By Paul Sporer
If the Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes didn’t do much for you, the signing of Nick Evans to a minor league contract likely won’t even hit your radar, but ESPN’s Mark Simon did a great job looking at Evans and why he just might be an undervalued asset. Simon’s case for Evans has to do primarily with Evans’s strong first base defense.
But Evans did something within his limited time that was significant to those of us trying to learn about advanced defensive stats. It struck me as being the defensive equivalent to hitting .400 over 150-or-so at-bats. In 337 2/3 innings, the equivalent of 37 ½ nine-inning games at first base, Evans finished with seven defensive runs saved. That’s a good number for a first baseman. It tied him for most in the majors for the season with Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo.
While his leather could prove valuable, the question is whether or not he can provide enough with his bat to merit a spot in the lineup at such a hitting-focused position. He has spent parts of the last four seasons in the majors though last year’s 194 plate appearances in 59 games were both career highs. He has a .256/.305/.407 line in 419 plate appearances across his 159 career games suggesting that, no, he can’t offer enough at first base to warrant regular playing time.
His minor league pedigree doesn’t provide too much hope, either. He showed promise in the lower minors posting a .298/.363/.532 line in 834 plate appearances at AA as a 22 and 23 year old, but dropped down to .274/.341/.465 in 695 plate appearances at AAA over the last three years from ages 23 to 25. In order to sustain a glove-first player at first base, your lineup needs to be pretty thick everywhere else or at elite levels at some of the scarce positions like shortstop, catcher, centerfield and third base.
The Pirates lineup is obviously neither of those thus Evans is little more than a bench bat and defensive replacement late in games. He could also become the short side of a platoon as he has handled left-handers quite well throughout his career. In 197 plate appearances against lefties, he has a .295/.360/.489 line compared to a meager .224/.257(!)/.338 line in 222 plate appearances against right-handers.
If deployed properly, Evans can offer a bit of value to the Pirates and since he cost them virtually nothing to acquire, it is a decent enough move. Low impact, zero risk and limited upside.