Now that Ed Wade has been defended against the fans looking for someone to blame for the debacle that is the 2011 Astros, it is time to lay siege and tear down the walls. For every up there is a down, for every to there is a fro, and everything else one can learn from Merlin in the moat.
While it is true that Wade walked into an unenviable situation by taking over the Astros in late 2007, he is paid to do a job with the resources he is given, the same as every other hard-working man or woman. A case can be built showing that Ed Wade took a bad situation and quite possibly made it worse.
The sources for this article were Baseball Almanac, Baseball Prospectus, MLB Trade Rumors, Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Fangraphs, and of course, Wikipedia.
P.S. Sorry for the length. It’s hard to do justice to this subject without elaborating.
EVER HEARD OF MONEYBALL?
It is obvious to a modern baseball fan that Ed Wade’s staff relies on outdated methods for scouting and evaluating players. Scouting is an invaluable tool, but it is not the only tool. Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball, about the early 2000’s Oakland A’s, opened the curtain on a fledgling industry of statistics and sabermetrics that have revolutionized baseball more than old-school baseball execs would like to admit.
In various places below, this article illustrates how Wade’s group whiffed on even the basics of using statistics to evaluate players.
As shown in an earlier post, the Wade-era Astros have left their mark as one of the most absolutely and abhorrently abysmal clubs in the history of baseball at getting on base. Getting on base is good, if the players want to, you know, score runs and stuff. The basic stat of On-Base Percentage (OBP) is one of hundreds of metrics available to quantitatively judge players.
For starting pitchers, it has been common for years to calculate a pitcher’s effectiveness while disregarding team defense. The simplest (and one of the oldest) measures for this is Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP. FIP is measured on roughly the same scale as ERA, so if one looks at an ERA of 5.00 and says, “That’s bad,” then one can say the same for a FIP of 5.00.
Another commonly used measurement is the concept of grading a player in terms of the number of Wins he is worth, compared to an utterly average player who neither hurts nor helps his team. In this article, Fangraphs’ WAR is the metric used to illustrate this
THE NEVER ENDING QUEST FOR A ROTATION…
The Ed Wade Astros have featured a revolving door in the starting rotation for his entire tenure. For the most part, this time is filled with a sequence of bad pitchers, injured veterans, and large contracts. Better options were available at the time these pitchers were signed, some for similar money, some for less. It is obvious that Wade wanted to catch lightning in a bottle with some of these signings, perhaps with the hope of trading them for minor-league talent. But more often than not, the pitchers he gambled on were the ones that should have been sent to the glue factory years prior.
STATS? WE DONT NEED NO STINKING STATS!
- Prior to the 2008 season, Wade tried to patch the rotation by extending Brian Moehler and signing Shawn Chacon as a Free Agent. Chacon was released after beating up Wade in the team cafeteria mid-season.
- Prior to the 2009 season, Wade signed Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz, and most fans said, “Wait, they’re still alive?” Predictably, neither had a revival with the Astros that season. Between 2003 and the day Ortiz signed with the Astros, he missed 194 games due to injury. In that same time period, Hampton missed 585 games!
- Prior to the 2010 season, Wade acquired Brett Myers. Myers surprisingly went on to have a career year. His career stats indicated that 2010 was likely a statistical fluke, and 2011 is proving this.
- Finally, Wade patchworked the 2011 season by handing the fifth starter role to Nelson Figueroa. To keep Figueroa honest, he signed starters Ryan Rowland-Smith and Gustavo Chacin, who had not pitched more than 90 innings in the majors since 2005.
The table below shows the pitchers mentioned above, along with their FIPs for the five previous seasons before Wade signed (or re-signed) them. WAR/Y represents their average WAR over that time span, and DL represents the average number of games missed due to injury over that time.
WAIT, YOU PAID THEM HOW MUCH?
- Hampton: $2MM, though he had not pitched since 2005.
- Chacon: $2MM. That’s a lot of money for a guy with a career ERA of 5.00 and who would eventually beat Wade up.
- Myers’ Extension in 2010: $23MM, hurting his trade value and overpaying for the best season of his career.
- Wandy Rodriguez’ Extension in 2010: $34MM, severely hurting his trade value, even knowing he would be the Astros’ best option to trade for top-shelf minor league talent. He was not an impending free agent, and now many teams do not want to pay top dollar for a pitcher that they see as a 2nd or 3rd starter. Wade then tacked on a $14MM club option for 2014 that turns into a player option if Rodriguez is traded before the end of his contract.
It did not take long to find a pitcher with comparable stats to Rodriguez. The table below shows both pitchers, what they “earned”, plus their stats in the five previous seasons before they were extended. (Note: excludes Hudson’s 2009 season, which he missed due to surgery. According to his GM, Hudson’s extension was based on his previous body of work.)
|Wandy Rodriguez (2006-2010)||$34MM*||3||3.85||2.8||14|
|Tim Hudson (2004-2008)||$28MM**||3||3.88||3.5||25|
* plus 2014 $14MM club option with $2.5MM buyout, or $14MM player option if traded.
**plus 2013 $9MM club option, $1M buyout
MANAGE YOUR BOSS
Wade’s job is to run a successful baseball franchise, and part of that includes convincing the owner when it is time to move on. Every Houstonian knows Drayton McLane’s stance against rebuilding. The Astros’ championship run of 2005 was smoke and mirrors built on all-time great pitching, but terrible hitting and defense. If Wade knew that (which he may not, based on his apparent non-use of statistics), it was his responsibility to prove it to his boss, so that the team could move forward, not back.
He failed to do so. For four years, McLane and Wade tried to patch together a team that could recapture glory in the face of overwhelming impossibility. Had Wade used the available evidence to convince McLane that rebuilding was necessary, Berkman and Oswalt would have been traded for top prospects years earlier, rather than during the down-slope of their careers, for prospects without star-level upside. Carlos Lee might even have been traded before age caught up to him and declined his skills. Kazuo Matsui might never have happened at all.
To all appearance, Wade went along with McLane’s misguided vision that the Astros could be “Champions” by adding to an aging and talent-thin club, when instead he should have stood up and said, “This house will never be built until we repair the faulty foundation.”
THE NEVER ENDING QUEST FOR AN INFIELD…
As mentioned, if one were to rank the roughly 1,400 team-seasons played by major league baseball since 1962 (the first year of the Astros), the 2010 Astros would rank as the 78th-worst at getting on base of the past 50 years. That puts them in the lower 5% of all baseball clubs since 1962. A general manager with a healthy respect for statistical analysis should have identified the Astros’ weakness in this area and used subsequent moves to correct the problem.
The past few years have seen the passing of Craig Biggio, Morgan Ensberg, Aubrey Huff, Ty Wigginton, and Adam Everett around the infield, and the following moves were how Wade chose to address their loss:
- Prior to the 2008 season, Wade signed Geoff Blum to man 3B, Kazuo Matsui to play 2B, Mark Loretta to play as a super-utility player, and traded for Miguel Tejada.
- Before the 2009 season, Wade signed Aaron Boone to platoon with Blum at 3B.
- Prior to 2010, Wade extended Blum as a bench player, signed Pedro Feliz to play 3B full-time, and handed the SS job to non-prospect Tommy Manzella, with no expectation to “earn” the job through competition in Spring Training.
- Going into 2011, Wade used recent tradee Angel Sanchez as a super utility player, traded for Clint Barmes to play SS, and signed Bill Hall to play 2B, trusting BABIP-inflated Chris Johnson to handle 3B duties.
Pence, Johnson, and Bourn have never been high-OBP players, and the Astros traded Berkman, who with a career OBP around .400 has led the Astros offensively for a decade. The table below shows Wade’s infield acquisitions and their stats in the previous five seasons leading up to their tenure with the Astros. (League-Average OBP is usually around .335)
Of all Wade’s infield acquisitions, only Loretta and Tejada had above-average OBP’s before coming to the Astros, and Loretta was the player Wade targeted to be a bench guy. Minor League stats do not translate directly to the majors, so one could reasonably assume beforehand that Manzella’s and Sanchez’ OBPs in the majors would hover in the .290-.300 range. Instead of addressing an obvious issue with the Astros, Wade’s acquisitions actually exacerbated the problem, directly leading to the offensive doldrums seen in 2010 and thus far in 2011.
WILL WORK FOR MONEY. LOTS OF MONEY
As with pitchers, Wade doled out several bad contracts to his infielders.
- Kazuo Matsui was paid $16.5MM over three seasons, even though he had only been incrementally better than a league-average replacement player.
- Pedro Feliz was paid $4.5MM during 2010, only to get cut because he was predictably terrible at getting on base without the Phillies’ dynamic lineup hiding his flaws.
- As noted in Part 1 of this series, the Astros were in an increasingly tight financial situation during Ed Wade’s reign, through no fault of his own. He might have been better served to spread money around to several players, rather than trading for Miguel Tejada, who had $13MM for each of the next two seasons coming to him on an existing contract. Speaking of Miguel Tejada…
While several early moves made during the Wade regime were questionable, one in particular stunk like a beached whale. On December 12, 2007, Ed Wade traded Luke Scott, Troy Patton, Matt Albers, and spare parts to the Baltimore Orioles for Miguel Tejada. The merits of player-per-player value of this trade are debatable and will not be explored here, but other aspects of the trade led astute fans (and national media) to wonder if Wade was playing with a full deck.
Tejada’s contract made him the highest paid player on the Astros for the 2008 season. Take that, Carlos Lee! Tejada was also coming off statistically his worst season since 1998, was (arguably) 33 years old, and…
…the Mitchell Report would come out the very next day, naming Tejada as one of the many players implicated in the MLB steroid scandal.
Wade was ridiculed, along with team owner Drayton McLane. Both insisted they had no knowledge that Tejada’s name would be in the report. This smacked of dishonesty or incompetence because, years earlier, Rafael Palmiero publicly stated that Tejada had supplied him with the substance that caused Palmiero to fail a PED test. It was in the papers.
WILL PAY TOP DOLLAR FOR AVERAGE RELIEF…
The bullpen is an unsexy topic. It is hard to get worked up about a player who pitches three innings a week, but a good, low-cost bullpen is a proven key to success. Some major league clubs staff a cheap and effective bullpen through astute trades, smart drafting, waiver wire claims, and journeymen minor leaguers. Other GM’s choose to throw money at free agent relievers. A brief glance at the 2011 bullpen confirms that cobbling together a bullpen did not work for the Astros, who currently sit 28th in team ERA in the majors. Consider how Wade has done with some major bullpen acquisitions:
- Wade traded Chad Qualls, Juan Gutierrez, and Chris Burke for Jose Valverde. First of all, Burke would have been no worse at 2B than Matsui, but that’s beside the point. Qualls was almost as effective as Valverde in the seasons prior to the trade, and has been a major league closer at times since then. Gutierrez is still a useful mop-up pitcher in the majors and would be no worse than the current Astros relievers. Wade ended up paying Valverde $12.7MM during his two seasons in Houston.
- Wade spent $3.5MM on LaTroy Hawkins, a 36 year old reliever with a career of below-average performance. Wade lucked out – Hawkins had the best season of his career in 2009, proving that sometimes blind mice do find cheese. Luck does not excuse the contract.
- Wade signed Brandon Lyon for an incredible 3 years, $15MM. Prior to 2010, Lyon’s claim to fame was that he managed to not lose the Diamondbacks 2008 closers’ job to a far superior…Chad Qualls. Lyon’s career ERA and FIP were well north of 4.50 at the time of the signing. Pitchers with better resumes who signed for less money for the 2010 season: Matt Capps, Jose Contreras, Jose Arredondo, Joaquin Benoit, Rafael Betancourt, Octavio Dotel, Kevin Gregg, Bob Howry, Darren Oliver, J.J. Putz, Takashi Saito. And more!
Right or wrong, Ed Wade’s reputation was built on the fact that he helped mastermind the farm system that led to the Phillies playoff runs and World Series win in the late ‘aughts. But many experts have opined that the Astros have been drafting “safely” under Wade. When the Astros drafted Jason Castro 10th in the 2008 draft, the prevailing opinion was that while Castro will be an average major league catcher, he has a limited ceiling and the Astros over-drafted to get him (picked him ahead of players with higher upside). Players drafted behind Castro: SEA 1B Justin Smoak, OAK 2B Jemile Weeks, HOU 1B Brett Wallace, CF Aaron Hicks, 2B Brett Lawrie, P Andrew Cashner, 2011 #1 overall pick Gerritt Cole, CLE 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, P/SS Casey Kelly, P Tanner Scheppers, HOU SP Jordan Lyles, and P Mike Montgomery.
The same was said about Jio Mier. Drafted behind Mier: LAA OF Mike Trout (Baseball Prospectus’ #1 prospect for 2011), OF Timothy Wheeler, and Scheppers (again). The same was said about Delino DeShields Jr. Drafted after: ball-hammering OF Michael Choice and CHA SP/RP Chris Sale. Though scouts and front office types have more information on their draftees than is ever made public, it certainly appears as if the Astros have been drafting based on sign-ability rather than upside. These types of safe drafts rarely result in a superstar.
For example: In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays drafted a high school shortstop named Tim Beckham at #1 overall, because they feared the bonus demands by the eventual #2 pick, Buster Posey. Fast forward three years. Buster Posey was the star of a world champion Giants team in 2010 and was NL Rookie of the Year. Tim Beckham is finally having his first above-average minor league season after hitting .256 at High-A in 2010.
THE PHILLIES CONNECTION
While certainly not the only team Wade has dealt with during his tenure with the Astros, fans can not help commenting on the frequency with which he deals with his former club, the Phillies. It is hard to criticize this, as perhaps he was in the best position to know the strengths of the players he received, and in the case of at least Bourn, he ended up with the best player in the deal.
The players acquired by Wade who impacted the major league roster, either by signing as free agents after leaving the Phillies, or through trade with the Phillies are: Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary, JA Happ, Anthony Gose, Jonathan Villar, Brett Myers, and Pedro Feliz.
Bourn turned out to be a good player, if not a star. Geary was a serviceable bullpen arm when healthy, and it is too soon to judge JA Happ and Jonathan Villar in context of the trade. Anthony Gose was flipped for Brett Wallace, and the jury is still out there as well. The point is not to slam these moves, but rather to speculate: what could the Astros have acquired from other teams if perhaps Wade did not favor dealing with the Phillies? This point is not a very strong argument for or against Ed Wade as an effective GM, but speculation among Astros fans has been loud enough to mention it.
Part 1 of this series showed Ed Wade as a victim of circumstance, placed in the unenviable position of building a champion with rising costs and decreasing budget and talent.
This article shows that when given lemons, rather than making lemonade, Ed Wade made lemony-tinted water with a few seeds still floating in it. His largest shortcomings show up in his apparent disregard for freely-available statistical information and a tendency to hand out contracts that are much higher than the market dictates at the time . These two things have made a bad situation worse, though it is impossible to tell by how much, other than in the Wins column. Every GM makes mistakes, and hopefully some of Wade’s will be offset by the clear improvements in the farm system under his direction, and by some of his trades that are too early to judge. (Author note: I am sure this will generate some comments, but I personally think that Ed Wade has done a decent job with his trades for the most part, given the contract hurdles he had to overcome.)
Given all the information researched and presented, it is clear that the Astros need to go in a different direction, if only to start fresh with a new owner and a new front office. This is not necessarily fair to Ed Wade and his team, who honestly appear to have tried their best under difficult circumstances, but the Astros need to hit the reset button and upgrade using a foundation that includes accountability of their scouts, statistical analysis of player performance, and a General Manager who has not earned the ire of several million Houstonians, whether fairly or unfairly.
Final Grade on Ed Wade: C-minus
That’s a passing grade, but nothing to be proud of.