The Struggles of Salvador Perez

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June was about as ugly a month as the Royals have seen in a long, long time. In fact, the offense was downright terrible. A few days ago, Max Rieper looked at just how pitiful the bats were last month:

They are last in all of baseball in slugging, second-to-last in on-base percentage, and last in home runs. They have drawn fewer walks than everyone but the White Sox, and are dead last in OPS with men on base.

The offense has been poor all season, but in June, the team took it to a new low. The Royals, as a team, hit .193/.253/.303 in the month of June. Three pitchers with at least 50 plate appearances last year hit better than that.

The numbers aren’t good and hope doesn’t appear to be looming on the horizon. But if there is one player that could help the Royals revive the bats, it would appear to be the lineup linchpin, Salvador Perez.

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Credit: MLB.com

Salvy (like almost everyone else wearing royal blue and carrying a bat to the plate) had a bad June at the dish. In fact, it was bad enough that I almost wondered if his picture would show up on a milk carton, asking if you’ve seen his offense.

Perez hit .158/.200/.253 for the month of June with two homers, four RBI’s and an OPS+ of 26. Over the last two weeks, he hit . 143/.143/.190 with zero homers or RBI’s and an OPS+ of -9. This from a guy who regularly hits in the middle of the Kansas City order!

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Credit: SEAN M. HAFFEY

When I actually sat down to think about any specific at bat from Perez this month I drew a blank. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time we saw a Salvy-bomb. Turns out it was June 10th against Oakland, which feels like eons ago (thanks, Baseball Reference!). I faintly remember that, but numbers don’t lie and I’m not one to argue with a site that supplies me baseball stats.

The numbers don’t get much better when you look at the entire spectrum of 2018. Perez has hit .212/.253/.388 coming into play on Monday and saw his slugging percentage dip below .400 last week. His numbers almost across the board would be the worst of his career if the season ended today and the only season in his big league career that compares was 2014, where he hit .260/.289/.403 with an OPS+ of 91.

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Credit: The Associated Press

Some of this really isn’t too far off course. He has only had one season out of the last four where he produced above league average OPS+ and that was last year. His walks and strike outs are on par with what he has done the last couple of seasons. Even his AB/HR percentage and extra base percentage is comparable to almost every year beside 2017. So while the numbers tell the story of a player having a bad season, it also appears to be saying that he isn’t too far off from what we should be expecting.

It’s even fair to say in some regards he is doing a number of things right. Salvy’s line drive and fly ball rate line up with what he has done in the past and his hard hit rate is the highest of his career. In fact, according to Baseball Savant, Perez is barreling the ball at the highest rate of his career with an increased exit velocity:

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So why are the results just not there for Salvy?

The first thing I noticed was a lack of luck. Perez has a feeble .223 batting average on balls in play, a number that shows that while he might be hitting the ball hard they are also turning into outs way more often than not. BABIP is predicated on luck most of the time and a few balls hit into the gap or down the line can make a difference between a solid number here or a weak number there.

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Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

Next, I wanted to see what he was swinging at. Most of us are aware that Salvy is a free-swinger and we should expect a high percentage of swings outside of the strike zone. As expected, he is swinging at more pitches outside of the zone (51.6% of the time, up from 47.9% in 2017) and is making less contact outside as well (66.9% to last year’s 70.4%). The interesting aspect of all of this is that he is making more contact within the strike zone (92.5%) and his contact rate in general is close to his average the last couple seasons (78% this year, 80.8% in 2017 and 79% in 2016).

It’s interesting to note here that Perez is swinging at less pitches within the strike zone while making more contact on the ones he is swinging at. One has to wonder if he swings at a few more pitches that actually are strikes and stays a bit more patient on the ones that are outside the strike zone (especially those outside and low pitches he loves to hack at), if some of these numbers would start to turn around.

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Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll go a step further and say that if he combined that with his hard hit rate and maybe (just maybe) a dash of better luck on the balls he hits into play, Salvy could go from being the ‘disappearing hitter’ he was in June to helping ignite what little offense the Royals can muster on a consistent basis.

The problem in all this lies in what we know about Perez, which is that patience is not one of his strong points. He has never been one for consistently ignoring pitches that entice him that aren’t strikes. Salvy is the definition of ‘see it and swing it’ and at this point in his career it is uncertain whether or not that can be changed.

The one thing for certain is that the Royals need him to get on a hot streak and soon. The framework is there, as evidenced by the hard hit rate and exit velocity. Now he just needs to be a bit more selective and hope that his luck takes a turn for the better. If not, it could be a long summer for Salvy and the Royals.

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In Case You Hadn’t Noticed, the Royals are Bad Again

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It’s always a bitter pill to swallow when your favorite team isn’t good. Everyone handles it differently. Some people make excuses for why they are bad. Some accept it and move on. Others just flat out get angry but keep coming back for more.

This 2018 version of the Kansas City Royals is bad. Real bad. As in the numbers speak of a team reaching a new level of ineptitude. The Royals offense is last in the American League in wRC+, wOBA, slugging percentage, ISO, RBI’s, runs, home runs, OPS and RE24. The Royals hit a woeful .193/.253/.303 in the month of June and even those numbers feel a bit heavy if you have actually watched this team play on a regular basis.

The pitching numbers aren’t a whole lot better. The Kansas City pitchers are last in the league in fWAR, FIP, RE24 and ERA while having the lowest strike outs per nine innings and the highest home runs per nine. So it isn’t just the Royals bats that are pitiful; the entire package is one of the worst in baseball and a big part of why they have the second lowest winning percentage in baseball right now at .294 (my apologies to the fans of Baltimore. You understand what we are dealing with right now).

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Credit: Orlin Wagner, AP

…and yet I’m still watching most of the games. Call it loyalty or call it being a glutton for punishment; both are probably acceptable. Either way, I still find myself wanting to watch them most days and hardly ever does the little voice in my head question it with a ‘but are you sure?’ or a ‘does that seem like a good idea?’. At this point you might be asking why I would put myself through that…and I wouldn’t blame you for asking.

Sure, part of it is that the Royals are my team, and have been since I was seven years old and will still be if I reach the ripe age of 87. I truly bleed royal blue. But the other reason is that while things appear to be as bad as the worst Kansas City teams we’ve seen over the last 20 years, I also realize that it is possibly the beginning of some really important careers for the youngest of Royals.

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Hunter Dozier has been getting consistent playing time and is starting to look more comfortable, both at the plate and in the field. Adalberto Mondesi gets to play with less pressure and is hitting the ball a lot harder than he did during his previous stints in the big leagues. While Rosell Herrera might not be a part of the Royals future, he is being given the chance to see if he could be a part of it, at least.

On the pitching side, Brad Keller is making the case of being the best Rule 5 draft pick in Royals history (hello, Joakim Soria!) and has been possibly the brightest spot for this team so far in 2018. Jason Adam, Heath Fillmyer, Tim Hill, Kevin McCarthy and Burch Smith are all getting extended looks out of the bullpen, where in years past they might get just a cup of coffee in the big leagues or a small chance while someone was on the disabled list.

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There is more on the way, especially on the Omaha roster. Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, Frank Schwindel, Ryan O’Hearn, Nicky Lopez, Cam Gallagher, Donnie Dewees, and possibly even Bubba Starling are all names that could become a regular part of your Royals experience over the next year or two. Some of these guys will turn out to be regulars and others won’t reach the potential that some have expected of them. But the opportunity is why this team is still one to watch.

The Royals are in an interesting situation where they really have nothing to lose by giving these players a chance to prove their worth. I mean, it’s not like the team could be even worse, right? Right???!!! Maybe it’s a small dash of optimism, but one has to wonder if a few of these prospects could help churn out more runs for this team than what we have seen over the last month.

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Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It really hasn’t felt like a rebuild this year, not with all the veterans on the roster. But here before too long (maybe even by August), this is going to feel like a different team. I’m not going to sit here and try and tell you it’s going to be great the entire time, because you are going to see some bad baseball over the next couple of years. But the hope is also there to see some of these players blossom and become Royals legends.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken

So yes, this team is bad. It’s even safe to say that come September they are still going to be as awful as they are at this moment. If you are someone who has already tuned them out this year, I can sympathize. There are times that some of us die-hard’s have to take a break from this team, no matter how much we love them.

But there are also still reasons to tune in and head to the ballpark. While they will lose more than they win right now, they are also starting to build the foundation. One of the greatest experiences of my life has been watching “my” Royals go from being the joke of baseball to winning the World Series in 2015. For those of us that stuck it out through the bad, we were rewarded.

The reason it tasted so sweet was because we were around for the rough times. Trust me when I say that Kansas City will get back to the postseason and it probably won’t take another 30 years. Until then, watch this team grow and enjoy getting to watch the younger players develop into staples of the organization. It won’t always be pretty, but there will be moments for you to grasp on for years.

 

 

Closing Time

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Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Last Monday, the Kansas City Royals dealt their closer Kelvin Herrera (and biggest trade chip) to Washington for three prospects. While the trade has come with mixed reviews so far, the one conundrum it left the Royals with was who would be the team’s successor to Herrera as closer?

The question was posed not too long after the trade to Royals manager Ned Yost and he gave the answer most of us would have expected:

“All of them,” Royals manager Ned Yost replied when asked who will get a chance to close out games. “Opportunity exists down there. We’ll have to see who takes advantage of it.”

This isn’t a shock and considering the state of the Royals bullpen (last in the American League in fWAR, the highest ERA & FIP, lowest strike out rate and third highest walk rate all among relievers), it makes sense to keep it an open race. The problem in my eyes is that Ned is holding on to a formula that might not be the best for Kansas City in this situation:

“I’ll look at different guys, but I would prefer one guy to emerge, take advantage of the opportunity,” Yost said. “But it’s wide-open right now.”

Yes, Yost at the end of the day wants one reliever and one only to end up with the job. But to be honest, that feels like an antiquated solution to their problem.

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Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

In Ned’s eyes, there are four main challengers for the role: Brandon Maurer, Wily Peralta, Kevin McCarthy and Justin Grimm. Maurer is the only one out of the group with experience closing out games while the rest have combined for five career saves; for this conversation I’ll avoid the save stat, for the fact that it doesn’t really matter in the bigger picture.

So far in 2018, McCarthy and Peralta have put up good numbers out of the pen, albeit Peralta’s have been in limited action so far. I’ve been a proponent of McCarthy for a while, as just a few weeks ago I wrote about how the Royals should be giving him a bigger role in the bullpen. When McCarthy was asked about moving to the closer’s role, he said he’s “not really thinking about that at all, really. I think anyone in the ‘pen can get it done.”

Peralta has seen a slight uptick in his velocity since moving to the bullpen last year in Milwaukee and has looked good for Kansas City since being recalled to the majors on June 17th. Peralta’s strike out rate has been well above 20% so far this year (24.8% in AAA, 29.4% in the big leagues), which is a significant improvement over the 16.8% he has averaged over his career.

The walk rate is a concern (23.5%), especially considering it was also pretty high during his time in Omaha (13.4%) earlier this year. Hopefully that is just a symptom of a small sample size, but it could also be a trend that began for him in 2017. Either way, it will take more innings before we get a real feel for what the Royals actually have in Peralta.

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Credit: Carlos Osorio/AP

That being said, I tend to think we have a pretty good idea of what they have with both Maurer and Grimm. Grimm has seen his strike out rate fall and his walk rate increase, which is a recipe for disaster. He is also allowing more fly balls and less ground balls, another bad sign for success. The hard hit rate is about on par with last year, which already had a decent increase from the previous seasons.

Nothing for Maurer has worked this year: strike outs are down, walks are up and hitters are hitting the ball hard against him 50% of the time (his previous high was 39.1% back in 2016). If anyone should be immediately eliminated from the discussion for closer, it’s Maurer. You might be thinking ‘But he was a closer before, so shouldn’t he be a front-runner for the role?’, right? Hold that thought:

This was from last year, the day after the trade that sent Maurer and Ryan Buchter to the Royals from San Diego. Every time I see Ned bring Maurer into a high-leverage situation, this is what I think of. It is obvious from not only this scout, but also from what we have seen, that Maurer is better suited for a less pressure-filled situation in the pen. But because he has experience in the role, Yost wants to use him. This is part of why the whole idea of ‘one lone closer’ for this team isn’t really the best idea.

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Credit: John Sleezer

Ned is a big fan of roles. He likes to have his relievers set up to know what they will be doing and when they will be doing it. That is fine when you have a bullpen like Kansas City had back in 2015; unfortunately, those days are long gone.

This is a team who needs to keep an open mind about how they are using their relievers. While none of the names mentioned (outside of Maurer, of course) have experience closing, that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing the job. I’m pretty sure the Royals didn’t view Wade Davis as the absolute dominating beast he would become when they acquired him from Tampa Bay, even despite the success he had as a reliever with the Rays in 2012. But he had success, so the team continued to give him more opportunities.

Opportunities are what this current group need, most notably the younger arms that are inhabiting the pen. Roles can be a mental plus to some guys, but they can also backfire on you. Remember this great quote from 2014?:

“Because I had confidence in Aaron Crow,” Yost said. “That’s why. Aaron Crow’s inning is the sixth inning. Kelvin’s is the seventh.”

Ned was so rigid back then that he insisted on using Aaron Crow as his sixth inning guy, even if the match-up wasn’t optimal for Crow. This insistence on keeping routine was a pivotal turning point in the Royals season and led to Yost using the best match-up in a situation rather than who has what inning. Ned loosened the ‘old manager mentality’ of how to use relievers and this change helped lead the team to an epic run in the playoffs just a few weeks later.

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Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

This Royals squad isn’t going to go on the kind of run they had in 2014, but it would appear to help their situation if they just continued to use the ‘closer-by-committee’ currently in place. Whoever he uses in the 9th inning should be determined by what the better match-up is for that situation.

Let’s say two or three left-handed batters are batting in the final frame? Sounds like a job for Tim Hill, who lefties are hitting .219/.265/.250 against. You need a ground ball? Give the ball to McCarthy, who has a 62.6% ground ball rate. Just need a big strike out? Someone like Peralta or even Jason Adam would fit the bill.

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Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The point is that while it is great if you have that one guy you can count on to fill the closer’s role, not every team has a Wade Davis or a Kelvin Herrera. Sometimes you have to work with what you have and right now the Royals are in that situation.

Maybe a guy out of this group will step up and prove to be fit for the role. It could even be someone we haven’t even seen yet, like Richard Lovelady who is currently down in AAA. Hey, it is definitely possible and wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen for the Royals.

But it could also take a while to find that one guy. So until then, it would be great to see Ned take a page from the playbook he used in late 2014-2015 and use the percentages to his advantage. I’m not counting on this happening, but it feels like the better road to take than that same, beaten, old path that managers have been taking for years.

What Happened to Jakob Junis?

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

It’s hard to believe, but April was a simpler time when analyzing the Kansas City Royals. Everything was new, there weren’t any nine game losing streaks, and most importantly, there was still hope.

Jump forward a few months and not only has the train veered off the tracks, but the train has come to a grinding halt, the doors have fallen off and someone decide to light it on fire. In other words, things aren’t going great.

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Credit: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

In fact, some of the players who appeared to be glimmers of hope have now lost their shine. That includes the performance over the last month of Jakob Junis. I actually had taken a deeper look at Junis back in April when hope was still a thing. He was shoving throughout the month and it appeared that he was well on his way to proving his worth in the Kansas City rotation.

But the times have changed and Jake has run into a bit of a rough patch. So far in the month of June (which consists of four starts), Junis has thrown 24 innings, allowed 18 runs while posting an ERA of 6.75. The numbers don’t get any better from there: batters are hitting .289/.346/.526 against him this month with seven home runs allowed and a WPA of -0.685. So how did we go from an April where the league was hitting .181/.244/.422 against him…to this?

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Credit: Morry Gash-AP

Let’s start with his pitch usage and if there is a notable change:

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There are a few noticeable things here, like the increase in using his change-up and a decrease in his four-seamer. But what is more concerning is how the use of his slider (his main weapon) has gone down this past month. Maybe the bigger question to ask here is how are hitters performing against these pitches. First, here’s batting average against:

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So ignore the insane increase in average on the curveball; Junis has only thrown one curve this month. The most concerning part here appears to be the sinker, which in April was helping his cause. Batters hit .219 on the sinker in the first month of the season, compared to .440 now. Obviously it is not having the same affects.

The good news is the slider is still doing its job, as batters are only hitting a paltry .132 against it. Now let’s move to slugging percentage:

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Once again, ignore the curve. The two biggest upticks in slugging percentage appear to be on the four-seam and the sinker. We already established that the sinker wasn’t having the same success it did earlier in the season, and it appears the four-seam is getting hammered, as evidenced by the .846 slugging percentage against. These numbers are backed up by the isolated power numbers:

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This shows that hitters are getting a number of their extra base hits off of Junis’ four-seam fastball and the sinker has seen an almost 100 point increase since April (.188 to .280). One encouraging sign here is the value of his slider, as it continues its two month slide (pun intended). Back in April, there was a .204 ISO against his slide-piece while in June it sits at a robust .079.

One answer might be in the vertical location of his pitches:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (4) The chart shows an increase up in the zone with both the four-seam and the sinker. While there are times a fastball up in the zone is a plus, if it catches too much of the zone it can be a problem, which appears to be the case here with Junis.

Finally, one last chart to drive home the lack of productivity from these two pitches:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (5)

There has been a noticeable increase in the percentage of grooved four-seamers and sinkers, while his other pitches have seen a decline. In fact, his slider has gone down from 7.36% last month to 3. 25% in June.

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Credit: Charlie Riedel-AP

So more than anything, it appears the fastball and sinker are the cause for most of the ills for Junis over the last couple weeks. The easy answer would be to throw both of those pitchers less, which he is doing with the fastball.

The problem lies in that the sinker could still be a nice weapon for him, even if it was just to change-up the eye level for the batter. The bigger issue appears to be its location; so at this point it almost would help him more to work on keeping the sinker (and fastball) a bit lower in the zone than how much he is actually using it. This would also probably increase the amount of groundballs hit off of the sinker and decrease the balls hit in the air.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken

While it’s obvious where the issue lies, to me it also speaks of an easy fix for Junis. His problems appear to be more in where he is placing the ball with his hard stuff. While changing up the batters eye level is important, it does no good if you are leaving the ball in their wheelhouse.

It will be interesting to see if we notice an adjustment soon and if location is the biggest part of it. Junis has a great slider and if he can get his other pitches working he will be tough to hit. A tweak and a slight drop might be all it takes to get Jake Junis back on track this season.

 

Did Yordano Ventura’s Tragic Death Slow Down the Royals Rebuild?

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

(Writers Note: The intention of this article is to see the effect that Yordano Ventura’s death had on the Kansas City Royals organization and the building of the roster. In no way, shape or form, is it trying to trivialize his passing. Hopefully you, the reader, see that he was a vital part of the Royals future and a beloved player within the Kansas City fanbase. This is purely a ‘What If’ article.)  

January 22, 2017 is a date that will always be a painful reminder of how fragile life can be, as that was the day that former Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura passed away. Ventura’s death was only four months after the passing of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and the similarities between the two pitchers was remarkable.

But maybe the biggest similarity was the effect both deaths had on their respective organizations. Both left a giant hole in not only their rotations but also the locker rooms. The loss of each not only forced their organizations to take a second look at their future, but also to reassess what path they were already on for 2017.

We’ve seen what it did for the Marlins. Miami finished 77-85 last year and they spent the winter dismantling their roster, as key players like Giancarlo Stanton and Christin Yelich were sent to greener pastures. The Marlins threw up the white flag and decided to begin what feels like the umpteenth million rebuild during their 25 year history.

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Credit: Associated Press

But despite being told that Kansas City is in a “rebuild”, it sure doesn’t feel like it at times. The Royals have a very veteran heavy roster and while that could (should) very well change by August, as of now it feels like they are straddling a fence. Because of that I have to wonder: did Yordano Ventura’s passing slow down the Kansas City rebuild?

Before we head down this path I feel the need to clarify a couple of things. First, I won’t dabble in any possible deals the team could have made or should have made. Instead we will look at the pitching moves made since his passing and determine whether or not they would have still taken place.

Second, there is no way to determine how the Royals would have done with Ventura still on the team so that won’t be discussed as well. The honesty of this is that there is no surefire way to know how things would have developed with Yo'(unless you know something about time travel I don’t. If that’s the case, quit holding out on us!) so this is just an estimated guess based off of how the front office has acted over the last couple of years.

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Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Let’s start with the three moves made not that long after Ventura’s death last year. Brandon Moss was signed on February 1st, Jason Hammel on February 5th, and Travis Wood on February 13. It’s hard to tell if Moss’ signing was directly connected to Ventura, especially since the team had been looking for another bat throughout the winter. More than likely the Moss signing would have still happened, even without Ventura’s loss.

Hammel and Wood totally felt like a reaction to losing Yordano. The Royals rotation at that point looked set with Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Ventura, newly acquired Nate Karns and Jason Vargas. The team even had Chris Young, Matt Strahm and Jake Junis as backup options for the rotation, so there wasn’t any real need for Hammel or Wood at that time.

One could make the argument that the Royals might have had interest in Wood as a reliever, which is very possible considering that had been his role for the majority of the previous two seasons. But if not, then Kansas City would have never signed them and we could take their contracts off the books, not only for 2017 but 2018 as well.

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Credit: Associated Press

Let’s move to the winter and the Royals deal with the White Sox and Dodgers. In that trade, Scott Alexander would go to Los Angeles while Soria would eventually end up in Chicago. One has to wonder if Kansas City would have been compelled to deal either reliever if the team had never signed Hammel or Wood.

The crux of this trade was moving Soria’s contract, which might not have been as important without those signings. If that is the case, then the trade might have never happened and Alexander and Soria would have stayed in Kansas City.

We could easily see a scenario where Soria would have still been shopped, but even if that is the case I doubt they would have felt moving him was important enough to lose the club control that Alexander would have (which runs through the 2022 season). This would mean the Royals would have kept two big cogs in their bullpen and we might have not seen the likes of Tim Hill, Brad Keller and Burch Smith when the season began (which would have meant some tough decisions, considering Keller and Smith were Rule 5 draft picks).

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Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Then at the end of January, the Royals traded Moss and Ryan Buchter to Oakland for pitchers Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer. This is a trade that feels like it would have happened no matter what. Moss had an awful season in 2017 (.207/.279/.428, -1.0 bWAR) and trading him would probably allow the Royals to move a portion of his salary commitment.

The interesting part of this becomes whether or not Buchter would have actually been a Royal. We all remember the ill-fated trade with San Diego but that trade happened for two reasons. One, the Royals needed pitching. Two, the Royals were still in the hunt for a playoff spot, 1.5 games out in the AL Central while holding down the second Wild Card.

I could see the Royals needing pitching, even with Yordano still in the picture. It’s very possible the deal could have gone down, but that is also trying to determine where Kansas City would have been in the standings. This is probably a good place to mention that Ventura finished 2016 with an ERA+ of 97 and a bWAR of 1.6. While some felt he was going to turn the corner in 2017, there was no guarantee that would happen.

So with that in mind, we’ll go with the San Diego trade still going down. Almost every team can use more pitching and it’s easy to see the Royals in a situation where they would need more arms. In other words, this is a deal that just reeks of fate.

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Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

So with all these moves out-of-the-way, we can start assessing whether or not the rebuild was slowed down by the passing of Ventura. With what we saw in 2017, it was very apparent the Royals were going to stick with the core group (Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, etc.) and give them every opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. So any idea that they would be dealt was probably slim and none from the very beginning.

It’s probably also safe to say that if Kansas City had somehow found their way to the playoffs last year with Ventura, that would be one more reason to not completely tear the whole thing down and start over. The Royals would have still had a nice nucleus together (Perez, Whit, Duffy, Ventura, etc.) and with the way the free agent market collapsed this winter it’s possible Dayton might have been even more aggressive than he was.

It also appears Moore has never been down with a real “rebuild”. Back in March Dayton had this to say about how competitive the team would be this season:

“I believe that we can put a strong, competitive team on the field each and every night and also develop in the minor leagues,” he said. “I believe we can build our farm system back to the level it was in 2010 and 2011, and maybe even do it better and still win games at the major-league level.

“You can’t just turn it on and turn it off. If you want a winning culture, you’ve got to do everything in your power each day to win.”

It just doesn’t feel like the front office has ever been behind a full rebuild with this club. In fact, it has sounded like they would be content with piecing together the roster as needed, letting the younger talent filter in when they were ready and letting them get comfortable at their own pace.

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So with all that in mind, my guess is that Yordano Ventura’s untimely passing didn’t slow down a Kansas City rebuild. As much as moves made after his passing felt like a knee-jerk reaction to his death, the team had already committed to being “all in” for 2017 and even taking on less payroll wouldn’t have deterred that frame of mind.

Unless…the Royals decided to deal Yordano. While in some circles that might sound crazy, it might not be as far-fetched as you think. In fact, in the winter before the 2017 campaign, the Houston Astros were rumored to have shown interest in Ventura:

Royals starters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura are two of the pitchers on the Astros’ list of rotation targets, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.  The two K.C. arms join several other previously-known names (i.e. Jose QuintanaChris ArcherJake Odorizzi and other Tampa Bay’s starters) as potential trade fits for a Houston team looking to upgrade its starting pitching.

Now, showing interest isn’t the same thing as on the trading block. But if you are any team, you should probably be willing to listen to any offers on any player, just in case a team is willing to go way overboard just to acquire a player. While Ventura could have been under club control until 2021(with the help of club options), that might have been a selling point for Kansas City:

Their willingness to least listen to other clubs’ offers could be due to doubts about his personality, or it could just be due diligence, as Ventura’s years of control could net K.C. a nice return in a trade.

If a team was willing to offer a nice package of talent for Yordano, Moore would have to at least listen. One would think if a deal actually went down and the Royals were able to acquire young talent, it’s possible the rebuild could have sped up a bit.

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Credit: Royals.com

In fact, that might have been one of the few scenarios where guys like Hosmer and Cain would be dealt before the trade deadline. While it feels like a long shot, it could have very well happened considering in the last year the Astros have picked up both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to improve their starting rotation.

While I highly doubt Kansas City would have dealt Ventura, it does show how one or two moves can sway a team in different directions. Ventura very well could have gone from a building block for the team to an asset to fill multiple holes on the roster.

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So while his death probably didn’t slow down the Royals rebuild, it definitely changed the fabric of the team and the organization. Ventura is that hole that hasn’t been filled and it could be generations before they have another pitcher with his potential.

While it would be nice to say losing one player was the cause for the lack of youth on this Royals roster, the answer is far deeper than that. Trades, injuries, bad judgment and bad luck all play a part in why the Royals aren’t rebuilding more than they are right now.

Maybe in a different dimension or a different universe (Earth 2 or even Earth 81) this is all different and the Royals are still a potent contender in the American League. But in this reality, they are a team trying to build themselves back up without many pieces. While Yordano’s death was tragic, it is not the cause of their current situation. It’s just not that simple.

Ryan Goins Might Not be What We Want, but He Might be What the Royals Need

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Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We’ve all had that thought, especially us longtime Kansas City Royals fans. At one point of another, you’ve noticed a player on the roster that is receiving a bunch of playing time and you just ask ‘why?’. For whatever reason, these players seem to be a mainstay throughout Kansas City history.

Who will ever forget Willie Bloomquist, the definition of a utility player who became a lineup regular for the Royals in 2009, despite never posting an above average offensive season before or after (unless you count his 2013 season, where he posted an OPS+ of 101 over 150 plate appearances)?

The one that always bothered me was Chris Getz. If you want some amusement, go read some posts of mine from back in 2012-2013 at bleedingroyalblue.com; I even started a (fake) Q & A column around Getz based off of my confusion to the playing time he was receiving.

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The player who currently is taking up a fairly regular spot in the Royals lineup is infielder Ryan Goins and more than one Royals fan has deemed their displeasure with Goins, including old friend Craig Brown:

Craig pretty much sums up what a lot of us are thinking: why is Ryan Goins on this team? The simple answer is that Kansas City needs a backup infielder who can play multiple positions and Goins fits the bill.

But the true answer probably lies a bit deeper. Goins adds some versatility, as he has played every infield position in his career plus a few innings in the outfield. He also threw an inning of relief back in 2016, but we already have Drew Butera for that.

Ryan Goins, Nicholas Castellanos
Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

In fact Goins has been a plus defender for most of his career, mainly at second base. The defensive metrics don’t speak as highly of him at shortstop (-3.7 UZR at short in 2017), but luckily the Royals won’t need him there, since Alcides Escobar will be playing shortstop for the Royals until the end of time. I’m joking…I think.

Goins defense at second base allows manager Ned Yost the option of moving Whit Merrifield around and gives the lineup the overall flexibility they haven’t had for years. At the end of the day, Goins is a steady hand that Yost can rely on to keep the defense steady in a pinch.

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Credit: Associated Press

Before you think this is going to turn into a ‘Ryan Goins Appreciation Club’ article, don’t be fooled. Offensively Goins is a bit of a drag on the lineup. So far in 2018 he is hitting .234/.265/.319 with a wRC+ of 56. 56!! To put that in context, Alcides Escobar’s wRC+ is 55. Essentially, Goins and Escobar have put up similar offensive production, which is slim and none. So when both Goins and Escobar are in the lineup at the same time, it truly does create a black hole of death at the bottom of the order.

I thought maybe the deeper I dove into the numbers I would find something that would explain Goins’ playing time, but overall the numbers just aren’t pretty. Even the Win Probability numbers are in the negatives, which means he is probably hurting the Royals more than helping. Trying to justify those 21 starts is getting more and more difficult.

The small positives I could find offensively was a good BABIP (.324) and a noticeable increase in his line drive rate (up to 29.2% from last year’s 14.9%) combined with a lower ground ball rate (41.5% compared to 2017’s 50.3%). Whatever positives that come from his defense it is almost completely negated by his non-existent offense.

Kansas City Royals v Toronto Blue Jays
Credit: Getty Images

This shouldn’t be breaking news to you and more than likely it isn’t. But what I am going to say next might shock you: Goins is probably just what Kansas City needs right now. No, not the lackluster offense or the constant bunting. Where Goins has value right now for the Royals is as a stopgap.

It’s obvious the front office and coaching staff like Goins and see value in him where maybe we as fans don’t. It all really does come down to what you value as an individual. While on the surface we see a player who probably only has value on the defensive side of the ball, that might be enough for the higher-ups in the Royals organization. You and I might disagree with that, but we aren’t the ones making those decisions for the team.

That is not to say you are right or the Royals are right; there is more than one way to put together a contending baseball team. What I am saying is that occasionally as fans we believe we have the answers to how and why a team is successful, mainly based off of what we value. But we all value aspects of the game differently, and while on the surface it might not appear that Goins has value to this ballclub, his value might be part of a bigger picture.

It has become obvious that the Kansas City brass don’t feel that Adalberto Mondesi is quite ready for a bigger role on the big league club, a role that in part Goins is playing right now. While Mondesi shouldn’t be a backup infielder once he finally gets the call, he also probably won’t be in specifically one role for them once he is on the roster. There is a good chance that once he is recalled he will be playing all around the infield rather than just shortstop or just second base.

The good news is that it feels like Mondesi is getting closer and closer. He is hitting .257/.299/.514 at Omaha right now and his walk rate has seen a slight increase while the strike out rate has taken a dip. Mondesi has shown a proclivity of improving the longer he stays at each level over his career, and it appears that is what is going on in AAA as we speak.

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Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

So while you and I might not understand the ‘Ryan Goins Experience’, it is definitely not a permanent answer for the Royals infield. While Mondesi will probably leap over Goins and be a starter at some point, the role of backup will probably transition over to someone like Ramon Torres, who appears to be a younger and better version of Goins.

Sometimes we just need to take a step back and allow the bigger picture to show itself. I’m not advocating for Goins being a part of this Royals roster, but I do feel Kansas City is looking at the future more than we give them credit for. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Royals aren’t going to get better just by ditching Ryan Goins. More than likely though, Rome will appear sooner once Goins is no longer an option.

Kevin McCarthy is Proving He Should Have Been on the Opening Day Roster

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Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

When Opening Day rosters are announced there are always a few surprises that end up heading north with the team. Sometimes though, it isn’t who made the team as much as who is left off. That was the case with Kevin McCarthy, who did not make the Kansas City Royals roster out of Spring Training and instead began the year in the minors.

It was a bit of a surprise, as McCarthy had put together a pretty nice rookie year for the Royals in 2017. McCarthy threw 45 innings last year over 33 games in the big leagues, posting a 3.20 ERA, 3.98 FIP and 0.2 fWAR. But what really impressed me was his ability to produce in tight situations:

Maybe the most impressive part of his game was that he only allowed a hard hit rate of 26.3% and proved to be a clutch performer, posting a 0.30 WPA and 0.45 CLUTCH. While the team will be bringing back a number of their relievers for the upcoming season, one would have to think McCarthy could see a growing role in the Kansas City pen next year.

In proper context, the WPA was 9th best on the Royals last year while Clutch was 5th best. Sure, not ‘blow off the doors’ amazing but steady and a good starting point for a pitcher during his rookie campaign.

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Credit: Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire

These were all reasons that it appeared a foregone conclusion McCarthy would be with the Royals to start the year, but the numbers game probably got the best of him. McCarthy had options left and the team wanted to keep Rule 5 picks Burch Smith and Brad Keller on the roster. Thus, McCarthy started the year at Omaha, appearing in 3 games before being recalled by Kansas City on April 13th. Since then, it is safe to say he has been one the Royals top relievers.

McCarthy has appeared in 22 games headed into play on Tuesday, tossing 25.2 innings posting a 3.16 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 3.31 xFIP and 0.2 fWAR (which ties him with his total from last year). McCarthy is keeping pace on his strike out rate this year, but has lowered his walk rate a bit (5.9%) and a 1.01 WHIP, which is down from 1.13 in 2017.

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But where it gets even more interesting for him is looking at some of the advanced numbers. Win probability is where McCarthy continues to impress. He currently sits second on the team in Win Probability Added at 0.40, and third in RE24, at 4.22. Both of these are accumulating statistics and should continue to rise as the season progresses, barring a major setback. It also shows how McCarthy easily should be one of the most trusted arms out of the bullpen right now.

In fact, McCarthy’s success appears to be coming on a slight shift in his pitch selection. Here’s a look over his pitch usage since the beginning of 2017 to today:

Brooksbaseball-ChartMcCarthy has gone from a pitcher that relies on his sinker and slider most often to one who is using his slide-piece less and less and using the change-up more. This shift appeared to happen around September of last year and he’s continued it into this season.

By doing that, he is inducing groundballs at a higher rate thanks to the change:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

For McCarthy, the higher rate of groundballs has led to a lower batting average against, pretty much all across the board:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

McCarthy has almost entirely ditched his four-seam fastball and is relying heavily on the sinker, tossing in the change-up, curve and slider to compliment it:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)

It’s not quite the extreme that we saw from Scott Alexander last year, but it does show that if you have a pitch that is working and getting outs, using it more often would seem to translate to more outs.

Image result for Kevin McCarthy Royals 2018

It also appears that the coaching staff is trusting him more and more as the season progresses. During May, the Royals used McCarthy 12 times, compiling a 2.25 ERA with batters hitting .179/.193/.304 against him. The bullpen struggled throughout the first month of the season, with a number of veterans like Blaine Boyer and Justin Grimm contributing to the bleeding rather than stopping it.

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Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With Brad Keller shifting to the rotation, it would appear to be as good a time as any for Kansas City to give McCarthy a shot at being a setup guy for closer Kelvin Herrera. With Herrera being a heavily coveted arm this summer, it is as good a time as any to see what McCarthy can do late in the game.

The Royals bullpen is continuing its evolution and it appears McCarthy will continue to evolve as well. More than likely there will be a few more shifts before it is all said and done and McCarthy is as good a choice as any to be a major part of it. So far he is passing all the Royals tests with flying colors; there is almost no reason to stop the development now. Moving forward should be the mantra.

Jay Traded to Arizona for Two Prospects

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Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Pretty much from the beginning of Spring Training this year, we have been aware that the Kansas City Royals would be sellers come the trade deadline. In fact, it was obvious who the Royals would be dangling as bait when that time came. But what none of us saw coming was outfielder Jon Jay being dealt during the first week of June:

So while we might have known Jay would be dealt before the end of summer, I’m pretty sure none of us saw this coming as early as it has. But from the first glance, it looks like a solid deal for Kansas City.

Image result for Jon Jay May 2018

In his short stint in Kansas City, Jay had proven to be exactly what the Royals needed. In fact, Jay is coming off of a great month of May. During those 31 days, Jay hit .368/.402/.436 over 28 games, racking up 43 hits and a sOPS+ of 132. May was big enough for him that he is still 14th in the American League in batting average (.307) and 5th in hits with 73 (2nd in singles at 61 behind only Jose Altuve). So it makes sense that Jay’s value is at a high right now and with the Diamondbacks dealing with some injury issues in the outfield (both A.J. Pollock and Steven Souza are currently on the disabled list), it only made sense for Arizona to be on the look-out for some help.

The good thing for Arizona is they are now getting a veteran outfielder who can play all three outfield positions and who can fit about any role that is needed. Jay isn’t going to wow anyone, as he is not a flashy player, but he is consistent and should help the team with some depth until Souza or Pollock are able to return.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals Twitter Account

The two pitchers that Kansas City acquired in this trade was 18-year old righty Elvis Luciano and 23-year old lefty Gabe Speier. Fangraphs did a nice little scouting report last night after the trade went down:

Luciano is a live-armed 18-year-old Dominican righty who spent most of 2017 in the DSL, then came to the U.S. in August for a month of Rookie-level ball, then instructional league. During instructs he was 90-94 with an average curveball, below-average changeup, and below command, especially later in his outing as he tired. He was an honorable-mention prospect on the D-backs list.

His velocity has mostly remained in that range this spring, topping out at 96. Luciano’s delivery has been changed to alter his glove’s location as he lifts his leg, probably to help him clear his front side a little better. He’s still had strike-throwing issues and might be a reliever, but he has a live arm and can spin a breaking ball. Though 18, Luciano’s frame doesn’t have much projection, so while he might grow into some velocity as he matures, it probably won’t be a lot. He’s an interesting, long-term flier who reasonably projects as a back-end starter.

As for Speier, he’s repeating Double-A. He’s a sinker/slider guy, up to 95 with an average slide piece. He projects as a bullpen’s second lefty and should be viable in that type of role soon.

So there is some definite upside to Luciano and Speier very well could have a future role for the Royals in the bullpen. Considering that Jay is essentially a league average hitter, it appears Kansas City actually got a couple of players who could be a part of the main roster in the future, even if it will be awhile before either is ready to contribute.

Kansas City Royals v Texas Rangers
Credit: RON JENKINS

While I know there was some uproar from the ‘Facebook’ crowd that the Royals went and traded one of their best players, the honest truth is it made sense and is a smart deal for the future of the organization. Jay was on a short, one-year deal and part of the point of signing him in the first place was to turn around and flip him in a trade this summer. The Royals accomplished that goal and in return added a couple of arms to add depth to their farm system.

While it might make the “on-the field” product a little lacking, the trade makes the future a little bit brighter. This is the whole point of this 2018 season: see what you have on the roster, keep the younger players with value and trade the veterans that can bring back some prospects. Jay is just the first of many deals we will be seeing from the Kansas City front office this summer. If this deal upset you, you probably aren’t going to like what happens next.

 

 

Jon Jay is What the Royals Need Him to Be

Yankees Royals Baseball
Credit: Associated Press

Writers Note: I wrote this last week for Royals Review. Jay was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday evening. Hopefully I can get a piece up on the trade sometime soon.

When the Kansas City Royals signed veteran outfielder Jon Jay back in March, it felt like a move made out of necessity. The Royals needed a center fielder and were also looking to add another left-handed bat to a very right-handed heavy lineup. Jay checked off both of those needs and came on a very team friendly, one-year deal.

But expectations weren’t huge. The book on Jay was pretty simple: he will get on base, won’t hit for much power, not much of a base-stealer, and his defense is average at best. For the most part that is exactly what Kansas City has gotten from him so far in this 2018 campaign.

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Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is that Jay has been getting on base as advertised and on a consistent basis. Going into play on Tuesday night, Jay was hitting .305/.361/.362 and was leading the team in hits. Jay has the third best strike out rate (15.4%), on-base percentage (.361) and led the team in batting average on balls in play (.366) on the team. All of those numbers are in the ballpark of what he has done over his career and are a good sign that he should be able to continue on his current pace.

Jay is also putting the ball in play more often this year, as he is sitting on an 83.0% contact rate. To add to the good news, he is also hitting the ball harder:

jon jay snip
Credit: baseballsavant.com

So while he might be putting the ball on the ground at a higher rate this year (58.5%, up from 47.1% in 2017), it is not hurting him because he is hitting the ball harder when he does make contact. From the chart, it also shows he is barreling the ball more often (1.7%) while essentially keeping the same exit velocity (83.9% compared to last year’s 84.0%).

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Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

To add to the positives, there is still room for Jay to improve even more on his ability to get on base. Jay’s walk rate is a bit lower this year than last year (7.3% to 8.5%) and if he could hit a few more line drives (down to 22.2% this year) he might be able to get more doubles (he did get three on Monday night against Minnesota) and increase his extra base hit total.

You also probably noticed his almost non-existent power numbers, which are on life support at best right now: .362 slugging percentage, .057 ISO and ten total extra base hits. The good news is that Jay has never been a power hitter and the Royals don’t pay him to “hit bombs”. Jay’s bread and butter is to find a way to get on base and so far this year he is doing his job.

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

The unfortunate part is that the Royals just aren’t taking advantage of Jay roaming the basepaths. Jay has been on-base 83 times this year (64 hits, 17 walks, 2 hit by pitch) yet has only scored 23 runs, or 28% of the time (he has been between 32-40% throughout much of his career). Obviously this doesn’t fall in the lap of Jay, as it is more a commentary on how the Royals offense deals with runners on base (.243/.311/.353 with runners on base, .218/.306/.320 with runners in scoring position). But it does make you wonder what could be if the Royals offense wasn’t so punchless.

The good news is that if Jay can keep up his production, Kansas City should be able to flip him at the trade deadline in July. There is definite value in a hitter like Jay and there should be at least one contending team interested in his services. It won’t garner the Royals a top-flight prospect, but Jay should bring the team a player they can work with.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals
Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

While Jay overall might just be an average hitter (101 wRC+ this year, 105 over his career), there is value in a guy who just finds a way to get on base. While the Royals have a number of powerful bats in the middle of their lineup that can go yard, it means very little if you don’t have someone at the top of the order who is on base ahead of them.

Jay might not bowl anyone over with his consistent hitting, but without him the Royals might have struggled even more these first two months of the season. His hitting might not be powerful enough for some, but it’s exactly what Kansas City needs right now at the top of their lineup.

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