The Marlins Are Doing Just Fine Without Dee Gordon

Last week, there was a little event you may have heard about called the “summer solstice.” Both calendars and my elementary-school science classes tell me that means summer just officially began. There are a few basic truths about summer’s infancy: children in your community may currently be in a state of euphoria; it’s time to plan July 4th barbeques; and, most relevant to our shared interests here at FanGraphs, there is still a lot of major-league baseball left to be played this year. As a result, the standings are largely inconsequential at the moment and still subject to massive changes before the postseason rolls around. And, yet, I’m struck by this meaningless triviality: if the season were to end today, the Miami Marlins would be a Wild Card team.

It’s not the most shocking scenario imaginable. The Marlins weren’t among the handful of rebuilding National League teams whose playoff aspirations were written off before the season even began. After all, the team boasted popular preseason picks for MVP and Cy Young in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, respectively. But this is also a team which last finished above .500 when Bryce Harper was a high-school sophomore… It wasn’t hard to have doubts that the Marlins would finally capitalize on their talent and actually field a winning team this summer, but the club is currently doing its part to help people forget those doubts. This past weekend, the Marlins took three out of four from the suddenly mortal Cubs to bring their record up to 41-35 and put them into a second place tie in the National League East with the scuffling Mets.

Due to the unpredictable nature of injuries and on-field performance, no team is able to perfectly execute a preseason plan — players get hurt, stars underperform and role players have breakout years — and the Marlins are no exception. One of those unexpected developments for the Marlins is that they’ve fielded one of the best outfields in the league due much less to the contributions of Stanton (currently in the midst of a career-worst season) and much more to Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. It’s been a wellcovered storyline for the Marlins.

There’s another key way in which the Marlins have had to deviate from their preseason plan, too — namely, who they’ve played at second base.

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The Astros Have Gotten Themselves Back in It

No matter where you get your information, the Houston Astros entered the season as consensus favorites to win the American League West. Our preseason projections gave them a better than 50% chance to take the division. Forty-six of 55 FanGraphs staff members chose them to win the division. In case you think a pro-Astros bias exists on the site, whether being informed by our projections or for some other reason, consider also that Baseball Prospectus’ staff liked the Astros, as did the fine folks over at CBS and ESPN.

Y’know what’s a great way to dump a big bucket of cold water on some hot preseason expectations? Start your season 6-15. Do that, and you’ll drop your preseason playoff odds by 37% before the end of April and get FanGraphs to write an article saying you’re already in trouble. Another way: start your season 17-28. Do that, and you’ll drop your playoff odds to a season-worst 18% and get Sports Illustrated to write an article wondering if you’re already done. By that point, it was totally reasonable to have written the Astros off, May and all.

Except, y’know what’s a great way to fire those preseason expectations right back up? Win 23 of your next 31, including seven in a row near the end of June. Do that, and you’ll get your get your record back over .500, leapfrog the Mariners in the standings, get your playoff odds back to being a coin flip and get this very article written about you: the Astros have gotten themselves back in it.

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Finding Nimmo: Projecting the Newest Met

Michael Conforto was supposed to be one of the Mets’ top run producers this year. After storming through the minors last year, the 2014 draftee wound up being a crucial part of his team’s run to the World Series last year. The year 2016 hasn’t been as kind to him, however, which prompted the Mets to send him back to the minor leagues. In his place, they called up another young outfielder: Brandon Nimmo.

If you feel you’ve been hearing about Nimmo for a while, it’s probably because you have. The Mets drafted Nimmo in the first round out of high school way back in 2011: a time long, long ago, when Mike Trout was still in the minors and Matt Kemp was in the midst of an eight-win season. Although he’s been around awhile, Nimmo turned just 23 in March, making him younger than Conforto.

Based on his early performances in the Mets’ system, Nimmo looked like something of a bust. He hit just .259/.382/.374 over roughly 300 games the low minors from 2011 to -13, and then proceeded to hit a miserable .202/.306/.238 in the Arizona Fall League. Most concerning of all, he was striking out in over one-fourth of his trips to the plate.

But once the calendar turned to 2014, Nimmo began living up to his first-round draft pedigree. He broke out in a big way when he slashed .322/.448/.458 in his half-season in High-A. He came back to earth a bit following a promotion to Double-A, but still managed to put up solid numbers across the board, all while keeping his strikeout rate under 20%.

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NERD Game Scores: Noah Syndergaard Against the Unknown

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
New York NL at Washington | 19:05 ET
Syndergaard (91.0 IP, 55 xFIP-) vs. Unknown (N/A)
Were one to suggest that Noah Syndergaard faces the unknown tonight in Washington, one would appear to be advancing an existential truth that applies not merely to Syndergaard himself but rather to anyone who’s been tasked with this absurd burden of living. Because, regard: “a perpetual bout with the unknown” certainly isn’t the worst characterization of our works and days. That said, it’s also possible that one, stating that Syndergaard faces the unknown tonight, is merely noting how the Nationals hadn’t named a starting pitcher for this evening’s game. Because they hadn’t. At least not so far as Major League Baseball’s probables page is concerned.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: New York Television.

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Michael Conforto’s Wrist and the Language of the CBA

On Saturday, the New York Mets announced that the team was demoting struggling outfielder Michael Conforto, optioning him to Triple-A Las Vegas. On the one hand, the Mets’ decision to send Conforto back to the minors wasn’t particularly surprising, as the second-year player had been in the midst of a deep slump, hitting just .148/.217/.303 since May 1st.

On the other hand, however, the timing of Conforto’s demotion was potentially a bit controversial in a different respect. As ESPN’s Keith Law noted on Saturday:

Indeed, Conforto reportedly was given a cortisone shot on Tuesday June 14th to treat strained cartilage in his ailing left wrist.

This is potentially significant because Article XIX(C)(1) of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement forbids teams from sending injured major-league players to the minor leagues. As the provision clearly states, “Players who are injured and not able to play may not be assigned to a Minor League club.” Instead, the CBA requires clubs to place injured major-league players on the major-league disabled list.

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NERD Game Scores: Fernandez/Kershaw Double Feature

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Chicago NL (Hammel) at Miami (Fernandez) | 13:10 ET
Los Angeles NL (Kershaw) at Pittsburgh (Kuhl) | 20:08 ET
Does baseball — or any spectator sport, for that matter — amount to little more than an optiate of the masses, a distraction from the centralization of power among a select few whose nearly invisible oppressive force slowly corrodes our humanity? Or, alternatively, does it offer an opportunity to observe the perpetual struggle against circumstance — the agon in Greek — played out in dramatic form, to witness the outlying margins of human potential? “Yes,” is obviously the one possible answer. Today, whatever the Pastime offers, it offers it twice, first in the form of Jose Fernandez at around 1pm ET and then, later, by way of Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Chicago NL Television, Los Angeles NL Radio.

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Sunday Notes: Yonder, Yankees, Dodgers, Pitch Selection, more

Yonder Alonso hasn’t been dealt a generous hand. Drafted seventh overall by the Reds in 2008 out of the University of Miami, the Cuban-born first baseman was shipped to San Diego three years later. The trade took him from one of baseball’s most hitter-friendly venues to one of its least friendly.

Last winter, the Padres sent Alonso to the A’s, who play in an equally unforgiving yard. You have to feel for him. Injuries have influenced his production as well — he’s no stranger to the disabled list — but one can’t help but wonder what his numbers might look like had he spent the last four-plus seasons in a cozier abode.

His splits aren’t extreme, but they’re emblematic. He’s hit .257 with a .697 OPS in home games and .283 with a .739 OPS on the road. Power has been at a premium, as he has just 33 home runs in 2,051 big-league plate appearances.

Alonso has never felt a need to alter his attack plan — “Generally, the way I swing pretty much works in any field” — but he’s aware that where he’s played has impacted his career. Read the rest of this entry »

The Best of FanGraphs: June 20-24, 2016

Each week, we publish north of 100 posts on our various blogs. With this post, we hope to highlight 10 to 15 of them. You can read more on it here. The links below are color coded — green for FanGraphs, brown for RotoGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times and blue for Community Research.
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NERD Game Scores for Saturday, June 25, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Boston at Texas | 21:20 ET
Wright (98.1 IP, 102 xFIP-) vs. Griffin (33.2 IP, 112 xFIP-)
The adjusted xFIP figures for Steven Wright and A.J. Griffin are published here because they’re published for every pitcher scheduled to start in the day’s most highly rated game. Generally, this make sense: whatever a pitcher’s adjusted ERA at any moment, it’s more likely to resemble his xFIP figure going forward. But that’s only generally. Further research on DIPS theory over the last decade-plus has revealed that certain pitchers actually do exhibit signature batted-ball profiles.

Knuckleballers are one sort of pitcher of this sort. As a result, it’s not surprising to find that Wright has produced an ERA over than 30% lower than his xFIP relative to the league (106 xFIP-, 71 ERA-). Likewise, Griffin. He doesn’t possess a knuckleball, but does throw a curve that sits at just under 70 mph. Perhaps as a result of that — and a result of the interaction of that pitch with the rest of his repertoire — he’s conceded a .247 BABIP over 300-plus innings this year, only .237 this year.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Texas Radio.

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NERD Game Scores for Friday, June 24, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Washington at Milwaukee | 20:10 ET
Scherzer (101.1 IP, 79 xFIP-) vs. Davies (69.2 IP, 98 xFIP-)
The reader is likely aware of the how Max Scherzer is talented. The purpose of this brief entry is to note how Zach Davies, while less talented than Max Scherzer, is also probably more talented than the average major-league starter. Here’s one piece of supporting his evidence: for the season, Davies’ run-prevention and fielding-independent numbers are better than average. Here’s a second, related piece: in June, specifically, Davies has produced the 20th-best adjusted xFIP and third-best ERA among 98 qualified starters. Here’s who’s right in front of him on the ERA leaderboard: Michael Fulmer and Steven Wright. Here’s who’s right behind: Max Scherzer — a.k.a. the same pitcher who’s the pitcher Zach Davies opposes tonight.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Milwaukee or Washington Radio.

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Jameson Taillon’s Remarkable Return

Of late, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been remarkable in a rather disappointing way. On May 27, the club was 28-19 and had a 43.7% chance of making the playoffs. Two weeks later, after a sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, Dave Cameron cast considerable doubt on the Pirates’ ability to compete this season. Now, after four weeks and a 6-20 stretch, the team’s playoff odds are down to 2.7% in what figures to be a very competitive wild-card race.

Despite the disappointments of June, the Pirates continue to possess a very good, very young core in the form of Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. That group provides an opportunity to stay competitive in a way most small-market franchises have found incredibly difficult. The emergence of Jameson Taillon can only help those fortunes going forward.

Still just 24 years old, it would be reasonable to assume that Taillon has been taking a fairly standard path to the big leagues, continuing to move up the ranks as he gets older and has more success. That has not been the case, however. Taillon was actually fairly close to the majors three years ago, at 21 years of age, reaching Triple-A in 2013, with a reasonable expectation of finding his way to Pittsburgh the following season. He was consistently ranked among the top 20 or so prospects since having been drafted with the second-overall pick in 2010.

That 2014 season didn’t go as planned, however, and Taillon underwent Tommy John surgery in April of 2014. A solid rehab and recovery would have put him back on the mound sometime in the middle of last season. While trying to ramp up for the rest of the season, Taillon then had surgery for a hernia, recovery from which kept him out the rest of the season. When he headed back to Triple-A this year, he had not made a competitive pitch in over two full seasons. He didn’t look rusty, though, recording 61 strikeouts and just six walks in 61.2 innings of work for Indianapolis. That earned him a promotion to the majors — and, in light of Pittsburgh’s difficulty in finding reliable and healthy starters, his stay in the big leagues should last a while.

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Brian Dozier’s Path Out of the Slump

As May came to an end, I made my way cautiously over to Brian Dozier, who was slashing .202/.294/.329 at the time. Approaching a player in the midst of a slump can go one of two ways — you can either get Brandon Moss and complete honesty about what that battle is like, or you get frustrated non-answers tinged with anger.

Dozier was more of the former — even though his numbers at the time were some of the worst of his career, particularly the ones that concerned balls in play. He didn’t mind, though, since he had a simple solution on which he was working that day. The results were immediate.

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How Much Will Yulieski Gourriel Cost?

Five weeks before the trade deadline, contenders are starting to ramp up discussions on moves that would bolster their rosters for the stretch run, but this year, there’s a wrinkle. For teams looking to add an offensive upgrade, there’s also a free agent to consider: Cuban superstar Yulieski Gourriel. The infielder was the country’s best hitter before he and his brother left the country in pursuit of Major league jobs, and MLB recently cleared him to sign on and get his career underway. Instead of giving up talent from their farm system, a team could simply spend money to add Gourriel, and the ability to upgrade with budget room only has to appeal to a number of clubs.

But, of course, the question will be how much money the 32 year old Gourriel is going to cost. Every team would take him if the price was low enough, but because of the high incentives for large-revenue teams to spend on international free agents, Cuban players have increasingly been getting significant guarantees. And, unfortunately for Gourriel, the last batch of players to cash in after leaving the island have been a miserable failure.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 6/24/16

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

Jeff Sullivan: First chat in a few weeks!

Jeff Sullivan: Let us baseball chat, posthaste

Frank: Is Teheran wearing a Red Sox uniform come August?

Jeff Sullivan: Think of it kind of like World Series odds — the Red Sox might be the team with the greatest probability, but that actual probability is likely no higher than, say, 20%

Jeff Sullivan: So few decent pitchers out there. So many teams looking. Dombrowski might be the most willing to overspend to get what he wants, but I wouldn’t exactly count on that

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and who (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus,’s Jonathan Mayo, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on an updated prospect list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.


Chance Adams, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
Adams debuted among the Five proper last week on the strength (generally) of his season-to-date performance and (specifically) his two most recent starts. The first of those appearances was impressive for the outcome itself: against Pirates affiliate Bradenton, the 21-year-old Adams recorded a 10:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against just 17 batters over 5.0 no-hit innings. The line from the second start was less conspicuously great (5.1 IP, 19 TBF, 3 K, 1 BB) but notable for another reason: it was the product of Adams’ first Double-A appearance. The right-hander recorded his second-ever Double-A start just last night (Thursday) at Orioles affiliate Bowie (box). Adams conceded six runs. Which, that’s not ideal. But he also produced a 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 25 batters. Which, more ideal. And where matters of projecting future success are concerned, it’s the latter of those marks on which one likely ought to dwell.

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Trevor Bauer Looks Like a Completely Different Pitcher

We’ve long known Trevor Bauer as the 21-year-old kid with attitude who shook off Miguel Montero as a rookie. The No. 3 overall pick from 2011 who Terry Francona called stubborn and implored to work more with the coaching staff.

Brian Dozier recently described Bauer to Eno Sarris as someone who “lives up in the zone” and who won’t go away from his strengths to attack Dozier, a high-ball hitter. And while it’s technically still true that Bauer often throws his fastballs high in the zone, it’s an interesting reminder of the perception of what Bauer was in the past, and the reality of what Bauer is now. The perception of Bauer was that he was so transfixed with his own pitching style, he was resistant to change. The reality is now, he couldn’t look more different.

Bauer opened the year in the bullpen after a rough 2015, but found himself back in the rotation after Cody Anderson‘s early season struggles. In 11 starts, he’s got a 2.96 ERA and a 3.22 FIP. Over the last 30 days, he leads the entire majors in WAR among pitchers. But results are results, and without a change in process, there’d be no reason to believe the results should be any different. This is what a complete change in process looks like:
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Miguel Cabrera’s Curious Splits

Baseball never lacks for intriguing story lines. There is always a player breaking out and there is always a player declining. There are Cinderella teams and disappointing collapses. In this sport, you can always find something new and exciting to watch. But this post isn’t about those expectation defying feats. On the contrary, this post is about the predictable and reliable greatness of a guy named Miguel Cabrera and the absurdity dwelling beneath it.

Prior to the start of the season, our Depth Chart projections spit out a 2016 projected slash line of .310/.393/.524 for Cabrera, which amounted to a .387 wOBA. After a disappointing 0-for-5 game yesterday, Cabrera currently sits at .301/.379/.538 with a .383 wOBA. It’s not a perfect match for his projected line, but it’s damn close. His overall production is down from when he was a Triple Crown and MVP winner, but that’s to be expected for a 33-year-old. He’s still a stellar hitter putting up impressive numbers that are well in-line with what we expect to see from the future Hall of Famer. But underneath his cumulative numbers are a couple of jarring splits.

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The White Sox’ Hidden Catastrophe

I was reading through Jon Heyman’s latest Inside Baseball, and then I got to the White Sox section. Within, Heyman said something about Chris Sale, and though it wasn’t specifically about everything that’s going to follow in here, it at least works well enough for me to embed:

Chris Sale’s pitches come from such an unusual angle, it seems to fool umpires. It looked like he had an 0-and-5 count on Nick Castellanos in one at-bat (the actual count was 3-and-2)

Nothing important, really. Just a fleeting thought about one at-bat in particular. OK! Well, as you know, balls and strikes have to do with multiple factors. The pitcher plays a part. The hitter plays a part. The umpire plays a part. Dumb luck plays a part. And the catcher plays a part. In some previous posts, I’ve quickly touched on the White Sox’s catchers. It seems time for something in greater depth, because this has been an awfully big problem for a team that’s badly slipped.

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Andrew McCutchen Clearly Doesn’t Have His Swing

It’s easy to consider over- and underachieving players in isolation. It’s only a little bit harder to put them in context. Below is some context. I exported a spreadsheet of every qualified position player on the season. Then I exported a spreadsheet of all our preseason projections, and I compared the two, looking at actual vs. projected WAR over however many trips to the plate each given player has had. Which players have underachieved expectations the most? Here are 10 names:

Most Underachieving Position Players
Player Actual WAR Projected WAR Difference
Prince Fielder -1.8 0.6 -2.4
Andrew McCutchen 0.4 2.6 -2.2
Giancarlo Stanton 0.2 2.3 -2.1
Justin Upton -0.2 1.6 -1.8
Alcides Escobar -0.8 0.8 -1.6
Jose Abreu -0.2 1.4 -1.6
Adam Jones 0.0 1.5 -1.5
Joey Votto 0.8 2.2 -1.4
Adrian Gonzalez -0.2 1.2 -1.4
Hanley Ramirez -0.1 1.3 -1.4

Prince Fielder is off his expected pace by about two and a half wins, which is absurd and terrible. Not that the Rangers have even really needed his help. But Fielder isn’t the only struggling star player, and right there in second is Andrew McCutchen, whom the Pirates could dearly use. He’s about tied with Giancarlo Stanton, who’s got his own problems, but let’s focus on one player at a time. McCutchen, by now, was supposed to be almost a three-win player. He hasn’t been close to a one-win player, and as he’s sunk, so has the team around him.

The Pirates have a whole lot of issues, sure. And the outfield as a whole has still been productive. Lower-budget teams, however, need their star players to be star players, and McCutchen hasn’t been a star player. It’s because he doesn’t have his swing.

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Todd Frazier’s Batted Ball Problem

Todd Frazier hasn’t been exactly what the White Sox hoped when they traded a slew of prospects for him in the offseason. I mean, yeah, he’s got a share of the MLB home run lead with 21, but everything else has been out of whack. Despite those 21 home runs, Frazier’s actually barely been a league-average hitter, a .201 batting average being the key contributor to a pedestrian 104 wRC+. The stellar base-running Frazier displayed in 2014 has been absent. Any defensive metric suggests Frazier’s once-solid defense has gone into a spiral this year. Frazier’s essentially been an all-or-nothing home run machine, which has amounted to just 0.7 WAR for the year.

You look at the home runs, and you see the potential, but then you look at the mediocre overall batting line, and your eye is drawn to the batting average, because it’s the only thing that’s out of whack. Just .201. Frazier’s not striking out much more than usual, so you look to the BABIP, and you see… .182. Todd Frazier has a .182 batting average on balls in play this year, the lowest in baseball by more than 30 points. Excellent! Regression is near! That’s how BABIP works, right?

Well, yeah, kind of. Frazier will finish the year with a BABIP higher than .182, because surely he’s had some misfortune, but you don’t misfortune yourself all the way to a sub-.200 BABIP almost halfway through the year. More than anything, this is on Frazier.

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