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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

How Dwight Evans Overcame a Mid-Career Crisis to Evolve into a Hall of Fame-Caliber Player

In early July 1980, Dwight Evans’ career stood at a crossroads.  For the past seven and a half seasons, Evans had played right field for the Boston Red Sox.  Evans possessed one of the most feared throwing arms in the game and was recognized for his defensive skills which had won him three Gold Glove Awards.  Evans was a decent hitter but had yet to have a breakout campaign at the plate.  After struggling mightily in the batter’s box during the first few months of the 1980 season, Evans found himself platooned with outfielder Jim Dwyer.  Determined to remain Boston’s starting right fielder, Evans sought the advice of Red Sox coach Walt Hriniak.  Evans and Hriniak worked together on the beleaguered hitter’s swing and not only pulled the veteran out of his slump but also helped him evolve into one of the era’s most dominant sluggers and put together a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

Dennis Eclairskey, closer Posted: May 30, 2018 at 08:19 AM | 40 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dwight evans, hall of fame, ralph houk, red sox, wade boggs, walt hriniak

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   1. Jose is an Absurd Force of Nature Posted: May 30, 2018 at 08:55 AM (#5682032)
This is really worth the read. A bit long perhaps but worthwhile. If you only know Evans from his statline and his HoF credentials (or lack thereof) it's a good look back. I always loved Dewey as a kid, I remember that 1981 season, between Evans and batting champion Carney Lansford it was exciting to be a Sox fan. Fortunately, in my opinion, the article doesn't spend a lot of time on his Hall of Fame case but spends time talking about how Evans evolved as a player.

Incidentally Dewey managed one of the teams at the Sox' alumni game this weekend. We should all age as well as he has.
   2. PreservedFish Posted: May 30, 2018 at 09:14 AM (#5682046)
Lemme guess, launch angle?
   3. McCoy Posted: May 30, 2018 at 09:27 AM (#5682054)
Steroids.
   4. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: May 30, 2018 at 09:46 AM (#5682067)
^
   5. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: May 30, 2018 at 02:15 PM (#5682392)
Evans and Hriniak worked together on the beleaguered hitter’s swing and not only pulled the veteran out of his slump but also helped him evolve into one of the era’s most dominant sluggers

his ISO didn't change at all before/after Hriniak (.200 to .208)--the major change (not really addressed in TFA) is that his walk rate went up significantly (from one every 9.7 PA to one every 6.9)--yes his BA went 23 points, but his OBP went up more than double that
   6. Panik on the streets of London (Trout! Trout!) Posted: May 30, 2018 at 02:26 PM (#5682403)
His OPS+ went up a considerable amount from age 29-37 (139) compared to age 22-28 (116). I don't think he used steroids because there is no evidence to suggest it, but he certainly enjoyed a late peak. I think it is quite plausible that becoming more selective at the plate or changing one's approach in a different way could lead to that improvement.
   7. SoSH U at work Posted: May 30, 2018 at 02:36 PM (#5682416)
He obviously might have used steroids, but there's absolutely no question that Evans completely revamped himself in the batter's box when he started working with Hriniak in 81. His stance and swing were completely different (IIRC, they wanted to make Teddy Ballgame puke) than what he used before then.

   8. Panik on the streets of London (Trout! Trout!) Posted: May 30, 2018 at 02:42 PM (#5682421)
Yes I remember he did the whole lean back while tapping his front toe thing which was associated with players who worked with Hriniak. I think Rich Gedman, Carlton Fisk, and others used some variety of that. I thought it was elegant looking when I was a kid. Also they took the top hand off the bat.
   9. dlf Posted: May 30, 2018 at 02:50 PM (#5682428)
Yes I remember he did the whole lean back while tapping his front toe thing which was associated with players who worked with Hriniak.


IIRC it gained a lot of popularity with Charlie Lau and his prized pupil George Brett. But there were so many hitters who had their weight well back during that era with guys like Rod Carew and Cecil Cooper nearly leaning 45 degrees off of vertical.
   10. Vailsoxfan Posted: May 30, 2018 at 02:55 PM (#5682442)
Evans was also beaned pretty severely in 78 I believe. Knowing what we now know about concussions and recovery, you also wonder that maybe it took him longer to overcome this than was given credit for back in the 70s.
   11. Jose is an Absurd Force of Nature Posted: May 30, 2018 at 03:03 PM (#5682455)
The article talks about that. He actually got beaned a few times, once earlier in his career and once I think shortly after '78.
   12. Batman Posted: May 30, 2018 at 03:12 PM (#5682463)
Evans played in 20 seasons and was above replacement in all of them. As far as I can tell, only eight other retired position players had a plate appearance in at least 20 seasons and were at least .1 above replacement in each of them. Adrian Beltre is 21 for 21, including this year, so far.
   13. DanG Posted: May 30, 2018 at 03:39 PM (#5682500)
Among players who have aged off of the BBWAA ballot (retired 2003 or earlier), Dewey is the only non-hall of famer who has both 1350 RBI and 1350 Runs. Setting aside Pete Rose, here are the leaders in Runs Created:

Player          RC    R  RBI WARWAAFrom   To
Dwight Evans  1612 1470 1384 67.1 33.0 1972 1991
Harold Baines 1606 1299 1628 38.7  1.8 1980 2001
Rusty Staub   1533 1189 1466 45.8  7.4 1963 1985
Mark McGwire  1529 1167 1414 62.2 37.1 1986 2001
Darrell Evans 1499 1344 1354 58.8 24.3 1969 1989
Dave Parker   1451 1272 1493 40.1  6.5 1973 1991
Chili Davis   1416 1240 1372 38.2  4.0 1981 1999
Will Clark    1415 1186 1205 56.5 29.1 1986 2000
Mark Grace    1403 1179 1146 46.4 18.0 1988 2003
Lou Whitaker  1395 1386 1084 75.1 42.8 1977 1995
Vada Pinson   1393 1365 1169 54.3 16.6 1958 1975 

Evans, McGwire, Evans, Clark, and Whitaker are in the Hall of Merit.
   14. Panik on the streets of London (Trout! Trout!) Posted: May 30, 2018 at 03:42 PM (#5682507)
IIRC it gained a lot of popularity with Charlie Lau and his prized pupil George Brett.


Yes that's right. Did Hriniak and Lau have similar philosophies or am I misremembering?
   15. Dennis Eclairskey, closer Posted: May 30, 2018 at 04:08 PM (#5682531)
his ISO didn't change at all before/after Hriniak (.200 to .208)--the major change (not really addressed in TFA) is that his walk rate went up significantly (from one every 9.7 PA to one every 6.9)--yes his BA went 23 points, but his OBP went up more than double that

Table used in article shows the 23 pt BA increase (.257 to .280) along with more significant jump in OBP (.338 to .386) & near 100 pt increase in OPS (.775 to .874)

Interesting that his ISO didn't see a big jump

Quote used in article:
Hriniak moved Evans away from his pull-happy approach to become more of an up-the-middle hitter, "In order to pull the ball, you have to start your swing early," Hriniak explained. "Hitting to the middle of the field gives you a longer look at the ball, which means more walks."
   16. Dennis Eclairskey, closer Posted: May 30, 2018 at 04:10 PM (#5682534)
Yes that's right. Did Hriniak and Lau have similar philosophies or am I misremembering?

Hriniak saw Lau as a mentor and did teach a similar style
   17. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: May 31, 2018 at 10:37 PM (#5683630)
Dwight Evans was my favorite Red Sox growing up in the 1980s.

It is pretty odd to be able to see when the light bulb went on for a player. On July 6, 1980, the last game before the All-Star break, Evans was hitting below .190. He was awful.

Then, he comes back on July 10th, and almost immediately starts hitting - he goes to .316/.413/.588 from July 10th to the end of the year. And then he is a different hitter for the rest of his long career. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when Evans was like, "OK, if I don't change, I'll be out of the game - what do you want me to do, coach?"
   18. Howie Menckel Posted: May 31, 2018 at 11:59 PM (#5683789)
I have mentioned it before, but front-career HOFer Duke Snider and back-career Dwight Evans have a lot in common - a stellar decade, and a non-descript one.

pro tip: frontload your achievements
   19. Batman Posted: June 01, 2018 at 12:07 AM (#5683799)
pro tip: frontload your achievements
That’s now called “The Andruw.”
   20. McCoy Posted: June 01, 2018 at 08:03 AM (#5683843)
I don't know if Evans ever outright denied using steroids. I believe he said if he played during the steroid era he'd be tempted and he wouldn't know what he would have done but he also says that he really didn't know much about steroids during his playing days. He has said that by 1991 he knew Canseco and Dysktra were using but that he wasn't really aware of McGwire using. He doesn't say how he knew, for instance with Canseco it could have been because of the steroid chanting in the WS and for Dykstra it is because he blew up from 170 pounds to 220 pounds in supposedly one offseason. Which is corroborated from the anecdotes in Moneyball.
   21. Dennis Eclairskey, closer Posted: June 01, 2018 at 08:40 AM (#5683856)
Below is Evans' quote

"I'm glad I wasn't in that era," he said. "I'm not saying I wouldn't have. The temptation, the money, and it wasn't illegal early on. But we heard -- '91 was my last year -- Canseco, maybe McGwire, nothing really on McGwire. [Lenny] Dykstra. No one talks about him. He was 170 [pounds] as a player, then comes to spring training 220, and he looked like the Hulk. I just feel those numbers were inflated. I look at [Rafael] Palmeiro. Gosh, I looked at his stats, what did he have, 580 home runs? But he got busted. Sosa, too."


Also

"When I retired, I think I was 29th in home runs," Evans said. "Now I'm 57th or 58th [He's 65th]. What happened in between? Well, there was a steroid issue and people say, 'Well, you still had to hit the ball,' and I agree with that. But when you hit the ball and you max out at 420, 430, and then all of a sudden you're hitting it 500 feet, the balls you miss are 20 rows back, 10 rows back. The balls I missed? Warning track.


The full article is here https://www.weei.com/articles/column/tomase-steroids-kept-red-sox-great-dwight-evans-out-hall-fame-advanced-stats-couldve
   22. villageidiom Posted: June 01, 2018 at 09:36 AM (#5683876)
His stance and swing were completely different (IIRC, they wanted to make Teddy Ballgame puke) than what he used before then.
Williams would have been a top-notch Primate, with his scientific approach and loud disdain for anything that didn't conform to his preferred methods.
   23. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: June 01, 2018 at 10:15 AM (#5683903)
[17]: Evans is my favorite player too. Coming of age as a baseball fan in the late 70's playing for the Red Sox in my Little League and being the RF -- which at Little League I guess is where you stick the not-fat kid who can't do anything -- I followed him more than anyone else scouring the box scores every day to see how he did last night.
   24. spycake Posted: June 01, 2018 at 12:16 PM (#5684042)
his ISO didn't change at all before/after Hriniak (.200 to .208)


I think you are misreading the pre-Herniak stat line, the ISO is .180 (AVG .257, SLG .437).
   25. Howie Menckel Posted: June 01, 2018 at 12:33 PM (#5684055)
playing for the Red Sox in my Little League and being the RF -- which at Little League I guess is where you stick the not-fat kid who can't do anything --

if you're a lefty, RF could be where they stick the backup first baseman (I should know). but if you're a righty....
   26. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: June 01, 2018 at 12:51 PM (#5684068)
I have mentioned it before, but front-career HOFer Duke Snider and back-career Dwight Evans have a lot in common - a stellar decade, and a non-descript one.

pro tip: frontload your achievements
I don’t think you can cite that as a general rule. As a counterexample I point to Tim Raines. (I mean, yeah, he made the hall, so he made out better than Dewey (so far). But he played so long and so nondescriptly after a brilliant first half of his career that the memory of him being quasi-Rickey had faded.)
   27. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: June 01, 2018 at 12:58 PM (#5684075)

I don’t think you can cite that as a general rule. As a counterexample I point to Tim Raines. (I mean, yeah, he made the hall, so he made out better than Dewey (so far). But he played so long and so nondescriptly after a brilliant first half of his career that the memory of him being quasi-Rickey had faded.)

Kenny Lofton is a better counterexample. Although he also suffers from a disproportionate amount of his value coming from baserunning/defense.
   28. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 01, 2018 at 01:06 PM (#5684080)
There's also the fact that Snider's achievements, in both his stellar and nondescript phases, outstrip Evans' achievement by a wide margin. Through 1959, the last year in which he received MVP votes, Snider hit .303/.384/.555, for a 143 OPS+ over 1658 games. In the stellar part of his career - starting with 1981, the first year in which he received MVP votes - Evans hit .273/.385/.484 over 1542 games, for a 135 OPS+.

Snider's nondescript phase lasted 486 games with a 123 OPS+, while Evans' lasted 1064 games with a 114 OPS+. So Snider's stellar phase was better and longer than Evans, and his nondescript phase was better and shorter. That probably had a lot more effect on their relative Hall of Fame qualifications than any "frontloading" effects.

   29. Misirlou doesn't live in the restaurant Posted: June 01, 2018 at 04:16 PM (#5684227)
"When I retired, I think I was 29th in home runs," Evans said. "Now I'm 57th or 58th [He's 65th]. What happened in between? Well, there was a steroid issue and people say, 'Well, you still had to hit the ball,' and I agree with that. But when you hit the ball and you max out at 420, 430, and then all of a sudden you're hitting it 500 feet, the balls you miss are 20 rows back, 10 rows back. The balls I missed? Warning track.


Weak analysis. When he retired in 1991 widespread HR hitting had been going on for 40 years. In 1950, 385 HR would have been 5th all time. For 10 of those years there were only 16 teams, then 18 for a year, then 20 for 7 years, then 24 for 8, then 26 for 15. 900 total team seasons. He's been retired now for 28 years. There were 26 teams for 2 of those years, 28 for 5, and 30 for 21, 822 team seasons. That alone accounts for most of his drop.
   30. QLE Posted: June 01, 2018 at 04:37 PM (#5684243)
#28- This also demonstrates itself quite well in the comparative WAR for said periods:

Snider's WAR for his ten best seasons (1950 to 1958, plus a dead-cat bounce in part time play in 1961): 60.5. Among center fielders, only Mays, Cobb, Speaker, Mantle, Griffey, and DiMaggio do better.

Evans' WAR for his best ten seasons (1974 to 1976, 1979, 1981, 1982, and 1984 through 1987): 48.9. There are twenty-one right fielders who were more impressive than that- and, perhaps tellingly, among those who did better are two rough contemporaries (Bobby Bonds and Reggie Smith) who similarly went nowhere when placed before the BBWAA.

So, yes, Snider's peak was more impressive (that's the equivalent to two additional seasons of All-Star level play), and, just as important, it's more impressive compared to his peers.
   31. Rowland Office Supplies Posted: June 01, 2018 at 06:17 PM (#5684282)
Incidentally Dewey managed one of the teams at the Sox' alumni game this weekend. We should all age as well as he has.

He looks absurdly good. Like he just stepped off the set of a prime-time soap...in which he plays a dashing wealthy patriarch who beds women a third his age.
   32. Howie Menckel Posted: June 01, 2018 at 09:51 PM (#5684386)
Snider had a total of 800 AB in 1958-59, and his nondescript phase was shorter because he was benched against lefties. there is an opportunity cost to your roster to not being able to play against lefties (career .949 OPS vs .743). Evans could hit either, which is why he racked up massive PA totals - after leading the league with 504 PA in strike-shortened 1981, he averaged 668 PA in the next NINE years.

2x led AL in PA, 2x was 2nd
Snider was never in the top 5

not saying Evans was as good a player, but some cherry-picking here
   33. Hysterical & Useless Posted: June 02, 2018 at 08:10 AM (#5684471)
there is an opportunity cost to your roster to not being able to play against lefties


Of course, this was much less of an issue in the day of 9 and 10 man pitching staffs. God, I miss platooning.
   34. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 02, 2018 at 11:08 AM (#5684498)
Evans could hit either, which is why he racked up massive PA totals - after leading the league with 504 PA in strike-shortened 1981, he averaged 668 PA in the next NINE years.


During his most productive nine-year stretch, Snider averaged 654 PA, despite playing in a 154-game season. In other words, he averaged more PA per game than Evans with his "massive PA totals."
   35. DavidFoss Posted: June 02, 2018 at 07:33 PM (#5684636)
Snider wasn't platooned in Brooklyn. For one thing, they couldn't get lefties to face the Dodgers because the other seven batters in the lineup were right-handed hitters who feasted on left-handed pitching. Much has been written about this. Warren Spahn pitched only 3.2 IP against Brooklyn between 1954-1957.

Snider's rapid decline was mainly due to his injured knee. It's all chronicled in his SABR Bio. (Starts in 1955 WS, then 1957 after-season surgery, 1958 car accident, 1959 cortisone shots, etc).

The whole Snider vs. Evans thing is the classic peak vs career argument:
Yr   DS    DE
 1   9.3   6.7
 2   8.6   6.4
 3   8.3   5.4
 4   7.6   5.1 
 5   5.8   4.8
 6   5.2   4.5
 7   5.0   4.4
 8   4.6   4.1
 9   3.7   3.8
10   2.4   3.7
11   2.3   3.2
12   1.5   3.1
13   1.2   3.0
14   1.2   3.0
15   0.4   2.0
16   0.2   1.2
17  
-0.4   0.9
18  
-0.6   0.9
19         0.6
20         0.4 


Snider's top-4 are better than anything Evans did (but Evans's top seasons is the strike-shorted 1981). Snider builds a 13 WAR lead in their top-8 seasons and then gives it all back (and change) in seasons 9-20. Evans' WAR curve is smoothed a bit by the fact that he was a better fielder before his bat developed. Snider was the opposite, he was a better fielder during his peak.

















   36. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: June 02, 2018 at 07:44 PM (#5684640)
Of course, this was much less of an issue in the day of 9 and 10 man pitching staffs. God, I miss platooning.
Today's young fan will never know the joys of a Gance Mullinorg arrangement.
   37. Howie Menckel Posted: June 02, 2018 at 07:48 PM (#5684643)
Snider wasn't platooned in Brooklyn. For one thing, they couldn't get lefties to face the Dodgers because the other seven batters in the lineup were right-handed hitters who feasted on left-handed pitching.

that's a minor piece of the overall puzzle - Duke would have either faced far more lefties playing for any other team (and likely struggled), or he'd have sat out more games and racked up less in counting numbers. Unless he was a behind-the-scenes GM who cleverly induced management into stacking the lineup to his benefit, he was just lucky there. great peak, but as noted basically once the Dodgers moved West, his greatness stayed home in Brooklyn.
   38. Dennis Eclairskey, closer Posted: June 02, 2018 at 08:44 PM (#5684663)
The whole Snider vs. Evans thing is the classic peak vs career argument

Good points by #35. And here I thought this thread would degrade into a Hriniak hitting style vs. Modern Day launch angle
As a huge supporter for Evans making the HOF, I prefer to compare Evans to OF HOFer peers Dawson, Winfield and Gwynn

In LA, Snider was older and injury prone and I'm sure most here know more details to his career than I do but he did have a 136 OPS+ in LA over 1547 PA from 58-62 in his early to mid 30s

Snider and Evans are both HOF worthy in my opinion, they just accrued their value in different ways
   39. McCoy Posted: June 03, 2018 at 10:07 AM (#5684789)
that's a minor piece of the overall puzzle - Duke would have either faced far more lefties playing for any other team (and likely struggled), or he'd have sat out more games and racked up less in counting numbers. Unless he was a behind-the-scenes GM who cleverly induced management into stacking the lineup to his benefit, he was just lucky there. great peak, but as noted basically once the Dodgers moved West, his greatness stayed home in Brooklyn.

Well, if he had played for the Red Sox he would have faced probably the same amount of lefties as well.
   40. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 03, 2018 at 11:25 AM (#5684816)
Evans also had a sizable home/road split over the course of his career: .283/.379/.509 at Fenway, .261/.361/.437 on the road.

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