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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 7/20/18

9:05

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:05

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:06

Jack: Who would you take for the rest of their career, Greg Bird or Jake Bauers?

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Bauers. Even though I think they’re both perfectly fine right now, Bird is 25 and Bauers is 22

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: That’s an impossible age gap to overlook

9:07

Ross: So all within the last few weeks, the Kings got Ilya Kovalchuk, the Lakers got LeBron James, and the Dodgers got Manny Machado. Has any city ever had a better month than L.A. just did in terms of exciting acquisitions by their sports teams?

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How Well Do Good Relievers Hold Up?

Many of us went to bed thinking about the Dodgers’ trade for Manny Machado. Many of us then woke up and turned our attention to the Indians’ sudden trade for Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. Travis Sawchik just wrote about the trade at length. Read that, if you’re looking for specifics. Read that, if you’re looking for an explanation of why the Indians gave up a consensus highly-rated prospect. I don’t know what’s actually going to be left for the trade deadline itself, but this has all made for a delightful All-Star week.

From the Indians’ side, this isn’t just about 2018. It’s about 2018 and beyond, because, this coming fall, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen will become free agents. Hand is under contract through 2020, and there’s a club option for 2021. Cimber only just made his debut on March 29. The Indians are thinking both short- and longer-term, and they believe they now have a couple bullpen stalwarts. This is a huge boost for this coming October, but this also reduces the team’s urgency to build out the pen over the winter. The most important pieces might already be in place.

Thinking about the Indians’ side has made me wonder something. Is there actually such a thing as a long-term good reliever? My instinct for a while has been that teams out of the race should try to cash in their good relievers, because the position is just so volatile. I’ve been thinking about nearly every reliever as a short-term value. I wanted to see what the numbers actually say. So here are the results of a quick little study. It didn’t go exactly how I thought.

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The Dodgers Have Rented the Market’s Only Superstar

Among qualified hitters, Manny Machado currently ranks eighth in baseball in wRC+. He ranks 12th in baseball in WAR, despite some ugly defensive numbers that might not reflect his actual talent. This isn’t just a flash in the pan, either; the projections the rest of the way have Machado as a top-ten value. Which is all to say, Manny Machado is all kinds of good. He’s an incredible player months away from becoming a free agent, and it’s been clear he’d be traded since shortly after the season began. It was only a question of where, and for how much. Today we have our answers.

Machado plays for the Dodgers now. The Dodgers had been thought of as a favorite from the moment they lost Corey Seager. They held off for a while — maybe the Orioles couldn’t pull the trigger, or maybe the Dodgers thought they might clever their way in another direction. We are, though, where many people assumed we would eventually be. The Dodgers have rented a new superstar, and the Orioles’ rebuild is finally underway. It will never hurt worse than it hurts at this instant.

Dodgers get:

  • Manny Machado

Orioles get:

With the trade, we learn more about the price of a star-level rental. Let it not be suggested the Dodgers got Machado for cheap. You could see all five of the players going the other way reaching the majors. In rumors, Machado had been linked to teams like the Phillies, Brewers, and Diamondbacks. That’s undoubtedly part of the whole idea.

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The Worst Called Strike of the First Half

As is tradition during the All-Star break, yesterday I wrote about the worst called ball of the first half. Per usual, it was a called ball on a pitch more or less right down the center of the zone. It always has to be that kind of pitch, given the method behind the research in the first place. Called balls like that aren’t very common — there’s no reason for them to be very common — but they always exist. Or, at least, to this point, they have always existed. Baseball has always given me something.

When you write about the worst called ball, it’s also obligatory to write about the worst called strike. The worst called ball is the ball closest to the center of the strike zone. The worst called strike is the strike furthest from the nearest edge of the strike zone. I don’t look forward to this post as much, because the balls down the middle are just funnier to me. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn, or nothing to appreciate. Every bad call is special. Let’s look at the call that’s been the most bad.

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What Do You Think of Your Team’s Manager?

Last weekend, the Cardinals fired manager Mike Matheny. Several teams are and were doing worse than the Cardinals in the standings, but then, the Cardinals hold themselves to a certain standard, and there were mounting concerns regarding not only Matheny’s strategy, but also leadership skills. The clubhouse seemed to be fracturing around him, so management pulled the trigger in the hopes that the season and roster might be salvaged. The response was immediate, and nearly unanimous: It was about time. Over the years, no other manager seemed to attract such a degree of internet criticism.

In a podcast after the firing, Ben Lindbergh and myself wondered who might take Matheny’s place. Not with the Cardinals — that’s Mike Shildt — but on the internet at large. Matheny was probably the most criticized manager in baseball. Now he’s out of work, which means someone else will become the most criticized manager in baseball. Who, though, will it actually be? That conversation led me to this broader polling project. This felt like a question to take straight to the FanGraphs community.

If you’ve been around for any length of time, you know how these things work. Below, you will find a poll for every team. There are actually two polls for the Cardinals. For the sake of consistency, I have to ask about Shildt, but I’m also asking about Matheny, despite the fact that he’s gone. Anyway, for each poll, the question is simple: What do you think of the manager? We don’t talk about managers here a whole lot, but they wouldn’t get paid what they do if they didn’t matter, and I want to evaluate the landscape of community opinions.

I’d ask that you only vote in polls for teams that you care about and follow pretty closely. If you don’t have much of an opinion, that’s fine, and I’m collecting that information, too. Don’t worry if you don’t know whether a manager is actually good. We don’t know if any managers are actually good or actually bad. I just want to know what you all think, because you know more about your own managers than I do. So who am I to pretend I’m all-knowing?

As far as the question is concerned, keep in mind the extent of a manager’s responsibilities. First and foremost, a manager is supposed to serve as a leader of men. Do you sense that a given manager is an effective leader? An effective communicator? The strategy does also matter, too. Do you love or hate how a given manager uses his bullpen? Does he seem particularly creative, or especially stubborn? Compare the current manager to previous managers. Compare to other active managers, if you’d like. I know it basically comes down to gut feelings, but if you have a gut feeling, I want to record it. God knows I can never get enough of another polling project.

Thank you all in advance for your participation. We’ll look at the results either later this week, or early next week. Then we’ll see which manager might take Matheny’s place as an internet punching bag. And we’ll look at everybody else, as well. Who doesn’t love a 1-through-30 ranking? With your assistance, we’ll have that very thing coming up.

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The Worst Called Ball of the First Half

Only days ago, the Red Sox trailed the Blue Jays 8-7 going into the top of the eighth. The Blue Jays might be long past the point of playing for anything, but the Red Sox are still actively trying to hold off the Yankees, and so, with that in mind, every game of theirs is important. The eighth inning was given to Joe Kelly, and with his first pitch, he hit the first batter. With his third pitch, he allowed a single to the second batter. The third batter was Justin Smoak, and consecutive changeups ran the count to 1-and-1. Catcher Sandy Leon expected a breaking ball. Kelly threw a changeup instead.

The pitch — that pitch — was called a ball, with Leon ducking out of surprise. The pitch, of course, was down the middle of the plate, but instead of 1-and-2, the count became 2-and-1. Also, because the ball got away, the runner on second moved up to third. Two pitches later, Smoak hit an RBI single. On the very next pitch, Kendrys Morales hit an RBI double. The Blue Jays pulled away, eventually winning by six. Kelly and Leon were left to wonder how they got crossed up. They were left to wonder, as well, how an obvious strike became a critical ball.

That was almost the worst called ball of the season’s first half. The actual worst called ball, however, came only three days before. Leading up to the All-Star break, we had a little run of these things.

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The A’s Are Being Led From the Back

Last Tuesday, the A’s played probably the most frustrating game of their season. Facing the first-place Astros in Houston, the A’s erased a 4-0 deficit in the top of the ninth. In the 11th, they pulled ahead on a two-out home run, getting the chance to hand a lead to Blake Treinen. The tying run scored on a fielder’s choice, with Jonathan Lucroy unable to handle a throw home. The losing run scored on a tapper that went about five feet, after Lucroy threw the ball away. It was a tough inning for Lucroy, and it was a rough game for Oakland to stomach, because they’d had the Astros just where they’d wanted them. While the A’s had been hot, you never know which loss might get under a team’s skin.

The A’s came back and beat the Astros the next day. They beat them again the day after that, and then they took two of three in San Francisco. Where just weeks ago it looked almost impossible, we’ve gotten to the All-Star break and now we have a wild-card race. The A’s are catching up to the Mariners, and while every run is a function of a number of players, Oakland’s two standouts are at the back of the bullpen.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 7/13/18

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: To my knowledge Manny Machado still hasn’t been traded

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: If it were to happen during the course of this chat, well, I probably wouldn’t know

9:08

Carl: Which Austin would you rather, Barnes or Hedges?

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: For a game today, Barnes. For the longer term, Hedges, since Barnes is three years older

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Kyle Schwarber Bunted With Two Strikes and the Bases Empty

So far, it’s been an exciting season of change for Kyle Schwarber. He showed up to camp in the best shape of his life, and while those stories are typically easy to dismiss, Schwarber has undergone something of a transformation. He’s sitting on what would be a career-high WAR. He’s walking more than he used to, and he’s striking out less than he used to. He’s hitting ground balls more than he used to, but he’s also still hitting for power, because he’s attempting to hit more line drives. Most impressively, Schwarber has turned himself into a pretty good defensive corner outfielder. His range is basically average, and his throwing arm is a weapon. The Cubs always said they believed in Schwarber’s future. We’re seeing the best version of him that there’s been.

There is an entire article to be written about appreciating Kyle Schwarber in general. This article is about appreciating Kyle Schwarber in specific. Because in the ninth inning against the Giants on Wednesday, Schwarber bunted for a single with two strikes and the bases empty. This is one of those plays that just can’t be ignored.

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The Precedent for a Manny Machado Trade

Sometime soon, the Orioles are going to trade their best player. Sometime soon, the Orioles are going to trade one of the best players, period. I’ve seen people worrying that the Orioles might just hang onto Manny Machado through the end of the year, and I understand that, historically, trading with the Orioles has always been complicated, but that would be a bridge too far. There’s just about no way the Orioles would settle for free-agent compensation, here. There’s a blockbuster trade to be made, and there are interesting prospects to be acquired.

So, a Machado trade is virtually inevitable. There is no shortage of suitors. Two factors make this situation unusual. One, Machado is very good. Many good players are traded around the deadline, but few are at Machado’s level. Two, Machado will become a free agent in a matter of months. He’s a rental. Some suitor might think they could win Machado over down the stretch, but that’s unlikely to lead to much of a bargain. Machado’s not signing a contract extension before he hits the market. This should be interpreted first and foremost as a short-term move.

It can be hard to know what would be an appropriate price. How much should someone be willing to give up for Machado? For how much should the Orioles be willing to settle? To this point, the Orioles have asked for more than anyone’s been willing to surrender. That much is self-evident, since Machado is available but there hasn’t yet been an agreement. I think it’s useful to dig into the history. Every trade negotiation is different, conducted under unique circumstances, but there’s value in understanding the precedent. Trades don’t follow precedent in the way that, say, arbitration does, but we can get an idea of what’s going to happen by looking at what has happened. Time to consider a whole bunch of names.

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There’s No Ignoring Jesus Aguilar Anymore

Among qualified hitters this season, Jesus Aguilar is tied for fourth in wRC+. He’s the current National League leader in home runs. He homered yesterday against the Marlins. The day before that, he homered twice against the Braves. At last update, he’s the leader in the NL for the All-Star Game’s Final Vote. Every player in there is good, but Aguilar is perfectly deserving.

Don’t like half-year samples? Since last season began, Aguilar has batted 596 times. He’s put up a 136 wRC+, which matches the wRC+ put up by Anthony Rendon. Mookie Betts is at 135. Nolan Arenado is at 133. Looking at first basemen, Aguilar has been out-hit by only Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, and Paul Goldschmidt. Last season proves that Aguilar is no random flash in the pan.

It’s a bit of a funny coincidence that the Brewers are hurting for a second baseman, because late in the spring in 2017, they dropped Scooter Gennett, who’s turned into an All-Star. Gennett, in a sense, is exactly what the Brewers could use. Just a couple months earlier, though, the Brewers claimed Aguilar, who’s also in the process of turning into an All-Star. There was no room for Aguilar in Cleveland, and then he was in part responsible for there being no room for Gennett in Milwaukee. So as far as second base goes, the Brewers can be only so upset. Aguilar fought for opportunities to prove himself. He’s seized the few chances he’s had.

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Nathan Eovaldi Might Be the Best Starter on the Market

I’ve gone around and around on this point. It’s possible that J.A. Happ is the best starter on the market. I used to think Tyson Ross would be the best starter on the market. And the Mets, of course, could blow everyone away if they start taking real offers for Jacob deGrom. There is no clear favorite; the trade-deadline picture is always cloudy. But I can tell you I’m coming around on Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi is eight starts into the season, now that he’s on the other side of Tommy John surgery, and he’s already recorded three starts of at least six innings with no more than one hit. On Sunday, against the Mets, he made an attempt at a perfect game. All of Eovaldi’s old arm strength remains intact. And now he’s improving on what he does with it.

Back when Eovaldi was younger, back when we understood a little less about pitching, he was somewhat confounding to analysts. It didn’t make immediate sense why someone who threw so hard would allow so much contact. Where we stand today, Eovaldi has what would easily be a career-high strikeout rate. He also has what would easily be a career-low walk rate. I can rattle these things off if you’d like. Among starters this season, Eovaldi ranks first in strike rate. He ranks second in chase rate. He ranks first in the rate of pitches thrown while ahead in the count. He ranks first in the rate of pitches thrown in the zone. Eovaldi is blossoming, and you could argue he has the Yankees and Rays to thank.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 7/6/18

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: I was all prepared to bury the Nationals, and then they came back from down 9-0. That’s the Marlins for you!

9:07

:/: how long can the mariners pretend Ryon Healy is not a 0 WAR player and try something else?

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: The Healy thing is really not going very well

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Not because he’s a bad player, but because he’s an entirely unimproved player

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The Rays Used a Catcher To Protect a Late Lead

No one ever wants to play 16 innings. Pretty much no one ever wants to watch 16 innings, but, certainly, no one ever wants to play them. Even Ernie Banks would want those 16 innings spread over two games, instead of just one. At a certain point, baseball breaks down. The rosters get warped and everyone’s tired, and while you could say it becomes more of a psychological battle than a physical one, the baseball at the end of a marathon resembles only slightly the baseball at the start. There’s a reason Rob Manfred has talked about changing the rules in extra innings, and it’s not because he hates baseball. It’s because, when a game goes too long, the players hate baseball. And based on how few people remain in the stadium, many of the fans do, too.

The Rays and Marlins played 16 innings on Tuesday. The Marlins are out of it, and the Rays might as well be, but there’s no giving up, not in the regular season. Definitely not in early July. The game took place in the NL ballpark, and things inevitably got weird. The Rays, of course, don’t have a conventional pitching staff, so they quickly ran low on pitchers. Meanwhile, over the past three years, no one with at least 150 plate appearances has a lower wRC+ than Dan Straily, but the Marlins were forced into using him as a pinch-hitter. A game that goes 10 feels like it’ll end after 11. A game that goes 15 feels like it’ll end after the heat death of the universe. At any moment, a team might score a run. But after it’s been long enough, scoring feels impossible.

At last, in the 16th, things broke the Rays’ way. The game had been tied at four since the fifth. Then the Rays put up a five-spot. The rally featured an RBI single by long reliever Vidal Nuno, and the hit was his second in as many innings. As Nuno batted in the 16th, he’d thrown only 26 pitches. It looked as if Nuno would be fine to close the game out. Then he ran down the line after contact.

Vidal Nuno strained his hamstring. He was replaced. Though the Rays wound up ahead 9-4, they’d need someone to record three outs. They didn’t turn to their bullpen. They turned to their bench.

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The MLB Landscape of Negative WAR

It’s not that hard to delight in the Astros’ performance. I do understand, of course, that they have a weakening hold on their own division. Somehow, some way, the Mariners have managed to keep up. But if you look beyond just wins and losses, the Astros are tied for baseball’s highest team wRC+. They have baseball’s lowest ERA-, and FIP-, and xFIP-. The Astros have baseball’s highest run differential, and the gap between first and second is 50 runs, which on its own would be one of the higher run differentials around. By Pythagorean record, the Astros are easily in first place. By BaseRuns as well, they’re easily in first place. The Astros are an excellent team that has still found a way to underperform. That’s not an easy thing to do.

So there’s no shortage of places to find Houston Astros fun facts. Some of them reflect the bigger picture. Some of them reflect the smaller pictures. I was reminded of something today, when the Astros placed Brian McCann on the DL, and called up Tim Federowicz. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a Tim Federowicz fun fact; I wouldn’t do that to you. But in his tiny slice of 2018 big-league playing time, Federowicz has put up a -0.1 WAR. Keep that in mind, will you?

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We Can’t Not Talk About the Royals

The Royals lost on Monday, 9-3. No big deal — the Royals lose a lot, plus, the opposing starter was Corey Kluber. You’re going to lose most of the time to Corey Kluber. Earlier, the Royals lost on Sunday, 1-0. Also no big deal — they’re still the Royals, plus, the opposing starter was James Paxton. You’re going to lose most of the time to James Paxton. As the calendar has flipped from June to July, the Royals have been given an impossible task, and there’s little shame in defeat. You could forgive the Royals for what they’ve most recently done.

But there’s recent-recent, and then there’s just regular-recent. “Recent” is a subjective word, absent any cutoff. As far as early July is concerned, with the Royals, there’s nothing to talk about. It’s when you fold in June that the situation starts to look embarrassing. Over the past several weeks, at the plate in particular, the Royals have been historically bad. I’m not using “historically” to get your attention. I’m using it because the Royals’ struggles have been historic.

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The Mariners Are Trying to Be the Clutchiest Team on Record

The Rays lost a one-run decision in Miami Monday night, and it didn’t matter. I’m sure it mattered to the Marlins, and I’m sure it mattered to the Rays, but it didn’t really matter in the standings. Not as far as the playoff race is concerned. In the hunt for the AL’s second wild card, the Rays are in fourth place, but they’re separated from the first-place Mariners by 11.5 games. The Angels are 11 games back, and the A’s are the nearest competition, at eight behind. Nothing is actually yet set in stone, but it feels like we know the AL’s five playoff teams before we even reach the Fourth of July.

In some other universe, not much is different, except for everything. In this other universe, teams have win-loss records that match their run differentials. If you arrange by Pythagorean records, the Mariners still hold the second wild card, but they’re only one up on the Angels. They’re two up on the A’s, and they’re two and a half up on the Rays.

And then there’s the universe where everything goes according to BaseRuns. The inputs are the same as they are here, but the outputs simply make more sense. If you arrange by BaseRuns records, the Rays take over the lead for the second wild card. They’re a half-game up on the Mariners, and then there’s a little more room before the A’s and the Angels. According to the only standings that matter to us, the Rays are out of it. Basically everyone behind the Mariners is out of it. According to what you’d expect would have happened, there would be a tight race. In those other universes, there’s stress. There’s a far greater degree of uncertainty.

Not so. The Mariners have found a separator. They’ve pulled well away from all of their wild-card competition, and they’ve done so by being the clutchiest bunch of clutches that ever clutched.

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The Weirdest Player in the Minors Is Now in the Majors

When you do this as a full-time job, you spend a lot of time looking at the numbers. And when you spend a lot of time looking at the numbers, you start to notice certain outliers. Then you start to root for certain outliers. It’s hard to be a fan of a team, when you’re supposed to write about everyone objectively. So you settle on other interests. The Twins just called up an interest.

The Twins selected the contract of catcher/infielder Willians Astudillo from Triple-A Rochester. Astudillo appeared in 49 games for the Red Wings this season, hitting .290 (51-for-176) with 12 doubles, seven home runs and 25 RBI.

Astudillo is now on the roster at the expense of Felix Jorge. Or, if you want to look at it differently, he’s on the roster at the expense of Taylor Motter. Jorge was designated for assignment, and Motter was placed on the disabled list. And I don’t think the Twins want to be here; they’d rather be higher in the standings. They’d rather have a healthy Jason Castro. They’d rather have a productive Miguel Sano. The Twins would like to have a lot more things going right. But there’s the story of the team, and there are the stories of the team’s individual players. Circumstances have permitted Astudillo to reach the majors for the first-ever time. I’m sure he doesn’t care about the explanation. Astudillo has been a career-long outlier, and now he’ll receive his first major-league paycheck.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 6/29/18

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:07

Nick: Who is the biggest threat to the Mariners in the second AL WC spot. Is it really the A’s?

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Basically has to be the A’s

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: They’re seven back. The next-closest team is the Angels, at ten back, and they’ve been completely decimated by injuries

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Rays are 11 back. Blue Jays, 13. Twins, 13.5. It’s the A’s or it’s nobody

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The Most Unhittable Arm in the Minors

The most unhittable arm in the minors is a 24-year-old lefty reliever. Two months ago, he was selected as a player to be named later in a major-league trade swung in February. He’s never made a prospect list of any significance, be it league-wide or organizational, and he doesn’t have any video clips on the official Minor League Baseball website. Whenever we write posts here, we’re supposed to include photos to go out to accompany the tweets, and I had to use a photo of the player from his previous club. I didn’t even know how to pronounce the guy’s last name until this morning.

The most unhittable arm in the minors is Colin Poche. Last year, he led the minor leagues in strikeout rate. This year, he again leads the minor leagues in strikeout rate, having increased his own strikeout rate by a dozen points despite going up against much stiffer competition. When Poche pitched in High-A last year, he struck out 37% of the hitters. In Double-A this year, he struck out 60% of the hitters. In Triple-A this year, he’s struck out 50% of the hitters. All year long, over 41.1 innings, he’s allowed just three runs. He’s allowed an OBP of .185, and he’s allowed a slugging percentage of .184. Colin Poche is turning in one of the most unbelievable performances you might ever see. Better still, it’s not entirely clear how he’s doing it.

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