Red Sox RF: Dwight Evans
Dwight Evans spent his entire career being overlooked. For the first half of his career, he shared the outfield with future Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice and former MVP Fred Lynn. He made just three AL all-stars teams in his career, as the likes of Rickey Henderson, Rice, and Reggie Jackson constantly made the team over him.
Even in his best season, the strike-shortened 1981 campaign in which he led the league with 22 home runs and 6.7 WAR, he lost out on the MVP to Brewers closer Rollie Fingers, who produced over four less WAR.
The trend only continued after his career ended. He lasted just three years on the Hall of Fame ballot, getting pushed off when legends Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan, and George Brett all debuted in 1999 and forced Evans under the 5%. Evans was underappreciated in his time, but now, with the help of analytics, we can see what a truly great player he was.
The problem with Evan’s career is that his offensive peak and his defensive peak occurred in two entirely different periods of his career. From 1972 to 1980, when Evans produced 104 defensive runs, he hit a measly .262/.366/.489 while averaging just 16 home runs and 55 RBIs.
A stance adjustment in 1981 helped him unlock his hitting potential, and over the next seven years, his slash line improved to .281/.388/.498, and he averaged 26 home runs and 93 RBIs a season. His growth as a hitter, however, coincided with a steep drop-off in his defense. From 1981 on, he cost the Red Sox 109.8 runs in the field.
Because of his inability to pair his offensive breakout with his defensive prime, Evans never put together a Hall-of-Fame level season. He was always a solid player, compiling over 3.0 WAR in 13 different seasons, but he had just two seasons with over 5.5 WAR and none with over 7.0.
If his defensive peak had occurred during his best offensive seasons, he likely would have been a perennial All-Star and had a stronger Hall of Fame case.
Even so, Evans remains a strong candidate for Cooperstown. Though Gold Gloves in the ’80s were more of a crapshoot than they are today, Evans won eight of them, more than any AL outfielder besides Al Kaline, Ichiro, and Ken Griffey Jr.
His arm was one of the finest in baseball, as he finished in the top five in right field assists eight times and double plays seven times. The advanced metrics back him as well: Evans finished in the top five in total zone runs five times and range factors seven times. No matter how you look at it, Evans was one of the best defensive outfielders of his time.
Though he got off to a slow start at the plate, Evans’ offensive resume is Hall of Fame worthy as well. His counting stats (2446 hits, 385 home runs, 1470 RBI) are up to snuff, and while his .272 average is low, he makes up for it with 1391 walks, the 29th highest total of all time.
This results in a terrific .370 OBP, better than 75 Hall of Famers, including Griffey, George Brett, and Paul Molitor. Evans’ 127 OPS+, meanwhile, is better than 77 Hall of Famers. Overall, Evans’s offensive numbers are well up to Hall of Fame standards, especially for a great defensive player.
The total package of Evan’s skills put him right at the standard of a Hall of Famer at his position. His career WAR, seven-year peak, and JAWS are all within five of the average HOF right fielder. Of the 14 right fielders with more JAWS, thirteen are in the Hall of Fame, while the fourteenth (Shoeless Joe Jackson) would be if he were eligible.
On the flip side, Evans’ JAWS is higher than fourteen Hall of Famers, including Vladamir Guerrero and Dave Winfield, who both got in without much resistance.
It’s easy to see why Evans was overlooked in his playing days. His average was low, he had few eyepopping statistical seasons, and he played on the same team and the same league as legends who were superior to him. But 30 years after his retirement, we can see now how valuable a player he was. It’s time for him to get a plaque in Cooperstown.