Bill James: Dwight Evans for the Hall of Fame

By Matt Sullivan

In a new piece at Grantland, the all-powerful baseball mind of Bill James has taken up a new cause- getting Dwight Evans into the Hall of Fame. The longtime Red Sox  right fielder was a member of both the 1975 and 1986 Red Sox World Series teams and played  with the Red Sox from 1972 and 1990.  Dewey was not given much Hall of Fame consideration when he became eligible, remaining on the ballot just three years and peaking at 10.6% of votes. James exams Evans against his contemporaries, including Hall of Famer Dave Winfield and Dave Parker, who remains on the ballot. Evans rates well by James’ win shares system due to the importance of his ability to get on base and to play excellent defense. Evans won eight gold glove awards and lead the league in walks three times.

Red Sox fans probably do not need too much convincing from James or anyone else. Evans was a fan favorite throughout his career, the Fenway crowd enthusiasstically chanting “Dew-ey! Dew-ey” whenever he came to bat. His incredible defense took center stage in the first World Series he played in. In the seemingly mythical Game 6, 1975, Evans unbelievable catch of a Joe Morgan home run shot saved Boston two runs with the double play ending the top of that 11th inning and final inning. He was among the best hitters for the Red Sox in the 1986 Series, with 2 home runs and a .400 OBP. If you watched the Red Sox in the 70’s or 80’s, you don’t need anyone to tell you about Dwight Evans. Outside of Boston, however, Dewey has not gotten much love.

Evans has been dismissed by many people because of his less-than-worthy marks in traditional counting stats. He hit  had 2,446  hits with 385 HRs,  drove in 100 plus RBIs just four times and hit .272 lifetime.  Following one of the most prolific offensive eras in the game’s history, those numbers seem pedestrian. However, Evans played in a time with far less hitting going on. Evans made his first appearance for the Red Sox in 1972. Following that season, the  years of declining ticket sales and low offensive production would convince owners to adopt the DH rule on a trial basis the next season. He retired after the 1991 season, when offensive production was close to the “Year of the Pitcher” 2011 season that just pasted. Evans never hit in the free-for-all home run derby of the late 90’s and early 21 st century. On the other side of that wild time, Evans seems like a good hitter, but not a superstar.

In the context of his time, however, he was a guy with plus power, who got on base a lot and played a killer rightfield. rWAR has him worth more than his comtemporary, Hall of Famer David Winfield, and that poster boy of the “steroid era,”  Sammy Sosa. It isn’t just because of his defense, either. Career OPS+, which is adjusted to the league average, has Sosa at 128 OPS+ and Evans at 127 OPS+. There is just a .01% advantage for Sosa had his ability to create runs. By WAR, Evans is the 11th best player ever to play at least 60% of his games in right field- just a head of Sosa and Winfield, and behind Larry Walker and Hall of Famer Tony Gywnn. He never won an MVP award but he did receive votes in four different seasons.

Now that James has taken up the cause, maybe more people will start to see Dwight Evans as he really was- a fantastic all around player who was quietly one the best players of his time.

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