Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 11:00 AM
Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell was online to take all your questions about the Nats, pennant races, the Redskins and more.
Potomac, MD: Tom,
Kevin Kolb's QB rating in week 1 was 56.3. He left the game with an injury and now everyone in Philly has a QB controversy. Donovan Mcnabb's QB rating wasn't much better, 63.4. But he looked alot better than what we have seen in the past. Did Chris Cooley say it best with calling the Mcnabb trade "boneheaded" on the Eagles part?
Tom Boswell: Completely agree with Cooley.
McNabb's stats don't capture his game. His old-fashioned "field generalship" was also important in a game where the Skins were the better team (by far) from the neck up. (By a lot.)
The Skins had horrible field position almost all night. They started from their own 20, 24, 15, 5, 33, 7, 20 and 23. Yet four times McNabb ran drives of 69, 36, 50 and 46 yards that produced two FGs, but just as important ate up clock with 11 first downs. As a result, the Cowboys only started one drive from outside their own 33 yard line.
And what happened the one time Dallas had good field position after a short punt? They drove 34 yards for the only offensive touchdown of the game.
For a 4-12 team coming off a year of complete chaos _with Albertross still around__ that was certainly a "good performance." If they want to be 8-8, not 6-10, that's a game at home that they need to escape from with a win. As I noted, don't talk playoffs, but enjoy/praise some competence for a change. The Cowboys gave the game away AND the Redskins didn't. Last year, they couldn't even take what was given.
*No Redskins turnovers vs. "bonehead" gift TD before half on fumble by Cowboys. Dallas screwed up the strategy, but the Redskins MADE the 'big play' out of it.
*Five Skins penalties (decent) to 12 (awful).
*1 sack of McNabb. No chaos. Since last year's games were 7-6 and 17-0, both teams should have expected low scoring. Skins looked more prepared for that stype game__ie., field position matters. Two good KO returns helped. That counts, too.
*Mistakes, yes. (Botched FG snap by Skins.) Idiocy like last year, no. Cowboys mistakes, so many I couldn't believe it watching the replay. You're right, it's amazing how badly the Boys played. But, now, they are the team, not the Skins, that has the inferior coach in this rivalry.
*Outgained at home 380-250 by a team that went 11-5 last year. But the Skins still won because they were far more disciplined (less brain dead) than last year.
*Good defense in new scheme. The 3-4 brings out the speed/hitting of Landry (17 tackles), McIntosh (10), Carter, Orakpo (held three times for penalties), etc. What got into D Hall. He hit people.
*Offense will be last to come. McNabb a big upgrade from last year. Always is in a new system.
Until proven otherwise, they're a 4-12 team trying to see if it can win 6-7-8 games. Wins like that are what push it toward 8. If they can beat Houston and St. Louis for a 3-0 start, plenty of time to see if more is possible.
Sec 114, Row E: Bos, next time you talk to Kasten, tell him that if Dunn ends up and Oriole and he doesn't sign 2 guys (Crawford and Werth) to replace him, then he can have my tickets - all 81 games worth.
Tom Boswell: The O's were certainly talking about Dunn when I was over there this week. Showalter, after Dunn was mentioned, but not commenting directly on him, said that he'd spent his whole career watching how the herd mentality among scouts, stat guys and front office types had produced "positive feeding frenzies" and "negative feeding frenzies."
Dunn really wants to play 1st base. The O's 1st basemen __Luke Scott and Wigginton__ are almost a rangebound as Dunn. So Dunn wouldn't subtract much. So, O's are one of the few teams that would shrug at Dunn's defense as a liability. They're already weak there.
Since one of these five FA's will probably be the Nats 1st baseman for the next two years, I thought you folks might like to see their career production per 162 games and what they've done this year. FWIW, Derrek Lee, 35, has three gold gloves. Made $13.25M this year. Calos Pena, 32, has one gold glove, made $10.125M this year. Paul Konerko and Lance Berkman are both 34, neither is a good 1st baseman but both are better than Dunn. Berkman is good at scooping low throws, but "Fat Elvis" has no range. Konerko made $12M, same as Dunn this year, while Berkman, whose numbers have slid for two years, made $14.5M.
Career per 162 games played:
Dunn...40 HR...98 RBI...111 walks...Ops .904.
Berkman...33...110...105...Ops .956 (great career).
This year, as of a few days ago when I worked this up.
Konerko: 33-98-.317-.975 ops
Lee: 16-65-.251-.744 (Looked awful vs. Nats)
Berkman: 13-53-.148-.793 (only 355 abs)
It's Dunn's younger age, consistency, no injuries and "discovery" of a position (kinda) that makes some think he'll get 3 or 4 years.
Konerko's big year for a contender probably gets him 3 yrs. Lee (age) and Pena (.203) probably settle for 2 yrs/$20M. Or less? Berkman? Showing age, back-to-back off years, no defense.
You don't see five 1st basemen with careers this good, all still 35-or-less (not ancient, at least) on the market at the same time. The Cards have a team option on Pujols, so he doesn't really count.
And then there is the immortal Lyle Overbay, 33 and also a FA, who gets $8M/yr to hit .275 with 15 homers, 70 RBI year after year and decent defense.
Here's the fly in the ointment for the Nats. What if the Rays decide to keep Pena (cheaper) and let Carl Crawford go? Then what appears to be the Nats Plan A disappears.
Do they go after Crawford? So will a lot of other people. And Crawford, who needed years to improve his defense in LF, isn't the answer in CF.
Potomac, MD: Tom,
The Redskins scored one defensive touchdown. No offensive touchdowns. 2 drives that ended with field goals, 1 drive with a botched snap on the field goal. Mcnabb had a decent game at best. And the Redskins almost let the Cowboys win the game at the end with the soft zone defense. Looks like the team i've been watching the past couple of years, don't you agree?
Tom Boswell: As noted above, "No."
There is a tendency to judge teams by the emotions that fans feel about the owners of those teams. If you can't get past that, you're going to spend your Life As A Fan judging the characters of billionaires. Now that is ugly work. There is a high coorelation between becoming a billionaire and being an extremely abnormal lopsided person, with a high percentage of jerks.
I "worked out" by feelings on this long ago with a certain Orioles owner. Don't confuse your evaluation of the personality/character odf the owner with the team. It's unfair to the players and coaches who actually do the work and who ARE THE GAME.
And offense in a new scheme is going to look ragged. Timing will be offer. McNabb missed an important third-down pass __missed timing__ that probably could have eaten the whole clock to end the game.
Some say McNabb's stats would have looked better except for about three "drops." I checked. They were all for short yardage. So, you can't make it much prettier than his 15-for-32 for 171.
Long Island, NY: Tom, Sorry for the golf question on a busy football week. Right now, who is your Player of the Year? Dustin Johnson is my front-runner. The shot of the year was Phil's second from the trees at Augusta, but that seems so long ago. McIlroy's British Open showed much grit.
Tom Boswell: Really glad to see Dustin Johnson come back to win after his disasters in two winnable majors. A huge charismatic talent, just what golf needs __especially U.S. golf, which isn't as strong as Europe at the top now. I've seen dozens of collapses in majors from 10 yards away in my life. But, at the U.S. Open, I felt as bad for Johnson as any of them. It all happened to him so fast and so early in the round that he was like a boxer who gets hit with a haymakers in the first minute of the fight and never really gets to clear his head.
And the "sand trap" ruling will be talked about for years.
Question for Chatters: Who deserves POY more than Johnson?
AL Pennant Race: No, not who wins the East, that doesn't really matter. Who ends up with the best record in the league? I got the Twins - who you got?
Tom Boswell: I'm rooting for the Rays to get home field, especially after their fabulous series win over the Yanks the last three nights. Too bad those games weren't in an ALCS or everybody would talk about them for a long time.
No, Jeter didn't do anything wrong on the HBP. But he has been standing on the plate for so many years and "hitting himself" with pitches by "diving" that the Rays will probably drill him when they meet for four games next week, even though it is in Yankee Stadium.
If the Rays can split those for games, they may have the easier last-week schedule. But are three games against the O's in Tampa really "weak schedule" games anymore? Sure doesn't look like it. The O's and Nats will have a big say in who wins the two East races. The Nats have already punched Bobby Cox and the Barves __the best home-field team in baseball__ in the jaw the last two days.
You will not find many sports journalists who want the Twins to get home field through the playoffs. That opne air park in Minny is beautiful, but not in late October or on November 1.
nyc: If A-Rod had pulled that fake hurt stunt that Jeter did last night, how flack would he be taking right now?
Tom Boswell: A lot more.
But he would have done such a bad acting job that it would have made you dislike him even more.
Springfield, Virginia: Tom, Do the Nats have Justin Maxwell in their future plans? It seems that they never give him a chance to play 10-15 games in a row.
Tom Boswell: Everybody likes him. But he just can't hit. They keep giving him chances. If only the bases could be loaded every time he comes up! As dam Kilgore noted this a.m., he's been up with the sacks full four times in the majors and has hit three grand slam homers.
That may be the one record in baseball history that really will NEVER be broken. Seriously, even if they played for another 1,000 years, do you think anybody else will go 4-for-4 on their first four chances?
Ideally, in '11, if they don't add any OFers duriung the winer, I'd like to see a platoon of Morgan and Maxwell in CF next year and Bernadina and Morse in RF. Morgan is helpless vs. LHers. It's for him to get over his Star Act. I've always loved platoons, don't know why they aren't used more. Everybody is obsessed with not missing a 160-game superstar. Bah humbug. These four guys aren't ever going to be superstars. They're not 20-21-22. Platoon 'em. Tell 'em if they don't like it they can play somewhere else. Of course, to do that Maxwell would have to hit more.
Brooklyn: I love Cooley, but he's hardly the only one to say the Eagles trade was a boneheaded move. Can you even name five worse trades in the history of the NFL - or American sports? Granted time will tell depending on how well McNabb does here, but you simply do not trade your star player to a division rival.
When the 49ers were done with Montana they didn't trade him to the Rams - they sent him out of the entire NFC - AND they had the great Steve Young to replace him. But they still wouldn't have done such a dumb move.
This was empirically one of the worst moves ever, and it couldn't have happened to a better team.
Tom Boswell: When the Skins got McNabb I wrote a column showing that this was The Classic Bad Trade in the NFL and that it gets made over and over and over. Teams give up on first-rate QB's at 32-33 (or older) and say they are too old. Then they come back to have 2-to-6 more excellent years.
If you want to have fun killing a half hour, go to nfl-reference.com and look up the careers __and after age 31 team changes__ of Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Fran Tarkenton, Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, Brad Johnson, Steve McNair, Randall Cunningham, Chris Chandler, Vinny Testaverde, John Hadl, Craig Morton, Joe Montana, Ken Stabler, Norm Van Brocklin, Warren Moon, Y.A. Tittle (!) and Earl (Perfect Season) Morrall.
I'd say that there is an 80-90 percent chance that McNabb joins this list and is the Skins QB for the next 3 yrs minimum. At 33, don't be surprised if he is still the QB in five years. He's lost weighty and looks better. Will he thrive in Shanny's system or not? We'll find out. But probably not until the 2nd half of the season. Most of those team changes really bore fruit in Year Two.
Bethesda, MD: Although the Grinch stole Strasmas for the immediate future, we can still celebrate Livanukkah. How can you not, when ices an 8-inning, no-run, 5-hit performance with a homerun, a double and 2 RBI?
Tom Boswell: Just a wonderful and especially entertaining performance. After he hit a =8 on a 91 m.p.h. fastball, Jurrgens got him back with a -8 when he got to hit. Before his home run at bat, Livan was talking to Braves fans in the first row of the box seats __laughing, joking and POINTING to LF where he hit his HR. Was he saying, "Look at the score" or was he saying "That's where I'm going to hit this one."
Hernandez should have at least 15 wins. He has 20 quality starts in 30 games, bt that's not really the measure of how good he has been. I keep track of what I call "Quality Plus" starts. That means, in my book, that you have an ERA of 3.00 or less in that start and go at least five innings. For instant, I'd much rather have 5 1/3 IP and one run than 6 IP and 2 runs.
Also, if you work out how many Quality Plus starts a pitcher has, it almost always roughly equals his win total! But, since run support varies so much, you usually have to look at multi-year quality pls starts.
Well, this year, Livan has 18 Quality Plus starts. Last time I checked, that was in the top half-dozen in baseball. His ERA has been elevated by a handful of bad games.
Take a good look at his last three starts of '10. He'll be back next year, but will he still be in his '10 groove? Hope so. But right now, he's wonderful to watch.
(He says he's goig to work on arm strength over the winter and promises to hit 90 on his four seam fastball next year! We'll see.
dc: "Looks like the team i've been watching the past couple of years." I had this same sinking feeling. But the main difference was the lack of stupid moves. For a change, they weren't committing a lot of penalties, had some intelligent clock management and most importantly - good blocking.
It's possible this is the same team, but got lucky on Sunday. However, it bodes well that McNabb was able to pull out a win with a poor performance because he'll have many better games than that one.
Tom Boswell: I keep saying that the Skins should be a 7-9 team because it's so hard to improve by a whole bunch of games in just one season, especially when you face so many teams that won 9 or more games last year.
But the Skins record was deceptive last year. Just as run differential mattyers in MLB, it matters in the NFL, too, though not as much. The Skins "point differential" would have predicted a 7-9 record for them last year, not 4-12. Complete lack of discipline and internal turmoil may have played a big part in all the close defeats.
But it also raises the possibility that the Skins are coming off a "higher base" of performance. If so, then the optimists (like Michael W who thinks they'll win 10 games), may have a better case than I thought. Lets give 'em a few weeks. But that was certainly exactly the kind of first game under Shanahan that they needed after being the joke of football last fall.
Arlington, VA: In your column this morning, you compared Riggleman and Showalter as managers. It strikes me that Showalter seems to do very well at the beginning and then wear out his welcome in two or three years. Riggleman looks steadier, more in the Bobby Cox mold, who I like except for his rather strange double switches which seem to be learned from LaRussa.
Tom Boswell: That's the case that's usually made. Some of my most __and least__ favorite managers are from the light-a-fire Showalter mold. Davey Johnson was wonderful but always had an authority problem. Billy Martin was a nightmare.
A current manager who was once assigned to be the designated driver for Martin and his staff of piratical coaches once told me that Billy was "a jerk until he'd had his first drink. Then, after the sixth drink, he'd want to fight somebody. But between the first drink and the sixth, he was the most brilliant baseball mind you could ever want to listen to."
Showalter wants to be charismatic, a leader, an inspired of players, a reader of personalities and he is to a degree. Riggleman wants to appear to be The World's Least Interesting Man on the outside while actually knowing far more, and being much more interesting in private conversations. He's the only Bad Cop the Nats have in that locker room now. But he doesn't advertize it. No Bad Cop Coaches. They may need one.
If the Nats ever get to the playoffs under Riggleman __yeah, yeah, I know...I'm just settin' up a wise crack here__ maybe he could get a beer commercial as The Least Interesting Man in the World.
"I'm Jim Riggleman. I don't drink beer. In fact, all I do is study box scores, run five miles every morning and put ice in my water. But if I did drink beer, well...I can't be absolutely sure of this...but it's kinda possible that maybe I'd drink Dos Equis."
Cleveland Park: I'm confused about Tommy John surgery. Why is there this assumption that even if he recovers 100%, that it can't get torn again? And again? They're not using titanium here - its another ligament and can tear, right? Do pitchers who get this surgery ever have to get it again? How often does that happen?
And for that matter, if this type of thing is almost inevitable in some pitchers, and this surgery is so wonderful, why not just preempt the injury and give them the TJ operation when they're 18?
Tom Boswell: There's much too much optimism about TJ surgery and Strasburg. I keep reading. I'd say there is an 85% chance that Strasburg comes back as a pitcher that we'd all say resembled Strasburg enough to be a staff ace. And there is a tiny chance his curve might be even sharper with a stronger elbow. (Is a "better curve" even possible?)
But will the Strasburg raw stuff of '10 be back ALL the way to 100%? Will he ever again have the three best plus-p,lus pitches, with command of them all, that got everybody so thrilled? I'm putting that in the "I'm believe it when I see it" category. A lot less than 85%. Just to be cheerful, I'll say 50%. Yes, I know 11 pitchers at the All-Star game this year had Tommy John scars.
Lets see if Jordan Z'mann is even stronger in another six months than he is now. It's at the 18-month mark that the doctors say you are all the way back, if you are going to make it that far.
Remember, there will be Strasburg excitment next SPRING. ou're throwing after six months __in March. He'll be in the minors, just like Jordan Z was, for 10 starts in the second half of the year and, if all goes well, may get a few starts 365 days from today.
But it's spring of '12 that will tell the tale, Assuming he doesn't hurt his elbow, or something else, before then.
Washington: The undertones to your Showalter-Riggleman column suggest that Riggleman might need to go. Do you feel that at all, and who, if anyone, do you think is more suitable for the team. I'm a big Joe Torre fan and I'm wondering how much longer he'll be out in LA.
Tom Boswell: I've always raved about the small number of managers who, over a 10+-season career, have had teams that won more games that the Pythagorean Formula predicted that they would. Intuitively, it seemed this might be due to managing. The best I've found were Earl Weaver and Davey Johnson who were both more than +20 wins vs Pythagoras. They may have won games for their teams in some other ways __selecting the right roster, making out a better lineup, etc. But a knack for managing so you can "win close but lose big" seems smart to me.
I've never looked for managers with BAD records vs Pythag projections. But I worked it out for Riggleman. His record is worst on the bad side __minus 30 wins vs Pythag__ than any good manager (that I've discovered) has ever been positive. IOW, I haven't found a +30 wins manager.
I'll keep looking at this. Of course I have reservations about him. He's got the worst record of any manager in history who held a job for 10 years or more. But I don't have a problem with what it feels like when I watch his managing. He likes to keep too many players happy too much of the time for my taste. I like the old line about the key to being a good manager being: "Keeping the five players who hate you away from the five players who haven't made up their minds yet." There are only a couple of Nats who even dislike Riggleman.
Washington, D.C.: After what the Texans did to the Colts last week, is this going to be an even tougher game for the Skins than Dallas?
Tom Boswell: They were a strong 9-7 team last year that scored more than 24 pts a game. But the Skins defense is their strength. OTOH, you can move the ball on the Texans, so Portis and the running attack and McNabb may have a better chance to show their stuff. My intuition is that the Skins "pointed" for Dallas on Sunday night so much that they will really have to beware of a let down.
It's certainly an edge that Kyle Shanahan knows the Texans offensive people inside and out.
I had the Skins 24-21 last week here in the chat. I'll say they pull this one out 19-17. But before the season I certainly didn't think they'd start 2-0, even with both at home.
Alexandria Va: Any chance the Nats try Morse on an everyday basis at 1B? Seems like he deserves a chance to show what he can do w/500 ABs, and he came up as a SS, so you would think his defense would be an upgrade. Plus, he's affordable.
Tom Boswell: Affordable.
That should get me through the winter in high spirits.
Albany, NY: Liked your column on Riggleman and Showalter. It made me think of your classic essay on the four managerial families. Showalter clearly seems to me to be part of the Little Napoleon family, although I have a harder time placing Rigs; I think he's more a Tall Tactician, but he's got at least a little Peerless Leader mixed in. Where would you put him?
Tom Boswell: He's a blend. No Little Napoleon at all. A lot of upright eyes-on-the-middle-distance Peerless Leader during the game. He has no new theories of his own so he's not a Tall Tactician. But he's got some Uncle Robby in him, too. The good guy who encourages the young player.
Of course, Uncle Robby's tend to be the least successful of the four types, perhaps because, so often they are brought in to give bad teams a shoulder to cry on.
Bethesda, MD: Tom,
I think that you underestimate Dunn's defensive capabilities. I still remember my dad talking about Zeke Bonura. It's our history.
BTW, have any teams besides us had two pairs of Cuban starting pitchers in their rotation, with a break of 50 years?
Tom Boswell: Ha! It's certainly a Washington baseball tradition.
I looked up Connie Marrero, the ex-Senator pitcher, when I went to Cuba in the late '70's. He was still telling everybody the "right way" to pitch to Mickey Mantle. Cuba was locked in a time warp that started the day Castro took over. Everybody still thought that Mantle __and probably Ted Williams__ played in The Great Leagues. Sad.
But Marrero was smoking a huge cigar lookig very happy for a very short hurler. (Listed as 5-foot-5 when he pitched in DC.)
Ashtabula: What's taking Bob Watson so long in deciding on Nyjer Morgan's suspension appeal? And don't the Nats have only themselves to blame for giving Nyjer the face-of-the-franchise treatment based on exactly a month and a half last season? I think it went to his bobblehead.
Tom Boswell: I think so, too.
Culture of Losing: Hi Boz,
I remember you using the 'culture of losing' phrase irt the Nats. Can you elaborate on that now that the Nats are going to finish the season once again in the cellar and close to 100 losses? Is that what Buck Showalter is able to do so effectively - change a losing culture quickly like he has accomplished with the Os? If so, and that is what is needed with the Nats, I don't think Riggleman is the guy even though I like him. He seems to be too much of nice guy.
Tom Boswell: At some point, they have to play a LOT better for Riggleman for him to stay. But '11 looks like a year when improvement to 75+ wins will be acceptable. If they don't get a BIG bat to replace Dunn, I don't see how they get there. Jordan Z'mann is not on the verge of being a top pitcher. That's a project that will take some time.
I confess that I'm not a "nice guy" type in my approach to anything competitive and though I respect those who are, they are a mystery to me. Of course, I'm jealous of all those Buck quotes I'll be missing. Showalter said he'd grudgingly learned to move the unfathomableness of baseball, that you just had no idea what would happen in any one game, no matter how much you thought you did beforehand. Before a game recenmtly, he said to an O's coach, with a laugh, "Well, lets go see what the boys have in store for us today."
Cairo, Egypt: Hi Boz,
Love your columns. How much of the Nats' recent two-game upswing had to do with the chewing-out Riggleman and the other coaches gave them and how much from simply the fact that the Fish have seemed to have had the Nats' number all season?
Tom Boswell: The chewout sure didn't look like it had helped in the Monday game! But they looked sharp the last two games. So, give some credit. Weaver always said that the worst thing about Big Meetings was that "They better work."
The Marlins domination of the Nats is an organizational problem, not just a quirk. They're only a .500 team. Very similar to the Orioles troubles with the .500 Blue Jays. Toronto beat the hell out of the Orioles __12-0 this year. Then this week, the Orioles swept them and had some swagger, at least on the pitching mound, while doing it.
The Nats will have to do some of that kind of improvement in future. I thought the brawl in Florida might help but it actually made things worse. Morgan made the whole team look ridiculous. He was responsible for the 1-0 loss __no slide, then fires up the Fish__ as well as the drubbing the next night which was pure payback. And who gets clotheslined? There was video of it in Japan. You can bet they weren't saying, "Look at the classy Nationals. Now there's a team that has it all together."
Then, the two teams met again in Washington and the Marlins swept them at home!
The Nats not only took it, they were so inert by the end that Riggleman and the whole coaching staff, in turn, chewed them out. The one knock on Dunn that probably has validity is that the 275-pound cleanup slugger has never __as far as I know__ taken the role of Class Clown. When he got the day off yesterday against a lefthander, then wore that white towel under his hat on the bench like he was riding a camel across the Sahara, that showed you what is most appealing and most troubling about him. He has played on 10 straight losing teams. You have to build up some psychological defense mechanism against that daily burden, especially if you are ambitious enough to have 351 homers at 30. If you had a fiery team leader type on a winning team and Adam could play "Big Lebowski" to his General Patton, that would work. But Dunn isn't a Top Banana type. But there aren't any Top Bananas for sale this winter.
Yes, we have no top bananas. Or none that will sign with the Nats if they are 69-93.
I can't resist stopping on a question from Cairo! Especially since it looked like Dunn was looking forward to a ride to the Pyramids yesterday.
See everybody next week. Many thanks for the great questions.
2011 Orioles: Boz -
The Os under Showlater have been nothing short of astounding, given prior performance. That said - they're aren't too many slugging 1Bs or SS available in the free agent class.
Perhaps resign Itzurius to another stopgap deal to take advantage of his stellar defense and maybe trade some pitching for an established and not on the downside (Konerko) 1B w/ power. realistic? And if so, who would you target in the trade and who would make the most sense to trade? thanks!
Tom Boswell: The power of expectations is an amazing thing.
I went back to a pre-season prediction sitre which had poled 58 MLB scouts and had them predict the record of every team in baseball. Then they averaged those predictions. I'd say that's a good system.
The scouts predicted the nats would be 71-91.
They said the Orioles would be 76-86.
We're seeing some reversion to the mean.
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