grade of any other player. It is also the most commonly graded card in the set by a hefty margin. Did Topps over-produce these cards after finally getting Mickey away from “Bowman Only!” when Topps acquired Bowman? Or does the public just know to grade the most valuable card from each set no matter what?

Wander Franco’s stats may be marred with just 70 games in 2021 and 83 games in 2022, but his care batting average of .277 was lower in 2022 than the .288 average in 2021. Franco’s on-base percentage dipped to .328 in 2022 from .347 in 2021. His slugging rate also dipped to .417 in 2022 from .463 in 2021.

Now think about the entire graded population of Babe Ruth cards being completely dominated by just one set. Without that set, none of us would be able to afford any Babe Ruth card at all from his playing years.

Where this all ends up really depends upon supply and demand. The demand was there briefly for the 2022 Wander Franco rookie. None of the great Hall of Famers listed above can have any more bad seasons and all but a handful cannot possibly get themselves in new scandals that will harm their value.