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December 12, 2005

The Class of 2006

The Hitters

by Jay Jaffe

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It's that time of year again. Snow is on the ground, the hot stove has been lit, Manny Ramirez is on the trading block, and Hall of Fame ballots have been mailed out. For the third year in a row, I'm examining the Hall ballot through the lens of our Davenport Translated player cards via the very self-consciously named JAWS (JAffe WARP Score) system. The idea is to use a sabermetric approach to identify candidates on the Hall ballot who are as good or better than the average Hall of Famer at their position. By promoting those players for election, we can avoid further diluting the quality of the Hall's membership.

Clay Davenport's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) figures make an ideal tool for this endeavor because they normalize all performance records in major-league history to the same scoring environment, adjusting for park effects, quality of competition and length of schedule. All pitchers, hitters and fielders are thus rated above or below one consistent replacement level, making cross-era comparisons a breeze. Though non-statistical considerations--awards, championships, postseason performance--shouldn't be left by the wayside in weighing a player's Hall of Fame case, they're not the focus here.

Election to the Hall of Fame requires a player to perform both at a very high level and for a long time, so it's inappropriate to rely simply on career WARP (which for this exercise refers exclusively to the adjusted-for-all-time version, WARP3). In past years I identified each player's peak value by his best five consecutive seasons, with allowances made for seasons lost to war or injury. That choice was an admittedly arbitrary one, and for the 2006 ballot I've revised the methodology to instead use each player's best seven seasons without concern as to whether they're consecutive or not. It's a subtle change that doesn't have a huge impact, but it does require less manual labor to determine the injury and war exceptions, a welcome development from where I sit. Effectively, we're double-counting more of a player's best seasons, but given what we know about pennants added and the premium value of star talent, individual greatness can have a nonlinear effect on a team's results both in the standings and on the bottom line.

The career and peak WARP totals for each Hall of Famer and candidate on the ballot are tabulated and then averaged [(Career WARP + Peak WARP) / 2] to come up with a JAWS score. JAWS averages for the enshrined are calculated at each position to provide a baseline for comparison. Here I've made one further change to the methodology. Browsing through the Hall of Famers' JAWS totals, it's crystal clear that some players--particularly those elected by the Veterans Committee--were downright awful choices; their JAWS totals wind up being about 1/3 of those by the top players at the position. I simply decided to drop the lowest score at each position before calculating its average, effectively raising the bar by about two wins across the board. Having dropped eight out of 136 hitters, the equivalent would be to drop 3.4 pitchers out of 58; I stretched that to four. Nobody will miss them but their mothers.

It should be noted that my oversimplification of career and peak into One Great Number isn't meant to obscure the components which go into that figure, nor should it be taken as the end-all rating system for these players. We're looking for patterns to help determine whether a player belongs in the Hall or doesn't and roughly where he fits. Though this piece is founded on the sabermetric credentials of Hall of Fame candidates, I've also taken the trouble to wrangle together traditional stat lines for each one, including All-Star (AS), MVP and Gold Glove (GG) awards as well as the hoary but somewhat useful Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor (HOFM) scores.

It should also be noted that I simply followed the Hall's system of classifying a player by the position he appeared at the most. Thus Willie Stargell is classified as a left fielder, and all of his numbers count towards establishing the standards at left field, even though he spent the latter half of his career at first base. This is something of an inevitability within such a system, but if the alternative is going nuts resolving the Paul Molitors and Harmon Killebrews into fragmentary careers at numerous positions, we'll never get anywhere.

By necessity I had to eliminate not only all Negro League-only electees, who have no major league stats, but also Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin, two great players whose presence in the Hall is largely based on their Negro League accomplishments. Other Negro Leaguers, such as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Larry Doby, have been included. Their career totals are somewhat compromised by not having crossed the color line until midway through their careers, but their peak values--especially Robinson's--contribute positively to our understanding of the Hall's standards.

Here are the JAWS standards, the adjusted positional averages once the low man on the totem pole is removed, to which I'll refer throughout the piece:

C        13   410   196   74    97.6   59.4   78.5
1B       18   738   483   -2   100.4   60.9   80.6
2B       17   570   295   88   114.1   67.1   90.6
3B       11   656   374   63   108.8   62.6   85.7
SS       20   415   137   87   102.4   62.0   82.2
LF       18   745   470  -15   105.2   59.7   82.4
CF       17   715   466   -8   108.6   63.8   86.2
RF       22   780   504   21   112.4   61.5   86.9

CI       29   708   443   22   103.5   61.5   82.5
MI       37   486   209   88   107.7   64.3   86.0
IF       66   583   311   59   105.9   63.1   84.5
OF       57   750   482    1   109.0   61.6   85.3

Middle   67   530   272   61   106.0   63.2   84.6
Corners  69   741   469   12   106.8   61.0   83.9

Hitters 136   637   372   36   106.4   62.1   84.3

A quick breeze through the other abbreviations: BRAR is Batting Runs Above Replacement, BRAA is Batting Runs Above Average; both are included here because they make good secondary measures of career and peak value. FRAA is Fielding Runs Above Average, which is a bit less messy and more meaningful to the average reader than measuring from replacement level.

Not all of these positions are represented on the 2006 ballot. Without any catchers to evaluate, we'll jump straight to first base.

First Basemen

Two holdovers from last year's ballot who haven't generated much support--Steve Garvey (who got 20.5 percent of the vote in 2005) and Don Mattingly (11.4 percent)--join three newcomers, including one with a surprisingly strong case for a spot on our ballot.

              H   HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG  AS  MVP  GG   HOFS   HOFM
Clark      2176  284  1205  .303  .384  .497   6   0    1   41.9   83.5
Garvey     2599  272  1308  .294  .329  .446  10   1    4   31.5  131.0
Jefferies  1593  126   663  .289  .344  .421   2   0    0   17.1   19.0
Mattingly  2153  222  1099  .307  .358  .471   6   1    9   34.1  134.0
Morris     1216   76   513  .304  .361  .433   0   0    0   18.0   23.0

             EQA  BRAR  BRAA  FRAA  WARP3   PEAK   JAWS
Clark       .312   748   513   57   101.6   64.2   82.9
Garvey      .280   518   226   77    82.7   52.4   67.6
Jefferies   .278   309   125  -94    40.5   31.3   35.9
Mattingly   .301   607   381  119    92.4   66.8   79.6
Morris      .281   235   104   19    35.8   31.6   33.7
AVG HOF  1B        738   483   -2   100.4   60.9   80.6

From a sabermetric standpoint, the best case here isn't that of Garvey or Mattingly but of Will Clark. While he never won an MVP award, and his totals as shown above aren't outstanding, Clark was one heck of a hitter. Had he not hung up his spikes at age 36 after a .319/.418/.546 season (including a great post-trade deadline run as Mark McGwire's replacement in St. Louis), he might have been a lock for the Hall. Figure another 500 hits, 50 homers, and 10 WARP3 (which would raise his JAWS five points) tacked on, perhaps. That's nice padding, but that's really all it is. Should we penalize him for depriving us of some increasingly tedious twilight years?

As it is, Clark fares quite well when compared to the average Hall of Fame first baseman; his JAWS score of 82.9 is comfortably above the position's standards and would rank him eighth among inducted 1Bs. He tops the likes of Tony Perez (79.8), Willie McCovey (79.2), Hank Greenberg (78.3), Harmon Killebrew (78.0), and seven other Hall first basemen, and is just behind Dan Brouthers (84.4) and Johnny Mize (84.2). He may not get in--it would be a surprise to see him outpoll Mattingly or Garvey, both of whom won MVP awards--but he is certainly no slouch.

Mattingly was the golden child of the Great Yankee Dark Age between the Billy Martin/Bob Lemon World Series teams and the Joe Torre ones. At his peak he was a fantastic hitter and a slick fielding first baseman, a perennial MVP candidate worth 9-10 WARP a year. Alas, back woes sapped him of his power, making him a very ordinary player outside of his 1984-87 peak and bringing his career to a premature end at age 34. He didn't reach the postseason until his final season; a strong performance in a losing cause in the 1995 AL Division Series against Seattle provided a bittersweet coda to his career, and the Yanks' success after he left tends to diminish his stature. The new JAWS formulas put him very close to the average, but that's more a function of tweaks on Clay Davenport's end than mine--his WARP3 total is six wins higher than at this time last year. As close as he is, we'll take a pass.

The matinee-idol star of my favorite team as a kid, Garvey put up shiny numbers primarily in the context of a tough hitters' park, Dodger Stadium. He did the things that impress voters, showing a clockwork ability to rap out 200 hits, hit .300 with 20 homers, drive in 100 runs, make the All-Star team, and have perfectly coiffed hair. He was great in the postseason (.338/.361/.550 with 11 HR and 31 RBI) while leading his teams to five World Series, won a good share of hardware, and set the NL record for consecutive games played. Garvey was good for about 7-8 WARP a year at his peak. His counting stats are certainly better than Mattingly's, but he didn't get on base enough or hit for enough power (never topping .500). Post-retirement zipper problems have put further dents in his candidacy. We'll zip past him here.

Gregg Jefferies was a handy multiposition player who didn't shift to first until relatively late in his career. He hit for high averages and didn't strike out much, just 348 times in 6,072 plate appearances. But his offensive game was still somewhat thin; he lacked exceptional power and didn't walk all that much. Beyond a spectacular 29-game cup of coffee in 1988, he rarely lived up to the expectations set for him as the next great Mets prospect after Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, and he alienated teammates, media and fans on his way to a relatively disappointing career that was over shortly after he turned 33. No sale.

Hal Morris hit for a high average with little power as well. He came out of the Yankee system but was of course blocked by Mattingly, and was traded to the Reds in December 1989 for a deal that included Tim Leary. A lefty with a sweet swing, he was protected by platooning, and made frequent trips to the Disabled List, such that only twice in 13 years did he play more than 127 games. He's got no case.


Though there are no second basemen on the ballot--Ryne Sandberg having been elected last year--this year's is chockful of shortstops. Holdovers Alan Trammell (16.9 percent of the vote) and Dave Concepcion (10.7 percent) join reigning World Champion manager Ozzie Guillen, Walt Weiss, and a player familiar to BP readers for all the wrong reasons, Gary DiSarcina.

              H   HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG  AS  MVP  GG  HOFS   HOFM
Concepcion 2326  101   950  .267  .322  .357   9   0   5   29.1  107.0
DiSarcina   966   28   355  .258  .292  .341   1   0   0   14.9    4.0
Guillen    1764   28   619  .264  .287  .338   3   0   1   16.8   29.0
Trammell   2365  185  1003  .285  .352  .415   6   0   4   40.4  119.0
Weiss      1207   25   386  .258  .351  .326   1   0   0   19.9   29.0

             EQA  BRAR  BRAA  FRAA  WARP3   PEAK   JAWS
Concepcion  .257   266   -37  187   101.0   60.9   81.0
DiSarcina   .227   -10  -143  -15    21.2   21.3   21.3
Guillen     .231    11  -227  128    55.6   39.9   47.8
Trammell    .282   530   246  101   117.6   68.4   93.0
Weiss       .248    96   -70   -3    40.7   30.2   35.5
AVG HOF SS         415   137   87   102.4   62.0   82.2

Trammell spent 20 seasons as a Detroit Tiger, 15 of them as their regular shortstop. Like his teammates on the 1984 championship team, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris, he hasn't gained enough traction in the voting to get anywhere. But he should. Trammell was a very solid hitter who more than held his own in the field and on the bases. He could have been the AL MVP in 1987, when he went .343/.402/.551 with 28 HR and 105 RBI, losing the vote to 47-HR outfielder George Bell. According to WARP, he was 3.6 wins better than Bell (11.4 to 7.8), but Wade Boggs (13.1, off of a .363/.461/.588 year with 24 HR and 108 RBI) topped them both.

Trammell's JAWS is better than all but five of the 20 shortstops in the Hall of Fame, nestling him right between Ozzie Smith (93.4) and Luke Appling (92.8) and behind only Honus Wagner (134.6), Arky Vaughan (104.0), Robin Yount (97.2), and Ernie Banks (95.1), though the pending arrival of Cal Ripken (120.5 JAWS, eligible for the Class of 2007) would take him down a peg. With the eventual Cooperstown arrivals of the Holy Trinity of Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter not so iron-clad as they seemed a few years ago, Trammell's candidacy deserves far better than it's gotten. He easily gets our vote.

Concepcion was the shortstop for one of the greatest teams in history, the Big Red Machine, as they won five divisions, four pennants, and two World Series during the 1970s. He wasn't much of a hitter (his career EQA of .257 is below average), although he wasn't a total loss with the bat; at his best he put up a few .350 OBP/.410 SLG seasons. He was a defensive marvel, a sheer pleasure to watch, whose sabermetric stats back his case--over a ten-year span (1974-1983), he was 18.8 runs above average per year, and his FRAA is higher than all Hall shortstops except for the Wizard and the Flying Dutchman. The flaw with Concepcion's case is that he's a combined 130 runs behind Oz with both the bat and glove, and that's too much ground to make up. Concepcion was a key component of those Cincy teams, but he doesn't belong in Cooperstown alongside the big Reds.

Guillen was a slick-fielding shortstop who hit one of the thinnest .264 batting averages you'll ever see: try a .287 OBP and a .338 SLG, with 28 homers in 16 seasons. For all of his fielding prowess, he won just one Gold Glove, generally losing out to guys like Ripken, Tony Fernandez, and Omar Vizquel. If he wants into the Hall of Fame, he'll have to earn it by piloting the White Sox (or another team) to a few more titles before somebody smacks him into next week.

Weiss played shortstop for the A's during the Bash Brothers' heyday, even following Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire by winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1988. He had very little power himself (25 homers and a .325 SLG), but a good enough batting eye to spin a .258 average into a .351 OBP. Solid, but it won't take him to Cooperstown.

DiSarcina was a truly wretched hitter, with an aversion to walks so legendary that we here at BP named an award after him. It goes to the position player in each league who lasts the longest into a season without taking a base on balls. In 2005, midseason callup Jeff Francoeur passed Jose Reyes by avoiding a walk until he drew an intentional pass in his 127th at-bat, the eighth "best" mark since 1972. Francoeur has skills which may destine him for Cooperstown one day. DiSarcina's best bet for the Hall is to take I-90 West out of Boston.

Third Basemen

Gary Gaetti makes his debut on the ballot, facing a set of standards that's been ratcheted up by the elections of Wade Boggs (2005) and Paul Molitor (2004) to the Hall.

              H   HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG  AS  MVP  GG  HOFS   HOFM
Gaetti     2280  360  1341  .255  .308  .434   2   0    4   29.5   51.5

             EQA  BRAR  BRAA  FRAA  WARP3   PEAK   JAWS
Gaetti      .262   334    22  144    86.1   44.3   65.2
AVG HOF 3B         656   374   63   108.8   62.6   85.7

Third basemen are the Hall's redheaded stepchildren. Not only are they criminally underrepresented in the ranks of Cooperstown, with only eleven enshrinees, but it's quite apparent that the Hall doesn't even have the right ones. Ron Santo (89.6) and Darrell Evans (86.0) both have JAWS scores above the position average, while the likes of George Kell (53.3) and Fred Lindstrom (45.9) rank among the Veterans Committee's more egregious mistakes.

Affectionately known as the Rat, Gaetti was a classic low-average, high-slugging third baseman who was excellent with the leather. Not only did he own the AL Gold Glove from 1986-1989, he's tied for fifth all-time in FRAA among third basemen (Brooks Robinson leads at 176, followed by Jimmy Collins at 172). He's done in by the fact that he didn't have much patience at the plate, leading to just a .308 OBP. The otherwise vaguely similar Ron Cey (who hit .261/.354/.445 with 316 homers over a career some 1500 plate appearances shorter) scores at a much more robust 74.9 JAWS thanks to better plate discipline if considerably worse defense. No to the Rat.


Among the five holdover outfielders on the ballot, two of them have crossed the 50 percent rubicon which suggests their election is an inevitability. With the exception of Gil Hodges and those currently on the ballot, everybody who's polled more than 50 percent in any vote has eventually been enshrined. Jim Rice (59.5 percent) has polled above 50 percent for the past six ballots, and Andre Dawson (52.3 percent) has been at 50 or above for the past three years. Meanwhile the similarly-credentialed Dave Parker (12.6 percent) and Dale Murphy (10.5 percent) are fading fast, and Willie McGee (5.0) is on the ballot by the barest margin. Into the fray comes Albert Belle.

               H   HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG  AS  MVP  GG  HOFS   HOFM
Belle       1726  381  1239  .295  .369  .564   5   0   0   36.1  134.5
Dawson      2774  438  1591  .279  .323  .482   8   1   8   43.7  117.5
McGee       2254   79   856  .295  .333  .396   4   1   3   22.9   77.5
Murphy      2111  398  1266  .265  .346  .469   7   2   5   34.3  115.5
Parker      2712  339  1493  .290  .339  .471   7   1   3   41.1  125.5
Rice        2452  382  1451  .298  .352  .502   7   1   0   42.9  147.0

                POS   EQA  BRAR  BRAA  FRAA  WARP3   PEAK   JAWS
Albert Belle    LF   .318   673   480    6    88.5   73.3   80.9
Jim Rice        LF   .295   645   376   18    89.6   59.0   74.3
AVG HOF LF                  745   470  -15   105.2   59.7   82.4

Dale Murphy     CF   .287   558   285    8    90.1   67.0   78.6
Andre Dawson    CF   .284   652   315  -15    99.4   53.2   76.3
Willie McGee    CF   .270   348    94   -8    63.3   44.9   54.1
AVG HOF CF                  715   466   -8   108.6   63.8   86.2

Dave Parker     RF   .285   612   301  -49    78.8   50.7   64.8
AVG HOF RF                  780   504   21   112.4   61.5   86.9

First we'll consider the cases of four heavy hitters who were almost exact contemporaries, and who at one point or another during their careers looked like locks for the Hall of Fame. They won awards and honors by the truckload, and hit homers--lots and lots of homers.

Dawson had an exceptional combination of power and speed. As an Expo, he was a Gold Glove center fielder who shifted to right after the Olympic Stadium turf took its toll on his knees. He left as a free agent following the 1986 season, and made a huge splash in his first year with the Cubs, hitting 49 homers, driving in 137 runs, and winning dubious MVP honors while playing for a last-place club, the first player to do so. He was arguably not among the top eight players in the NL that year, his raw totals inflated by Wrigley Field. For his career, the park effects were more even; Retrosheet data shows him at .281/.330/.481 with 207 HR at home, .278/.316/.483 with 231 HR on the road. His Gold Gloves are largely unearned; he was actually 15 runs below average in center for his career.

Parker was a Gold Glove right fielder who for a time was thought of as the best player in the game. Powerful and possessing a cannon for an arm, he was in the spotlight often in the late '70s and early '80s via All-Star Game heroics and a World Series title. Cocaine problems cost him some productive seasons in the middle of his career, but he rebounded with a couple of solid years in Cincinnati and then a few OK seasons as a DH. His defensive prowess was overstated; he's 47 runs below average in right field for his career, helped by one fluky 26-assist season that gave him his reputation.

Murphy was a converted catcher who became a Gold Glove center fielder and two-time MVP. At his peak he was considerably more valuable than Dawson thanks to his plate discipline, but he got lots of help from his home park. Retrosheet shows him at .281/.368/.499 with 217 HR at home, .250/.324/.440 with 181 HR on the road. Like Dawson again, his defensive reputation was considerably overstated; he won a Gold Glove with a negative FRAA in 1985. His career fell off the table after he turned 32, and he was done at 37, a mere two homers from reaching 400.

Rice was thought of as the premier slugger in the AL from the late '70s into the mid-'80s, putting up some monster seasons for the Red Sox. Besides winning the MVP award in 1978, he placed in the top five in balloting six times. He racked up 406 total bases in '78, the most in a 50-year span from 1949-1998. Like Murphy, he got a big boost from his park; Retrosheet shows him hitting .320/.374/.546 with 208 homers in Fenway, .277/.330/.459 with 174 HR on the road. Again like Murphy, his career fell off the table in his early 30s--he was a shadow of himself once he turned 34, and was done at 36. Had he lasted a few years longer, it would be a closer call.

Each candidate in this quartet has some merit when it comes to the Hall, and none would be anywhere near the worst at his position if he were elected. They were some of the brightest stars of their time, but their resumes are considerably inflated, and they're all missing something. Sportswriters might lament the passing of a time when 35-40 homers could lead the league, but none of these four had the plate discipline of today's best sluggers, they all had some help from their parks, and their defensive reputations were overblown. Rice, Parker and Murphy have gaps in their resume that cost them a few years of their careers; Parker perhaps the most because his came mid-career rather than late. In one way or another, advanced metrics take the wind out of the sails of their candidacies. The Davenport numbers show that none of these four has the career value of the average Hall of Fame outfielder (off by 9 to 33 career WARP), and only Murphy has the peak value of one, though Rice is close. Good players overall, but the Hall would do just fine without them.

Moving on, McGee was a switch-hitting speedster best remembered as a key component at the top of the lineup for Whitey Herzog's go-go Cardinals, three-time pennant winners in the '80s. He won an MVP award for a stellar 1985 campaign in which he hit .353/.384/.503, rapped out 216 hits (including 18 triples) and stole 56 bases for the NL champs. Notice how little of that OBP was driven by walks, however. A lack of patience at the plate was McGee's major flaw; he walked just once every 18.3 plate appearances and got on base just one-third of the time. It's telling that he topped 100 runs only in that MVP season; Rickey Henderson he was not. His low OBP and lack of power keep his value down, and his peak just isn't that strong.

Belle flat-out terrorized AL pitchers--and just about everybody else--for a decade before a degenerative hip condition forced his retirement at age 33. Even in this era of inflated offensive totals, his numbers are still something to behold; in a five-year period from 1994-1998, he topped a .600 slugging percentage four times, going as high as .714 in the strike-abbreviated 1994 season (future teammate Frank Thomas paced the league at .729). The following year, in a 144-game schedule, he walloped 50 homers, only the third player since George Foster and Cecil Fielder to reach that mark since Willie Mays in 1965 (it's been done 18 times in the decade since), and became the first hitter ever to pair those 50 homers with 50 doubles. Those two seasons made him central to the resurgence of the Indians franchise, one of baseball's feel-good stories of the decade.

Belle never won an MVP award, finishing third twice and second once. According to WARP3, he actually outperformed the winners in those three years, and not by a little:

       Belle   Winner (WARP3)
1994    10.6   Frank Thomas (10.3)
1995    13.4   Mo Vaughn (7.3)
1996    11.2   Juan Gonzalez (6.2)

It should be noted that Alex Rodriguez (13.9 WARP3) was hosed even worse by the 1996 electorate. Belle lost the 1995 vote by a mere eight points; with better media relations--he was loathed by the press, and the feeling was mutual--he probably would have won. That same press will probably keep him out of the Hall, but should it? Belle was no choirboy, as his several clashes with fans and media reveal, but consider the case of perceived nice guy Kirby Puckett, whose own JAWS credentials (91.9 career WARP3/61.8 peak/76.9 JAWS) fall short of Belle's, and whose off-the-field behavior was--allegedly--much worse. Should one be in the Hall and the other outside based on a popularity contest whose results were decided too early?

At the end of the day, Belle falls short on the JAWS scale due to his foreshortened career. But his seven-year peak total ranks among the top 30 of hitters all time, and in the rarefied air of the 58 players who've averaged 10+ wins over that peak, only the unjustly unenshrined Ron Santo is eligible for the Hall yet remains outside it. The ink-stained will argue that he deserves no charity in considering his candidacy. But as many of them inch the hardly-angelic Jim Rice closer to election, it's clear that Belle is a much stronger candidate, by two whole wins a year at his peak. Among this lot, he's the single most deserving, and his statistical shortcomings are hardly his fault. Consider that even back-to-back seasons at the crappitudinal level of Terrence Long would put him above the JAWS standards for left field. In this season of giving, I'd give him my vote while conceding that your mileage may vary. And that's without considering his place in the funniest in-joke ever among the Internet's baseball analysis community.

So, after analyzing the hitters in the light of JAWS, we've tabbed three for our ballot: Trammell, Clark, and Belle. We'll consider the pitchers in a separate article later this week.

Peter Quadrino contributed research to this article

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