March 19, 2003

A man without his tools

As I said a few days ago, I am at home for spring break right now. So, I spent most of Tuesday sitting around the house with my dog, watching TV and "surfing" the internet. We got "highspeed" internet access here last year and I absolutely love it and can't even imagine a time when I was without it.

So anyway, at like 5 o'clock I left the house to go to an "NCAA Tournament Draft/Auction." Basically, there are eight guys and we had an auction for the 64 teams involved in the NCAA tourney. Each of the guys pays an entry fee of...well, let's say a significant amount of U.S. currency. And we each get a "salary cap" of $200 (which may coincide with the entry fee, although I'm not saying for sure...).

Each win that a team gets during the tournament is worth one point and the guy with the most points at the end of the whole thing wins.

It's really a lot of fun and I've done it like three years in a row now...and it isn't even my team! You see, one of my uncle's best friends is supposed to do it and the other seven guys are all his friends. But, for various reasons, he hasn't been able to do it in many past years, so my uncle stepped in once a few years back and drafted for him (and won the whole thing). However, now my uncle hasn't even been able to do it lately, so I've somehow been assigned the job, which is fine with me.

They let me go in for 25% of the team and I make all the decisions, so it's like getting to be the CEO of a company and not really having to worry all that much about the company being completely worthless three weeks later. Damn, I love stretched analogies.

Anyway, I went to the draft Tuesday night and got myself 5 teams:





Arizona State

Normally I would like to get at least six or seven teams. I would never bid on a 15 or 16 seed, but I would have liked to have gotten a couple of 13s or 14s, but it's tough getting cheap teams when you buy a #1 seed, a great #4 seed and a #3 seed.

For those of you that read the entry with my predictions for the tournament, you probably recognize that I wasn't particularly high on a few of those teams and the one team I was sky high on, Texas, is not on that list.

Well, that's because my uncle's friend gave me instructions that he liked Oklahoma a lot and Oklahoma and Texas went for essentially the same amount, so I grabbed Oklahoma because it is, after all, his team.

I really like Illinois and think if they can just find a way to beat Arizona, they'll get to the Final Four. I am not particularly fond of Xavier, but they are a #3 seed and they went pretty cheap. I like Indiana's chances and ASU was a way for me to spend my remaining few dollars at the end of the draft and actually get a team with a decent shot at winning their first round game.

So those are now the 5 teams I am rooting for, aside from the Texas Longhorns, whom I picked to win it all. Usually between 11-13 "points" win the whole thing. If Oklahoma gets to the Final Four that is 4 points...if Illinois can beat Arizona that is 3 points...well, we are cutting it close, but we'll see what happens.

The draft lasted approximately three hours and I got home by about 9 o'clock. I had some dinner, talked to my uncle about which teams we got and then went to sign on to AOL and check my mail. With "highspeed" internet it is so easy, there is no "dialing" or waiting, you just click "sign on" and two seconds later you are checking your mail.

I clicked "sign on" and not a damn thing happened. This sometimes happens when I leave the computer on "standby" for a while, so I turned everything off and restarted it. Nothing. As you know, I've had some problems with my computer lately, so I was deathly worried that this would be another three week trip to HP to get something fixed.

I went downstairs and tested my mom's computer...same thing. So it wasn't anything wrong with my laptop, but our connection was obviously faulty. A call was made to our "highspeed" internet provider and they told us, and I quote, "We can probably get someone out there on Thursday."

Now, today is Thursday...but the call was made on Tuesday night, which means I had to go without my highspeed internet access for about 36 hours! Believe me, it has been like (what I imagine) detox feels like. And it's sort of like (what I imagine) having a limb amputated. Every once in a while I forget that I don't have it and I try to go to a website without "dialing up AOL" and I just get this annoying error message.

Plus, when I do dial up AOL and try to go to a website it takes like 15 minutes for each page to load, so it is just very frustrating.

Depending on when you are reading this, the guy from our internet provider should already have been here to fix the problem. Before he shows up (I am writing this on Wednesday night) I want to make a prediction: He will show up later than the time frame they gave us ("between nine and noon") and he will stay for about 10 minutes before telling me that he doesn't have the ability to fix our problem and that someone will come out next week to do it. That is my official prediction.

I am not going to say the name of the company in question, but I will give you a clue: It is the name of a cartoon character that runs really fast and goes "meep meep!" No, wait, that is too good of a clue. Okay, forget I said that. Their company name starts with "Road..." No, wait, that is too easy too. Okay, how about this: Their company name ends with "Runner." Yeah, that's a good clue.

So for those of you wondering why this entry on a "Baseball Blog" has absolutely nothing to do with baseball, the reason is that I am without my writing partner: the internet. I can't look up Jacque Jones' hitting splits or Cincinnati's record in 1-run games or Oscar Gamble's career stats or Luis Rivas' "zone rating" (which, I assure you, is still awful).

I also can't surf the web for interesting stories to comment on, which is a staple of this blog.

Depending on whether or not "Meep Meep" does what they say and I get my baby back by tomorrow's entry, you may have some good baseball writing or you may have another column about me gambling on NCAA basketball games, a thing some would call a "gambling problem." (which, incidentally, is only a problem when you lose).

Until then, if you are in the mood for some of my writing about baseball, please check out this brand spanking new article of mine over at Baseball Primer:

Looking Forward to 2003: Chicago White Sox (by Aaron Gleeman)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

March 18, 2003

Ashley and the ChiSox

You know why I love my readers? Yesterday I posted two wonderful pictures of Ashley Judd and no less than 10 different people emailed me with other wonderful pictures of Ashley Judd. It is sort of like posting pictures of hundred-dollar bills and having people send you thousands of dollars (which, incidentally, you guys are free to do also).

Anyway, today for your reading enjoyment I have something very special. Over at the writers have put together "Team Previews" for each and every Major League Baseball team. We are running one per day and we started with the Brewers on March 2nd and will end with the World Champion Angels right before the season starts.

Today's preview is none other than the Chicago White Sox (which may be of great interest to you Twins fans) and it is written by none other than Yours Truly!

If you are a White Sox fan, go check it out. If you are a Twins fan, go check it out. And if you don't really care about either of those teams, check it out anyway because I think it is a really entertaining article (and it is written by me and, if you are here reading this, you must at least occasionally like my writing, right?).

Looking Forward to 2003: Chicago White Sox (by Aaron Gleeman)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

March 17, 2003

Back to Baseball (sort of)

As you know, yesterday I made my picks for the NCAA tournament and picked T.J. Ford and the Texas Longhorns to cut the nets down come April 7th. The popular choice among most people (including seemingly everyone who is or ever has been employed by ESPN) seems to be the University of Kentucky - whom I predicted would lose to Texas in the national championship game.

However, yesterday, after I made my picks for the tournament public knowledge, I came across the following very convincing arguments for changing my pick for national champs to the Kentucky Wildcats...

Now, quite obviously, those are extremely convincing arguments for picking Kentucky. That said, I am sticking with my pick of the Longhorns.

(And, yes, this was just a very cheap excuse for putting two pictures of Ashley Judd in sports jerseys on my website)

Okay, back to that other sport...

This is a relatively old story, but I haven't talked about it yet. Rocco Baldelli has impressed new Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella so much this spring that Sweet Lou has decided that Baldelli will make the team. This is a fairly big bit of news, because Baldelli is not only one of the top prospects in baseball, he is also only 21 years old.

This is of particular interest to me because Rocco Baldelli, despite being a very good prospect, has absolutely zero plate discipline.

Here's what I said about him in my "Top 50 Prospects" article on a couple months ago:

When someone with as many "tools" as Rocco Baldelli puts everything together and has a season like he did in 2002, a lot of people get excited, and rightfully so. Toolsy high school outfielders tend to have problems actually performing well, so it is big news when a guy jumps through 3 levels of a minor league system, wins Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year and hits .330 with 19 homers and 28 doubles - all at the age of 20.

Before you get too excited, keep in mind that Baldelli only drew 23 walks combined between those 3 levels and 2 of them were intentional. Plus, he didn't draw a single walk in almost 100 plate appearances at Triple-A.

Baldelli is a line drive machine with plus speed and solid base stealing instincts that should get even better with more experience. On defense, he is a natural centerfielder with good speed, great athleticism and the ability to glide to balls in the gaps.

There is an awful lot here to get really excited about and the Devil Rays have shown a willingness to promote players very aggressively. However, the fact is that most players not named "Soriano" have a pretty difficult time being superstars while walking twice a month.

Baldelli is a step ahead of most toolsy high schoolers at this point, but the coaching he receives in the near future will play a gigantic part in whether or not he becomes a star. I'd feel better if that coaching was coming from an organization other than Tampa Bay, but he'll have to make the most of what they have to offer him.

Rocco Baldelli's "ceiling" is as high as anyone's and he looks like a potential MVP candidate, but he's going to make it very difficult on himself if he doesn't start taking some walks. Short term, I wouldn't expect him to hit .330 in the Majors anytime soon, which is what he’ll have to do to make himself valuable with such an atrocious walk rate.

Well, I guess I was right about Tampa Bay promoting him aggressively! As for the effect this jump will have on his future, I am torn. On one hand, I think the coaching he will get in the Majors will be better than what he would get in AAA or AA. But, I would much rather let a prospect get a little more experience at the high levels of the minors before throwing him into the fire in the big leagues.

Regarding his plate discipline, I think he would have a much better chance of improving it in the minors. Now that he's in the Majors, he is going to have trouble just being a good hitter at all, let alone having the energy to focus on improving his walk rate.

It wouldn't surprise me if he drew less than 25 walks in a full season with Tampa Bay. Yet, he might not even have the worst plate discipline on his own team.

Last year, Tampa Bay drew 456 walks, which ranked 12th in the AL. In the off-season, two of their big walkers, Steve Cox (60 walks) and Randy Winn (55) departed.

The Detroit Tigers drew 363 walks last season and I remembered hearing that 363 walks was the lowest total by a team in "X years," but I couldn't quite remember how many years or where I had heard it.

So, I enlisted the help of Craig Burley of Baseball Primer and the Batter's Box and he did the grunt work for me and found that Detroit's total of 363 walks as a team was the lowest total in a non-strike season since the 1967 Mets drew 362 walks.

That's pretty freaking amazing. But you wanna know something? I think the Tampa Bay Devil Rays just might draw fewer than 363 walks this season.

Let's take a look at the main players...

Their starting catcher will be Toby Hall. Hall is a pretty good hitter. He has a career AAA batting line of .328/.365/.533 in 163 games. And he's even done reasonably well so far in the Majors, hitting .270/.302/.402 in 2001 and 2002 combined.

Actually, he has a total of 138 games played in the Majors Leagues, which is a nice number for our purposes because I want to figure out how many he's likely to draw in a full-season's worth of playing time.

In 138 games, Hall has drawn 22 walks. So, let's say he's a little more mature now and a little more ready to be a Major League hitter and give him the benefit of the doubt of 25 walks in full-time (catcher) playing time, which is like 120 games or so.

The backup catcher is likely going to be Jorge Fabregas (seriously, don't laugh). Jorge drew 8 walks in 169 plate appearances last year and 3 walks in 157 PAs in 2001, so I'd say he's a good bet to walk about 5 times in approximately 150 PAs this year.

Okay, so we've got the catcher spot covered and we're giving them a total of 30 walks.

Now let's move to the infield...

Travis Lee is going to be their everyday first baseman. He walked 54 times in 153 games last year and 71 times in 157 games in 2001. I'd say Lee is a good bet to walk 65 times in 2003.

The second base job is between Brent Abernathy and Marlon Anderson right now. Abernathy walked 25 times in 117 games last year, while Anderson walked 42 times in 145 games. I am not sure who will get the everyday job, but either way we are looking at about 40 walks from second base.

Their shortstop is none other than Rey Ordonez. At first glance, Rey's walk totals simply look horrible. Upon further inspection, we find out that, because he was batting in front of the pitcher in the NL, he was walked intentionally 17 times in 2001 and 11 times last year, making his walk totals ridiculously awful.

I can assure you that if Rey Ordonez stays in AL he will not see 11 intentional walks for the rest of his career, even if he plays till he's like 167 years old. When you take the IBBs away, Ordonez had 13 walks in 144 games last year and 17 walks in 149 games in 2001. Let's say he's good for 20 walks in 2003.

The third base battle in Tampa Bay isn't quite won yet, but I have heard that Aubrey Huff will likely play there quite a bit. Huff was Tampa's best hitter last season, hitting .313/.364/.520 with 37 walks in 113 games. Huff walked only 23 times in 111 games the year before. Let's assume he continues to be their best hitter and pitchers become somewhat scared to pitch to him and he is able to draw 45 walks this year.

The loser of the 2B battle will be one of the backup infielders and the other will likely be Jared Sandberg. Sandberg drew 39 walks in 102 games last year. He actually walks quite a bit (and Ks even more), so I would say he could walk 30 times if he's given about 250 plate appearances between 1B, 3B and DH.

Speaking of DH, Greg Vaughn is still there for the D-Rays. Vaughn actually walks quite a bit too. He walked 41 times in only 297 plate appearances last year. Let's say he gets another 300 PAs in 2003 and walks 40 times.

In right field the D-Rays have Ben Grieve, who is quite the walker. In fact, if the D-Rays don't break the Tigers' record, he'll be to blame. Grieve walked 69 times in 136 games last year and 87 times in 2001. I think he's a good bet to walk about 75 times in 2003.

Now, at this point you might be wondering why this team is even being mentioned as a possibility for walking even less than the Tigers did in 2003. After all, they have Grieve and Vaughn and some other guys that walk a little bit.

Oh, but we haven't gotten to the good parts yet.

Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford, two 21 year olds, will be manning center and left field in 2003. Crawford got significant time with Tampa Bay last year and walked 9 times in 278 plate appearances, which is really tough to do. Before coming to Tampa, Crawford played 85 games in AAA and walked 20 times. So, combined between AAA and the Majors he walked 29 times in 149 games.

As I mentioned in my prospects article from earlier this year, Rocco Baldelli spent time at three different levels on Tampa's organization last year and walked a total of 23 times in 117 games.

I don't think it is crazy to suggest that, if given every day playing time in 2003, Crawford and Baldelli could combine for 1,200 plate appearances and 40-50 walks. Let's be kind and give them 50.

The D-Rays' backup outfielders will probably be Damian Rolls (13 walks in 347 career Major League PAs) and Jason Conti (26 walks in 349 career PAs). Let's say these two guys combine for 300 PAs and mark them down for 20 walks.

Okay, so let's see what we've got here...

Toby Hall - 25

Jorge Fabregas - 5

Travis Lee - 65

Brent Abernathy - 25

Marlon Anderson - 15

Aubrey Huff - 45

Jared Sandberg - 30

Greg Vaughn - 40

Ben Grieve - 75

Rocco Baldelli - 25

Carl Crawford - 25

Damian Rolls - 5

Jason Conti - 15

That comes out to a total of 395 walks and that was with me giving most everyone the benefit of the doubt and going with the high end of estimates. Obviously this was a very "quick and dirty" calculation, but I really think the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have a good chance of doing something that no team has done in over 35 years, which is draw fewer than 350 walks in a full, non-strike season. Hey, every team needs a goal, right?

The 1966 St. Louis Cardinals drew 345 walks, making the last team to have less than 350 in a year. Wanna know the most interesting thing about that? The Cardinals won the World Series the next year!

But wait, this gets even more interesting. That 1967 Mets team that is the last to draw fewer walks than the Tigers did last season? Well, they won the World Series two seasons later!

So, for those Tigers fans out there (and I assume there are still a few of you left), that is some good news for you to ponder while watching your team hack its way to another 90+ loss season. The last two teams to walk less than you did last year each won the World Series within the next two seasons!

All the more reason for the D-Rays to shoot for less than 363 walks this year. If they can do it, they'll get that World Series trophy by 2005!

Moving in silent desperation

Keeping an eye on the Holy Land

A hypothetical destination

Say, who is this walking man?

Well, the leaves have come to turning

And the goose has gone to fly

And bridges are for burning

So don't you let that yearning

Pass you by

Walking man, walking man walks

Well, any other man stops and talks

But the walking man walks

And the walking man walks

Doesn't know nothing at all

Any other man stops and talks

But the walking man walks on by

Walk on by

Walking man walk on by my door

Well, any other man stops and talks

But not the walking man

He's the walking man

Born to walk

Walk on walking man

Well now, would he have wings to fly

Would he be free

Golden wings against the sky

Walking man, walk on by

So long, walking man, so long

--- James Taylor, "Walking Man"

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

The Madness

For those of you not interested in anything that isn't related to baseball, you'll have to excuse me today, because the next few weeks are the most exciting time of the year for any sports fan and I am too excited not to write about it.

The seeding for the NCAA basketball tournament was announced last night and, since I enjoy making predictions and some of you seem to be interested in what I predict, I figured I would take this opportunity to make my picks for March Madness public.

It's tough to discuss the tournament without the aid of a bracket, but I haven't quite figured out how to get one of those with my picks filled in on this page, so I'll try not to make this too confusing. If you want to take a look at a complete bracket, click here.

And, as always, feel free to e-mail me in a few weeks to tell me just how wrong I was.

Let's just hop around to each region...

The West:

Arizona is the deserving #1 seed here, after going 25-3 overall and 17-1 in the Pac-10. The Wildcats did lose in the 1st round of the Pac-10 tourney, but they finished #2 in the country in RPI rating and had won 20 out of 21 before that slip up.

The rest of the West bracket is far and away the toughest of the four regions.

Kansas is the #2 seed, Duke is the #3 seed and Illinois is the #4 seed. Think about that for a moment. In one region, you have the regular season Pac-10 champs, the regular season Big Twelve champs, the Big Ten tournament champs and the ACC tournament champs.


Kansas could easily have been given a #1 seed and both Duke and Illinois could have gotten as high as #2s. I think the top four seeds in the West will make it to the sweet 16 and I really don't think there will be a whole lot of upsets in this region.

Gonzaga (9) will beat Cincinnati (8) in round one, but that isn't really much of an upset. I also think that Wisconsin-Milwaukee (12) has a good chance of beating Notre Dame (5) and Central Michigan (11) has a very good chance of knocking off Creighton (6).

In the later rounds, I am predicting Arizona goes down to Illinois, who I think are really clicking right now and have one of the best players in the country in Brian Cook.

So here are my predictions for the West region:

Sweet Sixteen = Arizona (1), Kansas (2), Duke (3) and Illinois (4).

Elite Eight = Illinois (4) and Kansas (2).

Final Four = Illinois (4).

The Midwest:

Kentucky gets the #1 seed in the Midwest after blitzing through the SEC regular season and tournament undefeated and finishing the year with 23 straight wins and the #1 RPI ranking in the country.

The Wildcats are absolutely deserving of a #1 seed and I am really confused as to why the committee would set up the brackets so that Arizona and Kentucky could meet before the championship game. I feel like they are the definite top two teams in the country right now for seeding purposes and I'd sure like it if they were on opposite sides of the bracket. As it stands now, if they meet it will be in the national semi-final game.

Pittsburgh receives the #2 seed, which is what they deserve. There was some talk of them getting a #1, but I just don't think their schedule was that great and I don't think they could have been chosen as a #1 over any of the three Big Twelve powers.

While Kentucky is a very deserving #1 seed and Pitt is a solid #2, I think the rest of the Midwest's top seeds are very weak and very ripe for upsets.

I like Tulsa (13) to beat Dayton (4) in the first round. I also think Weber State (12) has a decent shot of beating Wisconsin (5) in round one and I think Tulsa will beat whichever team comes out of the Wisconsin/Weber State matchup in round two.

I like Indiana (7) to beat Alabama (10) in the first round and then upset Pitt (2) in round two and I like Missouri (6) to upset Marquette (3) in round two also.

Here are my predictions for the Midwest region:

Sweet Sixteen = Kentucky (1), Missouri (6), Indiana (7) and Tulsa (13).

Elite Eight = Kentucky (1) and Indiana (7).

Final Four = Kentucky (1).

The East:

Oklahoma gets the nod here as the #1 seed after finishing third in the Big 12 regular season standings and winning the conference tournament. They didn't have to play either Kansas or Texas to win it, so it's not all that impressive, but I still think they deserve the #1 seed here. They finished #3 in RPI and have 10 wins over top 50 RPI teams.

Wake Forest gets the second seed after winning the ACC regular season championship and losing to NC State in the ACC tourney. Wake is obviously a good team and the ACC champs probably deserve a #2 seed no matter who they are, but I still think the Demon Deacons aren't the strongest of #2 seeds.

Syracuse gets #3 and Louisville is #4.

I really don't see a single major upset happening in this entire region. I think NC State (9) will beat California (8), but that's no big deal. Oklahoma State (6) could have a little trouble with Penn (11), but I think they'll win that game.

In the later rounds, I think the Mississippi State (5) / Louisville (4) game in the second round will be a great one. And the matchup of the winner of that game and Oklahoma in round three will be awesome.

I like Syracuse (3) to beat Wake Forest (2), which is a slight upset, I suppose.

My official picks:

Sweet Sixteen = Oklahoma (1), Wake Forest (2), Syracuse (3), Louisville (4).

Elite Eight = Oklahoma (1), Syracuse (3).

Final Four = Oklahoma (1).

The South:

The Texas Longhorns, led by my favorite player in all of college basketball, T.J. Ford, got the #1 seed in the South region.

Some of you may not have been around then or maybe you just don't remember, but I actually wrote a long entry about college basketball on the very first night of the season, way back in November.

Since I mentioned Ford here and I talked a lot about him back then, I figure this would be a good time to check back on that column and see how my predictions panned out...

If you haven't heard of Carmelo Anthony yet, you soon will. Anthony is a freshman swingman at Syracuse and will soon be a superstar. He can do it all. He has good ballhandling skills, is extremely athletic and can even rebound the ball pretty well. But, the thing that impresses me the most about his game is his mid-range jumpshot. He can stop on a dime, pull up and sink a 17-footer at any time, and that is a pretty rare skill in today's dunk and 3-pointer game.

Keep an eye out for him and remember the name, he is going to be very special. To steal a quote from's Bill Simmons, I wish I could buy stock in Carmelo Anthony.

Hmmm...turns out I have a good eye for freshmen talent, I guess!

Carmelo Anthony ended up leading Syracuse to a tie for the Big East regular season title. He averaged 22.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game and was, far and away, the best freshman in the country. In fact, he was so good that his college career is probably only going to be this one season and he'll be a top-five pick in the NBA draft. So, I am going to give myself an "A+" on the Carmelo Anthony comment.

Speaking of special players...

My favorite player in all of college basketball is Texas sophomore point guard T.J. Ford.

You know that question on personality tests that asks, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" Well, if I was a point guard, I would be a T.J. Ford, or at least I would like to be a T.J. Ford. T.J. is the player I tried to be when I was playing basketball. He is basically an assist waiting to happen. He doesn't score much (about 10 points a game), but if a Longhorns big man gets open, he will find him for an easy score. He is fast, extremely athletic, has exceptional ball handling skills and is the best point guard in the country. Point guards that can score 20 a game are certainly nice, but give me a T.J. Ford, a guy that can run the offense and keep everyone involved, and I will take him everyday of the week and 5 times on John Stockton's birthday. T.J. Ford is my pick to lead the country in assists this year and he should do it by a pretty large margin. So, keep an eye on him and remember his name too (along with Anthony's).

Once again, not a bad prediction.

Ford didn't end up leading the country in assists like I predicted, but he did average 7.3 per game, which was 5th in college basketball.

Oh...and he won's Player of the Year Award too!

Despite not getting the assist prediction right, I think I was dead on about him being a special player (he won the player of the year!) and I am going to give myself an "A" for this one. This isn't a more exciting player in basketball right now.

Rick Rickert is the real deal. At 6-10, he is a phenomenal long range shooter with an improving post game. He is not a great defender or rebounder yet, but he'll improve with time in the weight room and more games in the Big Ten Conference. I think Rickert will win the Big Ten Player of the Year and I don't think it will even be particularly close. I expect him to average about 20-22 points and 8-10 boards this year.

Okay, so two out of three aint bad, right?

Rick Rickert was one of the biggest disappointments in college basketball this year and I say that as a gigantic Minnesota Gophers fan and current U of M student.

Instead of averaging "20-22 points and 8-10 boards" he averaged 15.9 points and 6.3 boards. He was also not even close to winning the Big Ten Player of the Year award. I think he will leave for the NBA and I have to say that I don't even care. He would help the team a lot next year, but he is a very frustrating player to watch and I don't think he will ever be a superstar, even at the college level.

I am gonna give myself a "D+" on this one, just because he did make first-team Big Ten.

Then I moved on to team and conference predictions...

The Minnesota Gophers should have their best season since the Clem Haskins era.

Well, I think that probably did occur, but it isn't exactly something to get excited about.

I also said:

Last year's starting point guard, senior Kevin Burleson, returns, although whether or not that is good news is debatable.

This was my understatement of the year. Kevin Burleson was so bad this season that it is almost beyond words. The mere mention of his name is enough to make any Gopher fan cringe. It got so bad that he was routinely booed at home at the end of the year. He shot 35.7% on the year and had an incredible nack for completely ruining any momentum we had going in a game by throwing a pass right out of bounds or pulling up for a 25-foot 3-point shot that would inevitably hit nothing but air.

He's gone now and if I never hear his name again, it will be too soon. No grade on this one, because I didn't really make a prediction and I did imply that he stunk.

One player that I do expect to step up his game is sophomore shooting guard Maurice Hargrow. Mo and I went to high school together for 4 years, although I would guess he is completely unaware of that fact. Hargrow is extremely athletic and fast and has a very good first step. He isn't a real good shooter yet, but I think he will be a nice surprise for Minnesota this year and should provide some scoring punch off the bench.

This might be the prediction that I am most proud of. Mo Hargrow was pretty much the lone bright spot on the entire Minnesota team this season. He went from barely used freshman to 13.1 points a game as a sophomore. He improved his outside shooting (40.0% on 3's) and developed into a solid all-around player, the best on the team on most days (depending on whether or not Rickert decided to play that particularly game)

I am giving myself an "A" on this because I spotted a freshman that averaged like eight minutes a game last year and predicted he would have a good season. The only reason I'm not going with an "A+" is that I said he'd "provide some scoring punch off the bench" and he actually was a starter all year.

The Gophers will go as far as their big men will take them. I think they have a good chance at winning the Big Ten title, but I predict they will finish in 2nd place.

Well, we already established that their main big man, Rick Rickert, did not have a good year. And I was way off about them finishing 2nd, because they actually finished tied for 6th in the conference. I am gonna give myself a "D" for this prediction.

North Carolina. Yes, I realize how horrible they were last year. And no, I don't expect them to be great this year.

I do think they will be much improved with a starting 5 that includes 3 much heralded freshmen and 2 very good sophomores who were the lone bright spots on last year's team. I think UNC will finish in the top 4 of the ACC Conference, which is saying something after they finished tied for dead last a year ago.

This prediction was looking sooooo awesome after about two weeks of the season. UNC was sitting at 5-0 after beating Kansas and Stanford in back-to-back games. But then Sean May, their freshman center and only real big man, broke his foot in the 10th game of the year and missed the entire remainder of the regular season. They ended up at 17-15 and finished 6th in the ACC - not "in the top 4."

I think my prediction was right about them, but May's injury just killed them, so I am going to give myself a "C+" on this one because they did improve immensely from last year.

Texas. The Big Twelve has the most upper level, elite teams in the country, with Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas amazingly all in the pre-season top 5. I like Kansas a lot, but that isn't really much of a shock. So, I'll talk a little bit about the Longhorns.

I already mentioned how in love I am with T.J. Ford's game. I also really like junior forward James Thomas, who is a force inside and is a great finisher (which is key when you have Ford setting you up for easy baskets all over the place). If Thomas can get some help inside, Texas should be in for a very good season. Even though they are ranked #5 in the country to start the year, I don't think many people are talking about them as major contenders, but that will change.

Bingo. I hit this one right on the head. The Longhorns finished second in the Big 12 and received a #1 seed in the tournament. James Thomas had a great year and Ford was spectacular. I'll give myself a "B+" on this one, just because they were highly ranked at the start of the year anyway.

Louisville. Rick Pitino's first season with Louisville was a good one, but not great. I think the 2002-2003 version will be much improved. They return almost every important player from last year's 19-13 team, including senior guard Reece Gaines, who is a stud and a good bet to average 25 a game. Louisville will make the NCAA tourney and it wouldn't surprise me to see them in the Sweet Sixteen.

Damn, I am good!

Louisville started the season 18-1 and even beat Kentucky. They struggled at the end of the year, but finished with a 24-6 record and were the Conference USA tournament champs. They got a #4 seed in the tourney.

Louisville was nowhere near the pre-season top 25 and they finished 16th, so I am going to give myself an "A" for this one.

Now, a team I don't like so much...Florida.

The Gators are ranked #7 in the country right now and that simply is not going to last. They play a pretty soft non-conference schedule, but once the SEC season begins, they will start dropping games. Florida have absolutely zero frontcourt depth beyond Matt Bonner and David Lee. I have heard that freshman guard Christian Drejer is the real deal and he better be, because the Gators are going to have to score a lot of points to make up for their lack of rebounding and shot blocking. Plus, Drejer is going to miss the few couple of weeks with a foot injury. They'll make the NCAA Tourney, but they aren't going to finish anywhere near #7. Brett Nelson has got to be the least deserving John Wooden Award candidate (2 years in a row!) in the history of the world.

This one wasn't so good.

Florida struggled all year, but usually managed to pull out the close games. They finished at 24-7, second in the SEC and got a #2 seed in the tourney. I am gonna give myself another "D" for this one, although I was right about how bad Brett Nelson is/was.

My official picks for regular season champions (because anything can happen in the conference tourney):

Big Ten = Michigan State.

ACC = Duke.

Big East = Boston College (East Division) and Pittsburgh (West Division).

Big Twelve = Kansas.

Pac Ten = Arizona.

SEC = Georgia (East Division) and Alabama (West Division).

Hmmm...some good and some bad.

Michigan State finished tied for third in the Big Ten.

Duke finished tied for second in the ACC.

Georgia finished third in the SEC East and Alabama finished fourth in the SEC West.

On the other hand...

Kansas did win the Big 12 and Arizona did win the Pac-10, and I got both Boston College and Pitt correct for the Big East.

Overall, not great, but not bad either.

I'll give myself a "C+" on this part.

And finally...

Final Four:





Actually, this is looking pretty good.

Of the four teams I picked, two are #1 seeds, one is a #2 seed and one is a #3 seed. That's pretty good. I am gonna go with a "B" on this part.

So, let's add up my grades here:

A+ (Carmelo Anthony)

A (T.J. Ford)

D+ (Rick Rickert)

A (Mo Hargrow)

D (Gophers 2nd in Big Ten)

C+ (UNC improvement)

B+ (Texas)

A (Louisville)

D (Florida)

C+ (Conference champs)

B (Final Four picks)

Ignoring the "plusses," my "GPA" here is 2.64. In other words, "a solid C." Yay!

Okay, now back to the South region, since we got really sidetracked with T.J. Ford...

As you can probably tell by reading what I wrote about them in November, I still like Texas to advance to the Final Four out of this region.

Florida is the 2 seed and I think that is horrible seeding. They finished the year by losing three games in a row and their final RPI is only 15, which would put them as a #4 seed. There is no way Florida should get a #2 while Duke gets a #3 and Illinois gets a #4, it just doesn't make sense.

I think Florida will get knocked out in the second round by the winner of the Michigan State (7) / Colorado (10) game. I think Colorado will win, but either team will beat Florida.

I also think Maryland (6) will beat UNC-Wilmington (11) in round one and then upset Xavier (3) in round two. LSU (8) over Purdue (9) is stone cold lock in round one.

UCONN (5) could have some problems with BYU (12), but they should pull it out.

My South region predictions:

Sweet Sixteen = Texas (1), Connecticut (5), Maryland (6) and Colorado (10).

Elite Eight = Texas (1) and Maryland (6).

Final Four = Texas (1).

Okay, so there you have it.

To recap...

Sweet Sixteen:

West = Arizona (1), Kansas (2), Duke (3) and Illinois (4).

Midwest = Kentucky (1), Missouri (6), Indiana (7) and Tulsa (13).

East = Oklahoma (1), Wake Forest (2), Syracuse (3), Louisville (4).

South = Texas (1), Connecticut (5), Maryland (6) and Colorado (10).

Elite Eight:

West = Kansas (2) and Illinois (4).

Midwest = Kentucky (1) and Indiana (7).

East = Oklahoma (1) and Syracuse (3).

South = Texas (1) and Maryland (6).

Final Four:

West = Illinois (4)

Midwest = Kentucky (1)

East = Oklahoma (1)

South = Texas (1)

Championship Game:

Kentucky vs. Texas

And your 2003 NCAA basketball champs...

T.J. Ford and the Texas Longhorns, of course.

Are we having fun yet?!

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

March 13, 2003

Aaron's Baseball Blog: SUPERSIZED (and with pictures!)

As promised, today's entry is a massive one. I'm now on Spring Break for a week or so and I'm in good spirits, so what better to do then write a whole bunch of stuff about baseball?

The Twins signed Kenny Rogers to a 1 year contract worth $2 million, plus incentives.

I think my feelings on this signing are somewhat complicated and ever-changing, so I'll try to lay it out as simply as possible:

1) Adding Kenny Rogers to a baseball team for $2 million dollars is a good thing.

He's a veteran pitcher with a long history of being average or better and is coming off of a good season in which he pitched 210 innings with a sub-4 ERA in a hitter's park.

2) Removing Johan Santana from the rotation is not a good thing.

I've talked about Johan enough here that I don't think I have to discuss his pros and cons anymore, but suffice it to say I think the more Johan Santana the Twins get in 2003 and beyond, the better.

My initial reaction to this signing was that it was a poor decision. In fact, here is what I wrote on as soon as I found out about it:

Well, that's just great.

Normally, I am happy when my favorite team signs a pitcher that pitched 210 innings with a 3.85 ERA in a severe hitter's park last year. This time however, it means that Johan Santana will be moving back to the bullpen. It is almost as if the Twins did this all to toy with me. I had been talking for months about how Santana should be in the rotation and when Milton went down with the injury, they immediately announced that he would. I was sad about Milton, but very excited about Santana. Then, a couple weeks later, this happens.

Kenny Rogers' K rate has never been very good, but it reached a career low last year at 4.57/9 IP. A low K rate is not unique among Twins starters, as Mays, Radke and Reed all K'd less than 6.0 per 9 last year. Kyle Lohse is now the Strikeout King among Twins starters at 6.18/9. The difference between Rogers and the other starters is that Rogers is an extreme groundball pitcher (2.02 GB/FB), while the other guys all get the ball in the air a ton (Radke 1.05, Reed 0.91, Lohse 0.83, Mays 1.18). Milton (0.67) is one of the biggest flyball pitchers in baseball and prior to this I was under the belief that the Twins were consciously building their pitching staff around their outstanding outfield defense, which I thought was a brilliant plan.

This, of course, puts a hole in that theory. Rogers doesn't strike anyone out and the Twins are very weak up-the-middle defensively, which is a recipe for mediocrity at best and disaster at worst.

On its own, this signing is a nice one. They get a veteran starter that was pretty good last year. But it isn't on its own, it is on the Twins, which means one of the most promising young lefties in baseball now goes back to pitching in relief.

After thinking about it a little more, I realize that my feelings were based entirely on Santana being bumped from the rotation. I have been pushing Johan as the next big thing more than perhaps anyone else in the world, so I was obviously very disappointed when I found out he won't be starting the year in the rotation.

However, thanks to some discussions with other Twins fans, I have come to the conclusion that this signing is a good one.

A few reasons...

1) There really isn't much downside.

If Rogers stinks, you cut bait, lose your $2 mill and stick Johan back in the rotation. Rogers was very good last year, but he did post a 6.19 ERA in a injury-filled 2001 campaign. If he appears headed toward a 6.00 ERA again, you stick him in long-relief or put him out to stud. $2 million bucks is a lot, but even to a team like the Twins it isn't going to affect their budget much. Plus, I believe they will be getting about $1.8 million from the insurance company to cover Eric Milton's contract, so they can just use that money to pay Rogers.

2) As my good buddy Ross pointed out, what are the odds that a team can go through an entire season with only 5 starting pitchers?

It has obviously been done quite a few times, but what are the chances that the Twins, who have already lost a starter for most of the year, would have been able to count on Radke, Reed, Mays, Lohse and Santana to each take their turn in the rotation every single time? Radke missed a ton of time last year and so did Mays, plus I think Mays is a strong candidate to stink in 2003. Rick Reed is like 56 years old and strikes me as the kind of player that could fall off a cliff at anytime. Kyle Lohse had a very nice season in 2003, but would you really be willing to bet on him pitching 180 innings with a low-4.00s ERA in 2003? I wouldn't.

So, as you can see, there are a lot of reasons to think the Twins will need more than 5 starting pitchers in 2003.

3) Santana will get his starts in 2003 and he'll pitch high-leverage innings out of the pen. I'll take 180-200 innings from a starter over 70 innings from a reliever anytime, but if the Twins can find a way to get him 15 starts in 2003 (like they did in 2002) and a total of 120 innings or so, I would be fine with that. He's only 24 and a few less innings on his arm is probably a good thing anyway, right?

I'd still rather see Santana in the rotation for 180 innings, but I figure 200 innings of Rogers and 120 innings of Johan is probably better than 180 innings of Johan and 140 innings of Jose Cabrera, Juan Rincon, Kevin Frederick and the other bums the Twins were talking about for their last bullpen spot(s).

This now gives the Twins the following pitching staff, as far as I can tell:

SP - Brad Radke (R)

SP - Kenny Rogers (L)

SP - Rick Reed (R)

SP - Kyle Lohse (R)

SP - Joe Mays (R)

RP - Mike Fetters (R)

RP - Tony Fiore (R)

RP - Latroy Hawkins (R)

RP - Johan Santana (L)

RP - J.C. Romero (L)

CL - Eddie Guardado (L)

That's a damn good staff. They don't have a real "ace" (which is what I think Santana could have been), but they've got 5 starters, most of them veterans, that should be able to give them league average or better pitching and some bulk innings.

The bullpen, which was looking a little bit shaky last week, is now back to being a major strength. You've got Tony Fiore to do the long-relief work. Fetters and Hawkins to shut down the righties and the lefty trifecta of Santana, Romero and Guardado to shut down anyone and everyone.

Actually, looking at that setup, if I had my way I would switch Kyle Lohse to the pen to get Johan in the rotation.

Check out Lohse's numbers:


vs Righties = .213/.272/.361

vs Lefties = .308/.392/.516


vs Righties = .219/.274/.393

vs Lefties = .348/.415/.597

Those are amazing splits for a guy that was actually a very good pitcher last year (180 IP, 4.23 ERA).

He did improve slightly against lefties last year, but he was just simply a better pitcher last year, period. I would love to see what he could do as a long-reliever/righty setup man, where he could be spotted against righty-dominated parts of lineups and kept away from left-handed power hitters.

As for Kenny Rogers...

I don't think he will post a 3.85 ERA again this year. Unlike most of the Twins other pitchers, he is a groundball pitcher. He also doesn't strike anyone out, which means he'll be relying on Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas to convert a lot of balls into outs in 2003, which is something I'd want to avoid if I were a pitcher. Nevertheless, he has a fairly sustained level of success and I would say 180-200 innings and a 4.00-4.50 ERA should be considered a nice season.

The Twins seem to be convinced that Santana is better off in the pen this year and, although I disagree and am disappointed, it's not the end of the world and I think he'll get his chance sooner rather than later.

The Orioles acquired Jack Cust from the Colorado Rockies for Chris Richard.

Believe it or not, I actually think Baltimore made a good move for once.

Chris Richard is a nice player to have. He can play first base and any of the 3 outfield spots and he hits well enough (.259/.325/.453 career) that he won't hurt you and can actually help when he's doing well.

That said, he turns 29 in a few months and has struggled with injuries a lot of late.

He missed several months last year after having shoulder surgery and is still not 100%. In fact, this what he said after learning he was headed to Colorado:

I haven't made throws from the outfield on consecutive days," said Richard. "I'm sure the shoulder will be able to handle it. ... I hope the Rockies realize that I'm less than 100 percent throwing from the outfield."

When is the last time you heard an injured player say, basically, "Well, I am still hurting, so I hope the team knows that"? On a good team, Chris Richard is a good pinch-hitter/spot-starter at 1B/DH/LF/RF against right-handed pitching and a guy that should probably get 200-300 ABs a year. Like I said, a nice player to have, but nothing special.

Jack Cust, on the other hand, could potentially be an impact player.

Here are his performances of late:

Year    LVL     AB     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B     BB     SO

1999 A 455 .334 .450 .651 32 42 96 145
2000 AA 447 .293 .440 .526 20 32 117 150
2001 AAA 442 .278 .415 .525 27 24 102 160
2002 AAA 359 .265 .407 .524 23 24 83 121

A couple of "interesting" patterns here.

1) His batting average is falling like a rock: 334 to .293 to .278 to .265. That aint a good sign. However...

2) His "isolated power" is actually rising. For those of you unfamiliar with that stat, it is simply SLG% minus batting average. I would call it a measure of "raw power" or batting independent of batting average.

His actual SLG% has stayed almost identical, but because his batting average has fallen his ISO has gone way up. Basically, Cust is becoming less and less able to hit singles, but his power is still damn good.

One theory with this would be that he is having more trouble making contact with the ball as he moves up the organizational ladder, but that simply is not the case here. His at bat per strikeout rates are: 1/3.1, 1/3.0, 1/2.8, 1/3.0. That's pretty much a stable rate of striking out.

As long as we are looking at "rates" let's check out his homer and doubles rates. I am gonna forget about his 1999 stats because they came in Single-A and probably don't mean a whole lot in this discussion...

At bats per homer:

2000 = 22.4

2001 = 16.4

2002 = 15.6

At bats per double:

2000 = 14.0

2001 = 18.4

2002 = 15.0

Jack Cust has definitely got some impressive power. Besides the falling batting averages, the big knocks against Cust are that he is absolutely dreadful defensively and that he has typically played in very good parks for hitters.

I haven't seen him enough to give my opinion of his defense, but almost everything I've ever read about him says he stinks in LF and at 1B. Now that he's in the AL he can safely DH and just stick to hitting the snot out of pitches. As for the hitter's parks, that is definitely correct. Cust has not only played in hitter's parks, he has played in some of the best hitter's parks (Colorado Springs, Tucson, El Paso, etc). That takes some air out of his numbers, but it doesn't change the plate discipline and his power is still very real.

While Richard is turning 29 soon, Jack Cust is only 24. So, even if they were equals as players, Cust would get a huge edge. And I think Cust has the potential to be a lot better hitter than Richard, so it is really no contest.

As bad as Baltimore is (and trust me, they are pathetic) they now have at least a couple of intriguing, young players to build around.

Here's how I would assess their franchise building plan at this moment:

DH - Jack Cust, 24

RF - Jay Gibbons, 26

RP - Jorge Julio, 24

Okay, so it isn't much, but it's 50% more young players to build around then they had this time last week, right? You gotta start somewhere.

When I think of spring training, I think of sitting in the sun, sipping some lemonade and watching some baseball. In other words, paradise. But apparently some people get to spring training and get kind of ornery.

A couple of days ago Jose Mesa said he wanted to kill Omar Vizquel. Seriously.

You see, Omar Vizquel wrote a book that came out about 9 months ago. Seriously.

Anyway, in it he bashes Jose Mesa pretty hard for his performance in game 7 of the World Series a few years back (Mesa blew the save and Cleveland lost the game). Jose took great offense to what Omar said and responded like this:

"I will not forgive him. Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I'll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him."

"If he comes to apologize, I will punch him right in the face. And then I'll kill him. If you're a writer and you want to write a good book, you don't write a story about somebody else."

First of all, Mesa seems to be missing the point about literature by saying you shouldn't write about other people. I mean, if Vizquel was limited to stories that only involved himself, the book would be even worse than it already is. Seriously.

And if I were limited to writing about myself, instead of baseball players, you'd get really sick of hearing about how much macaroni and cheese I ate in the cafeteria and how I chose to go about avoiding studying on that particular day.

Aside from that, the thing I am wondering is why Omar Vizquel thought that he could write a book and include negative comments about another active player and not expect some sort of retaliation. Plus, look at the pictures of those 2 guys again and tell me you don't think Jose Mesa's facial hair could kick Omar Vizquel's butt all by itself?

Of course, after Mesa's quotes came out, MLB stepped in and put their collective foot down. So here's what Mesa said yesterday:

"I was hurt by remarks by a former teammate," Mesa said in a statement Thursday. "I would never injure anyone."

Gee, ya think someone had a chat with Jose?

Jose Mesa isn't the only guy in a bad mood this spring...

A few days ago Vlad Guerrero charged the mound after Brad Penny plunked him, but that's nothing compared to what happened Wednesday in the Dodgers/Mets game.

If you haven't seen the footage yet, you are really missing out. It is some of the best stuff I've seen in a while.

Basically, here's what happened...

Last March, Guillermo Mota plunked Mike Piazza with a pitch and Piazza waited until Mota was coming off the field at the end of the inning and confronted him, getting into a shouting match in the outfield.

On Wednesday, Piazza and Mota were matched up again and this time Mota threw the first pitch way inside, but missed hitting Piazza. No matter, he just threw another one way inside and this time he nailed him right in the back.

Piazza immediately threw his helmet to the ground and went running toward the mound, fist cocked for a punch.

The only problem was that Mota threw his glove at Piazza and then exhibited one of the most amazing displays of backpedalling that I have ever seen.

He literally ran around the entire field backwards as he was chased by Piazza, before Piazza was finally restrained by various people. But then Jeromy Burnitz and a couple other Mets went after Mota and he continued his amazing display of backpedalling, eventually fleeing into the Dodgers dugout and then all the way into the clubhouse.

Mota didn't stop there. He quickly got changed into his street clothes, jumped in a car and got the hell out of there.

Piazza also got in his car and left the stadium early, but not before going to the Dodgers' clubhouse and shouting, "Where's Mota?! Where's Mota?!" as he searched the locker room, shower stalls and training area.

Predictably, this situation produced some very nice quotes. Surprisingly, they came from a most unexpected source, New York manager Art Howe:

"If he wants to hit somebody he needs to stand there and fight," Mets manager Art Howe said. "He backpedaled faster than I can run forward."

If I hadn't seen the footage I would say that is hyperbole, but I really think Howe is right. Mota is really an amazing backpedalist (Is that a word? If not, it should be).

"If he had gotten loose, I don't know what would have happened,"

Once again, Howe is right on the money. Piazza looked like he had completely snapped. His eyes were bugging out of his head and his face was all red. I am fairly confident that Piazza would have beaten the living bejesus out of Mota, and yes, bejesus is a scientific term.

"The guy ran like a scared rabbit. If he wants to hit someone, he should stay there and fight. It was a set up, as far as I was concerned. I'm angry. He's my best player and I don't want guys taking potshots at my best player."

I feel bad for Shawn Green, because you just know he's gonna get an Armando Benitez fastball right in the ass next time these teams meet and that's gonna hurt quite a bit.

Memo to Guillermo Mota: If you are going to try to act all manly and tough and plunk Mike Piazza, you probably shouldn't run away from him and backpedal your way around the entire infield, into your dugout and into a car. The two events (plunking and running) sort of contradict each other.

If this scene had played out in a bar or something, instead of a baseball stadium, here's how I envision it happening:

Mota: Hey Pizza, wanna fight?

Piazza: Sure, let's go.

Mota: Hold on one second.

Piazza: Okay...

Mota: [High-pitched screaming as he runs for his car in the parking lot]

Finally, there is this quote from Mota, which leads me to believe that, in addition to being incredibly scared of Mike Piazza, he is also an incredibly bad liar:

"I know what I did and it was not intentional," said Mota. "Whatever they (the Mets) think ..."

No Guillermo, Mike tried to murder you with his barehands last year and you just happened to throw not one but two fastballs right at his back. If only Mota could lie as well as he runs backwards, he could have a career in politics after he retires.

Is anyone else interested in a tag-team steel cage match?

Here's what I'm thinking:

Mike Piazza, Omar Vizquel and Vlad Guerrero vs. Jose Mesa, Guillermo Mota and Brad Penny

I think it would work out very nicely. First of all, it is pitchers versus hitters. Piazza and Mesa are a good matchup and I don't see any way Mota or Vizquel would be capable of hurting anyone, so they are a good fit. Vlad and Penny could be a bit of a mismatch, but Penny is listed at 6'4" and 247 lbs. and maybe he knows karate or something.

It would be worth the price of admission just to see Piazza strangling Mota in the corner as Mesa picks up a chair and smashes it over Piazza's head, only to have Vlad Guerrero come flying off the top rope...

Hmm...I think maybe I watched a little too much Saturday morning wrestling when I was younger.

(If you want to download the video from, click here. The link you want is located on the right side of the page, under "related links.")

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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