MLB All-Star Game Roster – The Way It Should’ve Been

 

The All-Star game rosters were released and the first thing everyone on ESPN and Sports Illustrated and CSBsports did was release their list of All-Star snubs.

Leading up to the release of the roster the big debate was whether Yasiel Puig should’ve made the roster or not. Puig didn’t make the roster so it’s a mute point, however I don’t really understand the debate. It’s an All-Star game, not an All-Best-Players game, or an All-Stat’s game or an All-Been-a-really-good-player-for-a-few-years-and-thus-earned-a-spot-on-the-roster game. The fans get to vote, and it’s about stars and there is no doubt that Puig in his young career is a star.

Much like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado he’s been a highlight reel from the word go, but more than that, like his contemporaries, he’s been great from the word go. He’s put up an unbelievable stat line, albeit in a very small sample size. (Batting .409/.437/.677 with 8 home runs and 19 RBIs in 32 games.)

Having said all that since home field advantage for the World Series is on the line in this exhibition game (the stupidest thing I’ve seen a commissioner do in any league, which includes basically everything Gary Bettman’s ever even thought of doing.) this is what the rosters should’ve been, to give both teams the best opportunity to win.

American League

Starters

C – Joe Mauer (current pick) –Joe Mauer (my pick)

1B – Chris Davis (current pick) – Chris Davis (my pick)

2B – Robinson Cano (current pick) – Jason Kipnis (my pick) – As great as Cano has been and still is, Kipnis is having a better season thus far than Cano. A better batting average, more runs created per 27 outs, walks more, steals a lot more bases. Home runs is the only category where Cano has a substantial lead in, and that’s not enough to earn a starting spot in a game that determines who gets home field advantage in the World Series.

SS – J.J. Hardy (current pick) – Manny Machado (my pick) – Machado was originally a SS before moving to 3B for Hardy. SS is a weak position for the American League to begin with, Peralta is best player at the position offensively, but is fairly mediocre at playing the defensive position. Machado can play the position and would instantly be the best at the position both on the field and at the plate.

3B – Miguel Cabrera (current pick) – Miguel Cabrera (my pick)

OF – Mike Trout (current pick) – Mike Trout (my pick)

OF – Adam Jones (current pick) – Alex Gordon (my pick) I’m a huge Adam Jones fan, I think he’s great, but Gordon is a comparable defensive player and his Rtot is better than Jones’ (2 to -6, albeit it’s because he plays an easier defensive position.) The reason you start Gordon over Jones however is his plate production. Gordon has a better batting average, a better secondary average, walks more and has a better Runs Created per 27 outs; in fact Gordon is fourth in the AL in Runs Created per 27 outs.

OF – Jose Bautista (current pick) – Jose Bautista (my pick)

DH – David Ortiz (current pick) – David Ortiz (my pick)

Pitchers

P – Clay Buchholz (current pick)

P – Brett Cecil (current pick)

P – Bartolo Colon (current pick)

P – Jesse Crain (current pick)

P – Yu Darvish (current pick)

P – Felix Hernandez (current pick)

P – Hisashi Iwakuma (current pick)

P – Justin Masterson (current pick)

P – Joe Nathan (current pick)

P – Glen Perkins (current pick)

P – Mariano Rivera (current pick)

P – Chris Sale (current pick)

P – Max Scherzer (current pick)

P – Justin Verlander (current pick)

I would’ve picked all of these same pitchers, except for maybe Masterson. I can make the argument for Kuroda over Masterson. Kuroda has a better ERA and BAbip, Masterson on the other hand has been a little unlucky with a higher BAbip, but he does have a better strikeout rate, and a superior DIPS (defensive-independent ERA). Based on both pitchers peripheral statistics it’s reasonable to assume that given a better team Masterson’s traditional statistics would be equal to, if not better than Kuroda’s.

Bench

C – Jason Castro (current pick) – Jason Castro (my pick)

C – Salvador Perez (current pick) – Carlos Santana (my pick) – While Santana’s batting average isn’t as good, .302 compared to .266, his secondary average is far superior .360 compared to .149. Santana’s isolated power is better, his walk rate is a lot better and he’s second amongst catchers in the AL in Runs Created per 27 outs.

1B/DH – Edwin Encarnacion (current pick) – Edwin Encarnacion (my pick)

1B – Prince Fielder (current pick) – Prince Fielder (my pick)

2B – Jason Kipnis (current pick) – Robinson Cano (my pick)

2B – Dustin Pedroia (current pick) – Dustin Pedroia (my pick)

SS – Jhonny Peralta (current pick) – Jhonny Peralta (my pick)

3B – Manny Machado (current pick) – Josh Donaldson (my pick) – I have Machado starting at SS and if it wasn’t for the fact that Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball Donaldson would be starting in his first All-Star game. Donaldson is second in batting average, second in runs created and second in runs created per 27 outs; all to Miguel Cabrera. I don’t understand how he didn’t make the reserve list.

OF – Nelson Cruz (current pick) – Nelson Cruz (my pick)

OF – Alex Gordon (current pick) – Adam Jones (my pick)

OF – Torii Hunter (current pick) – Daniel Nava (my pick) – Torii Hunter has a had a great career, but with the All-Star game meaning as much as it does now, the days of lifetime achievement awards should be done. Nava has had a far superior season by any measurement, and not only deserves to be in the game, but also gives the American League the best opportunity to win.

OF/INF – Ben Zobrist (current pick) – Evan Longoria (my pick) – It’s Evan Longoria. Zobrist isn’t even the best option amongst second basemen, with Kendrick, Kinsler and Infante all having much better seasons. Longoria, when healthy is not only one of the best third basemen, but one of the best players in the American League, and this year he is healthy.

National League

Starters

C – Yadier Molina (current pick) – Buster Posey (my pick) – Posey’s batting average is lower, but his runs created is better, so is his runs created per 27 outs, isolated power, secondary average and he walks a lot more. Yadier is the best defensive C in baseball, but Posey isn’t that far behind and is better at the plate.

1B – Joey Votto (current pick) – Joey Votto (my pick)

2B – Brandon Phillips (current pick) – Matt Carpenter (my pick) – Carpenter has a better batting average, runs created, runs created per 27 outs, more isolated power, a higher secondary average and walks more. What else is there to say?

SS – Troy Tulowitzki (current pick) – Troy Tulowitzki (my pick)

3B – David Wright (current pick) – David Wright (my pick) – It’s not that close.

OF – Carlos Beltran (current pick) – Michael Cuddyer (my pick) – I love Beltran, and he’s still an excellent player, unfortunately OF is a very deep position in the National League. Cuddyer is having an amazing season and is leading Beltran in just about every stat and by a noticeable margin.

OF – Carlos Gonzalez (current pick) – Carlos Gonzalez (my pick)

OF – Bryce Harper (current pick) – Carlos Gomez (my pick) – Harper deserves a roster spot the same way Puig does, because they are both impactful players and Stars. However, Gomez is having a great season and gives the National League a better chance at winning. Harper has more power and walks more, but Gomez has a better batting average, runs created, runs created per 27 outs and steals a lot more bases, 20 compared to 5. I know Harper has missed a lot of games this year, but if we’re not going to take that into account when looking at his averages then we can’t take it into account when looking at his raw numbers either.

P – Madison Bumgarner (current pick) – Stephen Strasburg (my pick) – Stephen Strasburg, Mike Leake and Shelby Miller would all have been better options than Bumgarner. Bumgarner’s ERA is more than 3.00, and this is in spite of his incredibly lucky .225 BAbip. Strasburg, Leake and Miller have been far less lucky, and Strasburg and Miller have better strikeout rates.

Pitchers

P – Aroldis Champman (current pick)

P – Patrick Corbin (current pick)

P – Jose Fernandez (current pick)

P – Jason Grilli (current pick)

P – Matt Harvey (current pick)

P – Clayton Kershaw (current pick)

P – Craig Kimbrel (current pick)

P – Cliff Lee (current pick)

P – Jeff Locke (current pick)

P – Adam Wainwright (current pick)

P – Travis Wood (current pick)

P – Jordan Zimmerman (current pick)

Bench

C – Buster Posey (current pick) – Yadier Molina (my pick)

1B – Allen Craig (current pick) – Allen Craig (my pick) – I would be okay if Freeman was picked here too, both players have put up very similar numbers so far this season.

1B – Paul Goldschmidt (current pick) – Paul Goldschmidt (my pick)

2B – Matt Carpenter (current pick) – Brandon Phillips (my pick)

2B – Marco Scutaro (current pick) – Marco Scutaro (my pick)

SS – Everth Cabrera (current pick) – Everth Cabrera (my pick)

SS – Jean Segura (current pick) – Jean Segura (my pick)

3B – Pedro Alvarez (current pick) – Pedro Alvarez (my pick) – You could make the argument for Ryan Zimmerman, but difference in the power output between the two players makes Alvarez the better choice. Coming off the bench or playing DH, having a guy that provides juice in clutch situations is more important than Zimmerman who is a marginally better contact hitter.

OF – Dominic Brown (current pick) – Dominic Brown (my pick) – Pedro Alvarez and Brown are the likely DH options for the National League.

OF – Michael Cuddyer (current pick) – Shin-Soo Choo (my pick) – I have Cuddyer starting, which he should be doing that makes Choo the best available replacement.

OF – Carlos Gomez (current pick) – Dexter Fowler (my pick) – Same logic as Choo replacing Cuddyer.

OF – Andrew McCutchen (current pick) – Andrew McCutchen (my pick) – Beltran and Cutch are having very similar seasons, but McCutchen’s defensive ability give him the slight edge.

- Sunny D

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Verlander Woes (Alliteration Sort Of)

 

Opinion and Speculation

What’s wrong with JV? In one word: control. In two words: bad luck.

So far this year the former CY Young Award winner and league MVP is 8 and 5 sporting a 3.90 ERA and a 1.381 WHIP, his worst in the past 5 seasons.

So why is Verlander having his worst season in 5 years? Like I said he’s having some control issues, which presumably he will work out like he does every few seasons by sitting down with Tigers Pitching Coach Jeff Jones review tape. They will examine Verlander’s mechanics and figure out what needs to be fixed and fix it. It could also partly be the fact that Verlander has lead the league in pitches thrown the past 3 years, he’s a figurative work horse but he is a literal human and all that work could finally be taking a toll on him.

So that concludes the opinion and speculative portion of the post, let’s get to the facts and advanced metrics.

MATH!!

JV’s walk rate this year is 3.2, almost a full walk per 9 innings higher than it was last year and a five season high, he’s also giving up 9.2 hits per 9 innings, Verlander’s highest since his rookie year. The perplexing thing is that he’s also striking out 10.2 batters per 9 innings, a career high and only giving up 0.6 home runs per 9 innings, a career low.

So basically what the hell is going on? Well you can attribute the high walk rate to the control/mechanic issues, but what about the increase in hits?

The answer lies in his BAbip (Batting Average Balls in Play) – this is the batting average of opposing hitters on balls that are in play (duh) so the statistic takes out home runs and strike outs and adds sac flies. BAbip measures how effectively the defense converts outs. Verlander has a career .286 BAbip; this year so far he’s sporting a .347 BAbip (The league average BAbip is .298).

BAbip is a luck stat; the statistic shows how lucky or unlucky a pitcher is getting since it measures how effectively the defense converts balls in play into outs. So when one of the proven best pitchers in the league for the past 5 years has a BAbip of almost 50 points higher than the league average and more than 60 points higher than his own career average, it is safe to say the defense is to blame for the massive increase in hits allowed.

So while Verlander’s control issues are causing him to walk more, the increase in hits can in part be attributed to the poor defense being played behind him. He has proven this and I have no doubts that after the All-Star break JV will come back strong and as his BAbip once again regresses to the mean you will see his ERA along with his WHIP drop and his wins and quality starts rise.

Defense

You can find the raw numbers here http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/DET/2013-fielding.shtml

The Tigers defense empirically has been brutal so far this season. They are boasting a team total -42 Rtot (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs above Average) – The number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made. In lay person terms; it’s the number of runs the player has directly been responsible for allowing or saving based on their individual defense. To put into perspective how poor the Tigers defense really has been, take a look at the remainder of the American League’s defenses.

Team Rtot
Baltimore 24
Boston 0
New York Yankees -25
Tampa Bay -5
Toronto -8
Chicago White Sox -25
Cleveland -1
Kansas City 18
Minnesota -22
Houston -42
Oakland -1
Texas 27
Los Angeles Angels -20
Seattle -20

 

Just in case you need a little recap of the table above, the Tigers defense is tied with the Astros as the worst in the American League, and almost twice as bad as the two teams tied for the second worst defense in the AL: The New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox.

Conclusion

Be patient, some of the really high, unlucky numbers will regress to the mean and Verlander will once again find his pin point control. The rest of the pitching staff has been great and so has the offense, don’t worry JV will catch up in the second half of the season.

- Sunny D

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Adios Papa Grande

With the news breaking that Jose Valverde has been designated for assignment, I decided to take an in-depth look at the Tigers bullpen woes, and some possible solutions.

Papa Grande

In 20 games so far this season Valverde is posting a bloated 5.59 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. His K/BB walk ratio is pretty okay at 3.17 considering the fact that he only pitches 1 inning in each game that he enters. The problem is his 8.4 Hits/9 rate and his team worst 2.8 HR/9 rate; an astoundingly 7% of the batters he faces hit home runs off of Valverde, a result of a 22% HR to Fly Ball rate.

Personally I didn’t understand why he was brought back in the first place, given how brilliantly he flamed out in the playoffs last year, and as a fan I’m glad that he’s finally gone and the team can move on to find a more permanent, and an actual solution to their closer situation.

Rest of the Bullpen

First I’m only talking about guys that have pitched in at least 10 innings.

Second, the bullpen hasn’t been as epically terrible as some fans seem to think. The Tigers have had a few bright spots in Benoit, Smyly and Putkonen. All three pitchers have ERA’s below 2.00 (1.80, 1.85 and 1.59 respectively) and WHIPs of 1.00 or lower (1.00, 0.985 and 0.971 respectively).

Putkonen, not surprisingly has a team low Hits/9 rate at 5.6, Smyly has a team low HR/9 rate at 0.2 while having pitched the most innings out of the bullpen and Benoit has a good K/BB rate of 3.89.

Personally I would love to see either of these guys get an opportunity to close, Benoit is second on the team in saves and will probably get the first shot at the closer job, but I think Smyly, with his performance against the Yankees last year in the playoffs, and with how he’s pitched so far this year has earned that opportunity if the Tigers are going to keep him in the bullpen.

In house options

Smyly’s high strikeout percentage (27%), low extra base hit percentage (7%), above average ground out to air out ratio (1.08) and an incredible Home Run to Fly Ball percentage (1.9%) give him all the tools that a team looks for in a closer. A pitcher who allows very few hitters to put the ball in play and ones that do end up grounding out more often than not, and when they do hit the ball in the air, it ends up safely in one of the Tigers excellent outfielders gloves.

Outside options

So these some bullpen pitchers the Tigers could potentially go after. Full disclosure I haven’t bothered to look at their contract situations, but they are all on teams that are performing poorly and those teams might be more inclined to build for the future and could be willing to trade bullpen arms for prospects.

Houston – Jose Cisneros: Cisneros is a rookie in Houston and has pitched well so far. If management has lost faith in Rondon, and I don’t know why they would have, Cisneros could be a good route to go. Cisneros’ 2.20 ERA is a bit of a fluke; his K/BB rate and his WHIP (2.80 and 1.361) don’t correlate well, also his HR/Fly Ball rate is a lot better than the MLB league average. The high WHIP however could also be slightly fluky; Cisneros BA and BAbip are both worse than the MLB league average.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/cisnejo01-pitch.shtml

Conclusion: He’s got good stuff, but he hasn’t been in the league long enough to make any conclusions on his abilities based on his stats. However, a young bullpen arm with good stuff might be worth the risk for a team that is competing for the World Series for the near future.

Miami – Dan Jennings: Another young pitcher is Dan Jennings out of Miami, one of the few bright spots on that abysmal team. He had a very good rookie season last year, albeit in limited innings, and is already showing signs of improvement this year. Jennings hasn’t given up a single home run this year, but that isn’t unexpected because he only gave up 2 last year. So far Jennings has increased his strikeouts, decreased the number of batters he’s walked and has given up far fewer hits. Oh, and he’s a lefty.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/jennida01.shtml

Conclusion: His stuff is really good too, and though he hasn’t been in the league long, he’s pitched against major league hitting longer than Cisneros and has thus far vastly out performed him. I’d love to see what he can do in the American League, also the Tigers have had pretty good luck trading for both young and old Marlins players.

Brewers – Jim Henderson: A 30 year old pitcher out of Canada in his second year in the league. His peripherals last year were a lot better than was the result of his ERA, but a some of that was due to bad luck as he had a sky high BAbip. So far this year he’s on pace to pitch a lot more innings, his peripherals have improved and Henderson’s been less unlucky this year and it has resulted in 20 saves with 2.03 ERA.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hendeji01-pitch.shtml

Conclusion: He hasn’t been in the league long, but his traditional stats are bearing out as they should when you look at his peripherals, and an older player may fit in better with this team than a couple of really young, unproven pitchers (not that I believe in any of that, but Leyland seems to trust older guys more regardless of performance.)

Cubs – Kevin Gregg: In his 11th season the 35 year old is having his best season of his career. 11 saves on a 1.11 ERA and a 0.945 WHIP, Gregg also is pitching his lowest Hits/9 rate, lowest HR/9 rate, second lowest BB/9 rate and highest K/9 rate.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/greggke01-pitch.shtml

Conclusion: Is this season a fluke? Most likely, it’s hard to believe that a mediocre relief pitcher in his 11th season could reinvent himself into a dominant closer. However, when you are the Tigers and you are competing for a World Series I have no problem trading for a guy and riding out a hot streak for one year.

Dodgers – Kenley Jansen: Jansen has been a dominant pitcher in MLB since his rookie year. His peripherals pan out, his traditional stats pan out and his stuff pans out. If I’m a fan of any team I want this guy in my bullpen.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/janseke01-pitch.shtml

Conclusion: I don’t know if the Dodgers would be willing to part with Jansen, but if the Tigers can pull it off, without losing too much, then this is the guy you go get.

- Sunny D

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A Mad Max Scherzer Follow Up

So last season I broke down Max Scherzer, and pointed out the vast improvement in his game, as he recovered from a horrid opening month of the season. I said that he deserved honorable mentions for the CY Young award and he got those finishing with a, 3.74 ERA, 11.1 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 1.274 WHIP. Scherzer also finished with 20 quality starts, struck out 29% of the batters he faced, walked 7.6% of the batters he faced and gave up home runs to 3% of the batters he faced. He also gave up extra base hits to 8% of the batters he faced and had a home run to fly ball rate of more than 9%.

Pitching in the American League, those numbers are all pretty good, thus the honorable mention for the CY Young Award. I did say that he was steadily improving all year, and this would be the year where he’d be a front runner for the AL CY Young Award.

So this year so far through 10 games Scherzer has an ERA of 3.08, a 10.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a miniscule 0.913 WHIP. Scherzer also has 10 quality starts, has struck out 31% of the batters he’s faced, walked 6.5% of the batters he’s faced and given up home runs to 2% of the batters he’s faced. He’s also given up extra base hits to 7% of the batters he’s faced and has a home run to fly ball rate of 6.5%.

There is clear improvement across the board in his peripheral stats, with the exception of his K/9 rate which is close to being very similar, which have contributed to the improvement of his more traditional statistics. He’s walking fewer batters, giving up far fewer hits (8.6 H/9 in 2012 compared to 6.0 H/9 so far in 2013), and a smaller percentage of his fly balls are ending up as home runs.

With all that being said, if you’re not a fan of the sterile study of sports through numbers, just watch him pitch. His stuff is filthy, and better than Verlander’s, and has been for a few years now, Scherzer’s control is just now catching up.

Let’s not forget his repertoire of “SHEEEET” moments (here’s my description of “SHEEEET” moments.)

WITNESS!

So where does he stand on the list of CY Young Award contenders? As metrics friendly as the league has become over the past few years, when it comes to awards writers still rely on a few basic categories when casting their vote. So currently Scherzer is second in the AL in strikeouts, twelfth in ERA, first in wins, seventh in K/BB rate, second in WHIP and twelfth and in HR/9 rate. Assuming guys like Bartolo Colon and Hiroki Kuroda regress to the mean Scherzer should finish in the top 10 or better in all those categories. Unfortunately for Scherzer, Clay Buchholz, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish and his own teammate Anibal Sanchez are having an absurd pitching year and the two teammates could possibly steal votes from each other.

Even with his improvements, it will probably end up being another season with just honorable mentions for the CY Young Award for Max Scherzer, but with some increased run support his teammate Anibal Sanchez could be bringing the award to Detroit.

- Sunny D

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Resurgence of the Toronto Hype Machine

The Offseason

Not having made the playoffs since winning back to back World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays purchased the Miami Marlins and relegated the National League East team to act as a glorified Quadruple-A team. They weren’t quite done however, adding another All-Start to their roster, trading for the 2012 National League CY Young Award winner: R.A. Dickey.

On paper, Canada’s team looked sensational and was the popular choice by many writers, analysts and experts to win the often vaunted American League East. The general public was down-trodden on the Red Sox chances of winning the division, coming off of a dismal year, having completely forgotten how many injures Robert Valentine was dealing with, including that of his own pride and ability to placate and compromise. The Yankees, a team that’s hated by almost everyone that isn’t a Yankees fan, were looking to bounce back after a Playoff run that had them looking like a little league team at the plate also were handed a face full of injuries before the season even began, with Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira all scheduled to miss much of the season.

We assumed the Rays would battle the Blue Jays for the top spot in the division, and although the Orioles were a wonderful story last year, most stat heads assumed there would be some major regression, and there was no chance that Baltimore could manage to duplicate the same amount of success in close, late game situations.

So after a decade of losing, the Blue Jays finally won something. Unfortunately, that something doesn’t come with any accolades or awards, and no one remembers it or cares three months into the season. Being the offseason champions gets the fan base excited, palpitates the heart of ESPN editors, and sells a lot of tickets and merchandise. What it doesn’t do is guarantee winning; short term or long term. It doesn’t guarantee that the new fans you’ve won over will stay; it doesn’t guarantee the ability to woo new free agents, swaying them to move to a different country with higher taxes. It does however mean that the organization is committed to doing whatever they need to, to win. It does mean that the owners are finally willing to trust their GM. It does mean that the owners are finally willing to spend money.

In a sports environment, where so many owners are content maintaining a miniscule salary, and sending out the proverbial collection basket to all of their loyal fans, and to the other organizations a la revenue sharing, it is wonderful to see a front office who has been in that category for many years finally break out of the pit, and break out they did. And I for one appreciate it.

Regular Season

Opening Day came and Opening Day went. The Blue Jays came rushing out of the dugout and from the word go, stumbled and bumbled their way to a 13 and 21 record. The one shining ray of light though was the play of Jose Reyes. Through the first 10 games Reyes boasted a batting line of .395/.465/.526 with 5 walks and 5 steals and that wasn’t even the best part. His sensational defense was the best part, and it is what the Blue Jays missed the most when Reyes went all Reyes on everyone and injured his ankle sliding into second base. Reyes’ defense was never more appreciated than when the trio Munenori Kawasaki, Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio led the Blue Jays to a 9 and 18 record (currently 15 and 21, since the Blue Jays started winning) when Reyes went down. Thus far Kawasaki, Bonifacio and Izturis have combined for 13 errors, leaving an open, gaping, cesspool of a wound in the middle of the field.

For the math obsessed, stat nerds out there (me included), their combined Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average (the number of runs, above or below average, the player was worth based on the number of plays made) is an unbelievable -8 (-4 Izturis, -2 Kawasaki, -2 Bonifacio.)

The terrible defense, along with the non-existent offense Reyes’ three replacements have given to the Blue Jays in his stead has lead to the offseason champions to be currently ranked 5th in the division with a 20 – 27 win/loss record, a -37 run differential and 8.5 games behind the division leading New York Yankees.

Most Recent Trend

During the last 10 games the Blue Jays are 7-3 against opponents including all four division rivals and the defending champion San Francisco Giants with a +19 run differential. The offense is turning around, and is now producing in a way fans thought that they would, scoring double digit runs in 4 of the 7 wins.

Pitching

Not much to say here, R.A. Dickey is finally healthy, and is starting to pitch like he did last year when he won the National League CY Young Award. Josh Johnson was terrible before landing on the DL and still isn’t back to the Major League roster, although he has started rehabbing. Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle have been nothing short of atrocious. So far Buehrle is 1-3 in 10 starts with a 1.410 WHIP and has 40 earned runs in 61 innings pitched compared to last year when he had 84 in 202.1 innings pitched and has given up 11 homeruns already compared to 26 all of last year. His Hits per 9 innings (H/9) is up from last year so is his HR/9, and walks (BB) per 9 innings pitched.

Morrow so far is 2-3 in 9 starts with a 1.471 WHIP and has 32 earned runs in 52.1 innings pitched compared to last year when he had 41 in 124.2 innings pitched and has given up 11 homeruns already compared to 12 all of last year. His H/9 is up from last year, so is his HR/9, BB/9 and his strikeout per 9 is down. His strikeout per walk rate is also the lowest of his Blue Jay career.

Predictions

So what does all of this mean? Honestly I don’t really know. The fan boy in me wants to say that all of the Blue Jays issues have been solved; the offense is about to go on a clobbering spree, and when Josh Johnson comes back he’ll be great again and Reyes will be sensational and healthy for the remainder of the year.

The truth is I don’t’ know. I think the offense will continue to be great and when Reyes comes back the defense and offense will get a boost because Reyes will be replacing two of the black holes in the middle of the offense and defense. I think Dickey will continue to have a great season as long he stays healthy. I do think Morrow is done, he no longer has potential, this is his 7th year in the league and he is what he is, not good. I think Johnson is done too; he hasn’t been very good for a few years now because he hasn’t adjusted his style to fit his diminished abilities. And Buehrle gives up too many fly balls to be productive in the AL East where every stadium is little league friendly.

My prediction is this, the Blue Jays offense will carry the team into contending for one of the Wild Card spots, but the pitching just will not be good enough to do any kind of winning in the playoffs. If the Blue Jays do make the playoffs though, who really cares if they win a game, it’ll be the first time in a decade, and I will be happy just to see them compete.

 

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Hell Has Frozen Over

Really I’m writing this post for just one reason; I don’t understand how this is happening.

In a season where last year’s CY Young award winners David Price and RA Dickey have ERA’s of 6.25 and 5.36 respectively and WHIPs of 1.48 and 1.31, Patrick Corbin and Kevin Slowey are setting the world on fire.

So far Corbin has a mind bottling stat line of 1.80/1.08/32K and 6 quality starts. Slowey on the hand has an even more impressive 1.81/0.94/36K and 5 quality starts. WHAT?!

(No I didn’t accidentally transpose Slowey and Corbin’s names with Price and Dickey.)

So I have to find out how this is happening. So of course I went to the only source I use whenever I want to know anything; baseball reference. I’m being serious, if I need a weather update or anything I just hit up baseball reference, doesn’t always help but now I randomly know that Mike Stanley’s career OPS is .827.

But back to the task at hand, finding out how the hell Corbin and Slowey are doing this.

Corbin is in his second year and following up on a 2012 campaign where he boasted a 4-8 record with a 4.54 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. He averaged a 7.2 K/9 rate, a 2.1 BB/9 rate, a 9.8 Hits/9 rate and a 1.2 HR/9 rate. In case you were wondering that is nowhere near being remotely good. His ERA last year ranked 223 in the National League (that includes players that don’t qualify based on innings pitched but only because Corbin himself didn’t qualify.) His WHIP ranked 117, Hits/9 ranked 254; basically he was awful soaked in horrendous.

In 2013 Corbin so far is 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. So how’s he doing it? First the WHIP, his walk rate is up slightly to 2.3 from 2.1 per 9 innings, and his strikeout rate has stayed on par at 7.2 per 9 innings. Where he has improved is in giving up 2.4 hits less per 9 innings at 7.4 Hits/9. The result? Fewer runs being scored on singles and doubles. His HR rate has also dropped drastically from 1.2 to 0.5. The result? Well if I need me to spell it out, it’s less runs scored on HR’s. In 2012 Corbin gave up 14 homeruns, 4 of which had 1 runner of base and 2 of the 14 homeruns had 2 base runners on. Those resulted in 20 runs scored. If we were extrapolate his current HR rate over the same number of innings pitched he’s on pace to only allow 5 HRs. He also averaged 0.5 runs per hit last year and is only averaging 0.24 runs per hit so far this year.

Again if we extrapolate that rate out to match the number of hits he gave up last year it would equal 28 runs, plus the 5 HRs would give me 33 runs allowed over an assumed 107 innings. The result? An ERA of 2.78.

So in case I lost you in the shuffle of all the numbers, Corbin is doing this because he’s on pace to more than halve his HRs and hits given up.

Do I think this start is fluky? Yes and no. He’s only in his second year, so is it possible that last year was just the result of him being a rookie and this is who Corbin really is? Sure it is. I think however, he’s probably something in between the two extremes. He still needs to lower his hit rate and his walk rate even more to truly sustain this level of production.

Phew! Now on to Slowey…I’m writing this in real time, so part of me thinks that I’ll reach the same conclusion for Slowey that I did for Corbin.

Slowey spent the first 5 years of his career in the American League, and was nothing short of awful. His career low in ERA and WHIP before the 2013 season was 3.99/1.20. Slowey is also a pitcher that has given up far too many Hits/9 (11.1, 9.0, 11.2, 9.9, and 11.8). He’s also given up far too many HRs/9 (2.2, 1.2, 1.5, 1.2, and 1.5). Where’s he’s had success in the past (if you can really count anything he’s done in the past as successful) is in his walk rate. While he let the ball leave the park far too often, and he let too many batters get on base through hits, he wasn’t giving away any free passes (although when you’re allowing 11 hits per 9 innings, some might say every time he’s on the mound it counts as a free pass.)

The difference in Slowey this year lies in a few areas, all of which are affected by the fact that he is now pitching in a lesser league, and in a better pitchers park. He’s cut his HR rate by more than half, is now giving up less than 7 hits per 9 innings, and is averaging the second highest strikeout rate of his career at 7.3 per 9 innings.

Will this hold up? Of course not! He’s in the sixth year of his career; unlike Corbin he’s not a young pitcher who doesn’t have an established body of work. I do think, this will be a career year for Slowey, because of the ball park and the league, but don’t be surprised if his ERA/WHIP and peripheral statistics all climb drastically as the year continues. If he ends the year with a 3.50 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP, I wouldn’t be shocked, but it would a great season, relative to what he’s produced in his career to date.

Conclusion? Don’t let guys get on base and don’t give up HRs and you’ll put up amazing numbers. Sustain that over an entire year and you’ll be a CY Young Award candidate. Sustain that over the majority of a career and you’ll go down as one of the greats. Do it randomly over an unbelievably small sample size and you’ll help out my fantasy team, and then you’ll get dropped by the All-Star break.

You’re move Corbin, you’re move Slowey.

P.S. If you’re a starting pitcher you probably don’t want your name to be Slow-ey, or Homer Bailey…

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Opening Week – A Look Back At The Blue Jays

The Offseason Champion Toronto Blue Jays have started the season slowly, behind silent bats and whimpering pitchers. So far they have compiled a lowly 2-4 record losing both series’ to the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox.

R.A. Dickey gave up a career high 24 homeruns last year in New York’s cavernous Citi Field and with the Skydome (yup I’m still calling the Skydome) barely exceeding depths of the most average minor league stadiums (clearly I’m being sarcastic…kind of) I foresee that number increasing by quite a bit. Something Dickey is probably expecting as well judging by the surprised and confused look on his face when a seemingly routine fly out to right field by Asdrubal Cabrera ended up as a two-run homerun at the Blue Jays home opener on Opening Day. The star-studded Blue Jay lineup was also shutdown by Cleveland’s Masterson as Melky Cabrera scored the lone run as Adam Lind grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and no outs.

The next day Michael Brantley continued to terrorize Blue Jay pitching going 4 for 5 while no one else on either team had more than 1 hit (excluding Carlos Santana who went 2 for 5.) Down 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th inning, Jose Bautista crushed a homerun 393 feet tying the game and breathing life into the Skydome. The crowd was abuzz, cheering on the new look Blue Jays, hope still running high early in the season, then stupid Mark Reynolds stepped up to the plate crushed our collective souls with one swing of the bat. Reynolds sent the ball soaring at the top of the 11th inning winning the game and destroying the ball 457 feet to left center field.

Morrow’s six inning, one run, eight strikeout performance was all for not.

Game three – the bats finally come alive! For both teams…

With a final score of 10-8 Blue Jays, neither pitching staff did anything worth noting, although the Indians three pitchers somehow managed to combine for 2 strikeouts.

Jose Bautista homered sending the ball 430 feet; Encarnacion homered (365 feet); Rasmus launched the ball 411 feet and JP Arencibia hit two homeruns for a combined 831 feet. Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds also added solo homeruns for the Indians for a combined 861 feet. (The Skydome walls aren’t that far back; stop hitting those balls so damn hard!)

With Joey Bats out with an ankle injury the Blue Jays took on the Boston Red Sox in a three game series at home. Josh Johnson took the mound in the AL East rivals first matchup of the season, pitching 6 innings, giving up 4 runs (3 earned) on 9 hits and averaged a strikeout an inning. Jose Reyes had his best game as a Blue Jay as he brought Toronto with one run in the bottom of the 9th batting in a run then tied the game in the bottom of the 7th with a 423 foot homerun to right field. It was however, wasted as Esmil Rogers gave up the eventual game winning run at the top of the 8th inning and Jeffress gave up the insurance run at the top of the 9th.

Toronto came back strong in the second game as John Lackey hurt his throwing arm in the 5th inning and J.A. Happ (Romero’s replacement) one hit the potent Red Sox batters through 5.1 innings, resulting in a 5-0 shutout, tallying 6 strikeouts. Arencibia homered for the 3rd time this year and Rasmus for the second as he smashed the ball an appalling 468 feet.

The Blue Jay lineup could and should have done more damage as they left 6 runners stranded.

Game three – The Boston Red Sox returned the favor, winning the series 3 games to 2 by a score of 13-0 in the final game.

Dickey lost for the second time this year, throwing 100 pitches through 4.2 innings. He gave up 8 runs on 10 hits. Dave Bush didn’t perform any better giving up 5 runs on 5 hits in 3 innings. Will Middlebrooks homered three times; once off of R.A. Dickey and twice off of Dave Bush.

There isn’t much to say here, other than Dickey might have to get used to this, if he can’t figure out ways to adjust and this late into this career I don’t see how he can.

This hasn’t been the start Blue Jays fans were hoping for, but it is the start we got. Thankfully, it is only one week and 6 games. This lineup is talented and the pitching staff is above average at the least, with some young live arms in the bullpen.

Once the Blue Jays figure out a way to get settled and find consistency in their play they will be a dangerous matchup for any team in the league, and hopefully Dickey will fare better on the road in more forgiving ballparks. At the very least the front office is actually trying to win and that’s better than being a Pirates, Marlins or Astros fan.

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Opening Week – A Look Back At The Tigers

Opening week has come and gone and Adam Jones is hitting .538, Michael Morse and Justin Upton have hit 5 homeruns each (B.J. and Justin also had a great moment where B.J. tied the game against Cubs with a homerun in the bottom of the 9th and then Justin won it with a walk off homerun.) Chris Davis is on pace to have 459 RBI, Yu Darvish is averaging 10 strikeouts a start, Clayton Kershaw will never give up a run again and Justin Verlander signed a $180 million extension and now he sucks.

Okay so I might be exaggerating slightly.

One week and six games later, the Tigers are 3-3 due to some impressive performances by Prince Fielder and some not so impressive performances by Justin Verlander.

The Tigers lost the first series to Minnesota in a recreation of the same-old, same-old when the bullpen couldn’t hold onto a lead or keep the game in reach for the offense. Phil Coke blew a one run lead in the second game of the season giving up a two run double to Eduardo Escobar in the bottom of the ninth inning and Villarreal gave up 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning of the third game of season allowing the Twins to put a close 3-2 game out of reach.

Their sole win came on opening day, when the offense struggled, but Cabrera, Prince, Jhonny and Austin Jackson managed to score four runs for the close 4-2 win and Justin Verlander pitched an inconsistent five scoreless innings.

JV’s pitch count climbed to 91 in five short innings where he walked only 2 batters and managed seven strikeouts which was shocking given that he had only thrown 54 strikes. It was only one game, it’s just the beginning of the season, it was really cold and we’ll chalk it up to an anomaly that Justin Verlander looked weak in a shutout performance (It also shows how great JV is and has been that our expectations are such that I would be sitting here nitpicking a five inning shutout performance. With a $180 million contract extension however, comes great expectations, expectations I have no doubt that JV will fulfill.)

The second set of the season started quite differently with Fister and Scherzer notching wins behind the kind of offensive run support fans are expecting from this lineup in the coming season, winning 8-3 and 8-4 respectively.

With Fister on the mound, Prince Fielder accounted for 7 of the 8 runs scored behind the power of 2 homeruns scoring 5 RBI, going 2 for 4 at the plate and striking out once.

Fisters’ performance was below average, giving up three runs in 5 innings tabulating an ERA of 5.40, striking out two and walking two. Smyly on the other hand came into the game in relief and shut down the Yankee bats. He pitched four perfect innings racking up five strikeouts on an efficient 50 pitch performance.

Max Scherzer gave us glimpses of both good Mad Max and bad Mad Max in his five innings. Scherzer was responsible for four runs on five hits resulting in a 7.20 ERA. He also struck-out seven while walking only two. Fan favorite Al Alburquerque, along with Spring Training shining star Darin Downs and Joaquin Benoit accounted for no more Yankee runs over the next four innings while Tiger bats added insurance runs, insuring a Tiger victory. While, Prince shined in the first game against New York, the other half of the new Bash Brothers, Miguel Cabrera took up where he left off last year, batting a perfect 4 for 4 scoring 2 runs and plating 1 RBI with a walk.

That brings us to the early season matchup all baseball fans were looking forward to. CC Sabathia versus Justin Verlander.

Sabathia held up his end of the bargain pitching 7 shutout innings and his bullpen gave him the support he needed giving up a combined zero runs over the next two innings. Verlander gave up three runs over seven innings and Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel continued to do what they do best; point to the sky and give up a combined four runs over the next two innings, resulting in a 7-0 loss.

The Tiger bats were held silent with Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez being shut out at the plate combining for a 0 for 11 night with Jackson getting on base twice on walks. The lone positive on the offensive side for the Tigers was Matt Tuiasosopo going 2 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout in his first start as a Detroit Tiger.

So what overarching takeaways do we get from these series’?

None! It’s been 6 games chill out! The Tigers offense should be even better than they were last year with the addition of Hunter, the return of Martinez and the removal of Ryan Raburn and Brennan Boesch (I’m not sure if I spelled either of those correctly, and honestly who cares.)

The Tigers starting five is one to rival any in the majors and as I predicted last year I think Scherzer will be a serious contender for the American League CY Young Award.

Their biggest weakness is in the bullpen and it lies both in a lack of talent and in an inability to manage it properly. It’s my humble opinion that Leyland uses his bullpen far too often. With five starting pitchers that have the ability to perform for seven or eight strong innings it makes little sense that the Tigers bullpen arms end the season as overworked as they do, especially given the serious lack of talent and the inconsistency of that talent.

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Turn 2 Tribune Top 101 Prospects: Numbers 79-70

79. J.R. Graham – Atlanta Braves

A Santa Clara guy drafted in the 4th round in 2011, Graham dominated in High-A last year and pitched very well in 45 innings at AA. Graham features a mid 90’s heater with some serious life, coupled with a plus slider and shows strong command. Overcomes lack of size by athleticism, and needs to continue improving changeup as a third option. Potentially could make it to Atlanta this season, and projects to a #2-3 starter.

78. James Paxton – Seattle Mariners

Paxton was a 4th round pick in 2010 and spent 2012 at AA Jackson for the second season. Works his fastball in low 90’s but can turn up the heat; best offering is curveball that sits in the high 70’s. Delivery is a mess with many moving parts that leads to inconsistencies. Command will be biggest issue moving forward. Paxton is more risky based on mechanics.

77. Lucas Giolito – Washington Nationals

Giolito missed his senior prep season with inuries before being drafted in the 1st round by the Nationals in 2012. He had Tommy John in August, and isn’t likely to pitch in 2013. Injury history turns Giolito into a very risky play, but he has the tools to overcome. A great fastball combined with a plus curve and decent command work in Giolito’s favor.

75. Tony Cingrani – Cincinnati Reds

Cingrani was a 2011 3rd round pick out of Rice University, and moved frequently in 2012, pitching in High-A, AA, and the big show. Cingrani features a very deceptive delivery that affords his average fastball to play up. Also has a plus changeup but a mediocre slider. Reliance on deception over stuff suggests a bullpen future, but stuff has ability to be a middle starter.

74. Yordano Ventura – Kansas City Royals

Ventura might be the smallest pitcher in the history of the world, weighing in at 5-10 and 140 pounds. Blew hitters away at High-A recording 98 k’s in 76 innings. Fastball shows at 94-98 but can touch 100’s. His curveball is a plus pitch and the changeup is average. Has tendency to overthrow and slight build takes away from projectable size. Ventura plays up as a reliever, but has also drawn comparisons to Pedro. Yes, that Pedro.

73. Jake Odorizzi – Tampa Bay Rays

Odorizzi pitched well in AA, better in AAA, and made a 7 inning cameo in the big show last season. He was a 2008 1st rounder by the Brewers, and has a very clean delivery with three plus pitches in the fastball, changeup and curveball. Throws an average slider to round out the offerings. Doesn’t have a true knockout pitch and room for upside in offerings is limited. Sum of parts is much greater than individual tools.

72. Wily Peralta – Milwaukee Brewers

Signed by the Brewers in 2005 out of the Domincan, Peralta is on the verge of breaking out in the majors. He is a power pitcher with a fastball that sits mid 90’s offset by a strong slider with sharp break at 85-87.  Has a max effort delivery and lacks control, making pitches very inconsistent.  Many view Peralta as a better fit in the bullpen, but some believe he can fit as a #3 starter.

71. Jesse Biddle – Philadelphia Phillies

Biddle was a local boy from Germantown, PA drafted in the 1st round in 2010 by the Phillies. The southpaw has great size and a very clean delivery. Fastball and curve are more average than plus, but can play up. Refinement of pitches will be necessary to maintain top prospect billing. Smooth delivery will allow for greater command moving forward, but look for strikeouts to dip at higher levels.

70. Justin Nicolino – Florida Marlins (Still holding on to that)

Obtained from the Jays, Nicolino was a 2nd round pick in 2010 out of the Florida prep ranks. Shows incredible BB/9 ratio and K/BB ratio (nearly 5:1 anyone?). His mechanics and command are very advanced and aid in the play-up of his sometimes less than average fastball. Features a devastating changeup. Lack of fastball causes to pitch backwards and lacks frontline stuff.  Moving forward, shows middle rotation stuff and if uptick in pitches happens, could make a leap forward.

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Turn 2 Tribune Top 101 Prospects: Numbers 89-80

After a small delay, the prospect rankings have returned. Numbers 89-80 are below, with the next batch set to roll out Monday or Tuesday. Stay tuned my friends!

89.  Clayton Blackburn – San Francisco Giants

Blackburn is another pitching prospect from Oklahoma, being drafted out of high school in the 16th round. Blackburn lacks velocity, but makes up for it with great command. Has a plus movement on pitch and offs it with a changeup.  His breaking ball can level out at times, and he isn’t likely to add much to pitches. Blackburn is relatively low risk given his feel, and while not a “sexy” prospect, is likely to hit his ceiling as a middle of the rotation arm.

88. Delino DeShields Jr. – Houston Astros

The son of one of my favorite players in the 90’s, DeShields was a 1st round pick in 2010, straight out of high school in Georgia. Obviously the book on DeShields starts with speed, as he quietly (Thanks B-Ham) stole 82 bases last season. DeShields has a mature approach but can be too mild-mannered at the plate. Defensively can stick at second but won’t be used elsewhere in the infield.  He will most likely be in the California League for 2013, which should provide an assist offensively.

87. Chris Owings – Arizona Diamondbacks

A first round high school pick, the shortstop smashed the ball in High A but struggled in Double A. Owings is very fluid working around the base and has a good arm, showing a future at shortstop. He does a carried away tendency at the plate, getting aggressive with some thinking it will hurt his stock in the long run. Working on his approach will be the primary ingredient to determining his future.

86. Hak-Ju Lee – Tampa Bay Rays

The former Cubs’ farmhand spent 2012 as the shortstop for Montgomery and shined defensively. Lee is very athletic and fluid with a strong arm. He struggles offensively and shows no power, but has maturity at plate which could lead to potential. Speed will be his greatest asset offensively. Lee will play in AAA in 2013, and most likely take over shortstop for the Rays in 2014.

85. Matt Davidson – Arizona Diamondbacks

Davidson was a 2009 1st rounder as a California prep, and has taken a steady approach while climbing through the Diamondbacks system. He shows maturity at the plate, and despite an average hit tool, makes pitchers work and drives the ball with some power. Defense is being improved as he moves along and as long as the bat doesn’t minimize Davidson’s value at a power position, he should be in the big leagues before long.

84. Jake Marisnick – Florida (yes, Florida) Marlins

When talking about Jake Marisnick, the conversation begins and ends with defense. He could and possibly will play a major league centerfield now, with plus speed and a plus arm. His hitting will need work, as some project it to be a great tool, but he struggled mightily in AA. He’ll need to spend 2013 adjusting his approach after getting his feet wet in 2012.

83. Luis Sardinas – Texas Rangers

The forgotten shortstop in the Rangers organization behind Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, Sardinas is a stud defensively. His skills rate higher than Profar’s in that respect. Sardinas is slight in nature and has been frail over his professional career. Offensively, his motions are smooth and profiles as a contact hitter with good speed. Injuries and little experience make Sardinas a risk, but there is potential for a top of the line shortstop.

82. Martin Perez – Texas Rangers

Perez was signed in 2007 as a youngster out of Venezuela and is a veteran of prospect lists essentially since then.  Prior to breaking his hand in Spring Training, Perez had the inside track at the #5 starter job in Texas after spending 2012 in Round Rock with mixed results. His fastball is a plus pitch, but his best pitch is the changeup with late action. Mechanics are inconsistent and when fastball isn’t peaking, changeup is not as effective. At just 22, Perez has time to put it all together still and will have an impact of some sort at the major league level in 2013.

81. Kolten Wong – St. Louis Cardinals

Wong hit in the 280’s in his full season debut at Double A Springfield, establishing himself as the second baseman of the future in St. Louis. Size minimizes any power output, but he makes good contact and maximizes a short swing.  He has a good arm and glove to match with decent speed. Wong is essentially the definition of a gritty gamer (backhanded compliment?), and will have a lengthy future in the majors at second base.

80. Adalberto Mondesi – Kansas City Royals

Sound familiar? The son of Raul was a 2011 signing out of Los Angeles and the Dominican Republic and spent the 2012 season in Idaho Falls as a 16 year old. Shines defensively as a shortstop with a great arm, range and hands. Currently doesn’t hit for power necessarily, but remember he is just 17. Hit tool does project to be plus, but it is early in the process and Mondesi should be considered very risky as a prospect. Could enter full season ball at the same age many end their junior year of high school.

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