If you grew up watching the Detroit Tigers in the 1980s and 1990s, you remember seeing Harold Baines on the other side. He played a number of years for the White Sox, a few more for the Orioles, Rangers, and A’s. He faced Jack Morris and Dan Petry and Frank Tanana a lot, a whole lot. Which leads me to ask this question:
Did you think of Harold Baines as a Hall of Famer?
If you’re answer was no, you’re in the majority, with the mass of people who reacted with puzzled surprise when Baines was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this month.
Baines was a good player, a fine hitter, and he played a very long time. But few people outside his cronies are supporting his election. His best argument for being in Cooperstown are his career totals of hits and runs batted in. By any other measure: slugging, on-base percentage, OPS, wins above replacement, even his contributions to his team, Baines is unimpressive. At least by the standards that legends should be held to.
Now that Baines is in the Hall, there are many other players who had better careers who can make a claim for inclusion. One of those is former infielder Darrell Evans, who compares favorably to Baines.
First, getting to first base, (it’s more than just a first date tactic). Baines got on base via a hit or a walk 3,928 times, compared to 3,828 for Evans. But Baines played 130 games more than Evans. Darrell’s career. 361 on-base percentage is higher than the .356 mark by Harold.
Sure, a lot of people talk about the 2,866 hits by Baines, but a walk is nearly as good, and Evans ranks 12th all-time in walks with 1,605.
How about hitting for power? The best way to measure power hitting is slugging percentage. Baines has a hefty advantage in raw slugging percentage (.465 to .431), but that comes without important context. Baines played in an era when slugging was much higher than when Evans played. But if we adjust for that and compare their slugging to the league average, the two players move closer together. Baines’ slugging percentage is 13 percent above league average, and for Evans it’s at 10 percent. Not a big difference.
What about defense? This is where Evans has a big advantage, he played third base in more than 1,400 games and more than 850 at first base. He was a good third baseman for much of his career, while Baines was a slow right fielder for a few seasons before he became a designated hitter. Baines played more than 1,600 games at DH, the second most in history. Sixty percent of his career plate appearances came as a one-way player.
As a result of the disparity in their defensive contributions, Evans rates much higher in wins above replacement: he holds a 58-38 edge on Baines. The 38 WAR by Baines is one of the lowest totals among Hall of Famers. The 58 WAR by Evans is higher than the career totals of Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Tony Perez. It’s more than Fred McGriff, who continues to get support for the Hall. Based on advanced analytics, Evans was clearly a better player than Baines, and comparable with many Hall of Famers.
Lastly, there’s career numbers and accomplishments. Evans scored more runs and hit more home runs (414 to 384) than Baines, in 355 fewer plate appearances. He was a key player on a World Series championship team, won a home run crown, topped 40 homers twice, hit 100 homers with three different teams, and earned MVP votes in four different seasons. Baines led the league in slugging once, never hit more than 29 homers, and got MVP votes in four seasons.
Evans will never get a Hall of Fame plaque, and maybe he doesn’t deserve one. Maybe the Hall of Fame is not made for players like him, maybe it should be for the legends, like Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline, and Joe DiMaggio. An argument can be made for that.
But, if Harold Baines is in the Hall of Fame, Evans should be considered, because he was a better baseball player.