What The Hell Happened To Max Scherzer?!

May 16, 2010

There hasn’t been a more stunning fall grace in the early going of 2010, than the horrible start that Max Scherzer is off to pitching in Motown. An integral piece to the deal that saw Le Tigre receive Action Jackson. send Baby Grand to NY and Edwin Jackson out west to ‘Zona, Scherzer has been a massive disappointment so far and this angry fantasy owner has had enough! *stomps foot*

The former 11th overall pick of the 2006 draft posted impressive numbers in his first full season in the Diamondback rotation last year and just about everyone figured he’d at least take a lateral step this season, his first in the AL. Facing a DH instead of a pitcher never helps a pitchers numbers, but I figured that might be mitigated somewhat by the spacious dimensions of his new home ballpark in the Motor City. With a 3.87 FIP and 9.19/3.33 K/BB per 9 rate over 170 1/3 innings, Max’s peripherals were better than the modest 9-11 4.12/1.34 line he posted in his 30 2009 starts. With numbers like those, I was more than happy to drop $7 on the young fire-baller on auction day, in hopes of snagging a cheap strike out source with a ton of upside.

Fast foward a month and a half and I’ve just thrown Mad Max onto the scrap pile in the Big Ballers League, to let him be a headache to another fantasy owner. His numbers are eye-popping, toss the laptop across the room bad: 1-4 with a 7.29 ERA 1.67 WHIP and only 26 K’s in 42 innings. It’s hardly a matter of luck in spite of the unfortunate 58% strand rate and .327 BABIP against (last year he saw hits fall in at a .323 clip). He’s getting hit hard and often, to the tune of nine jacks and a 22% LD rate. With his BB/9 up slightly to 3.43, he isn’t walking many more batters, it’s simply a matter of him not missing bats: Down to only 5.57 K/9. Swallow that for a second. This guy had 9.19 K/9 last season. In what kind of god awful bizarro world do we live in, where a top prospect can turn into a heaping bowl of awful seemingly overnight? On a team flush with high K starters and needing an extra bench bat, I just couldn’t stomach his awful pitching anymore.

“I thought Max Scherzer was better.” – Jim Leyland

Me too skip. Well we need not look any further than the power pitchers sudden lack of power. After averaging 93.6 MPH on his heater last season, that number has dropped to a below league average 91.7 MPH through his eight starts this year. Suddenly that plus heat is getting smacked on a regular basis as his contact rate has jumped to 81.1% from 76.9% and his percentage of swinging strikes has fallen to 7.4% from 10.6%. A further investigation of his PitchFX data tells us that his secondary pitch, a slider, has fallen in velocity as well but it has also been markedly straighter, breaking markedly less than last year. This is particularly troubling in light of the reservations that the D-Backs had about his history of arm problems. Sliders are said to be the most arm-damaging pitch that a pitcher can throw and it seems that there is a fair amount of evidence to believe that Scherzer is pitching through some arm problems. I’ll quote David Golebiewski, who’s quoting himself.

The most likely reason is that Arizona doubts Scherzer’s long-term health and viability as a starting pitcher. To recap his extensive injury history since 2006: shoulder and biceps tendinitis in ‘06, shoulder inflammation in 2008, shoulder fatigue and tightness in 2009. His health certainly bears watching, especially considering that Scherzer’s innings total increased from 109 in 2008 to 175 in 2009 (major league innings plus one rehab start).

When asked if Scherzer’s rotation spot is in jeopardy, Leyland responded, “That’s nothing I’d discuss on television after a tough loss. But it’s a good question, a legitimate question.” Armando Galarraga, who’s been pitching well at AAA Toledo (4-2/38K/3.92ERA/1.20WHIP in 41.1 IP) was just called up to the big club and will start today at home against the Red Sox.

NOTE: Shortly after finishing this piece early Sunday morning, I read on Rototimes that Scherzer was sent down to AAA.

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Stealing Signs: Good Reads From Around The Web

May 15, 2010

In honor of The Philistines and their eagle eyed coach, Mick Billmeyer, I’m going to steal a few notable links from around the baseball blogosphere in an effort to get a few cheap hits.

  • Eriq Gardner at Fantasy Baseball Junkie leads off with a great piece, breaking down the various types of trades that occur in fantasy baseball.
  • Stephan at Razzball threw down a fantastic article breaking down Minor League ballpark factors. Take a look at where the prospects are playing before deciding whether or not to buy into the hype! Read Part One before Part Deux, or so I’m told.
  • Mets fans, don’t hold your breath for Roy Oswalt to be coming to Flushing this season. Mike Puma (that can’t be his real name. Is he a porn star? A mercenary?) of the NY Post says the Mets have enough reservations about eating the $1.8 million owed to replacement player extraordinaire Sarge Jr., let alone taking on the additional $15 million Oswalt is owed this season. Now that I’ve cited The Post, I’m going to go pull up The World Weekly News (“The world’s only reliable news”) to find out where LeBron James will end up next.
  • If you’re wondering what I’m doing inside on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, perhaps you should pay a visit to Fangraphs to read Carson Cistulli’s series entitled, “Why We Write.” Me? I’ve taken up baseball writing to justify my anti-social behavior to my friends and family. Oh and as Ice Cube perhaps said best, “I’m only out for one thing: the pussy, the money and the M-I-C.”
  • Derek Ambrosino dropped science as usual over at THT Fantasy. Part one of his series, “What Should Fantasy Baseball Be About?” was posted last week, discussing the cause and effect of league parameters and the arguments for and against the legitimacy of streaming. Part two, where he digs into keeper league dump trades was just posted for your reading pleasure.
  • Speaking of pleasure, I’ve recently began reading, “The Yankee Years,” Joe Torre’s memoirs of his era in pinstripes, written with Tom Verducci. I’m thoroughly enjoying the read so far, thanks D! Gotta love that “Clueless Joe,” headline that the NY Daily News ran after his first press conference as Yankee Manager. I knew he was the players union rep but I never realized one of my all-time favorite players, David Cone, took such a large leadership role in that mid-90’s Yankee clubhouse. As a Mets fan with plenty of schadenfreude, I’m looking forward to reading about the Kevin Brown years of Torre’s tenure.

…It Was The Worst Of Times

May 15, 2010

So while I’ve been busy pursuing gainful employment of various sorts, The Uptown Ham Fighters have been busy sucking it up over in my 12 team mixed head-to-head keeper league. While we entered this week the only team to have won four out of five weeks, we were also one game below .500, due to a Week 3 1-10-1 ass-kicking at the hands of My Boomstick. As we enter the weekend stretch for Week 6 things have really gone south however, as we now trail The Mountain Cats 12 zip! I can take a beat down or two, but a sweep might just push this manager over the edge into Billy Martin punching out his pitcher nutzo territory! Now before I do anything rash and before it’s a dead corpse, lets bring this patient to the roster doctor and try to figure out a course of treatment.

Here’s the team as it’s presently composed. We’ll first look at the frosty bats:

The first major issue of course was Nelson Cruz landing on the DL with a bum hammy. He was absolutely raking when he was injured and it’s not easy to make up for the loss of such a big bat. Filling the hole over the past week, I had Corey Hart and then Nate Schierholtz. Hart did little aside from a lone HR in Boomstick’s absence. Nate The Ok provided me with a Run Scored on Sunday, which gave me a win in the category, but other than that he had little impact over the past week. Now mind you, this is isn’t to say that neither of these guys will be decent fantasy contributors, but in head-to-head, it’s often necessary to play a guy with a hot hand or tailor your lineup to fit your teams immediate needs.

What are some other culprits of our recent woes? Well for one, my team is pretty damn slow overall. Like mummy slow. I had to change that.

The one recent addition I made to the lineup is Alcides Escobar, who was acquired off of waivers, while Reid Brignac was dropped. Considering Brignac was sitting against lefties, this small lateral move made to address The Ham Fighters lack of team speed. While Escobar has been off to a slow start, a lot of that is due to an abnormally low BABIP of .253 entering play today. With his speed, he’s projected to have a BABIP of around .320 to .330, so I expect correction in that department as the season progresses. Leading me to more optimism is Esco’s 6.6%/13.5% BB/K rate. While this needs to improve for him to really blossom at the Major League level, it’s actually an improvement over the BB/K numbers he posted (3%/14.4%) in his limited time last season. What has really been missing from his game is his speed. The highly touted speedster has yet to swipe a bag, being caught once. This obviously alarmed his previous owners enough for them to let him go. I see Alcides picking up the SB pace however, as he gets more comfortable in the bigs. It doesn’t help that he’s hitting in the 8th hole, with a pitcher behind him, in Milwaukee. I can see him moving down up in the order as his bat heats up though, and I’m still hopeful that he can end the season with over 20 steals, while not killing me with his bat.

Aaron “Benny” Hill and Carlos “Live In San” Quentin have both been disasters so far, but I’m not pressing the panic button on those two yet. Both have slumped hard, but still can provide a lot of pop and it doesn’t take a power hitter long to snap out. I learned that lesson with Derrek Lee, last season, as he may have been my most valuable player in the 2nd half. I also learned this the hard way, by dropping a somewhat slow starting Kendry Morales. That obviously didn’t work out well. Quentin’s still walking and making hard outs, so it’s just a matter of time until he snaps out as he currently has a .180 BABIP, which is better than only Aramis Ramirez in all of baseball. The entire White Sox team has been hitting poorly, so there’s nowhere to go but up on the South Side, which should lead to nice counting numbers for Quentinsity. Hill has been a little more troublesome, due to another balky hamstring. Perhaps I should change my name to the Hamstring Fighters! He’s another guy with a ridiculously low BABIP and solid (in fact career high) BB rate, so I’m not going to get nuts. His power has certainly come down from those heady ’09 numbers, but I’m hoping that should improve as long as he stays healthy.

Derek Jeter and Pablo Sandoval are two guys who’ve hit hard time recently, but both are outstanding hitters and I’m sure they’ll perform at or around their career norms as we progress into the season. With .259/.306 and .238/.291 BA/OBP lines respectively over the past month, needless to say that both of those guys are a lot better. Jeter went 3 for 29 over the last Yankee road-trip. While his walks are down, I don’t expect this kind of lousy hitting to continue. In the case of the Kung-Fu Panda, we have a player who’s yet to reach his potential I believe. His counting numbers are hampered only by his home park and the dubious supporting cast around him, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t exceed 20 HR and at least match the 90 RBI he knocked in last season. His biggest asset is his BA, which of course is a result of him hitting just about everything hard. With a contact rate of 83.8%, that BA will definitely improve.

As for players who’ve outperformed their projections, Austin Jackson has to top that list. You can’t throw a rock without hitting his gigantic .481 BABIP, which has caused every fantasy writer in the blogosphere to simultaneously hit the “Sell!” button, tearing a rip in the space-time continuum. That number leads all of baseball now, so Jackson will undoubtedly slow down his Cobb-ian pace. He’s going to need to continue to adjust in order to maintain success as his luck evens out. I’m pretty confident that he can do that but not so much to be a .300 hitter at year’s end. Maybe .290 though, which would make me very happy.

Another guy who’s been absolutely mashing is Casey McGehee. I picked Ty Wiggy Jr. off of the scrap heap when I first saw him producing in The Brewers 5 slot, shortly after the start of the season. Figuring he should be knocking in runs in his sleep, he’s done a lot more than that though as he’s currently leading my team in RBI and tied in the lead for HR. Pretty nice numbers for a guy who everyone (myself included) pegged for schmo on draft day. I don’t see him sustaining his .323 BA but he’s walking at a career high 11.9% clip, so he should continue to get on base. It’s hard not to like that .245 ISO, hitting behind The Hebrew Hammer and Prince, so it’s easy to see him cracking 100 RBI at years end, even with some regression factored in. There may in fact not be much regression in order for McGehee. His .333 BABIP matches the number he posted AAA back in ’08, so I feel that this guy might be capable of sustaining a pace, not far off from his current one.

The X-Factor here of course is Carlos Santana, who hasn’t been great since fouling a ball off of his knee back a few weeks ago. With a little luck, the young catcher will feel alright by the time he’s called up, which should be within the next month or so. That frozen roster spot has cost me some numbers and it would be nice to have another solid bat in the lineup.

On the other side of the ball I have a pitching staff with a a few issues and a lot of question marks. Check it out.

Lead by Adam Wainwright and his devastating curve, I’ve got a couple of guys in Gavin Floyd and Kevin Slowey, who have really underperformed. Floyd’s peripherals suggest major improvement’s on the way as his numbers are just not nearly this bad. A 4.16 FIP, along with .371 BABIP against and sorry 57.7% LOB rate tell us he’s been seriously unlucky. Combine that with a BB/K rate of 3.69/7.38, an improved GB rate of 47.6% (up from 44.3% last season) and a .92 HR rate, down from .98 and you see a pitcher who is doing things right but getting poor results. With a tough schedule and little run support from the ChiSox lineup, we’re bound to see Floyd get much better results before long.

Kevin Slowey on the other hand has been an enigma, seemingly incapable of getting past the 5th inning. His increased walk rate has been alarming and he’s getting hit hard, so those guys are scoring, leading to some early knock outs for the Minnesota starter. While I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, I would have to think that Slowey’s still recovering from the complex wrist surgery that he endured last September.

While Cole Hamels may never be a fantasy ace, he’s striking out batters at a career high pace. The bad news is he’s also walking more batters (3.30 per 9) and allowing more dingers (1.44 per 9) than ever before. Hopefully he can get that HR rate down, because his BABIP of .372 tells us that better days are ahead for Hamels.

Mark Buerhle has been less than stellar, also giving up more walks than usual. He’s had to endure some awful offensive support as well as a brutal run of games against the AL East, so I’m on the fence as to whether or not to keep sending Buerhle out there. The five straight hits he gave up to the hopeless Royals this evening give me even more reason to worry.

On the positive side, we have Jaime Garcia and Wade LeBlanc, two young lefties who’ve seen tremendous success in the early going of 2010. Garcia has just been magnificent and has shown little signs of slowing down. LeBlanc, like the rest of his Padre cohorts, has been doing a lot of LeBlanking of opposition hitters. While he’s left a very high, 87.8% of baserunners on, he’s also been the victim of an inflated .356 BABIP.

Kevin Correia has been pitching pretty well in spite of only throwing one quality start so far. We can only wish for the best for the Correia family in light of the tragic loss of his younger brother, Trevor Brent Correia. He goes against The Dodgers tomorrow in his first start since returning from the bereavement list.

2/3 of my budget bullpen has been effective with surprisingly stellar performances by Jon Rausch and Kevin Gregg. Brian Fuentes on the other hand has been pretty shaky, but I knew that he’d be trouble when I drafted him. Hopefully he can save enough games to keep his job. If he doesn’t, I’ll be back playing that familiar game of closer musical chairs.

So that’s it for this exhaustive recap of The Uptown Hamfighters season to date. If you’ve made it this far, kudos. I know there is little less exciting than hearing someone bitch about their fantasy teams but perhaps you have some of these guys and you’re wondering what to do with them. I obviously need some guys to play the way they are capable of playing, but I do feel that if they do, I may only be an arm away from turning this thing around. In fact, I may already have that arm in Kris Medlen, who’s been moved into the Braves rotation in place of the injured Jair Jurrjens. I can also use another speedy guy and have been actively going after Brett Gardner. If I can’t get Gardy, I’m confident that I can find someone else off of waivers or via trade. In the mean time I’ll call this week a wash, hope that I can just avoid a sweep and look forward to getting it together next week.

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Perfect Day For Dallas

May 10, 2010

This afternoon the Baseball Gods smiled upon Dallas Braden and graced a guy, who’s life has been less than perfect, with the 19th perfect game in Baseball history. Call it karma, fortune, good pitching, defense or all of the above, but Braden’s perfect Mothers Day must hold a special significance to the 26 year old pitcher.

Raised only by his mother in a world rife with poverty and crime in Stockton California, Braden’s difficult childhood got even bleaker when he lost his mother to cancer while a senior in high school. With his grandmother stepping in to guide him, Braden managed to steer clear of disaster, on his way to being drafted in the 24th round by the Oakland A’s in 2004. Now six years later, after 52 fairly indistinguished Major League starts, the soft-tossing lefty better know for barking at Alex Rodriguez for jogging over his mound last month, somehow managed to set down 27 Tampa Bay batters in succession. With his grandmother watching, Braden dispatched a potent Rays lineup with 109 pitches (77 strikes) on his way into the history books. With the perfect game, Braden joined Catfish Hunter as the only A’s pitchers to perform the improbably feat.

The sight of him hugging his grandmother after the game touched not only those lucky enough to see the performance in person, but I would imagine just about anyone with a heart who witnessed the moment on TV. Braden’s perfect game was one of those transcendent moments in baseball, when our past time becomes something more than the sum of it’s parts. Pondering Braden’s achievement on a personal level, it’s a moment that shows that there is light to be found even in the darkest of times, something that I’ve had to remind myself a lot lately. Congratulations Dallas Braden. You deserve it.

For a great wrap up of 15.3 chance in a million feat, check out Jack Moore’s piece on Fangraphs.

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Starlin Castro Says Viva La Rookie Revolucion!

May 8, 2010

Since a hellacious birthday bender that started at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, I’ve been busy dealing with a lot of non-baseball related activities in the past few days, leaving me with precious little time to deliver my baseball gospel lately.

*Shakes fist at Obama, Freemasons, The Federal Reserve and the Dominican guys who start working at the lumber yard across the street from my apartment by hollering like lunatics at 6AM*

Never fear my fair fantasy-minded sphere-itans, so long as I have three fingers, I’ll continue with this site in whatever capacity I can.

Some of the stranger things going on in the baseball-o-sphere…

Newly called up Cubs rookie SS, Starlin Castro premieres with a bang! How’s 2-6 with a HR, Triple and six RBI (an MLB record for a debut game)!? His homer made him the third youngest player to ever hit one out in his debut. Meaningless, but cool regardless. A preseason Fangraphs piece by Bryan Smith drew an interesting comparison between the 20 year old Cuban SS and former Cardinal and Padre SS, Gary Templeton.

Recently released Eric Byrnes resurfaces to play beer league Softball. Gotta admire the guy’s sense of humor and ability to make lemonade out of lemons. Of course that’s not too hard when you’re still being paid $11 million. So he gets to drink for free too?

Speaking of drinking RoJo Johnson, AKA Will Farrell involved in some minor league zaniness in Nashville. Nice how he brings his own six pack. Gotta love the Ryan-esque headlock beatdown at the end of his appearance!

What a shock! Milton Bradley bugged the fuck out and was placed on the “you’re too crazy to play baseball list,” by The M’s. Intriguing potential power/speed outfielder, Michael Saunders got the call to replace “Mr. Sensitive” – which awesomely enough, a good buddy of mine just got tattooed on his chest.

47 year old Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher to ever throw a complete game shutout tonight, as The Phils blanked The Bravos 7-0. The 2-hit gem made Moyer the first pitcher to throw shutouts in four different decades.

Ike Davis rocked Flushing tonight with 2 dingers off of Dirty Sanchez (who had not allowed a HR yet this season) and made an insane catch in the 9th inning. Similar to a catch he made a few weeks ago, I’m starting to think that Ike is part feline, by the way he has a habit of landing on his feet.

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Lights, Camera, Action… Jackson!

May 5, 2010

Flashback to 2006: Your fantasy baseball team is in first place, riding high on hot starts by names that strike fear into the hearts of fantasy opponents… like Chris Shelton and Chad Tracy. Maybe you had a venerable Tom Glavine holding down your rotation by leading the league in ERA after a month of play. You see where this is going, don’t you fair reader?

Exactly. Don’t get too excited about what a player does during one mere month of baseball. While you’re riding high on Ivan Rodriguez’s gaudy Average or Livan Hernandez freakishly lucky run, just remember that Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. With a 162 game schedule, there is no greater equalizer than time.

So who are some of baseball’s surprise performers in the early going?

Of course I have to lead off with the blazing hot lead-off man that everyone’s talking about, Austin Jackson. I gushed about Action Jackson a few weeks ago and he hasn’t disappointed. In fact Austin Jackson currently leads all of baseball in hits with 44 going into today’s action, leading to a surprising early line of .376/.430/.521. Of course his .521 BABIP will not remain at such a ridiculous level, but with 38.8% of his contact going for liners, Jackson is hitting the ball hard and that’s all a hitter can hope to do. While he’s whiffed out at a 29.1% rate, Jackson has only struck out twice, while walking three times in his last eight games. While just about every fantasy expert in the game is telling people to sell high on Jackson, I’m not in any hurry to get rid of him (although I had an offer of Jackson and Kevin Gregg for A.J. Burnett rejected in my keeper league). Perhaps Action read Joe Pawlikowski’s article in Fangraphs, because it looks like the studious young outfielder is proving to be a quick learner as he adjusts to Major League pitching.

Fantasy baseball zombie extraordinaire Barry Zito has been in vintage form as he mows down hitters with his devastating curve-ball. The curse of Alissa Milano has been lifted and Zito is pitching as though he were back in an Athletics uniform. With a 1.53 ERA and 2.67 FIP, Zito is finally performing like the $126 million pitcher that The Giants paid for. While he carries a microscopic .209 BABIP against and he has yet to give up a HR in 35 1/3 IP, his 2.18 K/BB ratio and 44.7% GB rate should help maintain the crafty lefty’s continued success.

Another lefty who has channeled his past to out-preform his expectations is Yankee stalwart Andy Pettite. Pettite entered his start against Baltimore this afternoon with a 3-0 record with a 2.12 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. While Pettite has lost quite a bit of velocity over the years, his solid command and ability to keep the ball on the ground (48% GB rate) keep Pettite running strong. Having one of the most potent offenses in the game behind him should help his Win totals as Andy builds his credentials for a possible Hall Of Fame call in a few years.

Two of the biggest surprises in the early going of 2010 have been Toronto Blue Jays teammates, Alex Gonzalez and Vernon Wells. The Blue Jays tandem have displayed impressive power, with eight HR each so far. Gonzalez will never be accused of being a contact hitter, and his .279 BA is held aloft by a .307 BABIP (he carries a career .284 BABIP). Even with some correction dropping his average and power, he should continue to be a solid play for someone who you probably found off of waivers. Vernon Wells’ career looked about to hit rock bottom last season but he too has risen from the dead, much to the chagrin of American League pitchers. After posting a paltry 84/15/66/17/.260/.311 line in 2009, Wells has already posted nearly half that homer total and a third of last season RBI. A seriously hefty .310/.360/.660 line has made Wells’ owners feel like the smartest guys in their league for having probably drafted him in the late going or picking him up for peanuts at auction. In the past Wells has displayed 30+ HR power and if his present health holds, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t approach those totals again.

Any talk of power cannot exclude the ridiculous power surge that South Sider favorite Paul Konerko has shown so far. Leading the universe with a 1.066 OPS and .460 ISO, Paul Konerko has turned back the clock to a time when he was one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. Three True Outcomes lovers swoon over his lovely 17.4%/11.5% BB/K split, as they’ve watched him leave the yard 15 times in 109 PA. Strangely enough, while Konerko’s been jacking off like a horny teenager, his .179 BABIP tells us that he’s been rather unlucky when his balls don’t leave the yard. While I don’t imagine Konerko keeping up this colossal power pace, Paulie Walnuts could certainly see his .279 BA improve a bit. While his Chicago White Sox have been pretty poor offensively in the early going, they should improve, which will boost Konerko’s Run and RBI production.

The last guy I’ll talk about makes me cringe. In fact every time he hits a HR, I curl up into a ball in my bathtub and cry, traumatized by what Kelly Johnson did to my fantasy team last season. After losing his gig in Hotlanta last year, Johnson came to the desert to beat baseballs like a guy who’s really pissed off at having a girl’s name. Channeling his inner Chase Utley, Johnson has tormented National League pitchers with a 1.066 OPS and .376 ISO, both second in the game behind Konerko. With an 18/9/18/2/.301/.389 line so far, Johnson, at 27, seems to be finally developing into an upper-tier second baseman, like many of us thought he would in the past. While Johnson will K his fair share (he’s done it in 22.6% of his PA), his 13% BB rate matches his career high, more than making up for his whiffs. Great. Why couldn’t you be half this useful last season Kelly?

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