The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Archive for January, 2012

Pinch hitting: Rob Abruzzese01.26.12

Next up in our Pinch Hitters series is Rob Abruzzese, a reporter who covers high school football, baseball and basketball for ESPNNewYork. He’s been blogging about the Yankees since 2005, and in 2008 he created Bronx Baseball Daily. That same year, Rob graduated from Brooklyn College with degrees in journalism and political science, and he still lives in Brooklyn to this day. You can find him on Twitter: @BxBaseballDaily or @RobAbruzzese.

For his post, Rob wrote about D-Rob, taking a look at what’s made the Yankees setup man such an effective reliever.

David Robertson has come along quite well as a reliever for the Yankees from when he broke into the league in 2008 to 2011 when he not only picked up some Cy Young award votes but also nabbed a place on an MVP ballot as well.

How did he get this good? Well, nothing happened overnight for Robertson. He is very similar to the pitcher that came up in 2008, but he has made slight improvements overall across the board that have made a huge difference.

VELOCITY: The most notable difference in Robertson is his velocity. His fastball averaged 90.8 MPH when he came up, but that number has gone up every season and reached 93.1 MPH on average last season. It’s not a huge difference, but it has increased his K% along with it, from striking out batters 27.5 percent of the time as a rookie to a whopping 36.8 percent last year (fourth-best among relievers in MLB).

LOB%: Robertson’s WHIP was a good but not great 1.125 last season, but his LOB% was a strong 89.8 percent for a couple of reasons, the biggest being his ability to strike out batters at a 13.5 percent rate last season. By striking out so many, he is keeping the ball out of play, which takes away the chances for seeing-eye singles, errors, or missed calls by umpires.

HR/9: It also helps that Robertson allowed a very low amount of home runs. Now his ground ball percentage is 46.8, nothing too special, but because he is allowing fewer balls put into play than a typical pitcher, there just aren’t as many chances for a hitter to pop one over the fence. It shows too as his HR/9 of 0.14 was the seventh lowest among all relievers.

ROBBIE’S CUTTER: This really didn’t get a lot of attention last year, but Robertson started to throw a cutter last year. After throwing fastballs at a 74.3 percent clip in 2010, that number went down to 49.6 percent last year, according to PitchFX. It gave him a different look and no doubt contributed to his K/9 increasing for its fourth consecutive year.

IMPROVED COMMAND: Along with all of this, perhaps the most important thing is his improved command. I’m not talking about his ability to keep from walking hitters. After all, his BB/9 of 4.7 last season is identical to his 4.7 BB/9 that he has over his entire career. No, I’m talking more about his ability to spot his pitches over the plate, particularly to right-handed batters.

Take a look at the two graphs provided by FanGraphs below:

On the left is his heat map tracking his fastballs against right-handed batters from 2010. On the right is the same graph from 2011. In 2010, he pretty much just threw his fastball over the plate to righties with no discernible pattern. In 2011 the story is much different, as he almost stopped throwing fastballs on the lower inside part of the plate. It’s not so much where he throws the ball that matters for this purpose, but the fact that the 2010 chart pretty much looks similar to his 2008 and 2009 charts and in 2011, for the first time, he shows the real ability to spot his pitches on the plate with accuracy.

CAN HE CLOSE? It’s great that Robertson had such a phenomenal season last year, but relievers come and go pretty quickly. Just having one good year doesn’t make him a closer in waiting. After all, most Yankees fans probably thought Joba Chamberlain would be their closer after 2007 and Phil Hughes after 2009 and neither seems like an obvious choice today.

Robertson is interesting because of his career progression. He came up in 2008 and made improvements each year. Most relievers who look promising and then disappear are the type that bounce around in different roles before being at the right place at the right time and are able to take advantage for a little while. Guys like Ryan Franklin are examples of this. There are also the Chad Qualls/Luis Ayala types that go their entire careers and then have one or two lucky seasons when most of their stats are outliers and don’t accurately reflect who they are. Other than that, age and injuries are what most often nail relievers.

D-Rob will only be 27 next season, so he has age on his side. He did have to be shutdown with pain in his elbow in September 2009, but since then he appears to be fully healthy. Should he be able to stay healthy then there is a solid chance he could be a great reliever for years to come. Hopefully Rivera doesn’t retire after the 2012 season, but if he does, the Yankees very well already have his replacement in house.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 427 Comments →

Top prospects revealed, plus some notes and links01.25.12

At 10 p.m. ET, MLB Network will reveal its Top 50 Prospects during an hour-long special. Already, MLB.com’s minor league guru Jonathan Mayo has announced his top 10 prospects at each position, with two Yankees making his position-by-position lists.

Left-handed pitcher
Manny Banuelos
Ranked: Second
Coming in one spot behind Matt Moore is pretty high praise. A year ago, Banuelos was 10th on MLB.com’s list of the top lefty prospects. This year’s he’s moved up on the strength of three plus pitches that are just waiting for improved command. Dellin Betances didn’t make the right-handers list, leaving Banuelos as the only Yankees pitcher to appear on either minor league pitching list. Not out of the question for Betances to still find a spot on the top 100 prospects overall.

Catcher
Gary Sanchez
Ranked: Fourth
We all know who’s at the top of the list. Jesus Montero is still considered the top catching prospect in baseball, but Sanchez is a legitimate prospect himself. After ranking third on this list last year, Sanchez moved down only one spot after a promising but inconsistent year in Charleston. His ceiling is high, but he’s also very young. All outfielders were lumped into one group, so Mason Williams didn’t make any sort of center fielders list, and Austin Romine fell off the catchers list. Sanchez was the only Yankees hitting prospect listed in the top 10 at any position.

A few other notes from today…

Yoenis Cespedes has become a free agent. After gaining residency in the Dominican Republic, Cespedes has completed all the steps necessary is now a player on the open market. He can begin negotiating, but still has to clear one last step before actually signing.

• The Red Sox have reportedly made offers to two of the best free agent pitchers still on the market, extending one offer to Roy Oswalt and another offer to Edwin Jackson. 

• The Rays are reportedly close to a deal with utility man Jeff Keppinger. 
In theory, Keppinger might have been an option for the Yankees to fill that second backup infielder role.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 370 Comments →

Leftovers from the Posada press conference01.25.12

Inevitably, a day like yesterday leaves a lot of bits and pieces that slip through the cracks. There are quotes that don’t fit conveniently into stories, and topics that become secondary because of the day’s bigger picture.

And so, here are a few leftovers from Jorge Posada’s retirement press conference…

On Posada staying in the Yankees organization in some sort of coaching capacity

Brian Cashman: “We’ll see. Jorge has been a great Yankee. There’s a lot of great Yankees. The one thing about this that George Steinbrenner setup a long time ago was keeping it in the family to the best of your abilities. And so I wouldn’t be surprised, clearly, at some point, that Jorgie will be working with us. I’m not saying anything in the near term, but he’s a Yankee for life, whether it’s a spring training format or something bigger. But right now, it’s not something anybody’s focused on.”

Joe Girardi: “I think Jorge can do what he wants. I do remember that feeling of wanting to spend that first summer at home with your family because it’s been so long. I did the same thing and after a while I got bored and had to go to work. The hardest part for me when I retired was when spring training started and you weren’t going, and then the season starts and you’re watching games on tv, not playing. It just feels kind of strange.”

Jorge Posada: “I don’t have any plans. I want to spend time with my family. I haven’t had a summer with them, so I really want to spend a summer with them, and have some fun with the kids.”

On whether Posada belongs in the Hall of Fame

Joe Girardi: “I think he’s a Hall of Famer. When you look at his numbers and stack his numbers against the catchers who have been there, what he has meant to this club, and the championships – his numbers are incredible. And the longevity; this is not just a six or seven year career. It’s a long time. The fact that he was able to remain consistent for so long is amazing to me.”

Jorge Posada: “All I wanted to do was be in the big leagues, and when you compare me to people in the Hall of Fame, it’s like… we’ll see. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen, but that’s up to you guys. And hopefully we can talk about it five years from now.”

On the way Posada was used last season

Joe Girardi: “When you’re a manager you’re asked to make some tough decisions. As a manager you’re always going to do what you feel is best to win a game. Maybe some of the things, when you look back you could have handled them differently. But the decisions you make are with the information you have that day. I was doing the best that I could. I don’t look back and say I have any regrets. I love Jorge Posada. Jorge Posada came up when I was a kid, and we shared so many great moments together. I’m not going to let one tough situation take away from the relationship that we have.”

Jorge Posada: “I don’t have an issue with (Girardi). I really don’t. It’s one of those things that, I felt like he was put there in front of this situation and he had to put me as a DH. I think it came from upstairs. I don’t have a problem with Joe… Talking to my wife during the season, and talking with Derek (Jeter) during the season, I knew that this was it. I told him and I told Laura that this was my last year, during the year. But that didn’t change my decision. If I would’ve caught, or I would’ve DH’d, that was probably it anyway.”

On Posada’s struggles last season

Mariano Rivera: “It was hard, definitely, but as a teammate, I have to support him and just give him the best advice I could give him because it’s hard when you in the game for so many years and all of a sudden you’re not involved in the game as you used to be. So, I mean, I think that’s why he made the decision.”

Derek Jeter: “It’s difficult to see any teammate struggle. Jorge’s like a brother to me. Anytime you see a family member go through tough times. It’s hard. I was proud of the way he bounced back and especially the way he finished last season… I tried to tell him to enjoy it. You want to enjoy it. I don’t think you ever want to play for that long and have such a great career and leave with a bad taste in your mouth or a bad feeling. I just really stressed with him to try to have fun as best he can.”

On not having Posada with the team next year

Mariano Rivera: “His fire, you know? His determination, his passion and his drive for the game. He always was pushing and pushing and pushing to get better. We’re definitely going to miss that, but also learn from that, that we had a guy who no matter what was the situation, whatever adversity he’s facing, he continued pushing. And that was Jorge.”

Derek Jeter: “It’ll be tough. It goes without saying on the field, you know somebody for that long, but I’ve been with him every day for 15 years, 16 years off the field to eat. So if any of you guys want to go eat on the road, let me know. It’s going to be pretty odd.

Jorge Posada: “I think some of the young kids (will step up to fill the leadership role). I think Robinson Cano, I think he’s going to step up. CC’s great. CC’s a great leader on the team. Teixeira is a great leader on the team. You’ve got Alex and you’ve got Derek and you’ve got Mo still, so their team is well covered… It’s going to be hard for me to watch a game, period. I’m going to watch still because I’ve got friends on the team and I want them to do well, obviously.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 60 Comments →

Yankees officially re-sign Andruw Jones01.25.12

The Yankees finally made this move official. Here’s the announcement. 

The New York Yankees today announced they have re-signed five-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award-winning outfielder Andruw Jones to a one-year Major League contract.

Jones, 34, batted .247 (47-for-190) with 27 runs, eight doubles, 13 home runs and 33 RBI in 77 games in his debut season with the Yankees in 2011, appearing in 39 games in left field, 19 games in right field and 16 games at designated hitter. He recorded his highest average, on-base percentage (.356) and slugging percentage (.495) since 2006. Following the All-Star break, he hit .291 (30-for-103), including a .344 (21-for-61) mark off left-handers in the second half. Overall, he batted .286 (36-for-126) off left-handed pitching with 16 of his 36 hits off lefties going for extra bases (eight doubles and 8HR).

Jones is a 16-year Major League veteran, appearing in 2,102 combined games with Atlanta (1996-2007), Los Angeles-NL (2008), Texas (2009), Chicago-AL (2010) and the Yankees (2011). He owns a .256 (1,887-for-7,366) career batting average with 376 doubles, 36 triples, 420 home runs and 1,255 RBI, and is one of four players all time—and the only active player—with at least 400 career home runs and 10 Gold Glove Awards, joining Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Ways and Mike Schmidt.

Originally signed by the Braves as a non-drafted free agent in 1993, Jones ranks 45th on Baseball’s all-time home runs list, hitting at least 25 homers in 10 consecutive seasons from 1998-2007 (tied for fourth-most such seasons among active players currently signed with a Major League team) and recording seven seasons of 30-or-more home runs. He has also collected at least 100 RBI in a season five times and scored at least 100 runs four times. He is a career .262 (497-for-1,894) batter against left-handed pitchers with 110 home runs.

Jones’s defense garnered him 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards with the Braves from 1998-2007, making him one of just five outfielders in Major League history to win the honor that many times – also Roberto Clemente (12), Willie Mays (12), Ken Griffey Jr. (10) and Al Kaline (10). Over the last three seasons (2009-11), has combined in left field and right field for a .987 fielding percentage (three errors, 233 total chances). He is a career .273 (65-for-238) batter in the postseason with eight doubles, 10 home runs and 34 RBI, appearing in 76 career playoff games.

A native of Willemstad, Curacao, Jones became the third player from Curacao to reach the Majors when he made his debut at 19 years, three months and 23 days old on August 15, 1996 with Atlanta, joining Yankees outfielder Hensley Meulens and Florida’s Ralph Milliard.

The Yankees’ 40-man roster now stands at 40.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 728 Comments →

Girardi: “It won’t be a seven or six-man rotation”01.25.12

For two days now, Brian Cashman has made it clear that he’s interested in trading away some of his excess pitching to add a bat. He said it during Monday’s conference call, and he said it again during Tuesday’s press conference.

“I think we’re going to look to trade some pitching first,” he said, “and explore if there are some matches that way before we even explore what the free agent opportunities are.”

But what if the Yankees can’t make a trade? What if they can’t find someone to take on A.J. Burnett’s salary, or can’t find legitimate value for Phil Hughes? What if they enter spring training with seven starters for five spots?

“I can tell you it won’t be a seven or six-man rotation,” Joe Girardi said. “It’ll be five. If we were going to leave today, we’d have to make some tough decisions by April. It’s something that we’re going to take time to evaluate. I’m in no hurry. I can tell you that CC is in our rotation, and that he’s going to start the first game of the year. But, in saying that, I’m not sure that everything is done before we go to Spring Training. Right now we’ve got seven starters, and we’re going to have to make some decisions.”

No surprise that Girardi said he expects Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova to be in the rotation, and clearly Hiroki Kuroda wasn’t signed for long relief, but Girardi also talked about pitchers earning their spots.

So what’s the rotation going to be?

“Who we think our best five starters are, and how our 12 man staff works the best,” Girardi said.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 106 Comments →

Possibility and opportunity01.25.12

Two comments from yesterday…

Brian Cashman: “The trade was certainly kind of unexpected, but an opportunity I felt was worth taking.”

Joe Girardi: “Trades are sometimes evaluated in the first week, first month, but I think this trade will take a while to evaluate.”

In this morning’s Pinch Hitter post, Bryan wrote about possibility and opportunity. When the offseason started, he focused on the possibility of next year. He saw names like Hamels and Cain and wanted the Yankees to be a position to go after those potential free agents.

Now that the offseason is reaching its final month, Bryan sees an opportunity, and he’s glad the Yankees took advantage.

I can’t tell you which free agents will actually be available next winter, but like Cashman said yesterday, an opportunity clearly presented itself and the Yankees decided to strike while the iron was hot.

I can’t tell you whether Michael Pineda will develop into a pitcher worth losing Jesus Montero, but like Girardi said yesterday, there’s absolutely no one in a position to answer that question right now.

“I like the additions that we’ve made,” Girardi said. “Obviously you want the strength of your club to be your pitching staff, in a sense, because it all starts with that. I think we’ve improved our rotation. We had a really good year last year and got a lot from our pitching staff. I think we’ve improved that.”

Maybe they could have waited until next winter and improved without losing Montero. It’s certainly possible. But an opportunity presented itself here and now, and the Yankees made their choice.

There are always possibilities. Opportunities, on the other hand, are in short supply.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 177 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Bryan Van Dusen01.25.12

Our next Pinch Hitter is Bryan Van Dusen, who was born in upstate New York a little past midnight on the night the Yankees won the 1977 World Series. “I’m sure my father resents me to some degree for missing the game due to my mother being in labor,” he wrote. Bryan now lives in Columbus, Ohio and says he gets “disgusted” looks when he wears his Yankees gear around town. He recently co-founded a Yankees blog called The Greedy Pinstripes.

For his guest post, Bryan looked back at his feelings at the beginning of this offseason, then he wrote about why he’s glad the Yankees didn’t settle on the strategy he initially wanted.

When C.J. Wilson was signed by the Angels, that was okay with me. When I found out how much Texas paid to negotiate with Yu Darvish, I was happy the Yankees weren’t as aggressive. I would have liked Mark Buehrle in pinstripes, but four years is a bit long for a guy about to enter his age 33 season, so again, no problem. As for trading for guys like Gio Gonzalez or Mat Latos? The Yankees could win in 2012 without them, so why deal away good/great prospects?

You see, I wanted the Yankees to be in position to go after one of the many good/great pitchers that could be free agents after the 2012 season; starters such as Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and Zack Greinke.

But there was, and is, a major problem with that thinking: Hamels, Cain, and Greinke may not be available to the Yankees, or anybody else, after the season.

Cain is about to enter his age 27 season, so it’s not like the Giants should be concerned about giving him an extension due to age. I could see Milwaukee wanting to bring back either Greinke or Shaun Marcum – or both — to go along with Yovani Gallardo. Although I don’t buy into all the talk that Hamels will eventually sign an extension, it’s certainly not because he isn’t worth it. The Marlins might also want to extend Anibal Sanchez, and guys like Gavin Floyd, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, and James Shields all have club options for 2013 that will likely be picked up.

Overall, there’s a decent chance that not one good/great pitcher will reach free agency after the 2012 season. For all those people pointing at CC Sabathia and saying, “we spent money on CC instead of trading for him, let’s do that again,” we’re in a different era, and we may not have that choice. Trading for somebody could very well be the best route to take, and doing so now may not be a bad idea at all.

Which brings us to January 13th, a day Yankees fans may never forget.

Jesus Montero could very well be a stud in the big leagues. In 61 MLB at bats last season he put up a triple-slash of .368/.406/.590, and it was all but certain he would be the team’s regular DH for 2012, and I was okay with that. But it’s not ideal to have a 22-year-old, full-time DH on a team that might need that spot for A-Rod, Jeter and possibly Teixeira sometime down the road. They say that when it comes to a talent like Montero, you find a spot for the guy, and the Yankees were doing exactly that. But it doesn’t mean it was a good spot, so if there was a way to improve the situation … go for it.

That’s exactly what Brian Cashman did.

Michael Pineda had an ERA last season of 3.74, which was 22nd among all qualified American League starters. His FIP of 3.42 was tied with James Shields for 11th. His K/9 of 9.11 was 2nd. Pineda could easily be a team’s No. 1 starter. Pair him with a guy named CC, and outside of Philadelphia I don’t think you’ll find a better 1-2 punch in all of baseball. Oh, and I should point out that Michael is only 23, and is under team control for another 5 years.

Can the offense survive without Montero? Yeah, something tells me they’ll be okay there. After all, they scored the second most runs in all of MLB last year, and did most of that without Montero, not to mention that A-Rod only played in 99 games and Teixiera had his worst offensive season since his rookie year.

So I’m happy about the trade. I’m also happy about signing Hiroki Kuroda for only one year at $10 million. I won’t get that much into why I’m pleased with the Kuroda signing, let’s just say that according to Fangraphs, Hiroki has been worth $13.225 million per season since he joined MLB. I believe his numbers will get a bit worse in the AL, but $10 million for only one season as the team’s No. 3 starter sounds just fine.

Waiting for next year’s free agent market might have seemed like a good strategy, but free agency is no sure thing, and the Yankees were right to strike when they had the opportunity.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 163 Comments →

Notes from a busy day in baseball01.24.12

That picture above was taken looking through the World Series trophies that were on display this afternoon. Kinda cool.

There was still a large group of reporters at Yankee Stadium when the Prince Fielder signing broke, and that generated some buzz, but most of the baseball focus in New York was on Jorge Posada.

Today’s press conference was well done, a nice celebration of Posada’s life and career. Of course Posada was emotional throughout — as Derek Jeter said, “He’s always emotional” — but that really added to the experience. Fire and passion really defined Posada as a player, and I don’t think anyone expected him to say goodbye without a few tears.

“Ever since I was a little kid, for as long as I could remember, all I wanted to do was be a major leaguer,” he said. “I played baseball for the New York Yankees, and that was all I could think of and dream of when I was a little kid.”

Very cool moment for Posada. Turned out, it was just part of a busy day throughout baseball.

• Guess the Tigers aren’t in the market for a DH anymore? They signed Fielder to a massive nine-year, $214-million contract. Apparently there’s a chance Miguel Cabrera is going to move back to third base to leave room for Fielder at first. However they make room for him, that’s a massive bat in that lineup.

• It’s not nearly as significant as the Fielder signing, but Tim Lincecum avoided arbitration with a two-year, $40.5-million deal. That’s a pretty huge contract in terms of average annual value. The Giants bought out his last two arbitration years, so he wasn’t going to hit the free agent market next winter anyway.

Cody Ross is off the market and heading to Boston where he’ll help to replace J.D. Drew, who is reportedly considering retirement. 

• Francisco Cordero is coming to the AL East, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Blue Jays. Ken Rosenthal says he’ll be the setup man for Sergio Santos. The Jays also signed Brandon Morrow to an extension. 

The A’s have finalized their one-year deal with Bartolo Colon. After signing a minor league deal with the Yankees last year, Colon could earn $2 million in Oakland this year.

• Speaking of short-term Yankees: Wilson Betemit has signed with Baltimore. Take him off the list of potential backup third basemen.

• Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes has reportedly gained residency in the Dominican Republic, meaning he’s taken the next step toward becoming an available player. I still don’t think the Yankees will be legitimate bidders.

• Major League Baseball announced today that retired Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa will serve as manager of the National League in this year’s all-star game. It will be the second time that a retired manager has managed an all-star team. The first was John McGraw who managed in N.L. in 1933 after retiring in 1932.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 548 Comments →

Is Rivera next in line?01.24.12

Jorge Posada was either kidding or speculating or letting the cat out of the bag.

Asked whether Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera would be the next to retire, Posada seemed to strongly hint that Rivera is planning to retire at the end of this season.

“Mariano said this is it,” Posada said. “He said he has one more year, but Derek said he’s got like three more to go.”

Of course someone followed up with a question about whether Posada believed Rivera would actually retire next winter.

“I don’t think so,” Posada said. “Especially the way he keeps playing.”

Predictably, Rivera wanted no part of the retirement conversation.

“I don’t think about it right now,” he said. “But the time will come for me when I’ll have to just admit it and hang the glove and the uniform and move on. So we all go through that.”

As for Jeter…

“Mo’s still got to go first,” he said. “He’s a lot older than me. Maybe after Mo retires.”

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 61 Comments →

Martin avoids arbitration with a one-year deal01.24.12

The Yankees just sent this announcement. The only arbitration-eligible player left on the Yankees roster is Boone Logan. 

The Yankees today announced that they have agreed with C Russell Martin on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, thus avoiding arbitration.

In 2011, Martin batted .237 (99-for-417) with 57R, 17 doubles, 18HR and 65RBI in 125 games (118 starts at catcher) in his first season with the Yankees. He led all Major League catchers with 35 baserunners caught stealing and was voted to his third career All-Star team.

Originally selected by the Dodgers in the 17th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Martin owns a career .267 (737-for-2,761) batting average with 404R, 132 doubles, 72HR and 365RBI in 792 combined games with the Dodgers and Yankees.

UPDATE, 7:12 p.m.: The Associated Press reports that Martin’s deal is worth $7.5 million, which is slightly less than the mid-point of the two sides proposed salaries.

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 105 Comments →

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