The Baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Era committee is going to meet early this December to vote on whom on their ballot, if anyone, should be enshrined as a new member of baseball’s glorious hall. This is the same committee that voted Ron Santo into the Hall of Fame in 2011. The “Golden Era” covers the years 1947 to 1972, and this year’s ballot includes nine players whose main contributions occurred during this window, one of whom is a shortstop. Unjustly, the shortstop on the committee’s ballot is Maury Wills of the Los Angeles Dodgers instead of the more deserving shortstop who played during this era, Jim Fregosi of the Los Angeles/California Angels.
Not that Wills was not a great player. He was the starting shortstop on three Los Angeles Dodgers World Series championship teams, in 1959, 1963, and 1965, and he had that headline grabbing year in 1962 when he broke Ty Cobb’s single season stolen base record by swiping 104 bags to Cobb’s 96.
It’s just that Fregosi was a better player.
Clearly, Wills was a superior base-stealer. When you look at each player’s ten-year prime (for Wills that was from 1960 to 1969, and for Fregosi that was from 1963 to 1972), Wills stole 535 bases to Fregosi’s 69. But even with that huge advantage, Wills was able to score only 174 more runs than Fregosi during their prime years (874 vs. 700). So although Fregosi wasn’t nearly the base-stealer Wills was, Fregosi was obviously a great base-runner once the ball was put in play.
But in the two fundamental yardsticks of offensive ability, the ability to get on base and the ability to hit for power, Fregosi topped Wills. During each player’s ten-year prime, Fregosi had 577 walks to Wills’ 439, which led to Fregosi sporting a .338 on-base percentage to Wills’ .330 OBP. A slight advantage to the Angel, I know, but there would be a huge discrepancy in power. During this time, Fregosi hit 231 doubles to Wills’ 136. Fregosi hit 117 home runs to Wills’ 17. Fregosi hit 552 RBI to Wills’ 369.
So when you add their on-base percentages and slugging percentages, Fregosi had the superior .738 OPS to Wills’ .672 OPS.
The best metrics that measure a player’s defensive ability are Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, but the data those metrics depend on doesn’t exist for players from the 1960s, so, according to Fangraphs, a measurement called Total Zone is the best historical fielding metric available. When you look at Total Zone scores for the two players’ careers, Fregosi’s score blows Wills’ away. Fregosi compiled a 24 TZ score compared to the score of 4 for Wills’ career.
And then there is WAR. During their careers, Wills played in 412 more games, giving him more opportunity to rack up more WAR, yet he lags behind Fregosi in this category as well. Fregosi racked up 48.7 WAR in his career while Wills could only reach 39.5 WAR. And during this “Golden Era” from 1947 to 1972 that the Hall of Fame committee is considering, Jim Fregosi ranks number 36 in WAR among all players of this era, one step behind Pete Rose and one step ahead of Gil Hodges, while Wills ranks number 50 on this list.
One final thing. When the legendary statistician Bill James published The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract in 2003, he included lists of, in his carefully measured opinion, the 100 greatest players at each position. At the shortstop position, he ranked James Louis Fregosi as the 16th greatest shortstop to ever play the game. Maury Wills? He came in at number 21.