The Imaginary Rise and Fall of Nick Evans

Sometime during the 2008 season, I recall Omar Minaya gushing to the media about Nick Evans. I can’t find a quote, or recall enough to paraphrase, so I’ll just make something up within reason:

“We feel very strongly that Nick Evans could be a very good hitter for our club. With that said, it takes right-handed hitters a long time to develop than left handed hitters you know what I’m saying?”

Omar Minaya’s kinda-statement was likely after a game where Nick Evans had a few hits, or perhaps, after the team announced that he’d platoon with Daniel Murphy in left field. Regardless, Minaya and the Mets organization thought highly of the then-22 year old Evans coming off a .386 wOBA in the notoriously pitcher friendly Florida State League and followed it up with a .403 effort in the Eastern League. He hit a modest .252/.303/.404  in 199 major league PA’s, but mashed lefties to an .894 OPS.

The Mets’ optimism continued into spring training when “Nasty” Nick slugged .488 in 80 spring training at-bats. Originally the team’s plans were to carry Evans on the roster until a fifth starter was needed. Gary Sheffield’s signing put the kibosh on that and instead, Evans went to Buffalo to start his season.

Nick struggled to begin the season hitting .093/.206/.226 in April and early May. On the surface, his slash stats are incredibly bad, but let’s take a closer look at the numbers:

87 plate appearances, 3 1B, 1 2B, 3 HR, 11 BB, 27 K, .089 BABIP (!)

That BABIP is just impossible to ignore. Of the 45 balls Evans put in play, only four fell for hits. A player trying to make weak contact couldn’t sustain that kind of BABIP over a larger sampling.  His real problem over this stretch was contact, striking out over 30% of his plate appearances, or nearly 10% higher than 2008. On the plus side, his walk rate jumped a few percentage points. As a whole, Evans was mired in a slump and a terribly unlucky streak over less than a fifth of season’s worth of plate appearances.

Unfortunately, support from the Mets began to waver. The organization felt, as expressed through whispers from choice media outlets, that Evans couldn’t handle his abrupt demotion to Buffalo. This tough guy — annoyed all season that the Indians left for Columbus — dubbed Evans ‘Ol 7-for-75′. He was eventually sent to to extended spring training to “get righted”. There he saw a sports psychologist and was eventually dispatched to Binghamton, the level he dominated last season.

Unsurprisingly, Evans hit immediately upon his return posting a .376 wOBA in his 80 plate apperances. The Mets, running short on healthy bodies, were forced to call Evans up in late June. He started eleven games and was returned to Buffalo once Angel Pagan returned.

Through the summer, however, it became clear his stock diminished with the organization.  Once he was called up for good in late August, Evans started only four games, receiving 22 total plate appearances and losing time to the 34 year old Fernando Tatis and 30 year old Cory Sullivan. Jerry Manuel explained his absence from the lineup as such, “I still have to be sure defensively how he fits.” Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post reiterated the Mets’ nascent lack of confidence in the 23 year old, Tweeting that the organization was down on him and felt he didn’t have a position.

What?  This player was going to make the team out of spring training, less than a year after Omar said right-handed hitters needed longer to develop! He’s 23 years old! He started Game 162 of the 2008 season in left field! Apparently, in the world of the New York Mets, 87 bad turns at the plate means a player can no longer hit or field competently.

Nick Evans’ Minor League Splits Total Zone Defense at First Base

Season League TZ TZ/150
2005 Kingsport (R-APP) +4  
2005 Brooklyn (SS-NYP) +6 +16
2006 Hagerstown (A-SAL) +9 +9
2007 St. Lucie (A+-FSL) -3 -4
2008 Binghamton (AA-EL) +5 +13
2009 Binghamton (AA-EL) -3  
2009 Buffalo (AAA – IL) +2  

Total Zone is the only objective measure of minor league defense available and it says Nick Evans can play some first base. His Major League UZR, in an extremely limited and insignificant sample, agrees with Total Zone.

Evans’ ability to play the outfield is more an unknown. He doesn’t have much MiLB experience there, but he’s tall, lean and athletic and possesses a strong enough arm to make good throws. According to UZR, Nick’s defense in left field rated very well in 2008 (+19.7 UZR/150 in 186 innings) and quite poorly in 2009 (-35.3 in 74 innings); however, the sample sizes are miniscule.

Abominably, it’s those small sample sizes that the Mets believe in. Daniel Murphy’s hot 130 PA’s in 2008 earned him the 2009 starting left fielder’s job. Jeff Francoeur’s goofy smile and ten post-trade home runs is enough to erase full seasons of suck. A couple of “clutch” hits in late September beget a lifetime of Ramon Martinez.

I just wish the Mets believed in this small sample:

 

Nick Evans Running Catch

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