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If you’re painting the Giants as some sort of anti-Moneyball team you’re delusional

Oct 30, 2012, 2:02 PM EDT

Brian Sabean, Bruce Bochy

Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle has a column today in which he praises the Giants for being a scout-based anti-Moneyball organization, claiming that they have no use for advanced analytics, that they base their decisions on “visual evidence” and that they are superior to “organizations cutting their scouting staffs and stocking computers.”

He then predictably paints a ridiculous caricature of statistical analysis and those who find value in it:

Numbers, they believe, tell the entire story – and their approach is worshiped by thousands of fans and bloggers who wouldn’t last five minutes in a ball-talk conversation with Tim Flannery, Mark Gardner or Ron Wotus.

Jenkins then goes on about the way the Giants put together their two-time World Series championship team, claiming that it’s all about old school scouting and experience and grit and all of that stuff and how the people who employ advanced analytical tools to build baseball teams have it all wrong.

It’s bad enough on its own, but it’s much worse when one realizes that Jenkins simply has his facts wrong. Dreadfully wrong. Wrong to the point of basic journalistic malpractice.  Why? Because he doesn’t once mention the name Yeshayah Goldfarb. Who is Yeshayah Goldfarb? Glad you asked!

Goldfarb’s title is long and clunky: He’s the Giants’ director of minor league operations/quantitative analysis.

What that means is that Goldfarb had a role in just about every player personnel decision the Giants’ baseball operations department made to shape this year’s team — from past amateur drafts to in-season trades to off-season free-agent signings.

“He’s one of our ‘Moneyball’ guys, if you will,” Giants president Larry Baer said last week, alluding to the process of finding valuable players that other teams might overlook. “He does a lot of our really important analysis on player acquisitions.”

Goldfarb’s job, that 2010 article from JWeekly.com notes, is to “focus on taking a mountain of statistics and data and “putting it into a simple, understandable format for people that need the information.”  And it’s not just some make-work job to satisfy some affirmative action for computer geeks requirement:

Goldfarb and his cohorts in analytics also were instrumental in re-signing Uribe before the season, trading for two relief pitchers in midseason (including lefty specialist Javier Lopez) and going after mid-season discards Burrell and Ross. He also helped convince officials to draft college stars Lincecum (2006) and Posey (2008).

That article is from 2010, so it describes the key, improbably useful pieces which helped the Giants win that title. Jenkins notes the similar improbably useful pieces that went into the 2012 title and would have you believe that it was all a bunch of lone wolf, Clint Eastwood scouts finding those guys. I have no doubt that the Giants’ scouting operation is top notch, but I’m willing to bet that Goldfarb — and his statistics — was every bit as important to the building of the 2012 champs as he was in 2010. Yet Jenkins doesn’t mention his name once and denies that his job function has a place on the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants President and CEO thinks this stuff is important. So too does the general manager. They both go out of their way to praise Goldfarb and the kind of work he does, crediting it with helping the team win a world championship.  How, in light of that, people like Bruce Jenkins can write the literally counterfactual sorts of things like he wrote today is beyond me.

There is no baseball team that sees the world like Jenkins thinks the Giants see the world. There is likewise no baseball team that sees the world the way Jenkins’ caricature of statisticians sees the world.  Every team uses advanced and often proprietary analysis. Every team has scouts and uses them.  Yet for some reason Jenkins and his ilk continue to fight a false war on bad information.  It boggles the mind.

  1. annaalamode - Oct 30, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    Evidence, bah! Jenkins sees a guy sitting in front of a computer and visually evaluates him as a useless stathead computer geek, OG style!

  2. vallewho - Oct 30, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    I guess Jenkins’ old-school. Just flat out lie when it’s convenient.

    • drewsylvania - Oct 31, 2012 at 9:12 AM

      I don’t think he’s lying–I think he wrote a lazy, unresearched, irresponsible article.

  3. IdahoMariner - Oct 30, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    As I recall, a lot of the scouts were NOT in favor of Timmy, believing that his physique made him vulnerable to major injury, that he would never be a workhorse, for even a season and certainly not long term.

    And,seriously, can’t we all just get along? How can anyone still write is crap? You need both scouting and meaningful statistics, and an honest, respectful conversation between the two, to build a great organization. Why, why, why is it so much more fun for some people to see things only as either/or, black/white, us/them? Oh yeah, they think it is more profitable. News to journalistic hacks trolling for hits/readers: I and my disposable income don’t read sites/papers with writers who haven’t moved past the concrete stage of brain development. Try again.

    • cur68 - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:05 PM

      Ah, there it is. You wrote my answer for me. I was going to use this, too:

      “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted”.
      -Albert Einstein

      On the surface it seems to go against the Sabermetric grain but it’s bang on for what the Giants have going for them. They not only count, they observe. You have to do both. Just like you said. If scouting is all Bruce Jenkins sees then he has his head up his ass

  4. nategearhart - Oct 30, 2012 at 2:36 PM

    Judging from the comments to that article, people are buying Jenkin’s “story” hook line and sinker. Lame.

    • IdahoMariner - Oct 30, 2012 at 2:43 PM

      Sigh.

  5. manute - Oct 30, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    “wouldn’t last five minutes in a ball-talk conversation…” People are allowed to write like this? Ugh.

  6. skerney - Oct 30, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    Pageview bait. Shame on Jenkins for the useless scouting v. analytics name calling BS. I read his article and the dreck is unreal; all the insults (stat-crazed, geeks, etc) and blanket generalizations about the usefulness if data in evaluating players make him sound like one of the stodgy fictional scout-type characters from the movie that he ridicules. It was a movie Bruce, movies are fake, especially ones based on real life.

    His code terms like good ol’ “ball talk”, baseball people who don’t just know baseball but “feel it” and how stats can’t possibly know Romo’s “massive heart” and Pences “relentless engery” reveal him to be stupid. There is an analytic for this stuff, it’s been on scouting sheets for like 60 years its called MAKEUP and scouts measured Romo’s and Pence’s Makeup back when they were teenagers.

    Without knowing Jenkins personally, the only thing I can extrapolate from his writing is that he know very little about baseball, very little about the team he is paid to cover, and that he knows that his readers are, by and large, middle aged folks for whom reading The Chronicle is still a daily routine and just enjoy some good ol’ fashioned ball talk.

    • jkcalhoun - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:17 PM

      Don’t assume that “middle aged” implies anything about one’s views. Some subscribers to the Chronicle are middle-aged folks who think Jenkins is an idiot, at least on the topic of baseball.

      • skerney - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:34 PM

        My point is not that being middle aged makes everyone think the same thing. That’s silly. My point was that Jenkins, his editors, and their bosses are slave to analytics and metics themselves. They have a readership they pander to and if you are a person who picks up The Chronicle everyday to read Jenkins then you are most likely over 50 and might like reading about good ol’ ball talk. Nothing wrong with that at all, I was just pointing out a marketplace. I was highlighting a supplier and demander.

      • jkcalhoun - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:52 PM

        Fortunately Jenkins doesn’t write about baseball every day. Even for folks who like some ball-talk, whatever their age, that would be a surfeit.

  7. redux23 - Oct 30, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    jenkins has been trolling this topic for years. last year for example:

    “It won’t be long before we get the first wave of nonsense from stat-crazed dunces claiming there’s nothing to be learned from a batting average, won-loss record or RBI total. Listen, just go back to bed, OK? Strip down to those fourth-day undies, head downstairs (to “your mother’s basement and your mother’s computer,” as Chipper Jones so aptly describes it) and churn out some more crap. For more than a century, .220 meant something. So did .278, .301, .350, an 18-4 record, or 118 RBIs. Now it all means nothing because a bunch of nonathletes are trying to reinvent the game?”

    and four years ago:

    “That’s a fine summation of the stance I’ve tried to take with my Hall of Fame vote over the past 18 years. If you require a set of numbers to make a case for someone, you’re probably trying too hard. More often than not, players strike a Hall of Fame look by their fifth or sixth year in the league. You see them play, watch how they carry themselves, hear tributes of respect from other players, and you just know.”

    http://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Stats-Go-with-gut-when-voting-for-Hall-3181117.php

    • skerney - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:02 PM

      Good lord Jenkins, no one has ever said that a .301 batting average and an 18-4 record didn’t mean something. No one made that argument ever. It just doesn’t mean what you think it means and writing this crap makes you sound like an idiot.

      Jenkins must believe Galileo was an stat-geek who lived in his mothers basement.

      • Bob Timmermann - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:15 PM

        Little known fact, but Jenkins actually subscribes to the Ptolemaic model of the solar system. He even knows what the deferent is to explain the retrograde motion of Mars.

  8. sisqsage - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    Yeshayah GOLDFARB….perfect name for a stat geek.
    Where’d they get him from? Central Casting?
    What’s his nickname? Yes Man. Hayah-Lula. Gold. Goldie. Farbie. G-Farb. Farb-ulous?
    Point of reference on Jenkins (who’s usually pretty decent): he’s one of the massively reduced Chron’s last standing columnists who has survived the Great Recession. He loves his opinions, but has never been into actual research, and I think he has been consistently critical of the whole Moneyball craze and Billy Beane through the years.

    • cur68 - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:46 PM

      What does the name Yeshayah Goldfarb have to do with the quality of his work? Seems to be pretty high quality work, if you ask me. He could be named “Sisqsage” for all I care: he’s helped craft one hell of a balanced team.
      Also, what are you basing Jenkin’s being pretty decent on? Nothing he wrote is factual, accurate, or has any integrity. What’s HIS nickname? Bru-Junk?

  9. skeleteeth - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    Biff Loman, through and though.

  10. sdelmonte - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    You miss the real story: Goldfarb’s dad is into Kaballah, and his name is the Hebrew for Isaiah. Clearly the Giants won because they have a connection to God!!

  11. scottp9 - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    Jenkins has always been a shoot-from-the-hip hack; his real problem with sabremetrics is that it involves research, which doesn’t interest him. I emailed him a couple of years ago to point out an error in one of his columns and his response was to tell me to google it – striking for its laziness and funny for the fact that a simple google search confirmed my point.

  12. charlutes - Oct 30, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    Its not mind boggling, pretty simple really. Lots of old people like to try to devalue modern technology that they don’t understand, because it makes them feel relevant, and allows them an opportunity to lash out at young intellects that might grasp concepts they don’t. Call it a curmudgeonly temper tantrum.

    • jkcalhoun - Oct 30, 2012 at 4:02 PM

      One of the most consistently annoying undercurrents of the new stathead orthodoxy is this false view of “old school” vs. “new school”, inflexible dogma vs. nimble intellect.

      Don’t call out Jenkins’ false dichotomies when you’ve got a mote in your own eye, or however that old saw is supposed to cut. Youth has no monopoly on skepticism or creativity.

      Bruce Jenkins isn’t clueless about baseball because he’s old. He’s clueless because he’s lazy. And age has no monopoly on that.

  13. tashkalucy - Oct 30, 2012 at 4:03 PM

    Having watched moneyball hero Paul DePodesta come in and drive the Dodgers into the ground (after Danny Evans had resurrected it some from the Fox mess) to such a degree that the fanbase pressured Frank McCort to dump him, and now watching Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti rebuild the Indians so well via statistical analysis that they have succeeded in building a team that has had three 90-loss seasons in the last 4 years, I’m pretty much moneyballed out.

    Sure, there is a place for statistical analysis, and a team would have to be nuts to draft for or trade for a player that they do not run through their statistical staff. And statistical analysis can often give the scouting staff a lead in a player so they they head out ti watch him. But having the statistical people drive the decisions of a major league franchise simply does not work. I remember going to Dodger Stadium and watching DoPodesta’s moneyball team. The had no fire and had no idea how to win a game. Completely the opposite of what the O’Mally run Dodgers had given their fans for 5-6 decades. And the Indians do the same thing now – no fire, just a bunch of guys hitting foul balls and trying to get walks – and when they get them no one is skilled enough to hit them in.

    Computers can’t measure heart, and can’t measure desire to win. A good scout can put that in the computer, but if he doesn’t, all the metrics won’t help some people in an office crunching the players stats to see that.

    I’ve watched MLB for well over 50 years. Winning players win, and leaders can bring out the best in their teammates. It’s not terribly hard for scouts to see those qualities in players, and most of their managers and teammates will attest to those players influence.

    The recent trend I’ve seen is that the National League has now won 4 of the last 5 World Series. AL teams stand up and mash, outhitting their poor defense and so-so pitching. NL teams use all players on their 25 man roster, play to get a lead and hold it, play defense, move runners along, manufacture runs, and pretty much play intelligent baseball. This is what counts in the playoffs, and especially in the World Series.

    For one that understands the game of baseball and loves it, watching an NL game is so much more fun then watching an AL game where you just sit around and wait for a run home run.

    • sophiethegreatdane - Oct 30, 2012 at 4:37 PM

      Yeah, it’s great fun watching pitchers make outs out an 88% clip. “Hey son, let’s go to the park and watch Dusty Baker do some double-switches!”

      The NL has won some recent World Series, yes. But the past 15 years of interleague play shows AL dominance with a record of nearly 200 games over .500, and winning more games in the series 11 of the 15 years. Notice that the thousands of games played in that time frame is a far more significant sample size than the (max) 35 games of the last 5 World Series.

    • tashkalucy - Oct 30, 2012 at 4:37 PM

      So far I have 1 up and 5 thumbs down.

      LOL

      I expected that from supposed adults that use phrases like, “I threw up in my mouth” and other immature moronic comments that are made here daily not only by the posters, but by the writers as well.

      Look, computers only hold information someone or something puts in to it. Garbage in, garbage out. I worked in accounting and with computer systems for over 35 years. The people running a business know 80% of what is in the computers without having to look at any reports or screens, because they know their business, and know every day how it’s doing. Computers are good 20% of the time to make them aware of some things that they had not kept up with and have now become a trend as opposed as just being a part of the business that comes and goes.

      IMHO, most of the writers and posters on HardballTalk are just as zealous as Mr. Jenkins, only they’re on the other side of the issue.

      • Craig Calcaterra - Oct 30, 2012 at 4:40 PM

        Except we don’t just ignore facts which totally rebut our views like Jenkins did.

      • sophiethegreatdane - Oct 30, 2012 at 4:54 PM

        >>”Look, computers only hold information someone or something puts in to it. Garbage in, garbage out. I worked in accounting and with computer systems for over 35 years. The people running a business know 80% of what is in the computers without having to look at any reports or screens, because they know their business, and know every day how it’s doing.<<

        I love when people start espousing views on topics where they have, literally, no clue. This statement shows me that you worked near computers for 35 years, not with them.

        Do you know anything about business analytics, business intelligence, data mining, data warehouses, High Performance Computing….any of it? The reality of business in today’s world is that most businesses of any significant size have MASSIVE data struggles on a daily basis. Companies spend billions of dollars trying to leverage data into a strategic advantage, not just something that sits in a computer as a redundant scratch space to the owners “memory”. Whatever. It’s obvious that you have no clue in this area.

      • drewsylvania - Oct 31, 2012 at 9:15 AM

        I read part of your handle as “lunacy”. Well done.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 30, 2012 at 7:24 PM

      The recent trend I’ve seen is that the National League has now won 4 of the last 5 World Series. AL teams stand up and mash, outhitting their poor defense and so-so pitching. NL teams use all players on their 25 man roster, play to get a lead and hold it, play defense, move runners along, manufacture runs, and pretty much play intelligent baseball.

      Did you watch the same WS that I just did? Game 1 – Panda hits 3 HR, Peralta hit 1. Game 4 – Posey hit 1 for SFG, and Cabrera/Young hit ones for Det. Also, well done on cherry picking the last 5 years. It’s almost like things in small sample sizes have strange distributions. You’d think someone who works with numbers for the last 35 years would understand that?

      Also, weren’t you the one who was proclaiming, during the preseason, that the Yanks were going to fall to 4-5 place? How’d that prediction work out?

    • kicksave1980 - Oct 31, 2012 at 3:30 AM

      Since you’re not getting much support here, tashkalucy, I’ll say it…I agree with everything you’ve just said, 100%. I particularly agree with your view on the NL vs AL as far as strategy and entertainment goes.

      I mean that as no slant to the very obvious ‘moneyball’ loving group here, because I feel that there is value in it, but it’s not everything. The anti-traditional stat sentiment is just as annoying and tiring as you guys perceive the other side to be.

  14. SOBEIT - Oct 30, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    Jenkins has his beliefs and runs with it…facts be damned. Haven’t we all learned to filter everything online. Yes that creates a strong level of cynicsm but it’s the only way to not become an idiot filled with incorrect narratives or facts.

    Also, we are talking about a pro sports team…they use everything they can to make a decision…new school and old. The best source will always be people you trust who have first hand knowledge. That’s how we got Vogelsong, Blanco, etc, from BamBam Muelens when he was managing in the Venezuelan winter league. And those players probably went through Goldfarb’s analysis and projection models as well.

    By the way…his job sounds awesome!

  15. sisqsage - Oct 30, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    C’mon Cur..lighten up a little.
    Just having a little fun with Y.G. He’s obviously good at what he does. Good for him. Glad he is on the Giants’ side. Thanks for helping us win these two rings. Much appreciated.
    For the the record, I said Jenkins is “usually” pretty decent. This time around he got caught being lazy/wrong (again) which Craig rightfully points out.
    Maybe the real story is nobody in the media/outside world knows for sure how Sabean does his job/makes decisions. It ceratinly hasn’t been beaten to death like the Moneyball way to run a baseball team has. Sabean’s way appears to be a mix of stats/scouts/30 years in the biz..who knows. Whatever it is it has worked the last few years with the ultimate prize. The last few weeks have been golden like it was in 2010. Couldn’t be happier.
    I know Sabean in the past has been a “company guy” who’s always referred to payroll flexibility and input from upper management before a big trade goes down, or FA signing. They’ve always stuck closely to a budget and never wanted to be like the $200 mil clubs (NY/BOS), even though their investment group has some of the richest people in the Bay Area if not America.
    I seem to remember the old boss Neukom (sp?) really pushing for developing younger players as a credo, which was a change from the CEO MacGowan and manager Dusty Baker days, who were in love with Bonds and saw no wrong with obvious PED use, or didn’t know how to handle it. MacGowan is a saint for keeping the team in SF, but they didn’t develop enough young homegrown talent back then, certainly not like they do now. I think a change in philosophy has a lot to do with that around the time Bonds was exiting in 2007.
    Sabean’s trade/FA signing history, like every GM’s, is mixed. I thought he really turned a corner for the best until they signed Miguel Tejada in 2011. Never understood/liked that one. Miggy cost them a few games with his poor defense and then got fired before the season even ended. That’s about as bad as a FA signing can get.
    Sabean rebounded this offseason with some great trades and then some in-season too. Love or hate Sabes, but he never seems to take credit for any of this. He has repeatedly praised Bochy and Tidro and others.
    He deserves credit for that…at the very least.

    • obsessivegiantscompulsive - Nov 1, 2012 at 3:01 PM

      People always misunderstand the Bonds period. It was not that developing younger players was something the Giants didn’t want to do, but when you are a playoff contending team, the draft picks you get are not really that good. The odds of finding someone good there is very low, so they trade that low odds to get a free agent veteran who is sure to contribute.

      If they were really against developing young players, they would not have kept Matt Cain and Noah Lowry around, nor the others who were close, Ainsworth, Williams, Foppert. It was only when they blew out that the Giants let them go. But when you are drafting that far back in the first round, every prospect you select will have some key negative/challenge that he must overcome in order to be a good player, and the vast majority of them (my research pegged it then at 10% roughly, meaning 90% fail to be a good MLB player) are not the guys you go out to see, they are the ones who get stuck in the minors or become journeyman players. Or if you are really lucky, he’ll be an average player. That’s the reality when you are drafting that far back in the first round when you are in the playoffs every year.

      I think that their track record of never trading away a good player is a good indicator that the Giants love developing players, but it is hard to find them while winning. The best to get away was Liriano, but that is arguable because he’s been just as injury prone and worse, as he was when he was our prospect. Think of how hard it is to operate a franchise when you are not sure if your best pitcher will be there for you next season, it is not like you can dip into your pocket and pull out an equal replacement mid-season every year. Reliability is a quality that is not always appreciated in baseball, but hopefully Liriano shows why it is. After him, I would guess Foulke or Howry, but if that is the best to get away, two good relievers, over 15 years, I think that is a very good record. Certainly better than Beane, who let Ethier and Car-Gon go for not much in return, or Colletti, who let go of Carlos Santana to the Indians for a middling journeyman player.

    • obsessivegiantscompulsive - Nov 1, 2012 at 3:10 PM

      Free agent signings has been his black mark, but I have generally let him go on them. When the owner’s mantra is “win now”, you have to go out and buy whatever is on the market for your needs, no matter how bad it is. So sure, Tejada was a question mark signing, but I don’t think that there were any better choices out there, for the same amount of money. Same for all the signings during the Bonds era, as Magawan was trying to win one with Bonds around, that contributed to the image of “hating developing prospects” but you can’t go into a season with unproven Feliz as your starting 3B and state that you are going to compete this season, you have to go out and buy Alfonso, who at minimum, despite all the rumors of back issues, appeared to be good at getting on base (somehow he lost all that once he became a Giants). Even when he had a big win in siging Durham, Ray, after not being on the DL one day previously, was regularly on the DL every year he was with the Giants. Can’t win for losing.

      I think a better indication of his ability to discern talent is via two things. First off, he’s never really lost any trade he has made, except for AJ, and even then Liriano is not a great loss either. He has made big gains though, Kent, Schmidt, Winn, even Melky, Pagan, and Pence. Second of all, and I guess related to the first, he has known who to keep. Cain, Lincecum, Sandoval, Posey, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Belt, Crawford, he has had an excellent record of keeping his top prospects until they prove to be day old bread, at which point, he gets rid of them.

  16. mgflolox - Oct 30, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    If you’ve caught Jenkins’ work over the years you realize that, sadly. this is one of his better efforts. He’s basically an insecure old man who’s frightened that he’s losing his audience and that people are increasingly seeing through the typical bullshit found in most sports sections these days. He knows that his days of having some sort of platform to espouse his half-assed opinions will be gone soon, and it bothers him

  17. crisisjunky - Oct 31, 2012 at 1:42 AM

    Don’t fear the reaper Bruce, adapt.
    Roddenberry had it right. If an old-school fart like Bones could handle a Tri-Corder, so can you.

  18. dfrebert - Oct 31, 2012 at 8:38 PM

    Jenkins hates the DH and takes a shot at it 5 times a year,
    so I take everything he writes with a large grain of salt !

  19. obsessivegiantscompulsive - Nov 1, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    On top of that, it is very common knowledge – in fact, there are articles on this in the Giants sfgiants.com website vault – regarding the Giants usage of advanced defensive statistics, using their OWN PROPRIETARY METHODS, can’t get more saber-oriented than that. That guides how their pitchers pitch to batters, how fielders position themselves in the outfield, and how they strategize on who to challenge and who to nibble on.

    So, as much as I have liked Bruce Jenkins articles in the past, it is almost like he is becoming senile with this article, and I am shocked that his editors would have allowed that column to go out, I mean, Hank Schulman could have corrected all of that immediately had they ran it by him for a fact check (they still do that in newspapers, I hope).

    But to Jenkins’ point, the Giants probably are more scouts oriented than the teams acknowledged as saber-oriented – at minimum, being an old scout himself, Sabean would be able to tell a good scout from a bad one – and that has been their competitive differentiator over the years, as they have made trade after trade where they generally are no worse than even, and often enough, the big winner in the deal. As someone in the media wrote in the past year or two, teams are crazy if they trade with Sabean, because few have benefited from them.

    They have also been stellar in another key area: never trading away a superstar prospect (so far, knock on wood). They have been stellar in deciding who to keep. Think the A’s wouldn’t love to have back Ethier or Car-Gon? Think they don’t regret trading away Hudson for nothing.

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