Watching Andre Dawson get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday got me thinking about Dwight Evans.
(White lie: I wasn't actually watching the induction ceremony. No one does. I caught the highlights on the MLB Network. For all the millions of words written and spoken about the Hall of Fame voting it's strikes me as almost odd that the day these guys are enshrined has no impact on the sports landscape. Maybe they should do it like the Oscars -- invite all the guys with over 50% of the vote to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame weekend without telling anyone who actually is in or out. Then announce the winners right at the start of the ceremony. A little cruel, probably, but who wouldn't watch that?)
First -- I'm happy for Andre Dawson.
I've never read a bad word about the man, for starters. Teammates, managers, announcers, writers -- nothing but praise for The Hawk.
And the Hall of Fame has welcomed a hell of a lot worse than Dawson when it comes to the quality of ballplayer. Three players in history have hit 400 homers and stolen 300 bases. Willie Mays, Barry Bonds (and he reached both before guest star Victor Conte made his debut) and Andre Dawson. No small feat. And he won an MVP, made eight All-Star Teams and won eight Gold Gloves. By no means is his inclusion in Cooperstown an embarrassment. This isn't Ray Schalk (.316 career slugging percentage) or Dave Bancroft (played 16 seasons and led the league in exactly one offensive total in any season -- caught stealing in 1915).
Make no mistake, Andre Dawson was a very good player.
He just wasn't as good as Dwight Evans.
I've done the Dewey is better than the incoming Hall of Fame peer bit before. Last year, as a matter of fact. And I still maintain that Dwight Evans was a better player than Jim Rice. And it's for many of the same reasons that I rate Evans above Dawson.
As it was with Rice, Dawson was viewed as a significantly better player than Evans while the two players were active.
All-Star Games: Dawson eight, Evans three
Career MVP Award Shares: Dawson 2.36 (67th all-time), Evans 1.05 (227th all-time)
Silver Sluggers: Dawson four, Evans two
Baseball Bunch Guest Star? Dawson yes, Evans no.
So there you go. It was assumed throughout the 1980s that Andre Dawson was one of the five or six best players in baseball and Dwight Evans was a pretty good player with a goofy batting stance. Why? Because that's what we were told.
Look at the career stats of the two guys. See much of a difference?
Dawson: 2,627 games, 1,373 runs, 2,774 hits, 438 HR, 1,591 RBI, .279 BA
Evans: 2,606 games, 1,470 runs, 2,446 hits, 385 HR, 1,384 RBI, .272 BA
OK, Dawson has an edge. Played more games, but if you break down the numbers to a 162-game average it still gives Dawson an advantage:
Dawson: 27 HR, 98 RBI, 171 hits, 85 runs
Evans: 24 HR, 86 RBI, 152 hits, 91 runs
So if Dawson was a "10" as home-run hitter Evans would be an eight. Almost a push. Dawson had 13 seasons with at least 20 homers, Evans 11. Dawson had three seasons with 30 homers, Evans two.
So why is there such a big difference in RBI, or The One Category that Means the Most to MVP and Hall of Fame Voters? Pretty simple explanation. With the exception of 27 games in 1982 hitting second, Andre Dawson spent the entire 1980s hitting third, fourth or fifth in the lineup. Prime RBI spots. Dwight Evans hit third or fourth in a lineup 363 times in his career, or about two full seasons worth. Evans also batted eighth or ninth in a lineup (usually RBI death) 444 times. Dawson batted eighth in 23 games as a rookie in 1977 and never hit eighth (or ninth as an American Leaguer) again.
So the RBI stuff is misleading and doesn't always tell you who had a better season. Take 1985 for an example. Dawson knocked in 91 runs, Evans 78. But Dawson hit third the entire year, a season that saw Expos leadoff man Tim Raines finish third in the league in on-base percentage and batting average. Oh, and Raines stole 70 bases. So there's a buffet of RBI shots for Dawson right there (and he would have more in Chicago with Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace ahead of him in the lineup).
Evans, in 1985, hit leadoff for half the season, as guys like Jackie Gutierrez (.250 OBP) and Marc Sullivan (.174 BA) hit ninth. That's what I mean by RBI being almost meaningless when you try and compare two players. If Evans had hit third for the Expos in 1985 he would have had over 100 RBI. Look at the two players head-to-head (minus RBI) in 1985 and tell me Evans didn't have twice the year:
Dawson: 23 HR, 65 runs, 27 doubles, 13 steals, 29 BB, 92 K, .255 BA, .295 OBP
Evans: 29 HR, 110 runs, 29 doubles, seven steals, 114 walks, 105 K, .263 BA, .388 OBP
Walks, runs and OBP. Stop reading here if you don't think those are the three of the four or five most important statistics for an offensive player. And if Evans is a length or two behind Dawson after we looked at the HR and RBI stuff he pulls a Secretariat at the Belmont in these categories.
Evans has a career OBP of .370. Guess how many times Dawson had an OBP of at least .370 in his 21 seasons? How about none. Never happened. Evans averaged 86 walks a season in his career. Dawson had one season when he walked more than half that total (44 times in 1980). Evans finished in the top 10 in the league in OBP and walks a combined 12 times, Dawson zero. Lesson learned: You never walked your way onto the Baseball Bunch.
And runs? Evans had three seasons with at least 110 runs, Dawson never reached that total. Over 80 runs? Evans eight, Dawson four.
But hey, each guy won eight Gold Gloves. Are we looking at a wash with the leather? Well, not really. Dawson was a terrific fielder, played over 1,000 games in center and right. But he falls short when put next to Evans:
Range factor per game as RF: Evans 2.10 (10th all-time), Dawson 1.83 (82nd all-time).
Fielding percentages RF: Evans .987 (16th all-time), Dawson .982 (54th all-time)
Assists: Evans 155 (fifth all-time), Dawson 77 (39th all-time)
And I get that defensive statistics can be misleading, but I'd give Evans a solid edge as a right fielder. So you've got a small power nod toward Dawson (.482 to .470 career slugging over Dewey-- very slight edge). What else? Speed? Sure, Dawson stole way more bases (314 to 78). He also got caught stealing 50 more times, so I'm not convinced that's a huge plus when you stack up the two guys.
Evans scored more runs, drew basically twice as many walks, got on base way more often (career OBP is 47 points higher) and was a better right fielder. How is Dawson a Hall of Famer and Evans a forgotten guy in history?
I'm not suggesting that Dwight Evans should be in the Hall of Fame (I'd need to see Raines, Ron Santo and Bert Blyleven in first). But what confuses me is this: How does Andre Dawson spend nine years on the ballot, never receiving less than 200 votes (he got 420 votes in his election year) and Dwight Evans only spend three years on the ballot, never receiving more than 49 votes? How does that work?
The voters can't get past the obvious, that's why. Homers and RBI. Remember, these are some of the same guys that voted Dawson MVP in 1987. Why? Because he lead the league with 137 RBI. Never mind that the Cubs finished in last place, or that Dawson had an OBP of .328, or his OPS was 159 points lower than Jack Clark's (who played for a Cardinals team that won 97 games), or that Dawson had a road OBP of .288 (about the same as Eric Patterson's OBP this year). No, the man drove in runs! And that had nothing to do with the fact that he batted third all year with Dave Martinez (.372 OBP) hitting leadoff and Sandberg (.367 OBP) second. No sir. It was about character, of course. Voters actually believe that stuff, or believe that they should believe it.
Dwight Evans lost the RBI battle to Dawson again in 1987, only driving in 123. He did manage to score 19 more runs, walk 74 more times, hit 20 points higher, post an OBP 91 points higher and even beat him in slugging percentage. He finished fourth in the AL MVP voting and if he had put up those same numbers in the NL Dawson would still have won. All about the HR and RBI.
Things are starting to change. If both were in their prime today and putting up the same numbers people would look at Evans as the better player. Billy Beane and Bill James and Theo Epstein have hammered the importance of OBP into our heads. But the one place it hasn't yet stuck is with the HOF voters. Of the 19 eligible candidates on the HOF ballot in 2010 Andre Dawson ranked 19th in career OBP. That's behind guys likeTodd Zeile and Eric Karros. Dawson was 14th in OPS among the same group. Dwight Evans would have been four in OBP and sixth in OPS.
I'm going to put Dewey on the shelf for now. I've made the case for two years running and I'm getting very close to the "beating a dead horse" stage. My point was always this: I don't know if the man is a Hall of Famer or not, but if Jim Rice and now Andre Dawson are in then he should be right next to them. And that's my final word on Dwight Evans and the Hall of Fame.
Unless Dale Murphy somehow gets in …