Valbuena an underappreciated cog in Cubs rebuilding plan

Valbuena an underappreciated cog in Cubs rebuilding plan

It may have not been the most popular opinion the past 2+ years, but I have gone to the mat for Luis Valbuena more than once on this blog.

I understand he's a fringe starter and probably belongs in a utility role, but apart from Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, the whole team is made up of fringe starters/utility players.  Yet it's been Valbuena who has symbolized Cubs fans frustrations.  He's often thought of as the roadblock when it comes to getting young players in the lineup.

Maybe we should think of him as the bridge.

Valbuena embodies the Cubs grind it out philosophy.  He makes pitchers work, seeing an outstanding 4.29 pitches per plate appearance. he takes walks at an amazing rate (15.9%), gets on base (.381 OBP), and he plays outstanding defense, ranking among the best 3Bs in baseball as measured by UZR/150.  He has ranked 6th in all of baseball since 2012 for 3B with more than 1500 innings.

He does the grunt work, the stuff that people don't see.  If he hit .300 or hit 30 HRs, fans would love him -- but every team needs these kinds of grinders who do the behind the scenes stuff that helps you win.  He’s the equivalent of the basketball player who sets the picks, plays D, and gets that big rebound when you need it.  In terms of WAR, Valbuena is the Cubs 3rd best position player behind Castro and Rizzo.

Valbuena held the fort at 3B until the Cubs were ready to commit to Mike Olt on a near everyday basis.  He has now made the seamless transition to 2B where he is once again playing well above average defense 28.4 UZR/150), albeit in a very small sample size of 91 innings.

With Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez still adjusting to AAA and Stephen Bruno still down at AA, Valbuena is once again providing a bridge until those prospects are ready.  But it won't be long until fans start clamoring for Baez, Alcantara, or even Bruno to take over 2B. Until then, he'll just continue to do the unsung work of a grinder and be the veteran glue that holds that infield together.  On a young team, Valbuena provides leadership and the visual framework for the philosophy that this front office preaches.

I can assure you that the front office, his manager, and his teammates appreciate what Luis Valbuena brings to the table.  It's time fans start to appreciate it as well.


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  • Could not agree more. I would like to see him be one of our key bench players when we get to the World Series.

  • In reply to Cubs69:

    Agreed1 I do hope he stays with the team in some kind of role.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    With the nature of how MLB contracts increase though, won't he become a very expensive utility/bench player not too far down the road?

  • In reply to Bender13:

    not necessarily. arbitration hearings generally pay people for the basic stats such as AVG, HR, SB, RBI; pitchers get paid on wins, ERA, saves, and maybe WHIP. players like Valbuena who provide value the ways he does (OBP, defense, veteran leadership) generally don't make as much through the arb process as they probably should to be honest

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    In reply to briney212:

    Service time plays a factor as well. Barney, for example, stood to make about 2.5 or 3 mil his first time around and I believe settles with the team at 2.2. Despit his PT role this year, he'd likely get a raise next winter unless he's non-tendered.
    Also, at this point in time, I don't think a pitcher's W-L record effects ANY salaries, arbitration or otherwise. Nobody in the game puts any stock into that stat anymore. I think John will back me up on this

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree with you too, but you may be giving him a little bit too much love. LOL! Guys like us we know how valuable Valbuena is. Not sure you'll talk the meatballs on your side of the argument which I'm guessing this blog was intended to reach. Valbuena is a good solid ball player, and on a legit world series contending team a valuable utility infielder who gets 350 PA's a season.

  • In reply to Johnny Hatelak:

    Sure, I never said any differently. He's a role player, but that doesn't mean he isn't a good ballplayer.

  • He's having a very good year so far. Hopefully he can help mentor the kids as they come up.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    He was pretty solid last year too. Just a good player. He's the equivalent of the basketball player who sets the picks, plays D, and gets that big rebound when you need it.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Role player.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    The key word is so far. Career wise he will probably end up at the .215/.300 he has always been at. If we can keep Bonafacio & Valbuena around as future utility players that would bode well for our bench and the teams competitiveness overall.

    I think most get frustrated with Valbuena playing because it shows how far we have to go talent wise. We all clamor for Olt or Lake (as an example) because if they would happen to click then we would have future stars on our hand.

    That being said Valbuena continues to do a solid consistent job for the Cubs.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    I agree with this 100%. Valbuena is finally starting to hit the ball well this year. If he can keep his Avg/Slugging around the .250/.400 mark this year, most Cubs fans would gladly let him take the majority of starts at 2B. Some of the difference of opinion with Valbuena is that some people are so slavishly stuck on OBP as some kind of "God's definition of a good player' that those who see the inconsistent (poor) hitting over the last 2 years beg to differ. It's not personal, just that most players who have a good OBP are because they are dangerous hitters. Pitchers are less comfortable throwing them strikes. Guys who hit .220/.340 with good plate discipline are a little over-rated as offensive players.

    I like Luis and believe he can maintain the .400 slugging he's at this year, although it will be a big improvement over his past. He looks more and more comfortable up there at the plate. But if he regresses to the old weak hitting player, yes, people will continue to clamor for someone else to play.

  • Forgive for harping, but he does from the left side as well. A strong need with all the big right side studs pushing up from the farm.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Yes -- good point, even more value.

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    Jed Hoyer was very high on him in his press conference the other day. He's OPSing .815 this year which is just insane and a WRC+ of 125, also very high. Those numbers are up sharply from last year and have had a general upward trend. He's incredibly underrated.

  • You read my mind. I thought about this today when I saw Lake batting #2 today again which really irks me. I think this should be Valbuena's line-up spot until proven otherwise. I get the desire for speed in the 2 slot, but Lake isn't a great basestealer and his OBP and K-rate are terrible for a 2-hitter and he doesn't see the amount of pitches that Valbuena does.

  • In reply to Da Ivy:

    Agreed. Only thing I can think of is they are trying to get Lake more fastballs.

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    In reply to Da Ivy:

    I think (not that I agree, necessarily) that it has more to so with LH/RH balance. With Boni leading off and Rizzo entrenched in the 3-hole, I think RR is trying to keep a RH in the 2-hole (and also most likely trying to protect Lake, as John mentions). But personally I think Valbuena would be our best bet at 2.

  • His bat flip alone makes him valuable to this team

  • In reply to NathanE:


  • Personlly - I hope the Cubs go out of their way to keep Valbuena on the team in a UT role even after Baez/Alcantara/Bruno or whomever makes it as an everyday player.

    He doesn't really hurt a team anywhere (other than not having a stellar Batting Average or tons of power), and he can legitamately cover 3B, 2B and play an adequate SS as well in a pinch.

  • Great read, John. I couldn't have said it better. I get so annoyed when those who call themselves Cub fans, dump on the team's best contributors because they don't have stats they think marks a good player.

    These are the same people who wanted Baez and Soler brought up in April, and are now declaring them busts as they struggle a bit making adjustments they learn their craft.

  • In reply to Sheboygan Frank:

    Thanks Frank!

    Fans can be fickle.

  • Chris Cotillo ‏@ChrisCotillo 2m
    RHP Julio Rodriguez, who has spent time in minors with BAL and PHI, has been purchased by the #Cubs from the @BPTBluefish.

    Don't know anything about him or where he'll be assigned, but he's all ours.

  • I suspect that LV has not been particularly popular because for three years he has been one of the most visible symbols of the White Flag Rebuild, a rebuild involving losing by design and, as you say, involving several starters who are simply not MLB starters, but bench players. Hard to get behind 2012 and 2013 lines of .219/.310/.340 and .218/.331/.434 for 3B. He strikes out a ton and while he's having far better year so far this season (264/381/434), he's hitting a paltry .185 RISP.

    So he's an easy target for fans' frustrations. But he is what he is, and you are right that he's a grinder, clearly well-liked by his teammates and a leader. You gotta love his attitude. And he has been steadily improving each year. So I'm certainly pulling for him to keep it up this year and, like Cubs69 says, it would be nice to see him as our of key bench guys when we're finally thumping the league because he certainly does have a lot to offer as a role player.

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    In reply to TTP:

    As the Cardinals are proving this year, hitting with RISP is more about luck than anything. But if you're really concerned about his actual performance, his RE24 suggests that he's been worth 6.01 runs more than an average starter so far this year. As a means of comparison, Rizzo is 9.66. So he's doing quite well.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    That's interesting because so far this year we've heard more about the Cubs' terrible team RISP AVG (.201) as being perhaps the primary reason for our last place record. So we're just unlucky?

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    In reply to TTP:

    A little but there are deeper problems. As a whole the team is only hitting .237, so .201 with RISP is not particularly unlucky. I suspect there's some sequencing happening there, too. I don't know this for sure but my guess is many of our runners in scoring position this season are the result of Rizzo and Castro. Since they can't hit while they're on base, lesser hitters are stranding them.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    a couple games ago we had Baker(who had a very good game last night) Barney Schierholtz & Olt plus the pitcher all hitting under .200 I saw that and I thought I cant remember a team with that many mendoza guys in one lineup a quarter of the way into the season.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    We need a stat for runners in scoring position with the game outcome still to be determined. It seems to me that many hit ok with risp in blowouts. I don't mean just this team as the Cubs have had players in the past who are good at piling on, but unable to get the big hit.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Those stats are available on baseball reference dot com under splits. they break it wayyyy down.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    The Cards lost that luck in the World Series last year and have yet to regain it. Much to my amusement.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Performance with RISP is largely a myth, that is not a real gauge of performance.

    Valbuena's OPS and defense last year made him a viable starter. It's time we stop focusing in batting average and look at the whole player -- and on this team, he is the best position player other than Castro and Rizzo, better than Olt, better than Lake. I think if you love the game of baseball beyond traditional stats, then you can appreciate Valbuena as a player without qualifications.

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    Valbuena is a great litmus test for Cubs knowledge. If you're talking to a Cub fan and they complain about Valbuena, odds are they really don't follow the Cubs very well

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    I wouldn't mind, assuming a prospect pushes him off 2nd, seeing him move to LF to get ABs. He would probably be our best offensive outfielder right now, and I'm sure he could handle it defensively.

  • In reply to Matt McNear:

    Once ABs in the infield become limited because of the prospects, I have little doubt that Luis V will see some time in LF. I'm anticipating the uproar when he ends up sharing time there with Mike Olt next year.

  • In reply to Matt McNear:

    A sad,... but true observation Matt.

  • "he takes walks at an amazing rate (15.9%)"

    And there's the problem. He's clogging up the bases!

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:


  • You may be underrating Valbuena here. He's got solid 1st division numbers right now so if he keeps it up he will push those prospects to the OF. I don't think its a coincidence we started winning more when Barney went to the bench and LVstarted more at 2b.

  • I was looking at his stats yesterday and it surprised me that he is 3rd best position player according to WAR. I don't have a problem with him playing everyday at 2B. Barney adds 0 to the offensive output for Cubs and Valbuena at least is a threat to get on base every time he steps up to the dish. Only justification I see for having Barney out there is as a late game defensive replacement.
    Thanks for the article!

  • In reply to Tide23:

    I agree. Set Luis at 2B, Emilio at CF, and Barney as a super-sub.

  • I've always like Valbuena. I wish his back of the card type numbers were better so the rabble would be more accepting, esp his BA. But it is what it is, and this FO gets that. He has been better than any of the Cubs OFs this year and he is playing good D in the infield.

  • Good points John! I think Luis Valbuena is worthy of a MLB roster spot on any of the 30 teams in MLB. And, for now, he is worthy of being our starting second baseman and, hopefully, RR will keep running him out at 2nd every day w/ an occasional day off.

    As you indicate, we only have two MLB worthy starters in Castro & Rizzo. Olt may or not get there but the rest are fill in/utility players. With that being the case, I don't think Chris Bosio gets near enough credit for the job he's done w/ the pitching staff. I know he gets some credit but when you consider we only have two legit bats in our starting line up, it becomes highly apparent the burden that is placed on our pitching staff. Yet, Bosio some how gets the best out of guys like Maholm, Feldman, Hammel, etc. and is doing a great job of developing guys like Samardzija, Wood, Rondon, Schilitter, Ramirez, etc. Think how poor our pitching coaches were after Rothschild left! And, IMO, Big Chris has done a better job than Rothschild ever did as our pitching coach.

  • In reply to Pepitone8:

    To my mind, whether Bosio would be back was the most important question of the off season. I was not nearly as worried about who would be the manager as I was over the possibility that Bosio might not be back.

  • In reply to Pepitone8:

    I think Wellington is also a MLB worthy starter.

  • In reply to John57:

    Definitely - I missed Welly!

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    I think the same people who bag on Valby are the same ones who will make any excuse for Darwin Mendoza, um, I mean Barney.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Barney looks up at Mendoza and dreams.

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    While most people agree he could be seen as "fringy" at 3B but at 2B his offensive numbers look much, MUCH better. Add above-average defense and there is literally zero reason why he shouldn't be the every-day guy at 2B over Barney until the prospects are ready. And that seems to be what's happening.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    We need to lock up Barney so that fans have a 'whipping boy'.

  • I am not sure who complains about Valbuena anymore. I dug him last year as a platoon player at 3B. This year he is proving to be a quality utility player on a competing team and a star on the Cubs team. I am not sure if his average is sustainable, but if he can continue to see pitches and get on base I would be thrilled to keep him around for the long haul.

    I just wonder if he would be a valuable trade chip down the road. Throwing him into a deal with a pitcher may allow us to get a little more at the deadline. I could see him as very beneficial to a competing club.

  • I've been saying it for over a year and a half as well. If he doesn't start full time here, Val-B deserves to start somewhere. And, he is valuable, as he can play 2nd and 3rd base pretty darn well.

    Fukudome is/was a great comparison batting wise with Val-B, in my opinion, and think of the value Fukudome would have had if he played 2b and 3b like Valbeuna?

    (And, I still think Luis hits 15 or 20 bombs over a full year, facing lefties and righties, with a ton of walks, and an average of .250. Sign me up)

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    I like the comp to Fukudome (at least in his early years). I still remember an article highlighting how Fukudome changed the hitting philosophy of the Cubs and they began taking a lot more pitches. I see Valbuena doing the same thing this year.

  • Every team, in any sport, has a key role player that does his job
    and makes things happen.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:


  • OT but who else out there sees what Hammel did yesterday dramatically increasing his trade value. He just beat Tanaka and the evil empire. Who in the AL East would want a pitcher like that?

  • In reply to John57:

    I agree, though I hope Shark is even more dominant today. That could make Sanchez and Stroman seem more feasible to the Jays (and thereby increase value from others as well).

  • In reply to springs:

    I wouldn't mind trading Hammel. I think that is why he was signed. But I would like to extend Jeff it at all possible. I like Jeff better than Sanchez and Stroman.

  • Nice to see Luis have a good game last night.

    If I remember correctly, Valbueana hit over .300 in the minors every year, so maybe he is finally figuring out some things at this level and maybe becoming more of the offensive threat he was in the minors.

  • Alluded to above, Ricky continues to put players in the wrong spots in the lineup. I would recommend this:

    Bonifacio S
    Valbuena L - OBP, seeing a lot of pitches.
    Rizzo L
    Castro R
    Olt R - Slugging and patience - just try it.
    Castillo R - Protect Olt some, separate the youth.
    Lake R - Let him mature down here.
    Kalish L - Schierholtz has no future here, let him sit.

    I might even suggest flipping Rizzo and Castro, but why mess with something that's sort of working. Inevitably, Olt should bat cleanup with Castro 5th and eventually even lower.

  • The fact that the casual fan not only under appreciates but actively rails against Valbuena is a result of exactly what Dave Cameron was talking about in the Fangraphs article you posted the other day.

  • in the minors valbuena hit .283/.350, barney .288/.337,
    Castillo .265/.330 its a calculated crap shoot on who develops......

    interesting to look at junior lake and david Ortiz first 400 big league PA

    junior PA 380, avg .276, SO%31, BB% 5, HR 11.
    david PA 400, avg .265, SO%29, BB% 11, HR 10
    except for walk rate they are the same player their first 3/4 of first season. Walk rate is very important but you just never know with young guys who will make adjustments.

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    In reply to bleachercreature:

    Big difference, since Valby, for example, didn't have the luxury of playing at one of the top collegiate programs in the country like Barney did. Comparing minor league stats like they're in a vacuum is silly. Those stats are accumulated at different levels at very different points in a player's development

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    His approach is great. Mike Quade of all people told me one day when I was covering the Iowa Cubs (he was the manager at that time) that he thought fringe players were the ones that benefit the most from being grinders or having a disciplined approach at the plate. I don't think its limited to fringe players, but Valbuena is an example of a guy who makes himself valuable because he has good at bats.

  • Valbuena's also improved at the plate every year he's been with the Cubs. It might not be too much of a stretch to figure the production he's putting up is sustainable, especially given that he's in his prime.

  • In reply to Jim Weihofen:

    I feel the same way, Jim. The more consistently he has played, the better he has become. It may not be a fluke so much that he is simply progressing and developing as a hitter.

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    I don't know if there is a more worthless stat than pitcher W's but for the love of God let's get one for Shark today! If for no other reason than him being referred to as: "the win-less MLB ERA leader, Jeff Samardzija"!

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    Off topic John but have you heard if any other team besides Toronto that the cubs are scouting, or that is scouting shark?

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    In reply to SKMD:

    Interestingly enough, I have heard the Yankees are interested, although I don't think they have what it takes to get it done and Hammel might be a better target for them.

  • John, you are absolutely correct about Luis V. i noticed last year and a carry over to this year, that he has a plan at the plate and shows his younger teammates on the right approach. also, i have noticed during BP he has RR/Bozello throw different pitches based upon the pitcher he is facing that day. also, playing regularly is very beneficial and this again he would be more appreciative on a team that was contending and he i do believe this year will be his last with the Cubs.

  • Luis V is what he is. Hes a benc h player , and a valuable one. Problem is, on this team right now hes a starter, and his weaknesses are too exposed when he has to start a lot.

  • Kiley McDaniel at Scout released his mock draft. He has the Cubs taking Aaron Nola with Rodon, Kolek, Aiken going 1-3. Says aside from Nola that Gordon, Jackson and Finnegan are still being considered. But he has Jackson slipping to the Mets at #10.

  • Valbuena with another hit, and another run scored again today along with some solid defense.

    How can you NOT like the guy?

  • Oh my god, poor Shark, he's going to need to go complete game shutout to get is first win.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I'm livid right now. Ricky's "closer" puts the first three men on base, including a walk - why is he still in the game? Then Barney muffs a badly needed double play, and Rizzo doesn't have the sense to come off the base and make sure that throw doesn't get by and let the tying run score. This isn't a "talent" issue, it's a BRAINS issue. What a dumbazz way to throw away a good ballgame!

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    In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I had a real bad feeling after the Castro DP, especially given that they'd already squandered Bonifacio's leadoff triple.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It didn't calm me down any to see Barney lead off the bottom of the 9th, either.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    JS is the best SP in baseball right now and yet no wins. I've been following baseball for 60+ years and never seen anything like it.

  • ViaJim Callis: Max Pentecost keeps rising up @MLBdraft boards. Not impossible he goes in top 10 & heard Cubs prez Theo Epstein checked him out today.

  • In reply to Javier Bryant:

    Yes, I saw that. I will have an article up on it later. Talked to some people, a little mixed opinion.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Looking forward to reading it

  • Veras.
    Why is he still wearing a Cubs uniform?
    Release the bum and bring back Blake Parker already!!

  • That's a great piece. It seems like Luis is really feeling it as an everyday guy right now. I'll be crushed if he gets moved around the deadline. Like you said though, he's invaluable.

    After today's debacle I doubt Veras will be used in a high leverage spot for some time. Villanueva never pitches. Its a shame that those guys are veteran glue guys because their roster spots are hurting the team.

    Vizcaino time. Hatley time. Parker time. Somebody.

  • Well, that wasn't fun... Despite a season long run differential of 0, Cubs are 12 games under. Despite a 1.46 ERA in 10 starts, Shark has zero wins. The Cubs are now an astounding 4-18 in 1-2 run games. Let that soak in a bit. 4-18 in close games. How is that possible? Clearly, we're using some position players that aren't MLB quality, but it's still hard to fathom that kind of record in close games. I know Ricky is learning on the job, but don't a lot of close losses have to fall at his feet? An example is his use of the bullpen last night. With a 5 run lead, shouldn't you use your long guy? Instead of 5-6 different relievers? And did he need to use Rondon last night? And did it impact Rondon's outing today?

    I'm wondering out loud at what point we decide that Barney is worth a roster spot. His glove has always been good, but he certainly needs to take responsibility for today's outcome. Ditto for Veras. Time to cut bait?

    But my biggest beef has to be the bunting. We were lucky last night, as it didn't affect the outcome, but failing twice with our "safety squeeze" efforts caused me to make up some new swear word combinations. Bunting means giving up outs. Outs are bad in baseball... And the math has clearly proven, beyond any shadow of a doubt that bunting is stupid strategically. I would grant you that there might be a specific case where it might makes sense ------ for example, a very good bunter at the plate, a speedy runner on third, late game situation, close ballgame, in dire need of a run... That is one unique situation that might call for it (Bonifacio successfully executed in that exact scenario today). Another specific example is bunting against the exaggerated shift ---- which Rizzo has done a couple times lately. And I would argue he should do in certain specific situations ---- leading off an inning, down a couple runs, late in a game... Outside of very, very few specific situations like that ---- STOP BUNTING! It is stupid.

    I like Ricky and he seems to have developed a good relationship with the guys and clearly several of the key pieces are playing well. But 4-18 in close games is difficult to comprehend. It may be my imagination, but it sure seems like Ricky is one move behind most of his counterparts. We end up with a lefty hitter against the other team's LOOGY. And our lefties end up facing righties far too often. And, while I know our bench is short, he burns guys too early and in less than optimum spots. He has also (at least twice) had pitchers bat, then replaced them prior to pitching again. With a short bench, he could at least use Wood or Shark (guys that have the ability to hit) in those spots ---- if he isn't going to use an actual pinch hitter.

    The Barney era should be over. The Veras era (which never really started) should come to a close sooner rather than later. Obviously, I hope the reinforcements start making their way to Wrigley, in the form of the "Core 4" and others. But I also sincerely hope that Ricky starts learning from his mistakes too......

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