Claim to fame: Darrell Evans played for the Braves, Giants, and Tigers in his long and productive career. Although a ten year career can be sufficient for Hall of Fame consideration, not many Hall of Famers have had such short careers. A few played 12 years or less; most had careers in the 14 to 18 year range. Evans played 21 seasons, with his later years being some of his best.
Evans was a two-time All-Star, first in 1973 and again in 1983 at age 36. Twice he hit 40 or more home runs; in 1973 he was one of three players in the Braves’ lineup with 40, and in 1985, at age 38, his 40 homers for the Tigers led the American League. Evans is perhaps unique in one sense: His late-career productivity was Hall-worthy, while his early-career numbers could leave him short.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Evans was one-and-done, receiving 1.7 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote in 1995. Since more than 20 years have passed since Evans’ retirement, he can now be considered by the Veterans Committee.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Evans had a very unusual career arc. For most players, productivity peaks around age 28 or 29. Age 30 is typically the doorway to decline. Many a 28-year-old All-Star has found himself riding the bench at age 33, or worse, strolling the golf course as a former major leaguer.
Hall of Famers tend to buck this trend, maintaining a high level of play through their early and mid-30s. However, even for Hall members, the decline from late 20s peak performance is usually evident in their stats. In contrast, Evans had no measurable drop-off in performance after turning 30. Evans’ OBP exceeded .350 every year during his 30s. It wasn’t until his last two seasons, in his 40s, that his numbers began to trail off.
Evans’ list of “similars” on Baseball-Reference.com is headed by Graig Nettles, Dale Murphy, and Dwight Evans – good company all, but not Hall of Fame company. The lone Hall of Famer on Evans’ list is Eddie Mathews at No. 10. Comparing career numbers, Mathews hit for higher average and with more power than Evans, but he achieved this advantage only early in his career, declining dramatically after 1965 when he was 33. In terms of BA, OBP and SLG, Mathews and Evans have virtually identical numbers from age 31 on, though Evans played almost twice as long after turning 30.
|Darrell Evans||Age 22-30||995||829||147||.248||.367||.428|
|Eddie Mathews||Age 20-30||1634||1690||399||.282||.384||.543|
If Evans’ stats leave him just shy of Cooperstown, let’s compare him to some other not-quite Hall of Famers. Jimmy Wynn, Don Mattingly, and Rocky Colavito have all been examined on this blog in recent months. Each had early-career numbers pointing toward Cooperstown, but quicker and steeper declines after age 30 than is typical for most Hall of Famers. In some cases, the decline is fueled by chronic injuries, as was true for Mattingly. In any event, the resulting failure to pass or even approach milestone numbers of hits and home runs undermines the Hall candidacy of such players.
Listed below are five players who had very strong production early, but who didn’t last very long into their 30s. After age 30, Murphy’s career mirrored Mathews’, which is to say it was half of what Evans’ post-30 career was. The others below were done by age 35. On average they played about a third as much as Evans after age 30, and with less impact.
|Dale Murphy||Age 20-30||1360||1388||266||.277||.355||.491|
|Jimmy Wynn||Age 21-30||1287||1185||203||.259||.361||.450|
|Mo Vaughn||Age 23-30||1046||1165||230||.304||.394||.542|
|Don Mattingly||Age 21-30||1269||1570||178||.314||.359||.491|
|Rocky Colavito||Age 21-30||1326||1302||302||.272||.363||.515|
To put the value of Evans’ post-30 career into perspective, let’s imagine that we can combine the early-career stats of each of the above near-miss candidates with Evans’ late-career stats. The result is a set of hybrid players, each with what would have been a long and Hall-worthy career. While none of these hybrids has a stellar batting average (remember each is half Darrell Evans), all have more than 2500 hits, and all but Mattingly/Evans have 470 or more HR.
I’m not saying that if such players existed, each would automatically be voted in, but the Colavito/Evans chimera for example has career numbers that practically match Reggie Jackson’s, minus the post-season heroics, of course. What I am saying is that if any of these hybrid players existed, they would have been taken very seriously as a Hall candidates and would have earned considerably more votes than any of them did in real life as individual entities.
Evans might never be able to add the letters HOF when he signs his name. And I would wager that few kids in the sandlots these days have even heard of Evans or dreamed of emulating his career. But this much is clear. Any current-day star in his late 20s who has an eye on making the Hall (David Wright, let’s say) would be well advised to aspire to a Darrell Evans-like second act.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.
Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry Walker, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark