Where Do We Go From Here? 2009: I. Do the Braves need offense?

2009 Atlanta Braves Batting Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

The strength of the Braves in 2009 was, it is said, pitching. There’s a lot to be said for this. They finished fourth in the NL in fewest runs allowed per game with 3.96; they actually allowed one more than third-place St. Louis, and the other teams ahead of them (SF and LA) have big park advantages. Their quality start percentage was the best in the league. The bullpen wasn’t that great, but certainly there’s nothing that the pitching has to be ashamed of, especially as they were working with a generally poor defense.

Yet, the Braves missed the playoffs, so it must have been the hitting. But the hitting wasn’t that bad! The Braves scored 4.54 runs per game, sixth in the league. Only the Dodgers were ahead of them in both offense and defense. The Braves were fifth in on-base percentage, the most important component in scoring runs.

The Braves’ pythagorean record was 90-72, four games better than their actual record and even with the Rockies, just two behind the Phillies. Before they took the last six games off, the Braves’ pythagorean record was usually ahead of the Phillies for the last two months. The Braves’ projected records have generally trailed their real records the last few years. Some will blame this on Bobby Cox. I tend to think that it’s just one of those things.

The projections do go to another level; it’s not just that the Braves’ runs scored and runs allowed show that they “should” be better than they are, but their offensive statistics show a team that “should” score more runs than it does. The problem is that the Braves don’t score the number of runners that they should considering their team OBP and SLG. Even considering the lack of home run power that hurt the team most of this past year, they stranded a lot of runners. I’ve noted that the Braves had a lot of trouble scoring runners from first on doubles and second on singles. They’re a slow team. I pretty much discount stolen bases, but a good way to tell is that the Braves were third in the NL in doubles — and last in triples.

Do the Braves need offense? Remaking the team to add speed seems like a dumb idea to me. Wren has done a good job fixing the pitching staff while adding some offensive help around the edges, but there’s little more he can do at that level. What they need is power, a big bopper in the middle of the order, to score those guys who are jogging around the bases. Jason Heyward might be that guy someday, but not yet. Adam Laroche did some of that, but I don’t think you can rely on him even if the Braves re-sign him. They would have to look outside for a big hitter, and it would be costly.

I think they have to look.

63 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here? 2009: I. Do the Braves need offense?”

  1. Mac,

    The only decent explanation for the negative primary pythag is the manager. Random chance isn’t random when it happens over and over.

    3rd order (on the scoring side) is almost certainly slow base runners. Just Diaz / Church in left and Heyward in right will pick that up a little. Otherwise, there isn’t much reasonble that can be done.

    The slow thing also produces a dilemma on “the bat,” Braves need some speed with a bat.

    The team gets its opportunity to underpeform pythag one more time next year. the, maybe we can hem up that pesky thing.

    With this team, rather than a bat, I owuld think I would spend the money on a “shut down pen”. i would hire Towers to put it together. If we had 5 guys that could really dominate in bullpen with any 5 of our 6 starters, then if we score just like second half (post Schaffer fof McLouth, post KJ for Prado, post Francoeur for Diaz / Church and swap Garret’s offense for Hewyard’s) it is a playoff team.

  2. Seems to me, this season is best evaluated pre-trade(s) and post-trade(s).

    Wish we had this bunch for 162. Our lineup certainly wasn’t terrifying, but it was good enough for the long haul.

    Doing 162 with ShafferFranKotch would’ve been painful to watch.

  3. The Braves can move Lowe and part of his salary first or they will have to trade Javy.

    Do you sign Laroche and try and move Freeman? Could we get Hunter Pence? Corey Hart? Andre Ethier? Nelson Cruz?

    I think of all of those, Cruz might be the lost likely.

  4. I wasn’t his biggest fan, but I suspect we’re going to miss GA’s bat. He sure seemed to get a lot of clutch hits in the second half.

  5. @1

    I don’t think Heyward can be counted on to be the middle of the order bat just yet. It sounds like he isn’t going to come up until June and he will be a rookie. I think we all agree that he is very talented, but I don’t think he is going to be the 25-30 HR guy we need in the middle of the order next season.

  6. Jonathon Crompton was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week.

    That means one of two things:

    1. Willie Martinez is toast, or:

    2. It truly is the end of time.

  7. It means that Tennessee watched our games & realized that, outside of the LSU game, UGA has little pass rush & has trouble covering people one-on-one.

    UT tried that bootleg-pass scheme & it worked almost every time. If you don’t pressure the QB and you don’t cover his main option, even a guy who has trouble making downfield decisions can have a field day—and he did.

    Despite Richt’s tendency to be loyal to his coordinators, I’d be really surprised if WM was the DC in 2010. Everyone’s over-reacting right now and that’s going to happen, but that would seem to be an obvious move.

  8. Chipper’s bad year didn’t help. With the final cast of players around him, he was expected to drive in a lot more runs. It didn’t happen which made the other hitters easier to pitch to/or around.

  9. Can you imagine the haul Pujols would bring in?

    The phone call would go something like this: “Okay, we’ll start with Hanson and Heyward.”

  10. Smitty at 5,

    I am not saying Heyward ia a middle of the order option. I think he is good for an 800 OPS at ML level next year (based on MLE’s at 3 levels) (try 280/380/420). I don’t think it makes sense to pay an outfielder 12 or more million and commit to 3 or more years to get the difference between what Heyward can give versus the “bat”.

    Heyward will field and run bases better than any likely “bat” (Holliday, Bay, Jermaine Dye, Burrell, Adam Dunn, get it?) scenario and get part of the difference in offense back.

    The “hold him down to avoid arb” strategy is great if you have pretty good major leaguers that aren’t expensive that are on the roster in front of somebody (like this year with Hanson). The only way that is true with the Braves and Heyward for 2010 is if we go out and get a “bat” that we don’t npow already have.

    My scenario does depend on either re-upping LaRoche or getting another pretty good hitting 1B.

    It would go something like this.

    Against lefties:

    McLouth
    Esco
    Chip
    Diaz
    LaRoche
    Prado
    Ross (yes, Ross hasto play 25 % of the games anyway, so us him against lefties)
    Heyward
    pitcher

    Against righties

    McLouth
    (Diaz or Church)or Esco
    Chip
    McCann
    Esco or Diaz or Church

  11. Smitty at 5,

    I am not saying Heyward ia a middle of the order option. I think he is good for an 800 OPS at ML level next year (based on MLE’s at 3 levels) (try 280/380/420). I don’t think it makes sense to pay an outfielder 12 or more million and commit to 3 or more years to get the difference between what Heyward can give versus the “bat”.

    Heyward will field and run bases better than any likely “bat” (Holliday, Bay, Jermaine Dye, Burrell, Adam Dunn, get it?) scenario and get part of the difference in offense back.

    The “hold him down to avoid arb” strategy is great if you have pretty good major leaguers that aren’t expensive that are on the roster in front of somebody (like this year with Hanson). The only way that is true with the Braves and Heyward for 2010 is if we go out and get a “bat” that we don’t now already have.

    My scenario does depend on either re-upping LaRoche or getting another pretty good hitting 1B.

    It would go something like this.

    Against lefties:

    McLouth
    Esco
    Chip
    Diaz
    LaRoche
    Prado
    Ross (yes, Ross has to play 25 % of the games anyway, so use him against lefties)
    Heyward
    pitcher

    Against righties

    McLouth
    (Diaz or Church) or Esco
    Chip
    McCann
    Esco or (Diaz or Church)
    LaRoche
    Heyward
    Prado
    Pitcher

    [sorry for the double post]

  12. I developed an appreciation for Wren this season.
    I’m actually looking forward to his moves this off-season.
    Does anybody know if he has a connection to Matt Holliday? There was a suggestion on the MLB Newtork last night that he did, but the commentor(Sean Casey) didn’t elaborate.

  13. Good summary Mac.

    @4, I couldn’t disagree with you more. The only way we miss Anderson in any way is if we replace him with Jeff Francoeur. Anderson had a few clutch hits, but that will happen with any hitter that hits in the 280 range over the course of the season. Anderson’s OBP was horrible and his slg% wasn’t much better. Don’t even get my started on his atrocious defense. The avg OPS for left fielders was .781 – Anderson’s OPS was .705.

    I know OPS isn’t the perfect measure, but by all measures that I can think of, Anderson was poor. Of the 150 or so outfielders in baseball, I would put GA somewhere between #90 to 100. We can do a lot better! It would be nice to get a big bat, but what do we with Diaz when Heyward is ready? My guess is we’ll look for a big OF bat and use Diaz in a platoon with Heyward when he’s ready. I expect Church to be the odd man out.

  14. Well, Matt Holliday’s brother has been the recruiting coordinator for Vanderbilt Baseball since July of 2009, and Frank Wren drafted Mike Minor out of Vanderbilt in June of 2009.

  15. By Offensive Winning Percentage, ACHE was the second-worst regular outfielder in the NL, ahead of Randy Winn by one point. Yeah, he was even worse than Jeffy thanks to his lucky streak with the Stem. Anderson was average through July, but he was bad in August and atrocious in September.

  16. bold prediction: i said this back in june, but i will say it again. Jason Heyward will be batting 4th for the braves by May.

    Earlier Prediction: I did get schafer in center right a year in advance. however, i also said that he would win ROY….EPIC FAIL INDEED!

  17. Would it be so bad to put Lowe on waivers, and then (assuming he’s claimed) offer the same deal we gave him last year to Jason Bay?

    That would seem to solve the problem in a payroll neutral manner.

  18. I think we’re stuck with Lowe no matter what, but I also think that he and Chipper will have bounce-back years in 2010. Those two have both been quoted saying (in so many words) that they underperformed this year. That’s refreshing to see in this post-Francoeur world we live in.

  19. Heyward notes:

    • Not only is the best pitching prospect in baseball here, the best hitting prospect is as well. Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward has taken all of two games to impress the heck out of everyone. Whether it was a hustle double on a blooper on one occasion, stealing third almost standing up by reading the pitcher well on another or showing the patience to work the count before ripping a line drive to right field, Heyward has been as advertised, and it’s hard to see him not opening next year in right field in Atlanta. Keith Law put forth a potential career path similar to Justin Upton, in which he’ll hold his own his first year in the bigs (Upton slugged .463 as a 20-year-old rookie) before breaking out in his second. I wouldn’t argue with that.

  20. Yes Mac, I was reading and nodding right along until you said: Remaking the team to add speed seems like a dumb idea to me.

    That’s when you lost me right there my friend. Look around is all I can say. The game has changed and for the better, while our Braves are still playing Earl Weaver style baseball and beating themselves.

  21. Earl Weaver baseball would work if the team hit more homers.

    I like speed. But it would be difficult to add players who are as good of hitters as the players we already have who can also run. For that matter, of next year’s projected starting lineup (leaving aside first basemen, few of whom can run) only Chipper and McCann, who aren’t going anywhere, are really slow. The remaining (non-ACHE) outfielders are all above average, Prado is a good baserunner though he doesn’t have blinding speed.

    What they could use is some baserunning coaching. I’m looking at Yunel in particular, who isn’t slow but runs like a chicken with his head cut off. McLouth should give lessons to the rest of the team. And I’d like to have someone on the bench who can really run.

  22. Jair can really run and using him as he pinch running specialist wouldn’t waste a roster spot.

  23. The game has changed and for the better, while our Braves are still playing Earl Weaver style baseball and beating themselves.

    Please describe how the game has changed, specifically with respect to team speed correlating to a quantifiable advantage.

  24. We need one power bat… The second best player no one really knows about (only to Adrian Gonzalez) is Nellie Cruz. Nelly Cruz would be a perfect fit in left, moving Say-Heyward to left. What would Cruz cost? There are only two or three quality starting pitchers in the market- Lackey and Webb in particular. That boosts Lowe and KK’s value significantly higher and it makes Vasquez look like a savior. What kept the Rangers back was one more pitcher to hold the fort down and consistency from players like Kinsler, blalock, and Hamilton. The Rangers really don’t need Cruz. They had 5 outfielders last year with him, hamilton, murphy, byrd, and Andruw. Byrd, Murphy, and Hamilton are all coming back, right? And their DH is plugged with Blalock since Michael Young is at third and they love Chris Davis. From their perspective, they should move a hitter for a pitcher. Moving Cruz MAKES SENSE. He would fit perfectly with out team. Cruz for Lowe and salary compensation or cruz for KK with maybe salary compensation is the best move here.

  25. Not to belabor the point but all four of the remaining playoff teams topped the century mark in stolen bases. Yes, even the Yankees who also led all teams in HR’s with 244. While our Braves finished 15th out of 16 teams in the NL and 29th out of all 30 big league clubs with 58 thefts.

    HR’s or stolen bases? Both is the correct answer but our Braves are solely dependent on the former and it’s a handicap for the Bravos.

    By the way, both Mike Scioscia and Joe Girardi are ex-catchers who understand and value the intricacies of small ball.

    David O’Brien has an excellent article on the upcoming Yankees / Angels series and his pick might surprise a few readers.

    http://www.ajc.com/sports/yankees-vs-angels-is-163821.html

  26. #31, could also get him injured. No point taking the risk.

    #33, I don’t get how moving Cruz makes sense for the Rangers. He was their best outfielder by some distance last year.

  27. I definitely miss having fast guys on the team. Having an Otis Nixon/Rafael Furcal-type on the bases is so much fun to watch. Hopefully McClouth will be healthy enough to swipe a few bags next year.

    I agree that Escobar could use a few tips. He was advertised as having “good speed” when he came up, yet I always seem to see him getting thrown out.

    @28,
    That Heyward article is really exciting. If Heyward is ready AND we can pull the trigger on a power-hitting OF’er, it will be interesting to see what we do with them.

  28. Re-sign Laroche or acquire an equivalent first baseman, replace Anderson in LF with Diaz, and add Heyward in RF and the Braves offense should be fine in 2010. It was good enough in the 2nd half even with Anderson playing everyday. It was those first 3 months of lineups featuring Jeffy, Jordan, Casey, and Kelly that kept the Braves from making the playoffs.

  29. Not to belabor the point but all four of the remaining playoff teams topped the century mark in stolen bases.

    In the NL, so did Arizona(102), Houston (113) and the league leading Mets (122). For the Al so did CHW, Oakland (133), league leading Tampa Bay (194!) and Texas (149).

    Weak sauce.

  30. Mac, the sacrifice bunt is a good strategy when used in conjunction with advancing base runners to both 2nd and 3rd base in conjunction with the running game. But that isn’t what Cox does. He bunts runners over to 2B almost exclusively and then is dependent on putting the ball in fair play for the runner to score from second base.

    I’m talking about drawing walks, stealing 2nd, bunting the runner to third and then swinging the bat.

    Cox gives away too many outs and he limits his offense by not being aggressive enough on the base paths.

  31. My point is that a high SB total doesn’t appear to correlate to a playoff team, which was your assertion. And as Mac points out, if there was EVER a team that played for one run, this is it. Your continued practice of making assertions rather than arguments is indicative of the intellectual heft of your hypotheses.

  32. Mac,
    Great post. Pretty much my thoughts exactly.

    When I look at this team’s group of position players I see a bunch of OBP machines, but not much else. As a whole, they’re pretty bad defensively (21st in Defensive Efficiency won’t cut it), they’re painfully bad at running the bases, and they don’t hit for enough power. The problem is, with the core group largely intact (Escobar, Chipper, McCann, McLouth, Prado, and eventually Schafer and Heyward), they’re really not in a position to add any impact defenders or baserunners this off-season. The only positions Wren could conceivably upgrade are LF and 1B. Those are power positions, so it makes a lot of sense to add an impact slugger this off-season, something that desperately needs to be addresses. But LF’ers and 1B aren’t in a position to make much impact defensively. And, while you could add an impact baserunner at one of those positions, you’d have to sacrifice power in the process. Baserunning just isn’t important enough in the grand scheme of things to sacrifice something important and needed–power–to acquire it.

    I suppose the team could take internal measures to get better defensively and on the base-paths (workouts geared toward speed, firing Snitker, etc..), but they’re probably not going to be able to go acquire players to address these weaknesses. Which is OK, I guess. When you don’t have a $200 million payroll you have to more or less pick your poison, and I’ll take power over defense or baserunning any day. But it would be nice to go after a Matt Holliday, who can both play decent defense and hit for some power.

  33. Wrong answer Gump. You didn’t even understand the question or my statement.

    All four current playoffs teams are NOT solely dependent on putting the ball in fair play or slamming HR’s. They run the bases too. Our Braves don’t.

    Cox runs a very passive offensive style of play, and it takes zero intellectual heft or brains to understand such a simple point.

    You (spike) simply cannot admit that the stolen base is integral to the success of any baseball team, and argue simply for the point of arguing. So stop wasting my time and get a life.

    It’s baseball, not rocket science. Try not to think too deep.

  34. Let up on the personal attacks.

    The number of actual runs those teams created by stealing bases is very small. The value of a stolen base is about .2 of a run; that of a caught stealing is -.35. The Angels gained 29.6 runs by stealing bases; they lost 22 by caught stealing = 7.6 runs. Big whoop. The Yankees gained 22.2, lost 9.8 = 12.4. The Dodgers gained 23.2 and lost 16.8 = 6.4. The Phillies are an excellent basestealing team, gaining 23.8 and losing 9.8, equalling 14 runs.

    For comparison, the Braves gained 11.6 runs by stolen bases, and lost 9.1. It’s just not that big of a deal.

  35. Mac – Enjoyed the analysis. It’s tempting to just put Heyward and Diaz in the corners and just see what happens, but I think we would be wise to explore a power bat.

    I’m not sure how to do it, exactly, but it should be on the table. I’d be interested in a Fielder/Vazquez type deal. I’d give up JJ, too, if our trading partner took Lowe and gave us an overwhelming arbitration-eligible bat.

    The problem with finding a bat is our need to solidify the back-end of the pen. There’s just not enough money to go around. It’s not the most important part of a baseball team, but we can’t afford to spend 2010 with a Kolb/Reitsma/Wickman-type closer. Our proposed right-handed power bat better be experienced in late-inning heroics if we do.

  36. @1 So what is this decent explanation? How can the manager make a team lose games without affecting their runs scored/allowed ratio (since the latter determines pythagorean record, it would necessary be captured already)?

    As for the statement about random chance, the sample size is a bit small for such conclusions. A coin that lands on heads three or four times in a row ain’t exactly proof of a nonrandom outcome.

  37. Anybody think Wren could fleece the Royals and get Joakim Soria from them? I mean, they are the Royals…

  38. did you guys hear we outrighted campillo, carlyle, and gorecki? i dont necessarily understand those moves. with a depleted bullpen, campillo and carlyle could have had a role.

  39. You are all forgetting something.

    There is another element to the stolen base that can not be accounted for- the threat of the stolen base.

    Everyone always talks about Mariano Rivera and Dave Roberts in the 2004 ALCS, but do they remember Rivera threw over there 100000000 times before he stole second? Anyone remember the fattest pitch Rivera ever threw ten seconds after that sb? There are countless times I can remember in times past in close games that no one actually stole anything, but the pitcher threw a FAT pitch that the guy crushed. No one will remember that it was the guy on first that forced that. The Braves have no serious threat of a stolen base. Sure, McClouth will steal some bases, but he won’t have that ricky threat like the phillies, rays, astros, and other teams have.

  40. The worst thing about our offense this year was we had Anderson and Jeffy batting 5th most of the year. Add to that about 350 PAs a piece for KJ and Kotchrockt, various injuries, and you have a recipe for an anemic offense.

    I think the offense will do fine next year. Even resigning Roach and sticking Diaz in LF and Church in RF would still provide enough runs to make the playoffs. I’m sure Wren will do better than that though.

  41. @1 ‘The only decent explanation for the negative primary pythag is the manager. Random chance isn’t random when it happens over and over.’ Hmmm doesn’t have ANYTHING to do with poor play by the players? And really, given that the pythag is about as accurate as an ouigi board, who the hell cares?

    So what if we don’t do anything?
    Diaz LF
    McLouth CF
    Church RF
    Chipper 3B
    Escobar SS
    Johnson and or Infante 2B
    Prado 1B
    McCann C

    Given that the last time the Braves brought an outfield prospect up directly from AA worked out really really good I think that Heyward starts at Gwinnett. I am almost positve that Schafer does.

  42. I’m talking about drawing walks, stealing 2nd, bunting the runner to third and then swinging the bat.

    Bunting a runner from second to third is perhaps the stupidest play in all of baseball. Getting one from first to second makes sense in some situations, but trading an out for the 90 feet from second to third is the definition of giving away runs.

    The Braves of 2009 were notably bad baserunners due to the fact that three of their primary offensive threats – 1B, LF and C – were incredibly slow. Replace Anderson with a league average base runner and that goes away. McCann will still be slow and LaRoche will not win many dash medals, but even LaRoche is better at advancing from first to third and from second to home on singles than Anderson and Kotchman (who was the slowest person on the team by far.)

  43. The hell of it is that there seems to be so few options at this point to acquire a right handed bat.
    Option 1
    Pay a lot of money for Matt Holliday or Jason Bay.
    Option 2
    Trade Javier Vazquez or Jair Jurrjens for a veteran hitter. I say these two, not because I advocate it but to get something you have to give something. I am just not convinced that Kenshin Kawakami will get you anything better than Matt Diaz.
    Option 3
    Take a chance on someone like Milton Bradley (no way) or Adrian Beltre to bounce back.
    Option 4
    Obtain a lesser player and hope that his addition will be better than Matt Diaz. Mark DeRosa, Mike Cameron?

  44. We’ll improve by having a full year of McLouth instead of only 4 months.
    I don’t know what we can get for Derek Lowe; I don’t know if the Rockies would be willing to part with one of their extra OFs in exchange for Lowe, a piece and cash.
    I briefly looked to see if something sending Lowe to Toronto with some pieces for Halladay and taking Vernon Wells contract off their hands made any sense. But Holy Schniekies is his deal bad. He’s set to make more than $20 mil for 4 years. Maybe if they ate part of it, just to get out from under the rest, but its bad.

    One interesting idea is Vazquez, Medlin and another piece or two to the Jays for Halladay. I don’t know if anyone else is going to be willing to give them that good a deal, getting SP back, on a 1 year rental of Halladay, the Braves want to win now, Halladay can veto any deal and wants to go somewhere he can win (the Braves fit that bill) and Vazquez can’t veto it. If we did that, I wouldn’t be sad to see us re-sign Church to platoon with Diaz in LF and spell / be insurance for Heyward in RF.

    We give Norton’s money to Church and re-up with him for under 4.
    We gain 4 mil on the Doc / Vazquez delta.
    Kawakami’s contract actually pays him a million less this year, so we get a mil back that way, but we spend it on LaRoche, sign him to a 2 year deal around 8 & 10 and hope the Mets’ pitching problems prevent them from outbidding.
    Chip and McCann each getting 2 mil raise, and McLout 2.5.
    We get GAnderson’s 2.5 back.
    So far we’re up 8 in payroll, without arb raises in play.
    Sadly, we cut bait with KJ (its a hard world) and Soriano (will be hard to replace those good innings, but hopefully a full year of Doc and Hanson minimizes the need), which gives us back 8.925 mil. We’re up just under a mil.
    Other arb cases and raises I’m not looking at will, I’m sure, eat that and more. But not by much.
    If Hudson walks, we get back another $13 mil, which could let us keep Soriano. If Hudson agrees to re-sign for less than the $12 mil his option’s worth, then we’re maybe 1.5 mil up, can offer Soriano and Gonzalez arbitration, risk them accepting, and move Kawakami for a bullpen arm and a prospect and nearly level out.

    We keep Infante (util / 5th OF), find a gloveman who can play 2B/SS and run to take Norton’s spot on the bench, and a RH somebody who can play for near the minimum and reliably lay down a bunt to take KJs.

    or else we find a take for Lowe (or Kawakami) and re-up with Hudson, probably LaRoche, maybe Church (if we didn’t get an OF back for Lowe / KK), and patchwork the bullpen (ugh).

  45. Johnny,

    DeRosa and Prado are kind of the same player; I wouldn’t want to live with either of them full-time at 1B unless we had a great OF defense, and we don’t.
    Mike Cameron’s way too expensive for us now, and we need someone who doesn’t strike out so much, to keep us out of the rally-killing 3rd out wiht men on base or creating double play opp’s by turning Chip and McCann on 1st and 2nd with no outs into 1st and 2nd with 1 out.

    I liked the idea of Games Bradley last year, but now? No F’g way.

    If we re-up with Hudson, I’m wondering if we don’t end up doing something like Lowe to the DBacks for Eric Byrnes. Secretly I thinkthat’s why Boog may be gone, they didn’t want his and Byrnes’ hair to get together, like the Vync Klortho and Zuul, and bring about some real end-of-days type shit.

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