Pirates Spring Training

Well, Pedro Alvarez got off to a nice start in spring training, for whatever that’s worth.

Alvarez “went oppo”, although against a right-handed pitcher.

And new acquisition Jung Ho Kang took one out to right-center.

All in all, it was just nice to be able to pop open a window on my PC with a live baseball game going on.

I can only manage so much excitement about March baseball, but still…

Fangraphs on Pedro Alvarez

Pedro Alvarez

Pedro Alvarez

Owen Watson took a nice look at Pedro Alvarez’s 2014 season over at Fangraphs.

Watson makes a point for Alvarez being a key player to watch for the Bucs this season, especially as I’ve seen prognosticators picking them anywhere between 1st and 3rd in the division.

Where they end up could have much to do with the free-swinging lefty, who might be platoon player at this point in his career.

Alvarez has been moved across the diamond to play full-time at first base as a result of numerous throwing errors from the hot corner.

Last season he led Major League Baseball with 25 errors at third base.  In 2nd place was the Oakland Athletics’ Josh Donaldson, who made 23.

Here’s the interesting thing, though.  Donaldson made 23 errors in 150 games at 3B.  Alvarez’s 25 came in just 99 games.

His fielding percentage was an abysmal .924, a smidge below the Tribe’s Lonnie Chisenhall (.931 in 114 games) among players with a significant amount of playing time.

Although his homer totals were cut in half (down from 36 to 18), the trend on his plate discipline numbers suggest he could rebound this season.

You can see Watson’s full article here.

Grantland’s “The 30″ Debuts

Grantland

Grantland

Your favorite Canadian, Jonah Keri, made his first list of “The 30″ for the 2015 season yesterday and here’s where you find your NL Central teams.

#25 Milwaukee Brewers

I saw a report on MLB Network this weekend where the Brew Crew still plans on using Adam Lind at first base against lefties.  Really?

Career slash line for Lind:

vs RHP: 293/349/510
vs LHP: 212/257/331

And I know as a good Sabermetrician I shouldn’t consider striking out to be quite the bogey man it used to be, but against righties he is striking out in 17% of all plate appearances, but 26% versus lefties.

Last season he went 2-for-33 (you read that right) against lefties.  But this reporter was talking about how Lind hit .275 against southpaws in 2009.  Ya, as recently as six seasons ago.  Since then you’ll find a lot of seasons where he was .240, .210, and worse.  It’s a bad idea, guys.

Keri’s interested in seeing how Mike Fiers does in the rotation for Milwaukee, but it could be a long season for Brewers’ fans.

Couple this with a farm system that most have ranked among the five worst in baseball, being in the same division with those that rank either best (Cubs) or in the top 10 (Pirates) and you have the makings of a rough back half to this decade.

#21 Cincinnati Reds

Keri is all about the comeback candidates – Tony Cingrani and Joey Votto.

I admit I’m finding it hard to get too amped up about watching games involving either the Brewers or Reds.

These next three teams, however…

#11 Pittsburgh Pirates

What?! Jonah, seriously? I’m hearing lots of folks who have pegged the Bucs to win the Central, but Keri has them third in the division. What gives?

Keri praises them in some regards, noting how far ahead of the curve they are in using analytics and routinely out-performing expectations as a result, but ultimately points to the Rise of the Cubs as something they will be unable to keep up with.

Me? I’m not so sure.  Not in 2015 anyhow.

#9 Chicago Cubs

Hard not to be excited about Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler this season.  The rotation is as solid as they come, 1 through 5.

But Lester’s putting miles on that arm, and it’s hard not to be at least somewhat concerned that something will befall him.

Keri is impressed with the Cubs’ overall depth.  There’s not necessarily an MVP candidate on the team, but there’s enough here where the whole could be greater than the sum of the parts.

Or something…

#6 St. Louis Cardinals

This is how I feel about the Cards as well: “they always seem to find a way”.

I used to look at the Cards every season and just think “No”.

Either they weren’t talented on paper or they were injured or they lacked depth or Tony LaRussa had problems with alcohol.

Yet every year you find them in the race come September.  So I finally gave up and decided that, every year, I will expect them to win the division.

Sure – there are questions.  Wainwright’s elbow and Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina’s birth certificates (they’re really old…), but it just seems like something always comes together for St. Louis in the end.

If you’d like to read Keri’s full list, it’s right over here.

Followed by McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen

I can’t shake Andrew McCutchen.

It seems like every time I turn on the TV or open up my RSS reader, there’s Andrew McCutchen – front and center.

Which is actually fine by me.

Regarding pure talent on the field, it’s hard for me to name a player in the division who I enjoy watching play the game more than McCutchen.

At the risk of turning into one of those “get off my lawn!” types, I appreciate the way he goes about his job.  I don’t see him taking it easy at any point during the game.

He’s focused.  Locked in.

And when I see him interviewed or read something that he’s written or spoken about, I come away ever more impressed.

I still can’t believe he signed a long-term contract to remain with the Bucs.

I don’t mean that in an incredulous way.  More so I mean that I’m highly impressed that he was willing to take “enough” money to stay with the team that drafted him, developed him and believes in him rather than eyeing the big pay day with a larger market franchise down the road.

And honestly, if you’ve ever been to PNC Park, why would you want to play anywhere else?  It’s a gorgeous field.

The thought of bringing a championship back to the Steel City for the first time since 1979 seems pretty exciting as well.

It should be an interesting season in Pittsburgh.  They’re considered by many to be the favorites to win the NL Central.

Like McCutchen, I’ll have my eye on them throughout the season.

Injuries Abound

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright

As we head towards the first games of spring training for the 2015 season, I can’t help but notice that injuries are already dominating the headlines.

In some cases, recent injuries.  In others, injuries carrying over into camp.

The lead story for the Cardinals is Adam Wainwright’s abdominal strain.  There is a focus on whether or not he’ll be ready to go on Opening Night.  Or, for that matter, if he should go on Opening Night.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of the new-look Cubs trotting out Jon Lester to face Waino at Wrigley Field the night of Sunday, April 5th had me pretty giddy.

Lester versus Lance Lynn?  I mean…  baseball will be back, so that’s nice and all.  But it’s a little less thrilling.

More battered pitchers with Homer Bailey throwing 20 pitches in recovery mode for Cincinnati.  And young Pirates starter Jameson Tailon is also recovering from Tommy John surgery.

For position player injuries, look no further than Milwaukee, where Ryan Braun’s thumb is getting a lot of attention.

We still have five more weeks of every team having a 0-0 record and yet we’re already focused on how these teams are being affected by injuries.

It’s a little discouraging.

Bleacher Report’s Top 5-Tool Prospects

Bleacher Report has a look at what they consider each team’s top “5-Tool” Prospect headed into the 2015 season.

Their nominees include Cubs SS Addison Russell, Reds OF Yorman Rodriguez, Brewers MI Luis Sardinas, Pirates 2B Alen Hanson, and Cardinals OF Stephen Piscotty.

From Mike Rosenbaum’s projections for each:

Addison Russell – High on-base guy who will hit doubles and triples. May be a 20/20 guy. Great at charging grounders with a plus arm.

Yorman Rodriguez – Strong arm. Destroys fastballs, but weak on breaking stuff. Might be a 4th outfielder.

Luis Sardinas – Switch-hitter with plus speed. Solid in the field.

Alen Hanson – Switch-hitter with extra-base power, more from the left side. Good fielding, but arm strength limits him to second base.

Stephen Piscotty – Plus arm in right, but lacking the power expected of a corner outfielder. Nice approach at the plate.

30 Clubs in 30 Days

30 Clubs in 30 Days

30 Clubs in 30 Days

“MLB Tonight” (over there on the MLB Network) begins it’s annual “30 Clubs in 30 Days” feature on March 3rd.

Throughout the episode you’ll get feature stories on the focus team for the day, interviews, previews, yada yada yada.

Here are the dates and times for the NL Central:

Wednesday, March 4th @ 7 PM (ET) – Milwaukee Brewers
Friday, March 6th @ 7 PM (ET) – Chicago Cubs
Saturday, March 14th @ 10 PM (ET) – Cincinnati Reds
Thursday, March 19th @ 7 PM (ET) – St. Louis Cardinals
Saturday, March 28th @ 7 PM (ET) – Pittsburgh Pirates

On the Cubs Prospects

Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant

Lately I’ve heard a lot of incredibly stupid phone calls to Chicago sports radio, lamenting that all the hype over the Chicago Cubs’ prospects is just that – hype.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Callers bring up names of such vaunted former prospects as Brooks Kieschnik, Felix Pie and Corey Patterson.

“How’d those guys work out for you, Cubs fans?”

Here’s the thing.

Aside from Patterson, none of those players mentioned above were ever actually considered good prospects.

Sure, you had some Cubs fans who said guys like Kieschnik and Pie were going to be superstars that would lead the long-suffering franchise to the Promised Land.

But national publications (whose job it is to objectively analyze prospects) never suspected Kieschnik or Pie of being great future ballplayers.

After the 1993 season, Kieschnik was rated Baseball America’s #44 prospect. Nice, sure. But not the kind of ranking reserved for a future perennial All-Star.  Or, for that matter, a once-in-a-while All-Star.

After the 2002 season, Pie debuted on Baseball America’s prospect lists at #72. Seventy-two! Four years later he was still only on the prospect lists, having moved up marginally to #49 on the list.

To compare players who weren’t even in the Top 40 of Baseball America’s prospect lists to the likes of Kris Bryant (#1), Addison Russell (#3) and Jorge Soler (#12) is insanity.

For comparison, here are the trio of #1, #3 and #12 prospects from some recent seasons.

2013: Jurickson Profar, Oscar Tavares, Tyler Skaggs

2012: Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Gerrit Cole

2010: Jason Heyward, Giancarlo Stanton, Alcides Escobar

Yes, these are prospects. Things can (and often do) happen.

The two most recent Cubs’ prospects who actually were highly rated were Patterson and Mark Prior.  And, truth be told, both started out as players who might have been consistent All-Stars.

Patterson (rated #2 by Baseball America) was off to a pretty decent 2003 season. He had a 1.8 WAR in nearly 90 games before he lost the rest of his season (and maybe career) to an ACL injury that summer.

Mark Prior (also rated #2 by Baseball America) posted a 7.4 WAR in 2003 – tops in the National League.  The next season, a baseline collision with Atlanta Braves’ second baseman Marcus Giles kick-started an injury-plagued ending to a promising career.

There are no guarantees. This is understood.  Injuries happen.

But don’t confuse things. The hopes pinned to Bryant, Russell and Soler by scouts at the national level is not the same as those pinned to Kieschnik and Pie.

Cynicism surrounding the Chicago Cubs, I get.

But any comparisons of the current crop of Cubs’ prospects to the likes of Brooks Kieschnik and Felix Pie is a bad one.

The last time national publications felt this good about the current collection of Cubs prospects hearkens back to that duo of Patterson and Prior coming up in 2002 and then blossoming in 2003 – a season in which the franchise came within five outs of their first pennant since 1945.

2013 NL Central: Underwhelming

It’s a brand new season and I couldn’t be more excited.

Disclaimer: My household is “mixed”. I was raised a Cubs’ fan (although I would describe myself as a baseball fan first and Cubs’ fan second) and my wife is a (born-again) Cardinals’ fan.  After seeing an ad in SI for new Directv subscribers getting MLB Extra Innings included for free this season, well… Goodbye, Comcast. (We’re also saving $70 a month in cable bills, which ain’t too shabby.)

That being said, I’m no longer beholden to just being able to watch games that are local to the Chicago market and with the offerings here, that’s quite a relief.

While I did watch the Cubs’ Opening Day win against the Pirates, the last 3 nights have afforded me the chance to watch Matt Moore and the Rays shut down the Tribe, a couple of Cardinals games against the Giants, Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers befuddle the Bucs, and a late one last night catching up on the Brewers’ 11-inning loss to the D-Backs.

One thing I was really thinking about after having watched some of these other teams is the presence of real “shut-down” guys like Moore and Kershaw. These are pitchers that you can pretty well depend on to put an end to a losing streak. Night in, night out, there’re a solid bet to give you 7 innings and 2 runs or fewer allowed.

Then I got to thinking about the NL Central and asked myself “Who are the guys here that are like that? Is there anybody?”

I had trouble coming up with anyone.

You read the sections in SI’s Baseball Preview Issue where “A Rival Scout” sizes up the team and you routinely see things about some guy that’s the #2 or 3 pitcher on some team’s staff “would be the ace on 10 teams in the league”.

I think that’s a disservice to the term “ace”.

More than anything, I think that it’s a statement on how shoddy the pitching staffs are on some teams around the league. It might be more accurate to say “This guy would be the Opening Day pitcher for 10 teams around the league”, but if he were on a competitive team he’d be a #2 or 3.

That being said, here’s some thoughts on NL Central teams after one week of play…

Cincinnati Reds (4-2, 1 Game Ahead, Offense: 2nd, Defense: 6th)

It’s early, but things are pretty much shaping up as expected so far in the division. The Reds and Cardinals were expected by most to be the contenders, the Brewers in the middle of the pack, and the Pirates and Cubs battling for last place.

The Reds are the one team I haven’t yet had a chance to check out this season, but I plan to tune in to every game of their series that starts up today against the Redbirds.

St. Louis Cardinals (3-3, 1 Game Back, Offense: 4th, Defense: 8th)

Not sure what to make of this team just yet. First off, I got tired of looking at the Cards’ every off-season and thinking “this looks like a .500 team – at BEST” and then watching them rattle off another division title, so I’m just picking them to win the division every year for the rest of my life, regardless of how they look.

I know they’ve got some real promising youngsters who are either on the team already (like some of their pitchers) or will be soon. I can only imagine Oscar Tavares is just a Carlos Beltran injury away from getting called up.

I’m sure when the dust settles, they’ll be right up there at the top again, but I’m very curious to see how they pair up against Cincy this week.

That 9-run inning against the Giants yesterday was certainly a positive thing, though.

If Pete Kozma bats .300 all year, then maybe there’s some sort of Faustian bargain going on here… Keep an eye on that.

Chicago Cubs (2-4, 2 Games Back, Offense: 14th, Defense: 7th)

The Cubs took 2 of 3 against the Pirates to start the season and then laid a turd while getting swept by the Braves, mercifully losing “closer” Carlos Marmol in the process.

Jeff Samardzija is probably the only reason I would tune in to watch this team right now, although if I were a scout, I’d certainly tune in to watch and see if Scott Feldman or Carlos Villanueva will carry any trade value.  Ditto for Matt Garza if/when he comes back.

Anthony Rizzo’s swing looks a little out of control right now, but when he connects he’s gonna’ clobber it.

Samardzija looked awful in the first inning of Opening Day – unable to get ahead in the count and working out of jams, but he escaped, turned it around and had a solid day for himself, which is encouraging.

One thing I thought went unappreciated on Opening Day was Starlin Castro’s defense at short. He had 3 or 4 plays where he had to range into the whole to get to the ball and he came up with nice, steady, smooth, controlled, (more adjectives) throws over to first to get the batter. No panic there.

Pittsburgh Pirates (1-5, 3 Games Back, Offense: 15th, Defense: 2nd)

If I were a Pirates’ fan, I think Pedro Alvarez would drive me nuts.

He looks more like a fullback than a ball player. I know he can drive the ball out of the park on any given swing, but he’s off to another fabulous 2-for-22 start and his splits against southpaws are just horrendous.

A lifetime triple-slash line of 206/277/348 against LHP versus 246/320/450 against RHP. The latter is nothing to write home about, but the former is enough for me think I’d leave this guy on the bench when a lefty is starting.

Come to think of it, my patience in using him against righties would also be wearing thin right about now.

On the plus side, through 2 starts A.J. Burnett has looked pretty awesome. 19 K in 11 IP and 2 losses to show for it thanks to match-ups against Smardzija and Kershaw.  Sell high, Pirates!

Milwaukee Brewers (1-5, 3 Games Back, Offense: 8th, Defense: 13th)

Yovani Gallardo fits my notes above about an “ace” versus a “#1″. He’s the latter.

I watched him against Arizona on Sunday and thought “This is their stud?”

He had a few moments where he was solid, but overall I’m just not seeing the kind of dominant, “puts guys away” stuff that I’d like to see from my #1 pitcher.

Maybe he turns it around…

Brewers’ broadcasters went on and on about Logan Schafer’s terrific outfield play, but every time I saw a fly ball hit his way in left field I saw a guy who took a bad approach to the ball.

He looked utterly spastic and reminded me a bit of what a newborn horse looks like trying to walk for the first time.

Granted he had a nice throw to the plate on a double play fly out, but… I’m not impressed.

He also looked pretty lost at the plate in the handful of ABs I got to catch.  Maybe it was just a bad night.

They get the chance to right the ship and end a 5-game losing streak with a series against the Cubs to start out the week here.

Their week ended by being forced to use Kyle Lohse as a pinch-hitter against Heath Bell and I’m sure the team is eager to erase that memory as soon as possible.

On the Sophomore Jinx

From Tom Verducci’s column “Washington’s Monument” in this week’s Sports Illustrated:

“Of the 32 pitchers and 47 position players who received Rookie of the Year Award votes from 2007 to ’11, 59 had a worse ERA or OPS in their follow-up act – a 74% attrition rate.”

But so what? In order to receive ROY votes, you need to have had a phenomenal, better-than-ordinary season.

Do you know what usually happens after a great player has a great season?

They regress!  Sometimes a little.  Sometimes a lot.  When you’ve had good enough numbers to receive a 1st place vote for the ROY Award, it’s likely that you just had a season in which you put up really great numbers.  Really great numbers are also really difficult to repeat year in, year out.

To be honest, while looking at the sentence in Verducci’s column that seemed to state support of the sophomore jinx, I was left thinking “74% attrition rate? That’s all? I would’ve guessed higher.”

Never mind that OPS and ERA are not the greatest barometers for success. Let’s stick with Verducci’s stats and see what happened with MVP and Cy Young vote-getters from the same time period.

I’m considering all non-pitchers who received 1st place MVP votes and all pitchers who received 1st place Cy Young votes from 2007 to ’11 and then seeing if they dropped off in OPS or ERA the following year.

A couple of notes:

1. I’m excluding Brandon Webb from the ERA tally the year following his 1st place votes for Cy Young because he made just one appearance the following season.  We’ll leave his 13.50 ERA out of this.

2. In the case of a couple pitchers who were traded between leagues (Sabathia, Lee), I am including their complete stats for the season, not just their NL (or AL) numbers.

For the more Sabermetrically inclined, I’ve also included WARb.

+ denotes that a player improved in this category the following year
– denotes that a player declined in this category the following year
* denotes that I am disqualifying the rate statistic due to lack of 125 PA or 50 IP in the following season

SEASON NEXT SEASON NEXT
MVP OPS OPS WAR WAR
2011 AL Jacoby Ellsbury 928 682 - 8.0 0.8 -
2011 AL Jose Bautista 1056 886 - 7.7 3.2 -
2011 AL Curtis Granderson 916 811 - 5.3 2.7 -
2011 AL Miguel Cabrera 1033 999 - 7.3 6.9 -
2011 AL Michael Young 854 682 - 2.1 -2.4 -
2011 NL Ryan Braun 994 987 - 7.7 6.8 -
2011 NL Matt Kemp 986 906 - 7.8 2.3 -
2011 NL Prince Fielder 981 940 - 4.3 4.4 +
2011 NL Justin Upton 898 785 - 5.7 2.1 -
2010 AL Josh Hamilton 1044 882 - 8.4 3.5 -
2010 AL Miguel Cabrera 1042 1033 - 6.1 7.3 +
2010 AL Jose Bautista 995 1056 + 6.6 7.7 +
2010 NL Joey Votto 1024 947 - 6.7 6.2 -
2010 NL Albert Pujols 1011 906 - 7.3 5.1 -
2009 AL Joe Mauer 1031 871 - 7.6 5.5 -
2009 AL Miguel Cabrera 942 1042 + 4.7 6.6 +
2009 NL Albert Pujols 1101 1011 - 9.4 7.3 -
2008 AL Dustin Pedroia 869 819 - 6.8 5.5 -
2008 AL Justin Morneau 873 878 + 3.9 3.2 -
2008 AL Kevin Youkilis 958 961 + 6.0 6.3 +
2008 AL Joe Mauer 864 1031 + 5.3 7.6 +
2008 NL Albert Pujols 1114 1101 - 9.0 9.4 +
2008 NL Ryan Howard 881 931 + 1.5 3.5 +
2007 AL Alex Rodriguez 1067 965 - 9.2 6.5 -
2007 AL Magglio Ordonez 1029 869 - 6.9 1.8 -
2007 NL Jimmy Rollins 875 786 - 6.0 5.3 -
2007 NL Matt Holliday 1012 947 - 5.8 5.6 -
2007 NL Prince Fielder 1013 879 - 3.4 1.3 -
SEASON NEXT SEASON NEXT
CY ERA ERA WAR WAR
2011 AL Justin Verlander 2.40 2.64 - 8.3 7.6 -
2011 NL Clayton Kershaw 2.28 2.53 - 6.3 6.2 -
2011 NL Roy Halladay 2.35 4.49 - 8.5 0.7 -
2011 NL Ian Kennedy 2.88 4.02 - 4.7 2.1 -
2010 AL Felix Hernandez 2.27 3.47 - 6.8 3.4 -
2010 AL David Price 2.72 3.49 + 4.4 2.4 -
2010 AL CC Sabathia 3.18 3.00 + 4.4 7.0 +
2010 NL Roy Halladay 2.44 2.35 + 8.3 8.5 +
2009 AL Zach Greinke 2.16 4.17 - 10.1 3.2 -
2009 AL Felix Hernandez 2.49 2.27 + 5.6 6.8 +
2009 AL Justin Verlander 3.45 3.37 + 5.2 4.1 -
2009 NL Tim Lincecum 2.48 3.43 - 7.1 3.0 -
2009 NL Chris Carpenter 2.24 3.22 - 6.3 2.7 -
2009 NL Adam Wainwright 2.63 2.42 + 6.0 5.9 -
2008 AL Cliff Lee 2.54 3.22 + 6.5 4.1 -
2008 AL Roy Halladay 2.78 2.79 - 5.9 6.6 +
2008 NL Tim Lincecum 2.62 2.48 + 7.6 7.1 -
2008 NL Brandon Webb 3.30 **** 5.4 -0.2 -
2008 NL Johan Santana 2.53 3.13 - 6.9 3.1 -
2008 NL CC Sabathia 2.70 3.37 - 6.4 5.9 -
2007 AL CC Sabathia 3.21 2.70 + 6.0 6.4 +
2007 AL Josh Beckett 3.27 4.03 - 6.2 3.1 -
2007 AL John Lackey 3.01 3.75 - 6.0 3.3 -
2007 NL Jake Peavy 2.54 2.85 - 5.9 3.8 -

Well will you look at that!  All this time we’ve been concerned with the sophomore jinx when what we should have been concerned with was the more general “Year After Being Considered for a Major Award Jinx!”

Okay, not really…

To summarize:

* Hitters who did not receive 1st place votes the year after receiving 1st place votes for MVP – 23 of 28, 82% attrition rate
* Hitters whose OPS tailed off the year following 1st place votes for MVP – 22 of 28, 79% attrition rate
* Hitters whose WAR tailed off the year following 1st place votes for MVP – 20 of 28, 71% attrition rate

* Pitchers who did not receive 1st place votes the year after receiving 1st place votes for Cy Young – 20 of 24, 83% attrition rate
* Pitchers whose ERA tailed off the year following 1st place votes for Cy Young – 14 of 23, 61% attrition rate
* Pitchers whose WAR tailed off the year following 1st place votes for Cy Young – 19 of 24, 79% attrition rate

Do you know why players who receive Rookie of the Year Award votes have numbers that drop off the following season?

For the exact same reason that players who received 1st place MVP and Cy Young Award votes have numbers that drop off the following season.

The answer?  Because players who receive those votes have put up phenomenal numbers that season and phenomenal numbers are – by their nature – incredibly difficult to improve upon.

While I haven’t done it, I’m fairly certain that you could also see similar attrition rates among guys who were the HR leaders each season and guys who won MVP Awards in the NBA

I’ll even bet that the attrition rate of folks who had previously set a world record in the 100 meter dash is fairly high.

Exceptional performances are exceptional because they are rare and extremely difficult to achieve, let alone improve upon from one season to the next.

This is not evidence of a jinx of any sort. There is no sophomore jinx. There is no “year after” curse associated with awards. It’s all to be expected.

It’s hard to improve upon what was already amazing.

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