OK, it’s not the worst trade in Braves history. They didn’t give up the farm for a sore armed “ace” or for one year of a first sacker who is still-a-douche—and thereby greatly reduce the possibility of contention for several years. You know all about those two disasters. The Braves at the time of this trade weren’t going to compete for several years no matter who they traded.But how about trading a 29 year old third basemen who had contributed 22.9 War in his career to date for a 28 year old first baseman who had accumulated 4.3 WAR in the big leagues? (There were other players involved, but these two were the ones that mattered; sorry, Marty Perez.. ). It’s not the worst, but belongs in the category. Today’s topic, Worst Trades in Braves History: Darrell Evans
Making Sense out of the Senseless…Nope.
Of course you’d want to know more. Had one player already put in substantially more playing time? No, each had been a rookie five years before. But, you point out, trades are not about the past, but about predicting the future. And although Yogi Berra and Nils Bohr were right about the difficulty of the task, predictions must be made. Perhaps the 29 year old third baseman was showing signs that his career was winding down, and the 28 year old first baseman for whatever reason appeared to be just hitting his stride.
Hindsight is 20/20, so we can evaluate the trade not through a murky crystal ball, but through the cold hard statistics of careers already complete. The third baseman went on the play another 13 years and accumulated an additional 36 WAR, retiring at 42 with a career total of 58.8 WAR. The first baseman in seven more seasons “added” negative 2.6 WAR to his career total (including -.5 in two seasons with Atlanta); he finished with 1.7 WAR in a career that covered parts of 14 seasons.
That first baseman is Willie Montanez; if you weren’t alive and a baseball fan in the 1970’s you’ve probably never heard of him. You already know that the third sacker the Braves traded was Darrell Evans, who if not Hall of Fame worthy himself, is without a doubt comparable to several players who are in the Hall. For only two examples, his slightly younger contemporary Jim Rice had only 47.7 WAR; his slightly older contemporary Tony Perez had 56 WAR.
Darrell Evans, the Most Underrated Big Leaguer in History?
In 1976, when the Braves trade Evans for Montanez, were they trying to lose? Unlike, say, 2015, this wasn’t a tanking situation. Were they just dumb? Not exactly. A reasonable person could not have foreseen that Evans would remain as good at age 40 as he was at age 29. Indeed, they might have guessed that his career was already on the downhill slope in 1976. When they made the trade in June, Evans was only hitting .173 with 45 OPS+ in 44 games. That’s an awful slump, but perhaps they thought it was more than a temporary slump. He had not matched his excellent 1973 (156 OPS+) in the 1974 and 1975 seasons (121 and 110 OPS+). Turns out that he exceeded that 110 OPS+ in nine more seasons after age 30, including seasons of 150, 138, and 135.
They may not be faulted for failing to foresee the longevity of Evans’ career, but the Braves did miss the boat in the mid-1970’s in seeing what a great player they had in Evans. He led the league in walks in both 1973 and 1974, and for each of the four years before the trade he had at least 90 bases on balls. But his batting average with the Braves, other than the .281 in 1973, was never over .254. (He finished with a career average of .248.)
A Frustrating Trend
For those of you who only started following baseball in the 1990’s or later, you can’t imagine the irrational attention paid to batting average in the olden days. By and large folks equated good hitting with a good batting average. When the Sunday paper listed the offensive stats of teams in each league, they were listed in order of batting average rather than runs scored! On base percentage was not a stat we had heard of. Moreover, there were many that implied that anyone who walked too much was not sufficiently aggressive at the plate.
Earl Weaver well understood how important it is to avoid making outs, and of course Ted Williams and Babe Ruth were “willing to take a walk.” But it wasn’t until Bill James became known in the 1980’s that many finally started to appreciate that batting average without walks or power or both is essentially empty. Darrell Evans may have only hit .248, but he got on base and hit with excellent power. Too bad much of that was not in a Braves uniform.
Thanks for reading on Worst Trades in Braves History, Darrell Evans. If you enjoyed this piece, check our entire catalog of Best/Worst trades here.