Dwight Evans- Hall Watch Retrospective

Thursday, August 03 2006 @ 07:40 AM EDT

Contributed by: Mike Green

Dwight Evans had a long and productive career, but his moment came in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. We'll let Retrosheet take the call:

REDS 11TH: Rose was hit by a pitch; On a bunt Griffey forced
Rose (catcher to shortstop); Morgan hit into a double play
(right to first to shortstop) [Griffey out at second]; Evans
robbed Morgan of a probable home run with a leaping catch, then
threw in to double Griffey, who had rounded 2nd, shortstop
Burleson covering first;
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Reds 6, Red
Sox 6.

Carlton Fisk's home run which followed the Evans catch is more widely remembered. In a way, that is a shame.

Dwight Evans was drafted out of high school by the Red Sox in the 5th round of the 1969 draft. He reported to the New York Penn League that summer, and hit .280 but without power. He moved up to the Western Carolinas League (full season low A) in 1970, and hit .276 with medium range pop, and followed that up with a similar season at age 19 in the high A Carolina League. In 1972 at age 20, he skipped a level starting the season with triple A Louisville and hit .300 with 17 homers and earned a September cup of coffee.

In 1973, he was with the Sox, platooning in right field with Rick Miller. Dewey hit .223, but with 40 walks and 10 homers in 282 at-bats. In the off-season, the Sox acquired Bernie Carbo, but in 1974, Evans took more of the right-field job, hitting .281 with fair strike zone judgment and power. Despite an increase in power and plate discipline in 1975, he was still sharing the job with Carbo and had only 459 plate appearances. From 1976 to 1980, he continued to produce at about the same level in usually 550 plate appearance per year, with a knee injury contributing to his lost time. In the strike year of 1981 at the age of 29 Evans made a leap forward with a .296/.415/.522 line, and his 30s were better than his 20s as he averaged over 600 plate appearances per year while maintaining his power and batting average and improving his plate discipline. Evans was a first-rate defender, smooth with excellent instincts and a Grade A arm. Bill Nowlin's short biography of Evans is worth a read.

So, how does Evans compare with other rightfielders. BBRef supplies four fine right-field comparables- Al Kaline and Dave Winfield on the high end and Dave Parker and Rusty Staub on the low end. Here are the numbers:

Player Plate Apps. HR BA OBP SLUG OPS+
Evans 10,569 385 .272 .370 .470 127
Kaline 11,597 399 .297 .376 .480 133
Parker 10,184 339 .290 .339 .471 124
Staub 11,229 292 .279 .362 .431 124
Winfield 12,358 465 .283 .353 .475 129

Should Dwight Evans be in the Hall of Fame? Hmmmm. It's all a question of standards. Kaline and Winfield are noticeably better than him. He's noticeably better than Dave Parker or Rusty Staub. He was clearly better than Staub, but was he really better than Parker? Parker was arguably the best player in baseball during the period 1977-79, but no one ever could make that argument about Evans. This raises a philosophical question; how much weight, if any, does one attach to peak performance?

To give us a factual basis for the question, how about looking at the best 3 years of three contemporaries, Evans, Parker and Jim Rice.  We use 1977-79 for both Parker and Rice, and 1981-82 and 1987 for Evans.  Remember that 1981 is the strike year:

Player Plate Apps. HR BA OBP SLUG OPS+
Evans 1888 88 .298 .410 .543 156
Parker 2055 76 .327 .390 .516 150
Rice 2144 124 .320 .376 .596 153

There you have it.  Evans was more effective offensively than Parker and Rice at the peak, but had fewer plate appearances in large part due to the strike.  The OPS+ differences understate Evans' advantage, due to the underweighting of on-base percentage in the OPS figure.  One could argue that Parker was a better defender at his peak, but it is a tough argument. They were both exceptional and both behind Barfield and Clemente.  He was much faster. However one slices it, the argument that Parker was a better player than Dwight Evans on the basis that his peak performance was better seems to me extremely tenuous.  Parker's performance outside his peak years clearly falls short of Evans by a wide margin, and the peak difference, if any, is miniscule. Parker was much more impressive, firing line drives out of the park to the power alleys with his unusual swing and powerful physique., but Evans was more effective.

I still don't know if Dwight Evans belongs in the Hall of Fame.  I suppose that he's about as good as Reggie Smith, a little less offence and a little more defence at the peak, although Evans never played center field.  Heads or tails?  Hmm, heads, he's in.

Next up: Darrell Evans