What pitcher curse? Paul Skenes already a huge hit with card collectors

Pirates rookie All-Star defying the hobby norm when it comes to pitchers

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With a famous girlfriend and a blazing fastball, Paul Skenes has taken baseball by storm.

Sports card collectors traditionally don’t care much for pitchers.

Whether starters or relievers, pitchers don’t play every day, and they are prone to injuries — especially injuries to arms, elbows and shoulders that can easily end careers.

At least for now, Pittsburgh Pirates star rookie Paul Skenes is poised to break that collecting norm.

Named an All-Star this week at the age of 22, Skenes has a 5-0 record after 10 starts and 78 strikeouts through 59.1 innings pitched. A candidate to start the All-Star game for the National League, Skenes is also the first player to be named an All-Star the season after being selected with the No. 1 overall pick.

Despite the concerns associated with any pitcher, collectors have heavily bought into Skenes’ performance so far.

Skenes' rookie cards are already selling for more than many Hall of Fame pitchers.
Skenes' rookie cards are already selling for more than many Hall of Fame pitchers.

Over the last 30 days, data tool Market Movers has tracked more than 4,600 total sales for Skenes across 265 different cards — only Elly De La Cruz, Shohei Ohtani and Gunnar Henderson have had more sales recorded over that period among baseball players.

Focusing on graded cards, Skenes’ 963 sales are the ninth-most among baseball players over the last 30 days. Of the eight players with more sales, only four are active.

Skenes’ graded cards, tracked by Market Movers, are up 9 percent collectively over the last month, and his 2023 Bowman Draft Chrome PSA 10 has been a major driver with a 15 percent bump in price across 61 sales. By far his most popular graded rookie, Skenes’ 2023 Bowman Draft Base PSA 10 has sold 151 times over the last month with an average price of $127.

Skenes’ mid- and high-end market has also thrived over the last month with Market Movers tracking 393 cards with sales of $500 or more and 126 sales of $1,000 or more.

There’s no denying Skenes’ hobby popularity, though continuing at this pace will be difficult.

Truthfully, only a small number of pitchers have remained collectible and expensive over the years. Some of baseball’s earliest superstars such as Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson are aided by an extremely low population of cards.

Satchel Paige, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver are also among the pitchers who can achieve high prices, though that group is again heavily aided by lower print runs and highly condition-sensitive cards.

Largely impacted by the Junk Wax Era, all-time great pitchers such as Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez simply aren’t difficult to find in high grades. There are, of course, exceptions, but the overwhelming majority of their key cards are achievable for most collectors.

Far from perfect, strong comparisons for Skenes’ best-case scenario might be current aging greats such as Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — all multiple Cy Young Award winners and future first-ballot Hall of Famers.

While fans and collectors alike would likely be thrilled if Skenes finishes with a similar career, similar card prices would likely be considered a disappointment.

Skenes’ most popular graded rookies over the last year, his 2023 Bowman Draft Base PSA 10 and 2023 Bowman Draft Chrome PSA 10, are currently trending around $120 and $215, respectively. Compared to similar low-end cards for Kershaw, Scherzer and Verlander, these prices might already seem high.

Kershaw’s 2008 Topps Update Base PSA 10 has been a popular seller and recently sold for $479, and his 2008 Bowman Draft Chrome PSA 10 sold for $440 in June. After all Kershaw has accomplished, many collectors might feel the delta between he and Skenes just isn’t big enough.

Hobbyists hoping for Scherzer or Verlander might be even more disappointed.

Verlander’s most popular graded rookie over the last year, his 2006 Topps Base PSA 10, recently sold for just $55, and his 2006 Topps Chrome Base PSA 10 sold in June for $136.

Scherzer’s 2008 Topps Update Base PSA 10 sold this week for $167, and his 2008 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Chrome PSA 10 recently sold for $158.

Skenes’ high-end market is almost guaranteed to experience regression as well. To date, his most expensive sale was a 2023 Bowman Draft Chrome Prospect Autographs Superfractor 1/1 PSA 7, which sold for $80,520 at Goldin in June.

According to data tool Card Ladder, that Superfractor has already topped the most expensive card publicly sold for Verlander ($26,400) and Scherzer ($6,300) while just missing Kershaw’s ($85,200).

As good as Skenes already is, it’s acceptable to doubt if he’ll ever be as good as that trio.

One dynamic that could impact Skenes’ market is his relationship with LSU gymnast Livvy Dunne. With Dunne a social-media star and celebrity in her own right, the relationship between the two has been a popular topic among both sports fans and pop-culture enthusiasts.

Heavily featured on cards from Leaf products, multiple Dunne autographs have sold for $1,000-plus while a number of other autographs have regularly sold for $500 or more.

Will Skenes’ relationship with Dunne result in as much coverage as Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift? Probably not. But Dunne’s popularity, especially among collectors, is also undeniable.

Comparing Skenes and Dunne to Kelce and Swift isn’t exactly apples to apples, but Swift’s impact on Kelce’s cards and merchandise has been incredible, and it would be foolish to ignore any potential for impact with Skenes.

Popular athletes are transcending their sports to become pop-culture icons more than ever, and while Skenes will face the same challenges all pitchers face with collectors, his slick mustache, famous girlfriend and 100-mph fastball might set him apart enough to break the trend.

Ben Burrows is a reporter and editor for cllct.