ZiPS Time Warp: Jim Fregosi

There’s a kind of depressing infamy that comes with being a player on the losing end of a lopsided trade. Players like Glenn Davis, Ernie Broglio, and Larry Andersen are more famous for the players they were traded for than anything they did in their own careers. It’s an unfair bit of notoriety, too; there’s not much cosmic justice involved when Harvey Kuenn, who played in 10 All-Star games, is remembered more for a decision to trade Rocky Colavito he didn’t make rather than being a .314/.360/.426, 23.5 WAR hitter in seven full seasons with the Detroit Tigers. Jim Fregosi is another star who’s a member of this unfortunate club.

In the case of Fregosi, his run as an elite shortstop might actually be a distant third in the ol’ memory banks. If you asked a random baseball fan in 2021 what they know about him, at least one who isn’t an Angels fan, you’d likely get one of two responses: his status as the player traded for Nolan Ryan or his 15-year post-playing career as a manager for four teams, most famously those notorious misfits, the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies. But when Mike Trout blew through the Angels record for the most career WAR for a position player, the previous holder wasn’t Tim Salmon or Brian Downing or Darin Erstad or Bobby Grich. It was Jim Fregosi.

Top Angels Position Players by WAR
Name G HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Mike Trout 1263 306 .305 .418 .584 172 76.7
Jim Fregosi 1429 115 .268 .340 .403 116 42.6
Brian Downing 1661 222 .271 .372 .441 128 36.5
Bobby Grich 1222 154 .269 .370 .436 126 35.6
Tim Salmon 1672 299 .282 .385 .498 130 35.4
Darin Erstad 1320 114 .286 .341 .416 97 27.6
Garret Anderson 2013 272 .296 .327 .469 102 26.3
Howie Kendrick 1081 78 .292 .332 .424 107 23.1
Chone Figgins 936 31 .291 .363 .388 103 22.2
Troy Glaus 827 182 .253 .357 .497 120 20.7
Vladimir Guerrero 846 173 .319 .381 .546 138 20.3
Erick Aybar 1220 48 .276 .315 .378 92 19.5
Jim Edmonds 709 121 .290 .359 .498 118 19.5
Wally Joyner 899 117 .286 .350 .450 119 18.7
Doug DeCinces 787 130 .265 .336 .463 115 18.2
Torii Hunter 713 105 .286 .352 .462 122 16.2
Adam Kennedy 992 51 .280 .334 .398 92 15.6
Rod Carew 834 18 .314 .393 .392 121 15.4
Kole Calhoun 966 140 .249 .322 .424 105 15.3
Andrelton Simmons 561 36 .281 .328 .394 96 15.1

Fregosi’s success with the Angels wasn’t just a local phenomena. Going into 1971, Fregosi was coming off an age-28 season in which he hit .278/.353/.459 for 129 wRC+ and 6.8 WAR. That last number was good enough for fifth in baseball, behind four Hall of Famers: Carl Yastrzemski, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, and Willie McCovey. If the 129 wRC+ isn’t enough to demonstrate that Fregosi’s WAR isn’t just a case of modern defensive estimates loving an old player in hindsight, he had already made six All-Star teams, voted on and selected by fans and managers long before wins above replacement was an actual thing. Receiving MVP votes in eight consecutive seasons is an accolade that even Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken Jr. failed to muster! Here’s how he staked up versus other players at the position through their age-28 season:

Top Shortstops Through Age-28 Season
Name G HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Alex Rodriguez 1430 381 .305 .381 .574 143 68.6
Arky Vaughan 1305 78 .325 .416 .473 145 59.0
Cal Ripken Jr. 1315 204 .277 .347 .461 123 49.0
Robin Yount 1549 129 .286 .331 .427 111 43.3
Jim Fregosi 1322 110 .271 .341 .408 118 41.6
Travis Jackson 1212 103 .299 .347 .450 107 40.3
Lou Boudreau 1043 36 .290 .373 .409 121 40.1
Ernie Banks 922 228 .295 .355 .558 135 39.7
Joe Cronin 1134 60 .302 .383 .452 117 39.6
Vern Stephens 1154 177 .288 .360 .466 123 37.3
Alan Trammell 1289 90 .281 .349 .403 109 35.5
Joe Tinker 1110 21 .250 .294 .336 93 34.4
Nomar Garciaparra 772 145 .328 .375 .562 136 32.7
Derek Jeter 1093 117 .317 .389 .463 125 32.5
Hanley Ramirez 1009 158 .298 .371 .495 128 31.9
Rico Petrocelli 977 157 .255 .335 .450 116 31.8
Joe Sewell 1097 19 .323 .404 .431 117 31.2
Jose Reyes 1050 81 .292 .341 .441 106 30.6
Francisco Lindor 785 138 .285 .346 .486 118 29.1
Cecil Travis 1102 25 .327 .381 .436 112 28.4

Through age 28, Fregosi stood among the great shortstops in MLB history, ranking fifth all-time in WAR among players who played at least 50% of their games at the position. At the time, was even more impressive; three of the four players ahead of him in the ranks came after Fregosi’s playing career was over, leaving him looking up only at Arky Vaughan after 1970.

From 1963 to 1970, Fregosi played in 1,253 games, the fourth-most in baseball. Of the top eight players, he’s the only one who didn’t end up in the Hall of Fame. Fregosi never played in 110 games in a season after 1970. The first culprit was a case of Morton’s neuroma in his right foot, a mass of nerve tissue in the ball of the foot commonly referred to as a benign tumor. (In one of those odd ways that history likes to repeat itself, this was the exact same injury that Mike Trout required surgery for in 2019.) Fregosi played through this injury on-and-off for two months, and by the time he went under the knife in July, his line stood at .192/.274/.295 in 60 games, suggesting the Angels didn’t manage the situation particularly well.

Returning a month later, Fregosi played at his normal levels, though his usual moderate power was missing; his .286/.369/.364 line post-injury was more than respectable. Encouraged by his recovery, the Mets acquired him in December of 1971 for four players. I don’t imagine I need to introduce Nolan Ryan, but at the time of the trade, he was still a very raw talent, more wild pyromancer than The Ryan Express. Leroy Stanton was the team’s starting right fielder for four seasons, and Don Rose was part of the chain of trades that brought the Angels Ed Figueroa, Bobby Bonds, and eventually Brian Downing. The last player, Frank Estrada, didn’t make a splash in his one game in the majors, but he went on to play in the Mexican League up until 1994, when he was still hanging on as a player-manager; he made both the Mexican and Caribbean Hall of Fames.

Fregosi played both first and left field for the Angels in his final season in California, and the Mets intended to play him at third base as Bud Harrelson, the team’s incumbent shortstop, was coming off a Gold Glove season. Fregosi’s offense was hampered by both a thumb injury and falling out of shape due to, by his own admission “leading the good life.” Stardom never returned, and Fregosi was traded to the Rangers before finishing his second season with the Mets. He spent the next several seasons as a role player in steep decline before retiring in 1978 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

So, let’s dial the ZiPS time machine to 1970. Gone is the foot injury — sure, that’s impossible, but we’re already using a time machine here, so it’s a little late to object — and in this timeline, the high-achieving Fregosi finds it easier to keep his body in check when not enduring significant professional setbacks.

ZiPS Time Warp – Jim Fregosi
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO OPS+ WAR
1961 .222 .250 .222 27 7 6 0 0 0 3 1 4 23 -0.2
1962 .291 .356 .406 175 15 51 3 4 3 23 18 27 108 0.6
1963 .287 .325 .422 592 83 170 29 12 9 50 36 104 114 3.9
1964 .277 .369 .463 505 86 140 22 9 18 72 72 87 141 7.0
1965 .277 .337 .407 602 66 167 19 7 15 64 54 107 114 5.4
1966 .252 .325 .391 611 78 154 32 7 13 67 67 89 108 5.0
1967 .290 .349 .395 590 75 171 23 6 9 56 49 77 125 5.2
1968 .244 .315 .365 614 77 150 21 13 9 49 60 101 111 3.5
1969 .260 .361 .381 580 78 151 22 6 12 47 93 86 114 4.4
1970 .278 .353 .459 601 95 167 33 5 22 82 69 92 127 6.8
1971 .269 .344 .404 592 81 159 26 6 14 64 67 84 128 5.0
1972 .262 .334 .392 587 76 154 26 7 12 62 62 83 131 5.3
1973 .275 .350 .421 575 94 158 26 8 14 77 65 74 127 4.9
1974 .270 .347 .403 563 89 152 24 9 11 73 65 70 123 4.5
1975 .265 .338 .393 555 82 147 23 9 10 67 60 65 115 3.7
1976 .261 .328 .373 547 70 143 20 10 7 58 53 59 112 3.3
1977 .265 .328 .396 540 77 143 21 10 10 64 49 58 102 2.4
1978 .250 .307 .353 507 67 127 18 8 6 55 40 48 91 1.5
1979 .252 .302 .348 528 77 133 15 9 6 62 36 45 79 0.6
1980 .244 .287 .322 401 44 98 10 6 3 36 23 31 70 -0.1
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO OPS+ WAR
ZiPS RoC .262 .329 .383 5395 757 1414 209 82 93 618 520 617 110 31.1
Actual .245 .326 .369 1626 184 399 60 9 41 193 196 323 100 2.6
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO OPS+ WAR
ZiPS Career .266 .335 .395 10292 1417 2741 413 151 203 1131 1039 1391 114 72.7
Actual .299 .338 .398 6523 844 1726 264 78 151 706 715 1097 113 44.2

After 1970, ZiPS projects four more four-win seasons from Fregosi, and three or four more after that as a solid starter. If we give him four additional All-Star seasons for that run, Fregosi gets to double digits. Of the eligible players who made a decade’s worth of All-Star contests, only two without a PED black mark, Bill Freehan and Steve Garvey, aren’t in the Hall. A rest-of-career projection gets him to 70 WAR and just under 3000 hits, a comparable career to Jeter’s. If this version of Fregosi didn’t get into the Hall of Fame, I expect that he’d be one of the current causes célèbre of the analytics community, along with players like Lou Whitaker.

I’m not even sure that the actual Jim Fregosi shouldn’t be in the Hall. He edges out Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills in the 1960s shortstop WAR ranks despite playing in 300-400 fewer games than either, so you can argue that he was the best shortstop of the decade. That’s usually a solid argument for having a Hall of Fame peak. He’s 21st in my colleague Jay Jaffe’s JAWS leaders, so it’s not like he’s a galaxy away if you fold entire careers into the mix. While I’m not sure I’d actually vote for Fregosi to make the Hall, it’s not preposterous. Jim Fregosi was an important player in MLB history, and he should be remembered for that, not for an unfortunate trade that pops up on various Worst Ever lists.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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