Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Darrell Evans

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 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.

Player Career phase G H HR BA OBP SLG
Darrell Evans Age 22-30 995 829 147 .248 .367 .428
Age 31-42 1692 1394 267 .247 .356 .433
Total 2687 2223 414 .248 .361 .431
Eddie Mathews Age 20-30 1634 1690 399 .282 .384 .543
Age 31-36 757 625 113 .247 .351 .431
Total 2391 2315 512 .271 .376 .509

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.

Player Career G H HR BA OBP SLG
Dale Murphy Age 20-30 1360 1388 266 .277 .355 .491
Age 31-37 820 723 132 .246 .329 .431
Total 2180 2111 398 .265 .346 .469
Jimmy Wynn Age 21-30 1287 1185 203 .259 .361 .450
Age 31-35 633 480 88 .232 .370 .405
Total 1920 1665 291 .250 .366 .436
Mo Vaughn Age 23-30 1046 1165 230 .304 .394 .542
Age 31-35 466 455 98 .267 .356 .481
Total 1512 1620 328 .293 .383 .523
Don Mattingly Age 21-30 1269 1570 178 .314 .359 .491
Age 31-34 516 583 44 .292 .354 .422
Total 1785 2153 222 .307 .358 .471
Rocky Colavito Age 21-30 1326 1302 302 .272 .363 .515
Age 31-34 515 428 72 .250 .345 .415
Total 1841 1730 374 .266 .359 .489

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.

Player hybrid G H HR BA OBP SLG
Murphy/Evans 3052 2782 533 .261 .355 .460
Wynn/Evans 2979 2579 470 .252 .358 .441
Vaughn/Evans 2738 2559 497 .270 .371 .477
Mattingly/Evans 2961 2964 445 .279 .357 .460
Colavito/Evans 3018 2696 569 .259 .359 .470

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 OliverAlbert Belle, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper Jones, Closers, Dan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack MorrisJoe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark