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Monday, November 21, 2022

MLB bans infield shifts: How baseball will change - Sports Illustrated

Good stuff from Tom Verducci.

We have so much data on how shifts changed baseball that it is not difficult to make an educated guess as to what will happen next year without them. My top conclusions:

1. The MLB batting average should increase from .243 last season (the fifth-worst ever, and the worst in 54 years) to .255 (equaling the highest since 2011).

2. Ground balls will go up, and strikeouts will go down, both slightly.

3. Corey Seager of Texas and Matt Olson of Atlanta will benefit the most from the new rules.

4. The Giants need a second baseman, and the Cardinals will rethink Nolan Gorman at second base.

jimfurtado Posted: November 21, 2022 at 07:33 PM | 46 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: rules of the game, shifts

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: November 21, 2022 at 10:54 PM (#6106391)
K/9 actually dropped the last two years, from 9.1 to 8.9 to 8.5 (which is back to 2018 levels). K/9 and K/PA not the same thing of course but the relatively easy to find b-r page has SO9 so I'll use that. Until this recent swoon -- which obviously wasn't in reaction to the new shift ban -- K/9 had gone up or remained steady every year from 2006 to 2020. I'll bet the over on Ks but even if they go down, how would we know that was the shift and not a continuation of the "trend" of the last two years?

As we know, if for no other reason than I won't let it go, BABIP was essentially unchanged in the shift era until 2020 when it did drop to 292 and it's gotten a bit worse since then. A return to the high 290s would be welcome. But we are still talking about an extra 6-8 hits per 1,000 BIP -- what is that, one IP hit per week for each team?

But sure, replacing 0.5 K/9 with an extra half-groundball would be nice. That's also about a hit a week for each team. We'd get about 3 more PA per week per team.

   2. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2022 at 11:24 PM (#6106396)
I'm skeptical about his conclusions.
   3. Moeball Posted: November 22, 2022 at 12:29 AM (#6106400)
Once again, MLB comes up with a solution for a problem that doesn't exist.

The criogenically frozen head of Ted Williams is spinning somewhere.
   4. The Yankee Clapper Posted: November 22, 2022 at 01:55 AM (#6106409)
Saw some speculation that shift-happy teams will now move the left fielder into short right field against the most pull-happy left-handed hitters. In that scenario, a routine hit against the shift might go for a double rather than single, raising the stakes a bit, so such deployments would presumably be rare.
   5. Rally Posted: November 22, 2022 at 04:14 AM (#6106414)
Problem is that while some guys pull just about all of their ground balls, this is not generally true for fly balls. These are the same players that some teams used a 4 man outfield on. Leaving left field vacant would be very risky.
   6. TomH Posted: November 22, 2022 at 08:33 AM (#6106423)
so the ##s for MiLB with changes is SB +26%, CS -20%, if I read the data correctly.

Lets take Ronald Acuna for 2023:
career PA 2297 SB 107 CS 32
add in the % changes above and we get
career PA 2297 SB 135 CS 26
prorate it to Acuna getting 625 PA this season:
2023 projected PA 625 SB 37 CS 7 - a typical C Biggio efficient stealing season
   7. Astroenteritis Posted: November 22, 2022 at 09:22 AM (#6106427)
Once again, MLB comes up with a solution for a problem that doesn't exist.


Absolutely agree. It's become an annoying trend. Baseball is a great game, until you start messing with it.
   8. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: November 22, 2022 at 10:30 AM (#6106434)
Once again, MLB comes up with a solution for a problem that doesn't exist.


Absolutely agree. It's become an annoying trend. Baseball is a great game, until you start messing with it.

I don't know what game you guys are watching, but the lack of balls in play is absolutely a problem. Whether this is a solution is another story.

I'd like to see the ball deadened (which I think they did?) and the mound lowered as well.
   9. Greg Pope Posted: November 22, 2022 at 11:04 AM (#6106438)
I don't know if the article (which is linked in this article) from Verducci was posted at the time, but he pretty much nails it. He talks about the pitch clock, what it will do, and references that it's not the game time, it's the pace of play. He also discusses the shift and the larger bases.
   10. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 22, 2022 at 11:18 AM (#6106441)

Absolutely agree. It's become an annoying trend. Baseball is a great game, until you start messing with it.


It WAS a great game when K/9 were at 5-6, and there were fewer HR, and lots of BIP, and the game ended in 2:30, with 2-3 pitchers per team per game. The analytics movement turned it into a boring 3:15 slog with a parade of anonymous RPs, strikeouts galore, and the only action being on HRs.

I don't know what game you guys are watching, but the lack of balls in play is absolutely a problem. Whether this is a solution is another story.

I'd like to see the ball deadened (which I think they did?) and the mound lowered as well.


Agree but first, pitch clock, pitch clock, pitch clock. Make it short, and enforce the hell out of it. No leaving the box either. Then we
   11. JJ1986 Posted: November 22, 2022 at 11:36 AM (#6106443)
I don't actually care if MLB bans the shift, but the cognitive dissonance of anti-shift proponents was amazing. They would call for bans of it because it helped too much and then point out every little instance of the shift failing while ignoring all of the successes.
   12. Darren Posted: November 22, 2022 at 11:45 AM (#6106444)
In places where they tried out the shift ban, what were the results? It seems like for a rule change this big, it got pushed through awfully quickly.
   13. Darren Posted: November 22, 2022 at 11:46 AM (#6106445)
I don't actually care if MLB bans the shift, but the cognitive dissonance of anti-shift proponents was amazing. They would call for bans of it because it helped too much and then point out every little instance of the shift failing while ignoring all of the successes.


What you don't realize is that both its success and failure proved it was bad... somehow.
   14. Darren Posted: November 22, 2022 at 11:53 AM (#6106446)
3. How noticeable will the change be next season?

Not as noticeable as you think. Put those 2,065 ground-ball hits back into the game and you’re still talking about only about one more hit per game.

Let’s use the past World Series as an example—the last one with shifts. The Phillies and Astros used a shift 38% of the time, slightly above the MLB regular-season rate of 34%. Batters combined to hit 30 ground balls when facing a shift. I looked at each one of them. Only seven of them were likely hits without the shift—that’s a small sample that dovetails with the large sample rate of about one more ground-ball hit per game.


I guess in the context of watching a game, that's not a big difference in your experience. But isn't seven a lot in a way? 7/30 is .233. You turn a .200 hitter into a .433 hitter.

(I'd also like to think that when players see this opportunity, they'd be more willing to put the ball on the ground. But I've watched so many of them ignoring the fact that one whole side of the infield is empty for the past couple years, so I kind of doubt it.)
   15. Rusty Priske Posted: November 22, 2022 at 12:52 PM (#6106454)
There already was a solution for dealing with the shift. Hit better.

Having said that, banning the shift doesn't bother me as much as the implementation of the pitch clock and the restriction against throwing to 1st.

Oh well. I will get used to it.
   16. The Duke Posted: November 22, 2022 at 12:53 PM (#6106455)
I don't understand the "leave baseball alone" logic. The game has materially changed (for the worse from an entertainment perspective). This isn't an isolated opinion. Everyone who has seen minor league baseball and MLB in the last few years will tell you that minor league games are far more fun.

I think the biggest element of the new rules is forcing fielders to have their feet on the dirt. Shift or no shift, many 2B and SS play anywhere from 1-5 steps off the dirt. Take that away and it will compromise getting to balls they've been getting to lately. Yadier Molina is a good example. Infielders were playing short cf on both sides of 2B for him because he was so slow. He couldn't buy a ground ball hit.

I still think they will need to shove the SS and 2B further back to their natural positions, but this is a good starting point and I can see not wanting to draw a trapezoid on the field right away.

The shift rules, bigger bags, the pitch clock, the automated balls/strikes will all make the game more enjoyable on the margins. A little bit deader ball and we will be set.

   17. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 22, 2022 at 01:42 PM (#6106462)
It seems like for a rule change this big, it got pushed through awfully quickly.

Is it really that big. Nobody shifted much before about 10 years ago.
   18. Walt Davis Posted: November 22, 2022 at 02:03 PM (#6106464)
Yadier BAgb 2004-22: (career 229)

189 233 161 259 270 219 186 232 269 253 227 234 262 255 206 193 208 239 149

In his prime, he hit about 180-230 GB per year. In the early/late stages it was more like 150. Of course playing time varies.

Pudge BAgb 1991-2011: (career 240)

231 189 263 223 234 249 265 226 260 206 201 162 284 322 230 253 254 216 220 227 135

Those last 4 years look pretty similar. Feel free to dig deeper. Of course noticing how slow Cs are and playing deeper is not a new phenomenon and no reason not to tweak the rules to benefit slow players.
   19. Walt Davis Posted: November 22, 2022 at 02:15 PM (#6106467)
Yadi EVgb 2015-22

84.6 85.9 84.6 84.5 83.4 81.8 84.6 82.5

So he was also not hitting the ball as hard (except for 2021 when he had a typical BAgb year)
   20. Walt Davis Posted: November 22, 2022 at 02:25 PM (#6106471)
Back to Verducci ...

1 hit per game? So a half-hit per team game? Average number of BIP per game was 24.4 with a BABIP of 290 or 7.08 hits. Raise that to 7.58 hits per 24.4 BIP and BABIP is 310. The highest BABIP since 1900 was 303 -- in the small-ball era of 2007, also 1930.

So ... no.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: November 22, 2022 at 02:42 PM (#6106478)
Let’s use the past World Series as an example—the last one with shifts. The Phillies and Astros used a shift 38% of the time, slightly above the MLB regular-season rate of 34%. Batters combined to hit 30 ground balls when facing a shift. I looked at each one of them. Only seven of them were likely hits without the shift—that’s a small sample that dovetails with the large sample rate of about one more ground-ball hit per gam

It is clear that he didn't look at GBs hit when facing a shift ... he looked only at ground outs when facing a shift.

Let's look at the series. B-R doesn't explicitly give BIP or BABIP and doesn't list SFs in its summary so I'll use AB - HR - SO for BIP and H-HR for IP hits. The BABIP below then is an overestimate dedpending on how many SFs were hit.

Astros: 138 BIP, 43 IP hits, 312 BABIP
Phillies: 111 BIP, 23 IP hits, 207 BABIP
Total: 249, 66, 265 BABIP

Add 7 hits and the BABIP goes up to 293. It doesn't seem very likely that the shift reduced BABIP by 28 points but you never know, small samples and all.
   22. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 22, 2022 at 02:51 PM (#6106480)
Having said that, banning the shift doesn't bother me as much as the implementation of the pitch clock and the restriction against throwing to 1st.

Oh well. I will get used to it.


I can't understand opposition to the pitch clock. Baseball was played with 10-15 seconds between pitches for 100 years before players decided they need 30 seconds.
   23. Walt Davis Posted: November 22, 2022 at 03:18 PM (#6106485)
To get the below, I had to go through the play-by-play. Groundouts and hits with the description "groundball" were counted as GBs ... but by hand, so error-prone in both steps. There was a fielder's choice that wasn't explicitly labelled as a ground ball but it was a run down at home so i assume it was. Anyway, obviously this is entirely up to whoever does the pbp and my count of GB might be off by one or two but that won't matter to the overall point. The hits might be off by one or two as well which could have a "big" effect on the small-sample BAgb but that doesn't really take away from the overall point that Verducci is claiming BAgb would have been (give or take based on the total) 7/112 (63 points) higher without the shift.

G1: 5-21
G2: 7-25 (but two RoE)
G3: 5-20
G4: 4-13
G5: 5-17
G6: 1-16 (ugh!)

Total: 27-112, 241 BAgb, MLB 2022 236

Verducci wants us to believe it would have been 34-112 or a 304 BAgb without the shift. Do I need to tell you that while that's possible in a small sample, MLB has never seen a BAgb remotely close to that (only collected for the last 30 years or so).

Now he's looked at the video (of the groundouts) and I haven't. Maybe 7 of those would have been hits without the shift but, if that's true, I'll guess there were about 5 hits that would not have been hits if the defense wasn't shifted. Seems more plausible right -- that GBs hit when the shift ws probably weren't 0-30 but rather 5-35 (143 BA) and that, without the shift, those GBs would have been 7-35? Or even more likely, something like 40 GBs were hit when the shift was on and 5 of those were hits that would have been groundouts against a straightaway alignment, 7 were groundouts that would have been hits against a straightaway alignment and 4 would have been hits against either alignment. That would give us 9-40 when the shift is allowed vs 11-40 when it's not ... which is still a pretty ridiculously high 50 points of BAgb but far more believable than 0-30 vs 7-30.
   24. Walt Davis Posted: November 22, 2022 at 03:36 PM (#6106486)
What worries (not big worries) us about the pitch clock are the unintended consequences. Will it lead to more pitcher injuries? Worse performance -- fewer Ks hooray! more HRs ... umm, boo? Will those pitchers already limited to 18-20 batters becasue of 3rd-time effects do even worse on a pitch clock becoming 15-17 batter pitchers? If the anonymous relievers can't crank it up as much, are they more likely to get pulled after their 3 batters, leading to more mid-innning changes (anybody been tracking these lately)? If the pitch clock does lead to more offense then it's more PAs and more total pitches, partly negating the impact of the pitch clock on game time. Is 15-20 seconds enough time for Gerrit Cole to load up on spider tack?

I'm in favor of giving it a try, it seems to me it's the suggestion most likely to have a substantial impact on game times. I just wish MLB had implemented it 5 years ago across the minors before introducing it to the majors so (a) they'd have more data on its impact and (b) at least all the younger pitchers would be used to it already.

What's the reaction going to be if Kershaw's back finally gives out and Verlander's shoulder finally pops and Bieber comes up lame? It will be a nanosecond before somebody has an article up blaming it on the pitch clock. Look what "Ortiz is hitting 120 on GBs!!" did to the shift. :-)
   25. Buck Coats Posted: November 22, 2022 at 04:24 PM (#6106493)
I have no problem with the pitch clock, it's the limit on pickoffs that seems insane to me. They've been using pitch clocks in the minors for a decade and it's been fine.
   26. The Duke Posted: November 22, 2022 at 05:12 PM (#6106499)
Do the new shift rules get suspended for the " last inning five guys in the infield" play or is they gone now ?
   27. Tony S Posted: November 22, 2022 at 05:39 PM (#6106503)

The analytics movement turned it into a boring 3:15 slog with a parade of anonymous RPs, strikeouts galore, and the only action being on HRs.


I'd blame more Tony LaRussa and his ilk for this particular change in the game. There's no reason it couldn't have evolved in the Earl Weaver direction: lots of role players, deep benches, ten-man staffs, pitching to contact, where the opposing hitters would have to deal with a great defense. It's always been easier to control the platoon advantage from the offensive side. And analytics types loved Earl Weaver.

What you don't realize is that both its success and failure proved it was bad... somehow.


There's no success like failure, and failure's no success at all.
   28. Tony S Posted: November 22, 2022 at 05:51 PM (#6106508)

A couple of offseasons of pull hitters learning to bunt the other way, and the shift would have gone away on its own.
   29. cardsfanboy Posted: November 22, 2022 at 09:23 PM (#6106529)
The thing that I'm pretty certain of, is that banning or allowing the shift doesn't make a difference. Teams have their own internal numbers, and even with the shift they are telling their players that the stats say that for the most part don't change your game. (Obviously you sometimes bunt against the shift or make a conscious decision based upon the quality of the defense, game score etc...but ultimately the numbers say don't change your game, except to disrupt the oppositions game) Heck I think a heavier ball might work out also, the goal is to keep the ball in player, a slicker ball doesn't do that (it flies over the fence) a heavier ball reduces the speed, might actually increase movement though, but ultimately it reduces homeruns, hopefully encouraging more balls in play.

The goal is balls in play, balls fielded by the shift are still in play.
   30. My name is Votto, and I love to get Moppo Posted: November 23, 2022 at 06:14 AM (#6106563)
Do the new shift rules get suspended for the " last inning five guys in the infield" play or is they gone now ?


I think the rule requires having two fielders on either side of 2B, so that should still be allowed.
   31. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: November 23, 2022 at 08:11 AM (#6106568)
Re 10: My twin mantras: (1) Get in the damn box [and stay there] and (2) Throw the damn ball.
   32. Greg Pope Posted: November 23, 2022 at 09:23 AM (#6106571)
A couple of offseasons of pull hitters learning to bunt the other way, and the shift would have gone away on its own.

While I completely agree with you, it's clear that batters weren't going to do that. So the options are A) change the rules B) yell and shake our fists at the screen and complain about bad baseball.

I don't really think the shift is that big of a deal, but I'm fine with this change.

The pitch clock is way more important. It's the same thing, I can be a crotchety old man and refuse to change the pitch clock while ranting about how boring the game is these days and yell out RMc's mantras while resting secure in my adage of "baseball has no clock". Or we can add the pitch clock. The second will (hopefully) greatly increase my enjoyment in actually watching a game, even though I don't like that it had to be done.
   33. BDC Posted: November 23, 2022 at 10:09 AM (#6106578)
In places where they tried out the shift ban, what were the results?

Just aesthetically … and based on a small sample size … I think I mentioned watching some low-minors games in shift-ban leagues this year. You don't really notice anything, especially if you were long used to infields playing basically straightaway for decades before the recent shift obsession. And I think, however illogical this reaction may be, that fans aren't going to moan "Gosh, that would have been an out back in the shift era" – whereas it does seem now that at least some observers are annoyed at balls that "would have been hits but for the shift."

I don't like the ban because it seems to freeze strategy in place instead of letting it evolve. But I also don't think I'll be sitting in the stands griping about it (I can gripe about lots of other things :) This is something of a surprise to me because at first I was very dismayed by the prospect of a shift ban.

I still hate zombie runners, though.

   34. cardsfanboy Posted: November 23, 2022 at 01:47 PM (#6106630)
I don't like the ban because it seems to freeze strategy in place instead of letting it evolve. But I also don't think I'll be sitting in the stands griping about it (I can gripe about lots of other things :) This is something of a surprise to me because at first I was very dismayed by the prospect of a shift ban.


I pretty much agree with your whole post, but the freezing strategy thing is my biggest complaint about this. It takes the tools away from the coach in my opinion by limiting options. I've said it before, in baseball official rules they technically only have 4 positions (Catcher, Pitcher, First baseman and fielder) This codifies positions which was unnecessary, if I wanted four outfielders, there should be no rule preventing it or three shortstops or whatever. The other definition of positions have specific rules that make sense and requires a definition.


Ultimately I don't think it's going to make a difference except to shut up a few crotchety old men and a couple of players.
   35. sunday silence (again) Posted: November 23, 2022 at 06:44 PM (#6106667)
actually I do agree with some of what the Duke is saying, a lot of infielders seem to position themselves on the grass and presumably that will change with the new rule.
   36. Walt Davis Posted: November 23, 2022 at 10:31 PM (#6106676)
Without question infielders position themselves on the grass, this forces a change and I assume that will create a few more hits. Just probably not so much for the Yadier Molinas of the world. It should help the pull hitters (on both sides) who hit hard GBs.
   37. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 23, 2022 at 11:09 PM (#6106679)
It takes the tools away from the coach in my opinion by limiting options.

To me, that is a huge benefit. I don't want coaching deciding games in MLB. I want the players to decide the games. That's one of my biggest problems with football. The less people not on the field can influence games, the better.
   38. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: November 24, 2022 at 06:49 AM (#6106684)
Coaches have been positioning players forever.
   39. Tony S Posted: November 24, 2022 at 08:20 AM (#6106685)
"Illegal formation" just sounds too football-y for baseball. It's contrived.

The shift never bothered me any more than bringing the infield in.
   40. . Posted: November 24, 2022 at 08:33 AM (#6106687)
"baseball has no clock"

Yeah, but I do -- and mine tells me baseball's taking way too ####### long.
   41. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 24, 2022 at 12:06 PM (#6106696)
Coaches have been positioning players forever.

Yes, and I'd prefer it didn't happen. I'd rather there only be one coach on the field (like HS) and players would have to coach at first and third. Anything that rewards smart players and penalizes dumb ones is good. The NFL would be a much more interesting game if the QBs had to call the plays, like BITD.
   42. vortex of dissipation Posted: November 24, 2022 at 03:46 PM (#6106702)
Coaches have been positioning players forever.


True, but I think that the problem with the pubic perception of shifts used in the past few years is the universality of them. When teams only used shifts on a few players such as Ted Williams or Willie McCovey, it was something out of the ordinary, and I don't think anyone minded, or thought that it harmed the game. It's the fact that shifts have become so widely used, against so many different players, that has changed the public perception of them.
   43. Moeball Posted: November 26, 2022 at 01:39 AM (#6106824)
Public perception? The public is stupid. I come here to BBTF to get away from the public. I was a Padres season ticket holder for about 15 years and had to endure all sorts of stupidity from Rockies fans telling me that Coors field never was a great hitters park to Phillies fans telling me that Mike Schmidt was vastly overrated. When the Yankees were in town their fans complained that Padres fans are too polite. When the Red Sox were in town they went out of their way to show that they were far worse than Yankees fans. As for Padres fans, well, where do I begin? The Padres have a home stand where they don't score much and the Padres fan decries the hitting slump. They go on the road to Coors Field and score a bunch of runs, and it's amazing all those hitters broke out of their slumps! The idea that the parks themselves may have some impact on hitting is beyond their comprehension.The Pirates were in town and I was told Jason Kendall was no better a hitter than his father Fred had been when he was with the Padres back in the early 1970s. I was at the game where Barry Bonds tied Aaron at 755 and all the Padres fans booed Barry at every opportunity and called him a cheater. I expected nothing less. The HR he hit came off of Clay Hensley, who hadn't just been accused of taking steroids like Bonds, he had been caught red handed taking them and had to serve a suspension. When I pointed out to fans that Hensley, who they were cheering, was an actual proven cheater, not just accused, if looks could kill I wouldn't be alive to type this now. The average baseball fan is an idiot. He still thinks, in 2022, that batting average is the most important statistic to measure batting performance. He thinks wins and saves are the most important measures of pitching. He also thinks that defensive shifts are bad because they take away all those hits from their favorite hitters. Public perception isn't even remotely in touch with reality.

Now you kids get off my lawn!
   44. Moeball Posted: November 26, 2022 at 01:39 AM (#6106825)
Public perception? The public is stupid. I come here to BBTF to get away from the public. I was a Padres season ticket holder for about 15 years and had to endure all sorts of stupidity from Rockies fans telling me that Coors field never was a great hitters park to Phillies fans telling me that Mike Schmidt was vastly overrated. When the Yankees were in town their fans complained that Padres fans are too polite. When the Red Sox were in town they went out of their way to show that they were far worse than Yankees fans. As for Padres fans, well, where do I begin? The Padres have a home stand where they don't score much and the Padres fan decries the hitting slump. They go on the road to Coors Field and score a bunch of runs, and it's amazing all those hitters broke out of their slumps! The idea that the parks themselves may have some impact on hitting is beyond their comprehension.The Pirates were in town and I was told Jason Kendall was no better a hitter than his father Fred had been when he was with the Padres back in the early 1970s. I was at the game where Barry Bonds tied Aaron at 755 and all the Padres fans booed Barry at every opportunity and called him a cheater. I expected nothing less. The HR he hit came off of Clay Hensley, who hadn't just been accused of taking steroids like Bonds, he had been caught red handed taking them and had to serve a suspension. When I pointed out to fans that Hensley, who they were cheering, was an actual proven cheater, not just accused, if looks could kill I wouldn't be alive to type this now. The average baseball fan is an idiot. He still thinks, in 2022, that batting average is the most important statistic to measure batting performance. He thinks wins and saves are the most important measures of pitching. He also thinks that defensive shifts are bad because they take away all those hits from their favorite hitters. Public perception isn't even remotely in touch with reality.

Now you kids get off my lawn!
   45. Moeball Posted: November 26, 2022 at 01:48 AM (#6106826)
Triple post.
   46. Tony S Posted: November 26, 2022 at 08:08 AM (#6106828)

It WAS certainly worth saying three times, Moe. :)

Yes, shifts have little or nothing to do with creeping game length (which is a real issue). So, naturally, MLB goes for the illusion of fixing the problem, rather than the fix itself.

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