Evans for HOF? Here are the pros and cons

Longtime Red Sox right fielder among 10 candidates on Modern Baseball Era ballot

December 4th, 2019

BOSTON -- For two decades, Red Sox fans chanted his nickname every time he made one of his signature plays in right field or came up with another clutch hit.

“Dewey, Dewey, Dewey,” the roars would go at Fenway.

Now, 29 years after he played his last game for Boston, Red Sox fans are again cheering on in his quest to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Evans, who played for the Sox from 1972-90, is one of 10 people on the Modern Baseball Era ballot that was released on Nov. 4. Candidates must earn 75% of the votes from the committee, which consists of 16 members. Evans will find out on Sunday, when the results will be announced at the Winter Meetings on MLB Network at 8 p.m. ET.

While it is often said that a player can’t get any better after he retires, Evans is unique in that his offensive strength (getting on base at a high volume) is something that is weighted far more in player evaluations today than when he had his short run on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot from 1997-99.

The right-handed hitter played alongside Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley and Wade Boggs in his career. Evans now has another chance to join his former teammates in Cooperstown.

The case for
• Evans was not only the most productive right fielder of the 1980s, but he was one of the best offensive players of the decade. His 256 homers and 605 extra-base hits were the most of any player from 1980-89. This, for a man who was more known for his defense.

• Yes, that defense. Decades before analytics shaped where players would position themselves, Evans had an innate sense to align himself perfectly. This set him up for the countless tremendous plays he made in his career -- none more memorable than the lunging grab he made to rob Joe Morgan of a game-winning homer in the 11th inning of that epic Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Evans also possessed a cannon arm, and he still holds the Red Sox’s record with eight career Gold Gloves.

• Now, back to the offense. Evans led the American League in OPS twice, walks three times, on-base percentage once and total bases once. In his age-30 through age-37 seasons, he had an impressive line of .280/.385/.496 while averaging 27 homers, 100 runs, 96 RBIs and 96 walks. That type of performance led to Evans finishing in the top five in the AL Most Valuable Player Award voting twice and the top 10 four times.

• Evans is aiming to become the 26th player with the primary position of right field to enter the Hall of Fame. Evans compares, at least on par, with many of them. Al Kaline was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and his career OPS is .855 and his OPS+ is 134, compared to .840 and 127 for Evans. Roberto Clemente, you ask? His career OPS (.834) and OPS+ (130) are slightly below that of Evans. Evans also had much better power than Clemente. While Dave Winfield had better longevity than Evans, leading him in games played, 2,973-2,606, Evans had a better career WAR (67.1-64.2), per Baseball Reference. Evans also edges out Winfield in OPS and had a significantly better on-base percentage (.370-.353).

• If you need a sweetener to put Evans over the top, consider his performance in the two World Series he played in. While the Red Sox lost to the Reds in seven games in 1975 and to the Mets in seven in ’86, Evans was a standout performer in both Fall Classics, totaling a .977 OPS while hitting .300 with three homers.

The case against
• Interestingly, Evans wasn’t nearly the same offensive player in his 20s as he was in his 30s. From 1972-80, he hit .262 with a .792 OPS. It wasn’t until 1981 -- his age-29 season -- when Evans started to emerge as a stud on offense. If Evans does make it into the Hall of Fame, be ready for him to heap praise at Walt Hriniak, the hitting coach who helped turn his career around beginning late in the ‘80 season.

• Due to that less-than-spectacular first half of his career, Evans lacks some of the round numbers that many Hall of Famers have. He would have needed to play another few seasons to reach 3,000 hits, finishing at 2,446. Evans had 385 homers, which doesn’t stand out in the corner outfield like it would at some other positions.

• Surprisingly, Evans was an All-Star just three times in his career, and only twice in his decade of dominance in the 1980s. By comparison, Kaline was an 18-time All-Star, while Clemente and Winfield each made it 12 times. You wonder how many more All-Star Games Evans would have played in if OBP and OPS were as valued as they are today, and if defense had the metrics of this era.