The Keltner List was developed by Bill James as a device to evaluate a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy. In The Politics of Glory James says that it is probably his favorite tool to do that. (You can read about the background in that book, or do a Google search, for further information.) So let’s run it for Darrell Evans…
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
This is a tough standard, but obviously the answer is no.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
Evans was the best player on the Braves from 1973-75 (by Win Shares, tied with Niekro in ’74), and the best player on the Giants in 1979 (tied with Jack Clark), 1980, and 1983. I would say that he was genuinely the Braves’ best player in those years, but Clark was the “real” best player on the Giants, when he was able to play.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
No, except in 1973, but he had tough competition in Mike Schmidt (and George Brett in the AL). Other than Schmidt, I think he was the best NL third baseman of the seventies, though contemporaries would have said Ron Cey.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
The Braves won the division in his rookie year, but he played sparingly and didn’t really have an impact, and fell out of contention (largely due to poor pitching) immediately thereafter. The Giants in Evans’ time were not much better. Their best finish was third, but just two games behind the Braves, in 1982. Evans was the third-best hitter on the team that year, but didn’t play especially well; if he’d had his 1983 (when he hit 30 homers) a year earlier, the Giants likely would have at least forced a playoff with the Braves.
The Tigers won it all in 1984, but Evans didn’t play well and they would have won anyway no matter who played first base. He did play well in 1987, when the Tigers won by two games, and that’s probably the one year he had a real impact on a race, positive or negative.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
This is a hard question to answer, because Evans’ “prime” was when most players wind down. Though 1973 was his best season, his three next best came at 36, 38, and 40. He was a good enough player that he had a chance to do that.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
No, Ron Santo is. A lot of the best candidates (among position players) happen to be third basemen.
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
By Similarity Scores, the most-similar player to Evans is (by far) Graig Nettles, who is not in the Hall and fell off the ballot in his second year of eligibility. I would argue that Sim Scores don’t tell the whole story here, because they don’t take walks much into account and don’t pay attention to on-base percentage at all. Evans and Nettles have the same batting average (.248) and are back-to-back on the career hits list (2225 for Nettles, 2223 for Evans), but Evans’ OBP is .361, Nettles’ .329. Evans also had a little more power.
None of the eight most-similar players to Evans is in the Hall of Fame; Dale Murphy (third) and Ron Santo (eighth) are popular candidates. Ninth and tenth are Eddie Mathews and Billy Williams, who are in, but neither they nor Santo are really very close to Evans.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Evans meets 40.8 percent of Hall of Fame Standards, which is on the low side but better than a number of Hall of Famers… For a long time, the only eligible player with more career homers than Evans not in the Hall of Fame was Dave Kingman, and Evans was a superior player to Kingman in virtually every way other than hitting home runs. However, Evans is now behind Andre Dawson — at least until the latter is elected in the next couple of years — and the McGwire/Canseco group of Neo-Live Ball players.
Evans ranks very high among third basemen in a number of categories. The only third basemen with more career homers are Schmidt and Mathews, who of course are long in the Hall of Fame. The only third basemen with more RBI are those two, Brett, and Brooks Robinson (with three more) — all, of course, Hall of Famers. The only third basemen with more runs scored are Brett, Boggs, Mathews, and Arlie Latham, a nineteenth century player whose best years were in the American Association, a pretty marginal major league. The only third basemen with more runs created are the big four of Brett, Schmidt, Boggs, and Mathews. To be perfectly fair, he is usually a lot closer to the players behind him than those in front of him.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
First off, Evans is a much better “sabermetric” player than he was measured by the standards generally used in his day, because he walked a lot in a time in which few people cared about such things. His supporters for the Hall of Fame are almost exclusively drawn from outside organized baseball and the traditional baseball media.
Evans played what should have been his best years for the Giants in Candlestick Park, during an era that slightly favored pitchers. He left a few home runs and a lot of hits by the Bay.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
No, once again Ron Santo is, though Evans’ career was longer than Santo’s and thus he has more homers, runs scored, and RBI. After Santo, it would be between Evans and Ken Boyer, and I could go either way. I think all three should go in.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Evans drew MVP votes in four seasons, but never finished in the top ten in the voting. His 1973 season is an MVP-type season (.281/.403/.556, 41 HR, 104 RBI, 114 RS) but it’s a fluke season, really; all those numbers are career highs. He had one other 40-homer season, twelve years later with the Tigers, but hit .248 and thus had no chance.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
Evans played in only two All-Star games in his career, in 1973 and 1983. This would be one of the lowest totals for a Hall of Famer in the All-Star era. This is tempered by two facts: first, that so much of his value was in walks, to which nobody paid attention, and second that he was in the same league and playing the same position as the greatest third baseman of all time, which limits your opportunities. Schmidt made eight All-Star games in the years both he and Evans were in the NL. Cey was usually the other NL All-Star in those years, plus Pete Rose was a third baseman part of this time.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
If everything broke right — as it never did — I think so. The 1973 version certainly could have led a pennant winner, and would have with even ordinary pitching, but as I’ve said I think of that year as a fluke. There have been worse “best players” than Evans on pennant winners.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
Evans had no great impact I can think of. He was one of the guys Ted Turner had put a nickname (“Howdy”) on his uniform, but that’s pretty petty.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
As far as I know, Evans never had any problems.
Probably the only player whose value lies more in walks than Darrell Evans is Eddie Yost, who ranks just ahead of him (ninth to Evans’ tenth) on the all-time list. Since the writers — and certainly the players on the Veterans’ Committee — really don’t pay much attention to walks, what they see is a guy with a .248 career batting average who hung around a long time because he hit some homers. This is unfair; Evans was a player who contributed in many ways other than home runs. But people are still hung up on batting average, and Evans suffers for it.