Tag Archives: Atlanta Braves

The Total WAR Project, Part I: Atlanta Braves

One of the great 20th-century proponents of Total War, Curtis LeMay, advocated a nuclear version of total war (should it come to pass) called Mutually Assured Destruction. LeMay (the inspiration not only for General Buck Turgidson of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb but for Burt Lancaster’s hawkish and treasonous General James Scott in Seven Days in May) thought that the best way to prevent war was to make the cost of waging it too high for a rational enemy (read: the Soviet Union) to want to wage it.

Khrushchev once said of LeMay’s vision, “The living would envy the dead.”

And so it came to pass that I discovered, after having promised the Total WAR project for all players, that FanGraphs’ CHONE projections don’t include predicted value numbers for pitchers. Therefore, where possible, I’ll be using the fan projections, which do. It’s far less scientific, I know, but for the purposes of keeping the numbers consistent, it seems to be the best option. If the fan numbers are completely f’d up the a, missing, or if only a few readers have projected stats, I’ll just repeat last year’s. This only seems to be happening with middle relievers and back-end starters, however. 2009 numbers will be italicized and followed by CHONE’s projected FIP and innings pitched, and fan predictions will be marked with an asterisk. It’s also worth noting that fan projections seem to be consistently optimistic, if only by a couple decimal points, because of the preponderance of, for instance, Braves fans projecting Braves players. Just bear that in mind when you’re reading.

So. On to the Braves.

In April 2006, I saw a Phillies-Braves game at Turner Field. The Phillies won behind early homers by Bobby Abreu, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, and Gavin Floyd got the win. In the later innings, the Braves fans (such as were left), started doing the tomahawk chop, and I almost caught myself joining in. It’s hypnotic. Far and away the best cheer in sports, racist though it may be.  Total WAR begins after the jump. Continue reading


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Filed under General Bull, Offseason 2009-10

It’s time to put the N.L. East to rest

With news coming this afternoon that Mets reliever J.J. Putz will need surgery, costing him 8-10 weeks, the time has come for the Phillies to put a stranglehold on the National League East.

For two years, things have been in doubt until the final week. More than that, they’ve been in doubt until the final two games both times. It seems an opportunity has presented itself for the Phillies to prevent that drama from unfolding for a third year.

june5As it stands right now, this very second, the Phillies are four games up on the Mets and six up on the Braves. They are 31-20 and have won seven straight games – all on the road – while the Mets and Braves have stumbled recently.

The Mets have fallen victim to more than just Putz’s injury. Jose Reyes will be out until at least the all-star break. Carlos Delgado has been banged up all year. Carlos Beltran has had a stomach bug. Ryan Church hasn’t played a whole lot.

Beyond that, all the Mets have had for a pitching staff is one great starter and one very good reliever. Their lineup, which had been patched up by a bunch of bench players and minor leaguers, is finally coming back down to earth after keeping the Mets afloat for far too long.

Photoshop is a great tool

Photoshop is a great tool

The Braves still have pretty good pitching, but even with their recent trade for Nate McLouth, their offense is lacking and will continue to lack unless the rest of the outfield can turn it around.

The Marlins and Nationals, at seven-and-a-half and 18 (!) games back, respectively, are already close to being dead in the water.

The Phillies have lost Brett Myers, but despite having an incredibly shaky starting staff for two months, a solid bullpen and timely offense have propelled the Phightins to the top of the division.

Now would be the time to strike. If the Phillies were to make a move for a starting pitcher, it should happen within the next month, not the end of July. Giving a month of leeway would allow J.A. Happ and Antonio Bastardo to continue auditioning, whether that audition be for a future in Philadelphia or elsewhere.

Jake Peavy might not be the best fit for the price

Jake Peavy might not be the best fit for the price

Roy Halladay is out. The Blue Jays insist that he will not be traded and, for the sake of their fanbase, holding on to Doc for at least another season is probably for the best. Jake Peavy’s waffling concerns me, and as that is so the Phillies should probably turn their attention away from him and his large contract. That sounds like flaky reasoning, so I’ll add that being such a flyball-prone pitcher, Peavy would likely suffer a setback in performance and production in CBP, and I think he knows it. He would have experienced something similar in U.S. Cellular while playing for the White Sox, and that may be why he declined to be traded there.

Or maybe it was because the Sox allowed 20 runs on the day of the trade proposal. Who knows?

Cliff Lee of the Indians, Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, or even Chris Young of the Padres would seem to be palatable options off the top of my head. Brad Penny of the Red Sox would not be, especially if Jason Donald or Lou Marson would be the parting price.

The name doesn’t matter; the talent does. If the Phillies want to properly defend their 2008 title, it may be best to strike while the iron is hot. Perhaps a secondary trade for a reliable, right-handed bench bat would be in order as well. I’d rather not go after Mark DeRosa anymore, as his price would likely be inflated by multiple suitors.

The opportunity has arisen for the Phillies to take this division by storm. Will Ruben smell the blood?

I am shark, hear me roar

I am shark, hear me roar

Post-script: Check out a post along similar lines over at We Should Be GMs.

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Opposing homers analyzed

Thus far, the Phillies have allowed a ridiculous 23 opposing homers in nine games. This is about half a home run more per game than the average in the N.L., and that average is probably inflated by the Phils’ outlier number.

It’s been frustrating to watch for the first two weeks. True, the Phillies haven’t exactly played in pitcher-friendly parks to this date. Citizens Bank, Nationals, and Coors are known – or becoming known – for giving a little extra edge to fly balls.

You can keep track of data on the Phils’ opposing dingers here at HitTracker Online. For now, using this data, let’s take a look at just what the Phillies have been serving up to their hungry opponents.

Atlanta Braves (@CBP): April 5, 6, 8

  • Homers allowed: 8
  • Average standard distance: 388 ft.
  • No doubt/Plenty/Just Enough/Lucky: 2/3/3/(1)
  • Percent of opp. runs via HR: 11 of 19 (57.9%)
  • Biggest blast: Brian McCann, 4/5/09 (436 ft.)

Standard distance, for clarification, is the figure HitTracker uses to project the distance a home run ball would travel if unobstructed, unhindered by wind, at sea level and traveling in 70-degree weather. For further term clarification, go here.

It’s sort of disconcerting when the majority of homers hit had more than enough distance underneath them. The only one considered to have a bit of luck associated with it was Jordan Schafer’s second dinger of the series, hit off of J.A. Happ in game three.

(McCann) Blue: End of flight; Green: True distance

Colorado Rockies (@Coors): April 10-12

  • Homers allowed: 5
  • Average std. distance: 394.4
  • No doubt/Plenty/Just Enough/Lucky: 1/2/2/(0)
  • Percent of opp. runs via HR: 7 of 19 (36.8%)
  • Biggest blast: Troy Tulowitzki (433 ft.)

Yes, it’s Coors, but the standardized average distance of the homers hit in this series was actually longer, Coors effects disregarded.

Colorado just generally hit the ball better in this series, relying a little less on the long ball to get runs across. Brett Myers, for the second straight start, gave up three homers.

Blue: End of flight

(Tulowitzki) Blue: End of flight

Washington Nationals (@Nationals): April 13, 16

  • Homers allowed: 7
  • Average std. distance: 393.7
  • No doubt/Plenty/Just Enough/Lucky: 0/3/4/(1)
  • Percent of opp. runs via HR: 11 of 16 (68.8%)
  • Biggest blast: Adam Dunn (429 ft.)

This is kind of unfortunate to see. In two games, the Nationals absolutely decimated the Phillies with homers. Philly managing to win the first game was fortunate, but the loss in number two was really no surprise at all.

There were no homers that were “no doubters,” and more than half just made it out of the park. What hurts most is that fourth figure: nearly 70 percent of Washington’s runs came from home runs, and most of those barely left the park.

Blue: End of flight; Green: Standard distance

Blue: End of flight; Green: True distance

San Diego Padres (@CBP): April 17

  • Homers allowed: 3
  • Average std. distance: 369.3
  • No doubt/Plenty/Just Enough/Lucky: 0/3/0/(0)
  • Percent of opp. runs via HR: 5 of 8 (62.5%)
  • Biggest blast: Nick Hundley (381 ft.)

Well, it’s only one game, but I think you can see where this one is going, too.

Basically, the death of the Phillies this season has been the home run. Of the 23 homers, 16 have been allowed by starters, and a surprising seven from then bullpen. The only ‘pen pitchers who have not yet allowed a homer are Ryan Madson and Scott Eyre, but they have combined for just 7.1 innings of pitching.

Had the Phillies not allowed any home runs – unlikely, but nice food for thought – they would have allowed 34 fewer runs, lowering their season total from 62 to 28. Taking into account the fact that they have scored 49 runs (decent, but only seventh of 16 N.L. teams), their pythagorean record  without homers would be 7-2.

Long story short, the dingers are deadly. This can’t, and likely won’t continue all year if the Phillies are to succeed.

Blue: End of flight; Green: Standard distance

Blue: End of flight; Green: True distance

Right now, we’re considerably far behind the hot Marlins, but that won’t last. Florida will not win 90 percent of their games; they just won’t! Everyone knew this division would be incredibly tough, and the Phillies are having a typically slow April.

For my heart’s sake, keep the ball in the yard!

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Post-game 4/5: Braves 4, Phillies 1

Well, that’s one way to start a season.

The Phillies lost a snoozer to the Atlanta Braves, 4-1, in front of 44,500+ at Citizens Bank Park; a rather inauspicious beginning to their title defense.

The Phils mustered only a handful of hits and only one run – off of reliever Mike Gonzalez in the ninth, following eight innings of Derek Lowe brilliance – in yet another home opener loss.

If there are bright spots to consider, they are these:

  • Following an awful first two innings, Brett Myers settled down. He finished with six Ks and one BB, but those four runs on three HRs were the difference.
  • Chase Utley looked good. At least in the field. He had four putouts, and a couple of balls that made him swivel his hips. He looked fine.
  • The bullpen was excellent. Three perfect innings from four relievers. Though the use of four relievers in a losing effort – off day Monday aside – is a bit questionable, they all looked good. It was nice to see Brad Lidge strike out Jordan Schafer, a kid who I can already tell is going to be a thorn in the Phillies’ collective side.
  • The defense was solid. Not too much more to say on that, because it’s difficult to catch balls hit to the second deck.

When the Phillies lose, this is typically how it happens. Nearly everything about the game is frustrating and out of the ordinary. Hey, so be it. One down, 161 to go; no need to get worried about this.

If there are gripes, they would be the following:

  • Again, using four relievers. Going from Jack Taschner to Scott Eyre without going through a pinch-hitter was puzzling. Equally as puzzling was going from Eyre to Chad Durbin after Eyre got two quick outs. If there’s an overrated aspect of baseball, it’s “matchups” of relievers and batters. Mind you, all of this happened as the Phillies were trailing by four. It wasn’t as if there was a lead to protect.
  • Ryan Howard’s strike zone judgment in his ninth inning at-bat was awful. But that’s only one AB.
  • The three straight lefty thing Charlie Manuel had in the lineup is an absolutely awful idea, as shown at the end of the ninth inning. Batting Jayson Werth second is also dumb.
  • First-pitch swinging. This is a carry-over from last year. When trailing, get on base by any means necessary. If it’s a hit, fine, but a walk works just as well as a single.
  • Brett Myers and the first inning. The guy just can’t go without getting ripped in the early stages of a game. Two outs gone and two strikes on Chipper Jones turns into a 2-0 deficit before you can blink.

Jamie Moyer (NR) will face Jair Jurrjens (NR) Tuesday.

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Evaluating the 2009 NL East via PECOTA

If you’ve read this blog at some time over the past few weeks, you’ve no doubt seen my post regarding projected performance for the Phillies in 2009. If not, go read up when you have a chance.

Now, I think it’s time to put some of these projections into play across the entire NL East, to give a better feel for just what the Phillies may – or may not – be up against in the NL’s toughest division this year.

To keep things consolidated, I’ll be using PECOTA Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) projections as provided by Baseball Prospectus.

Starting Rotations

A big reason for Philly’s success in 2008 was the durability of its pitching staff. Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer missed almost no time, and only seven different starting pitchers were used throughout the entire year. Compare that number with New York, Atlanta , Florida, and Washington, which all used 11 different starters, and the correlation holds; at least for one year.

Will this hold up? Will the health of Philly pitchers once again hold up so miraculously for an entire year? It’s unlikely, but possible. Just as possible as any one of the division’s other four teams replicating what the Phillies did.

Health aside, however, how effective will these starters be? Taking PECOTA’s projected VORP for each team’s expected top five starters, here’s what shapes up.

Team Starter VORP
Braves 114.9
Mets 114.5
Phillies 106.1
Marlins 83.4
Nationals 53

The Braves and Mets are ahead by a decent margin; New York is headed by NL East projected leader Johan Santana, and Atlanta gains a double boost with Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez. The difference is statistically significant, but not as massive as the gaps between Philly and Florida, or the Marlins and Nationals. Philly should be able to keep close.


By far and away, the most highly touted aspect of the Phils’ championship run was the play of the bullpen. And true, it was stellar through September and October, led mostly by Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, with timely out-producing by J.C. Romero.

The Mets, on the other hand, are all too familiar with bullpen blow-ups. Will the additions of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz help? Undoubtedly. But how much will they help?

Team Bullpen
Mets 62.2
Braves 44.8
Phillies 43.9
Marlins 39.9
Nationals 22.5

Apparently, they’ll help a whole lot. Putz and Rodriguez both regressed peripherally in 2008 – stories lost beneath Rodriguez’s save accumulation and Seattle’s irrelevance – yet both are expected to have big years in New York. The Phillies’ entire bullpen is expected to relapse and put up unseemly numbers. Not a single pitcher is expected to have an ERA below 3.50 (with Brad Lidge on the cusp at 3.49), when in 2008, all five of the team’s most-used relievers had ERAs below that mark. It seems questionable to me.

Getting Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan back and healthy will certainly benefit the Braves, and a full season from Mike Gonzalez couldn’t hurt, either. As for the Marlins, Matt Lindstrom will look to fill Kevin Gregg’s shoes as the ninth inning man, but Florida and Washington both still have holes too significant to ignore.


In 2007, it was Philly’s offense that propelled the team into the playoffs. Last year, the pitching staff covered for a team that slumped a bit on the whole. The Mets have a solid enough lineup, but are aging. The Braves are composed of a bunch of unknowns that may surprise, and the Marlins are prepared to slug their way through teams. What does BP say?

Team Lineup
Mets 253
Phillies 236.4
Nationals 222.4
Marlins 221.3
Braves 216.5

Boy, BP sure does love those Mets, and especially Jose Reyes. Why? A .309/.374/.478 projected line for a shortstop is very good, to be sure. But Reyes projected OPS of .852 has been done 106 times before by shortstops with at least 400 PAs. His projected OBP of .374 has been done 198 times. Yet Reyes’s 65.2 VORP would put him sixth in all of baseball if this were 2008, among the usual slugging positions like 1B, 3B, and corner OF. Even in 2008 he was in the top ten. It must be the steals. I don’t understand it.

In any case, the Mets have the edge here. The Braves, surprisingly, fall to the cellar despite the addition of Garret Anderson and the presence of Chipper Jones and Kelly Johnson. The Marlins look like they’ll be living off Hanley Ramirez and his massive VORP of 80.7.

Add up those three totals and what do you get? A pretty graph.

VORP Graph

Favorable projections drive the Mets to the top of the VORP totem pole, while the Phillies slide down amid less-than-outstanding bullpen forecasts. All told, the division should be highly competitive once again, with the Mets appearing to be the statistical favorite.

Well, that was the case the past two seasons as well. I guess that’s why they play the games.

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Spring training is coming

Not just that; it’s almost here!

Just three days separate us from the return of the Phillies to the ball field, even if that field happens to be in Florida.

It’s safe to say that this offseason started out rather questionably, with the signing of Raul Ibanez to a three-year contract to replace Pat Burrell, who left for Tampa Bay without being offered arbitration.

Not too long after, however, better moves started being made. Arbitration-eligible players were signed to good deals, with a few even wielding shiny, new multi-year contracts. Ryan Howard’s deal notwithstanding, the Phillies have a lot of talented, relatively young players signed affordably for the 2009 season.

Questions still remain, however (well, if there were none, why would they play?). Those questions, as well as my projected 25-man roster for this season, follow.

1. Can and will Ryan Howard bounce back from a regressive offensive season?

Behind Howard’s power was a less-than-modest line of .251/.339/.543 with an OPS+ of 122 (not bad, but the 122 is Howard’s lowest in any season since his abbreviated Major League stint in 2004). Each of his three seasons have showed a regression in production, and thus given reason for a bit of concern.

I’ve gone over this in detail before, and I won’t rehash old hat. Howard’s power probably isn’t going anywhere for another couple of years, but his ability to draw a walk seems to have diminished. His September showed more than a few flashes of a return to 2006 form, as he crushed his way to the tune of .352/.422/.852 with 11 homers in 25 games. That’s flat out unbelievable.

Many respected projections have Howard performing better in 2009. Not quite to the levels of production he had in 2006, but better nonetheless. Hey, if the Phillies can win the World Series while not getting a career year from any of their core offensive players, an improvement on that surely can’t be a bad thing.

But! Projections are not sure things. I, too, foresee an improvement, but I’ll reserved judgment until sometime in May, most likely.

2. With Utley and Feliz recovering from surgery, and Hamels and Lidge in possession of checkered injury histories, how big of a concern is the health of the team’s core?

The concern is greater than many people would realize. Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz have said all the right things, saying they’d be back in time for opening day. But who really knows? Utley had hip surgery that, according to typical recovery time for that procedure, could leave him off the roster through May. Feliz, who features a leaning swing and plays active defense at third base, needs to have a healthy back to be effective. He is not expected to perform well offensively, and so his greatest value lies in his defense. Should he be unable to field effectively, well, he is of little use, and Jason Donald may get the call.

Brad Lidge is far less of an injury risk than Hamels. Lidge underwent a minor knee procedure prior to the 2008 season, but he performed very well. Hamels, through some miracle of God or other natural phenomena, did not sustain an injury during a season for the first time in his professional career. Of course, the down side to that is that Hamels pitched over 260 combined innings as a 24-year-old.

Why is that a cause for concern? Allow me to introduce you to the Verducci Effect, as coined by the theory’s namesake, Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci. Basically, any pitcher 25 or younger who exceeds his previous season’s total of innings by 30 or more is considered at risk for injury or a decline in production.

You can read up on this year’s crop of VE candidates over at Fangraphs. Included in that list? Cole Hamels. Combined with his history, he’s no sure bet to escape this season unscathed.

Additionally, according to the Baseball Prospectus Team Health Report matrix, Brett Myers and Chan Ho Park are serious injury risks in their own right.

3. How will Raul Ibanez fit into the lineup? Can we expect Jayson Werth to be as good as he was in 2008 for a full season?

As for the first question, I think manager Charlie Manuel has an interesting challenge ahead of him for this year. Three of the lineup’s core hitters, from spots three to six, are left-handed. Utley and Howard are firmly entrenched as a three-four punch, barring a terrific slump from either.

I believe Jayson Werth will be slotted as the primary number five hitter, especially against lefty starters. Having Utley, Howard, and Ibanez back-to-back-to-back is asking for trouble in this bullpen-centric era of baseball. Against righty starters, however, I would not be at all surprised if all three lefties are ordered in succession. Later in the game, should the Phils be leading, Ibanez can be removed for Eric Bruntlett on defense or pinch-hitting, should any “loogy” specialists be called on to take on the heavy hitters in the Phils’ lineup.

As for the question about Werth, I see no reason to believe that 2008 did not signify a breakout for Jayson. Sort of flying under the radar amid the Utleys and Howards of the world, Werth posted a very respectable .273/.363/.498 in 418 at-bats after taking over full-time once Geoff Jenkins went down with injury. Had had an even better average and OBP in 2007 in limited duty during his first year with the Phils.

There’s little reason to believe he won’t post a line somewhere along the lines of .270/.360/.500 all over again, and numbers like those would almost wholly replace the loss of Pat Burrell’s production from the lineup. For you fantasy players out there, Werth is certainly what I’d classify as a “sleeper.”

4. With Brett Myers in the final year of his contract, could he be traded at the deadline in July?

The tricky thing about approaching a question like this is that so many conditions have to be met to allow something like this to happen. If the Phillies are anywhere within 10 games of the division lead come the end of July, I don’t believe Myers is going anywhere.

Of course, if youngsters J.A. Happ and Carlos Carrasco prove their mettle and show they can hold their own in the bigs as a fifth starter for 2009, a trade could certainly come about. Myers is earning an astonishing – for him – $12M this year, which hampers the Phils maneuverability when discussing trades with various teams. He’d have to go to a team that can not only contend this year but have a reasonable shot at re-signing him during the winter.

A corollary to this question would come in the form of the Phillies re-signing Myers, who would almost certainly come at a discounted rate given his production. For all his time pitching in the Majors (222 games, 173 starts), Myers will only be 29 in August. It’s not as if he is an aging veteran, but he is certainly an enigma. Maybe now that he seems to have “accepted” his role as a starter instead of a closer, he’ll have a solid season in the rotation.

I’m not buying it, but I like what I saw upon his return from the minors last season. A full year of that would be delicious.

5. Can the Phillies repeat? Will they?

Can they? Absolutely. Each of the core players, minus Pat Burrell, is returning. Though that would seem to hint at a drop in offensive production, remember that no one Phillies player had a .300 batting average or .400 OBP. If Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Utley can have one or both of those, the difference in production between Burrell and Ibanez could very well be compensated for.

Whether the Phils will repeat is a different question entirely. The Phillies got hot at the right time, getting hot in September and finishing 36-14 over their final 50 games, including the postseason. Their passage into the postseason was eased by another Mets collapse, due in large part to a horrifically inept bullpen. The Mets improved their bullpen, to be sure, but their offense is not terrifically deep. Wright and Reyes are good, but Beltran and Delgado are aging and no significant production is in sight from their catcher, corner outfield and second base spots.

The Braves have improved, and will once again be a sleeper pick in their own right. An underwhelming bullpen with the likely loss of Will Ohman leaves Atlanta with basically Peter Moylan and Rafael Soriano as the only reliable arms. I like Philly’s odds against them.

Florida will again be pesky, but not a threat t win the division. Their pitching is young and talented, but the lineup relies solely on Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla – with a little help from Jeremy Hermida – to get by.

The Nationals, even with Adam Dunn and his new, two-year deal, are not yet ready to contend. Within the division, I’d say the Phillies can still be considered the favorites to repeat as division champions.

With the strength of the American League, particularly the AL East, it’s tough to pick against an American League team to win it all this year. Nonetheless, I’ll stick with my Phils. I expect no less than another deep October run, and I look forward to seeing the rest of you there cheering along with me.

6. Who will make the Phillies’ 25-man roster for Opening Day 2009?

Carlos Ruiz
Ronny Paulino
Chris Coste
Ryan Howard
Chase Utley
Jimmy Rollins
Pedro Feliz
Eric Bruntlett
Raul Ibanez
Shane Victorino
Jayson Werth
Geoff Jenkins
Matt Stairs

Cole Hamels
Brett Myers
Jamie Moyer
Joe Blanton
J.A. Happ
Chan Ho Park
Clay Condrey
Ryan Madson
Scott Eyre
Brad Lidge
Kyle Kendrick
Carlos Carrasco

Romero is left out because he will miss the first 50 games of the season for a silly suspension. I list Happ fifth because I believe he will be the team’s fifth starter come September, but Kyle Kendrick or Chan Ho Park will likely start out in that position so that the Phillies can have a second lefty in the ‘pen to complement Eyre.

Prospects Jason Donald and Lou Marson will likely start out in Lehigh Valley to get a little seasoning there before almost certainly playing in the Majors this summer. Marson is impeded by the presence of three other catchers with more ML experience, and Donald starting out in AAA is a hunch I have that Bruntlett will be chosen ahead of him to start the year.

Saturday can’t get here soon enough.

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