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Pondering Ed Wade, The Trade Deadline and GM Evaluation

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The weight of a franchise is on your shoulders, Ed Wade.
The weight of a franchise is on your shoulders, Ed Wade.

Two days ago, I asked everyone to grade Ed Wade on his tenure as the General Manager of the Houston Astros. Evan had originally asked the question after Wade had been the GM for one and half seasons and the plurality of us gave him a B. A year later, the prevailing opinion gave him a C. The margin in both years between a B and C was slim, so it seems that only the slightest of tilts, if any, occurred between years (given the likely large margin of error). Now, with Ed Wade probably in the most critical situation he will ever face as an Astros GM, all eyes are on the man at the helm. As some of you pointed out two days ago, perceptions of Wade will likely shift—drastically so, I'll estimate—once 11:59 PM EDT on July 31st passes.

When I decided to have everyone grade Wade again, I considered holding off until after the deadline, but I realized that the trade deadline will likely exacerbate a far too subjective polarization amongst us. Thus, the results wouldn't generate a real barometer for the opinions we hold of Wade's holistic body of work, but, rather, two—possibly three—deadline trades that do or do not get done.

It is an understandable reaction, though. I don't know if there is anything I enjoy more than the unbridled joy of putting together a number of trade packages and hashing out the pluses and minuses of them no matter how far-fetched they may be. A close second is reacting to the trade or signing that does take place. In this vein, over a dinner of delicious, delicious wings, Evan and I hashed out our takes on the Oswalt trade situation for two solid hours (between bouts of Evan nearly devolving into a frightened three year old talking about taking the bar in six short, short days). Somewhere amidst our gluttony of both stomach and tongue, Evan said one thing that caused me to fall deep in thought on the drive home: "What Ed Wade does in the next week will likely completely shape my opinion on his tenure."

I am not sure if I will find myself in that camp, though. I'll explain why after the jump.

As saber-slanted as we tend to be around here, one thing we constantly harp on is the importance of sample-sizes. That caveat is an important qualifier to consider in far more important contexts than baseball stats-something that has been drilled into my brain during my social science education. In fact, my dad, a financial analyst, and I got into a fairly esoteric discussion on various thresholds for sample sizes in business dealings as compared to PAs/IPs/fielding chances, etc. the other night. It was that conversation, coupled with Evan's comment, that brought a lot into focus for me.

Saberists love to analyze, dissect, assign value, declare winners and losers, etc. to just about every move a GM makes and from there proselytize on how good, bad, awful, or godlike a GM is. Jack Z was a god amongst mere mortals this offseason, Billy Beane once had a Midas touch, and Minaya, Wade, and Dayton Moore are a bunch dunder-headed neanderthals. I am intentionally trying to play up both the fallacy and the grain of truth that exists in some recent evaluations of GMs, but I also want to beg the question(s): Do we ever really get a meaningful enough sample on GM's to say such things? And if we do or don't, what would meaningful sample be?

Perhaps more insidious than even the sample size caveat is the question: do we really even have all of the information necessary to objectively understand the data we are analyzing? Colin Wyers has gotten a lot of mileage and great discussion out of opining on whether or not we can even measure fielding in such away that metrics such as UZR or DRS are even worth looking at. The main issue, from Wyers' perspective, is inherent biases in the data and methodology. In the context of GMs, we have no indication of what their owners are and are not allowing them to do, what all the proposed packages were, and how other parties were impacting the negotiations. All of these are crucial factors in understanding how we came to collect a data point so that we can accurately analyze it in the context of the bigger picture.

Those are two methodological issues I wish for to keep on my mind as the next week progresses and we try to keep pace with all the news and rumors. There are also factors that simply take time to evaluate and cannot be foreseen in the present. For example: Bourn for Lidge looked downright awful for a year. Tejada for the farm and Luke Scott caused quite the controversy as well. Keppinger for Drew Sutton made me want to burn MMP down momentarily. Commentators mocked Wade for signing Myers, and, to the same commentators, the Lyon contract was ridiculed as possibly the worst contract of the offseason. No one thought Randy Wolf or LaTroy Hawkins would be worth the now forgotten prospects dealt. I could go on and on and on. Yes, we have trade value calculators that allow us to say, in a quantified fashion, what the relative values being traded or acquired may be, but we do not have infallible tools to say much with certainty at the time.*

As we wait with bated breath to see where Roy Oswalt, Brett Myers, Jeff Keppinger, and Wandy Rodriguez may or may not end up, I want to keep myself attuned to the line of thought I am trying to explicate. I need to remember that if I could have graded Ed Wade after December, I would have considered giving him a C. If I had been able to grade him at the trade deadline in 2008, it would have been an F. However, when I was given an appropriate amount of time to see the deals and signings take shape this year, and last year, I gave Wade a B both times. Yes, last year it was a straight B and this year a B-, but I don't think much about the fundamental direction Wade is trying to take the Astros has changed. The minus this year simply denotes my disappointment in course Wade is choosing navigate to his endpoint.

After this week, the faint outline of a plan we have seen forming will likely be much clearer, but I do not believe the results of this week should drastically alter our perception of Wade. Instead of drastic shifts, we will be only one, two, or three data point(s) closer to getting a true picture of Wade's capabilities and it will take much more time and data points to truly understand what the new data gained will ultimately mean. Further, their meaning will not be confined solely to their long-term outcome either. What Wade does in the offseason, the next draft, and the next deadline, all combined with the outcome of previous drafts, signings, and trades, will ultimately shape the narrative will tell of this trade deadline and the prior trajectory Wade charted to get there.

*I do not want to discount the valuable analysis that can come from trade valuations, etc. Lord knows that I love this avenue of analysis more than most things on this planet. But winners and losers aren't ever really declared until we gain the benefit of hindsight. The more I have pondered what I am trying to say, the more I feel like we have a Malcom Gladwell Outliers issue on our hands.