Houston Astros: The Charming Incompetence Of Ed Wade

Will Leitch will be previewing/musing on every baseball team each weekday until the start of the season. You can pre-order his book and follow him on Twitter. Today: The Houston Astros.

I often wonder what life as a baseball fan would have been like if no one had discovered sabermetrics. The emergence of sabermetrics as the fundamental language of baseball outsiders happened after I'd already developed my love of baseball. At the time I discovered it — like most people, thanks to Rob Neyer far more than Bill James — I had a decision to make: Do I embrace this whole new galaxy of baseball perspective, or do I just call everyone pencil-pushers because I think Willie McGee was a better player than they do? Any initial resistance eroded away over time, and now, I know that no matter how much Jeff Francoeur might look like the game's next superstar, it's clear that he isn't. Not selling jeans, all that. But this is all something I had to resolve: No one was talking about on-base percentage in 1985, at least not in the papers I was reading.

It's different now: Now, any hungry kid desperate for baseball knowledge has as much access to advanced statistical thought as he does pornography. Understanding the game behind the game, range factor, DIPS, BABIP, it's part of the general understanding. When Whitey Herzog traded for Ozzie Smith, my reaction was "Cool! His name is Ozzie! He dives!" Had I been versed in statistical thought, I would have been concerned about Ozzie's lack of isolated power and Garry Templeton's superior PECOTA projections. (I would have been wrong, of course, but that's beside the point.) The only reason there is still backlash against sabermetric principles is because there are people alive who remember what it was like before light dawned. Eventually those people will die. It's as mainstream as keeping a scorebook now. More so, actually.

Which brings me to Ed Wade. Ed Wade is the Astros general manager, and he is current Public Enemy No. 1 in sabermetric schools. The reasons are obvious. The Astros minor league system is a mess, the team is old and overpaid and there seems to be no resolution in sight. Wade is one of those old baseball men that sabermetrics folks have had in their crosshairs for years, and he's one of the last ones left. That he has hung on this long might be related to how he started his career, in public relations. Whereas most teams now realize that building the farm system, keeping young players around and cost controlled, understanding your window of opportunity and punting when it's closed ... Wade and the Astros do none of that. This is a team that employed Darin Erstad last season. Wade is spending cash to tread water, to sneak through a door that slammed shut years ago. He is putting off a rebuilding plan, Isiah-style, that will just make it that much more difficult when the piper finally must be paid a few years from now. The Astros aren't good now, and they're just going to get worse. Just when you think Wade had figured this out, he wildly overpays for a mediocre reliever, hamstringing the team even worse. I can't figure out what he's trying to do. Is this team starting over? Does he really think it's good enough now? Who's he trying to kid?

For all this, Wade got a two-year contract extension, and I'm reminded that not everyone understands yet. In 30 years, there's gonna be a miniature Theo Epstein in a cowboy hat in Houston, fresh with some new oil money from when Texas seceded and invaded Pakistan, and he's going to be absolutely befuddled how his boyhood team missed out on the revolution. If you had never been introduced to sabermetrics, you might like Ed Wade's moves this offseason. Brett Myers? Hey, he throws as hard as he punches. Pedro Feliz? He's got championship rings and Veteran Presence. Matt Lindstrom? Whoa, now he throws hard. With Roy Oswalt healthy and Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Lee and Fat Elvis ... look out! You can sell programs and calendars and ticket plans with those guys. (The Astros aren't, but, you know, theoretically.) To believe the Astros are on the cusp of something, to believe they are still of the Biggio/Bagwell age, to give Ed Wade a two-year extension, you have to not look very closely. The rest of us look closely now. The Astros, bless their heart, don't. The Reds are starting to get it, the freaking Pirates are starting to get it. It's nice that the Astros exist. When Billy Beane was thriving in Moneyball, it was because he had so many GMs to play off who didn't get it. A lot more people get it now. We must enjoy the Astros while we can. They are reading their newspaper in the morning and buying compact discs and checking their answering machine and signing up for AOL accounts. They won't be around forever. Appreciate them now, before they, finally, disappear. I'll miss them. I really will.