Worst Trades in Braves History: Darrell Evans

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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?

I don’t need to say much more about Evans here. Our founder did that much better than I can right here. As Mac noted, Bill James has called Evans the most underrated player in baseball 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.

15 thoughts on “Worst Trades in Braves History: Darrell Evans”

  1. Three nicknames in that trade you wouldn’t see nowadays, for different reasons. Howdy Doody because nobody would get the reference, Hot Dog because we don’t punish flair, and Taco because racist.

  2. Nick was JC’ed last thread:

    Update from Ken Rosenthal on the status of the restart:

    https://theathletic.com/1804433/2020/05/09/rosenthal-latest-details-on-baseballs-plan-to-return/

    For those of you who don’t subscribe to The Athletic, it’s essentially what was floated a week or so ago by Bob Nightengale (teams will stay entirely within their geographic area, play in their home parks without fans, expanded rosters, expanded playoffs, etc.) except they’ve dropped the weird thing where we were switching to the Central and the Pirates were switching to the East (we’d now play only teams in the NL and AL East) and this plan is for 80 or so games, meaning they don’t seem too keen on pushing the playoffs back too far into November.

    They’re gonna present it to the owners on Monday and, if approved, send it to the players for approval on Tuesday and try to get further salary concessions from them.

    I’d guess the biggest obstacle to this plan working is probably a potential resurgence of the virus in the next month as everything starts to open back up, but a close second might be the owners and players agreeing to some sort of salary framework.

  3. Per the discussion yesterday, this would’ve been a Type 3 trade, and hoo boy.

  4. Coming 7 months after the Dusty Baker trade, this one was another sign of a franchise adrift. But you left out my “favorite” part of this trade. In 1974 the Braves started Craig Robinson at shortstop who put up a highly memorable 51 OPS+ in 506 plate appearances. That’s a lotta outs! Showing some sign of sense, they managed to fob Robinson off on the Giants to acquire Ed Goodson in June 1975, who would be the throw-in in the Baker trade 6 months later. But then in this trade, they got Craig back! Granted, they only gave him another 53 plate appearances over the next year, but I always had in the back of my mind the discussion over this trade:
    Braves: “OK. That’s it.”
    Giants: “Not so fast. You’ve got to take Craig back. And furthermore, he has to take a roster spot for at least a year. You owe us.”

  5. Eddie Robinson masterminded the 1975 Baker trade, but was fired in March 1976, so this was not his trade. Bill Lucas wasn’t made GM until September, so I’m actually not sure who made this trade. Ted? [It was apparently John Alevizos, who I’d never heard of until today. I also just found out that Eddie Robinson is the oldest current living baseball player, and the last living Cleveland Indians World Champion.]

  6. Wow Jonathan! Your reference to Eddie Robinson got me wanting to know more about the Braves GM I know the least about. What a fascinating baseball career. And another player who lost several years to WW2 service. And then I went further down the rabbit hole to learn about the 1943 Navy World Series he was part of. And I’m incredulous I have never heard of it before. Highly recommend other readers check it out.

  7. My older cousin insisted at the time that Eddie Robinson was Craig Robinson’s uncle, but the Braves tried to hide that fact. Nothing else could explain all the playing time Craig got in 1974.

  8. My uncle Donnie had a still of the shot at 1:03 of this video on his wall at his house that he had taken live. He was the bullpen catcher and shared a bunkhouse with Feller and Reese.

  9. 66,67,71,47,77,58,60,49,78,51,61,82,64,43,61,0,62,31,26,77,63,92,90,70,65,71,64,51,68,78,76,53

    ^^
    Seasonal OPS+ of Braves starting and significant reserve shortstops from the time Denis Menke left after the 1967 season to the installing of Jeff Blauser as starter in 1990. That’s Rafael Ramirez bubbling up in ’82-’83. Even in an era (or eras) where SS offense was not presumed or even necessarily expected, that is quite a record of futility. (The “0” is, of course, Pat Rockett, whom I had to stretch to include but who really needed to be represented. He was Success 1.0….)

  10. Crazy to think that Evans spent only 9 of his 21 seasons in Atlanta. It just seems like he was always a Brave at heart. I guess him coming back to Atlanta for his final season made that seem even more like reality. Losing Baker and Evans in their prime for very insignificant returns definitely makes you wonder what could have been.

  11. I believe I saw when I was looking up things on Montanez a week or so ago that he and Evans had both been contract holdouts that spring, so the Braves probably weren’t too happy with Evans even before he was hitting .173 and slugging .194 in June. (His OBP was still .320, though.)

  12. Yeah in all seriousness, Evans was probably asking for about 10 thousand more dollars than the Braves wanted to give.

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