I have spent this offseason correcting, refuting and arguing various critiques of Astros GM Ed Wade this offseason. I’m tired of it. I’ve done it here, at BtB, FanGraphs, and via Twitter. Too much of my free time has been spent in this endeavor.
I have not expended this much effort because I’m a huge Ed Wade proponent (I think I'm more like Ed Wade’s saber-Switzerland). But I am a proponent of objectivity, factual correctness, and a believer in the importance of context in the evaluation of just about anything. Those are exactly the values that have made me a proponent of sabermetics.
None of those three have been given their due when Ed Wade has been mentioned in sabermetric circles this offseason. Dave Cameron, who really got the vitriol started this offseason, called it a bad joke. It is. It really, really is. Cameron was also a proponent of stopping the bad joke. That has not happened.
I can’t really blame people, either. What is easier than dumping on a guy with legendary stereotypes that are widely derided in the saber-community? The stories write themselves. What these canned stories don’t do is present a critique of Ed Wade in an objective fashion, either flirt or cross the line into presenting false information by either omitting or selecting certain stats/instances to cite, and generally never couch Ed Wade’s tenure as Astros GM in the context of the Astros franchise circa-September 2007 or the fact that Drayton McLane has a "champion’s" spirit.
Today, I’d like to do just that. In the process, I truly hope that this becomes the official "Eff-You" post to those who have, or will, write the "Ed Wade is total moron"-memed posts. I want to emphasize that I want this to be an "Eff-You" post. What originally attracted to me to sabermetrics was the fact that it values rationality, objectivity, contextualizing events, and that its common currency is facts. This "Eff-You" post addresses a specific instance of saber-writers abandoning those values in an effort to do…I don’t know what actually. I welcome anyone, and everyone, to refute any point I am about to make—I would love to open up that line of dialogue.
Ed Wade came to Houston in a very auspicious time for the Astros franchise. Tim Purpura was being canned in a year that saw him sign Carlos Lee to a 6yr/$100 million contract, Woody Williams to a 2yr/$12.5 million contract (both Type-A free agents), not re-sign Andy Pettitte, compensate by trading away two promising young pitchers and Willy Taveras for Jason Jennings, and then not sign a draft pick in the first four rounds of the draft. It was not a good year for the Astros. Thus, Ed Wade inherited a monstrously bloated contract in Woody Williams and a barren farm system that hadn’t been retooled in years.
Ed Wade didn’t just have a ledger sheet full of liabilities to deal with. He also had Drayton McLane handing down the following mandate: take a team with the worst farm system in the business and the oldest lineup and make it both a contender at the big league level and rebuild the minors. There Ed Wade stood, one day into the job with a fixed payroll of over $70 million (Purpura handed out no-trade clauses like they were going out of style), no room for losing draft picks, no grade A prospects to either trade or rely on, and a boss who didn’t care what the facts were.
We know what Wade has done in his tenure as the Astros GM. We know that he made something out of nothing with Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins, and pulled Alberto Arias and Jeff Fulchino out of AAAA purgatory as well. We also know that Oscar Villarreal, Kazuo Matsui, and Brandon Lyon were/are/will be overpaid for their production. We know that Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, and Brian Moehler were mainstays in the Astros rotation in 2009. We know that both Moehler and Jason Michaels will continue to have major league jobs, and make nearly $4 million between the two of them (Moehler had a sneaky little vesting option worth $3 million).
Some of that is inexplicable in today's world; a world enlightened by the principles of replacement level, advanced metrics, and basic economic theory that has been in place for over a hundred years. For signings like Lyon, Matsui, Villarreal, Moehler, and Michaels, Wade should draw criticism.
Let’s be very clear about what is being criticized. These writers should keep in mind that the most any of those players listed have ever made in a single season is $5.5 million. Also, the combined salary for Moehler, Lyon, Blum, Matsui and Michaels is $15 million, or $3 million per player. That $15 million will likely be spent between five players who will probably net around 1.8-2.5 WAR in 2010 is not something to applaud. But is spending $7.5 million more than two wins are worth enough to generate such ardent criticism?
The saber-snark surrounding those signings/deals annoys me (so do the signings themselves), but it’s not what is prompting this post. If it had just stayed at the FJM-snark-level, I wouldn’t even be annoyed. It has gone far past that, though. This offseason, saber-writers have continued to crucify Wade for not understanding the hopeless of the Astros situation at the big league level because win/revenue curves are not linear; blamed Wade for having a grossly high pay roll for the value it generates; and deride Wade for presiding over a team with a terrible farm system, or not having done enough to improve it in his tenure.
That is what is prompting this post, and I could probably elaborate, but I won’t. At this point, I’d like to just say: stop.
Let’s all just step back from the positioned of presumed righteousness. The critiques of Wade seem to all suffer from same logical fallacy of presuming what they set out to prove is true. We’re bloggers. Yes, some of us are incredibly smart, charming, and have actual contact with the front offices of the teams we cover. However, I, as an Astros blogger, highly doubt that any of us have actually been flies on the wall of Wade’s office. Most of us don’t really know what we’re talking about when we hash, re-hash, and then re-hash again the tired and worn out critiques of Wade. No one really knows what his marching orders are. Nor does anyone really seem to be concerned about couching a critique of Wade with the relevant factors that likely influence his decision-making and organizational management.
Nowhere have I seen a disclaimer about the damage the Purpura years did to the franchise, or for that matter, the effects of Hunsicker’s willingness to mortgage part of the Astros future to win in 2004. Somehow, all of this is just glossed over—especially Hunsicker. What is never glossed over are a handful of bad, but not franchise busting/totally unreasonable, contracts that Ed Wade has given to older, non-saber darlings to in the last two years.
What is also never discussed is the fact that Ed Wade probably doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room on the whole rebuilding front (which apparently, in common saber-parlance, now means blowing up the big league franchise for prospects…a strategy that time and time again has proved successful…where?). It is easy to forget that Drayton McLane effectively ran Gerry Hunsicker out of town if you are not a fan of the team that got hosed in that process. Let’s remember that Hunsicker was run out of town because Drayton McLane believed he knew best. Hunsicker fought back and was promptly shown the door. In the years that have passed, there is no indication that McLane has relented from his hands-on approach to his team.
There also is little or no credit given to the fact that Wade hired Bobby Heck and then convinced McLane to actually take the draft seriously (this is an amazing accomplishment). The result of these efforts has seen the Astros net two A- prospects and slew of B+/B prospects in just two drafts. Further, saber-snarks also overlook the fact that in 2010 the Astros will have a bounty of first round picks.
I have spent an untold number of hours of my life reading, re-reading, and studying sabermetric publications. I have a degree in economics, so I’m also certifiably trained in this kind of thinking. I consider myself to be a "believer." When it comes to Ed Wade, where has the objectivity gone? If we really get down to brass tacks and evaluate Wade in the context of his tenure as the Astros GM—the Pupura years, Drayton McLane, etc.—what has he really done that makes him such a laughable GM? By my count it has been to spend probably a total of $40 million over five years on seven players that, on the whole, will probably slightly underperform their value. And that’s only if we consider bad contracts.
Now, I have only been in saber circles for about four years now, so I’m a noob of sorts, but I’m pretty sure that is not the description of the worst GM in baseball. When Ed Wade’s collective body of work—with the Astros—is taken into account, it’s not a stretch that he probably grades as average. Yet, somehow, he is the boogeyman.
Ed Wade, I know, had a reputation coming from Philly. But, Ed Wade is not the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies anymore. He is the general manager of the Houston Astros; a franchise that has entire history totally independent of Wade’s hiring. Is he a great GM? No. Is he a bad GM? Also no.
So how then do we explain the Ed Wade derision this offseason? My informed and logical opinion is that Wade has been the target of pernicious stereotypes that have been bolstered by flawed assumptions, evidence, and arguments by so called guardians of saber-truth. As such, the question I have to pose would have to be: Is Wade really a bad GM or have those same guardians of saber-truth missed their mark?