Ernie Banks

Just How Good Was Ernie Banks?

A lot of ink has been spilled the last few days remembering and honoring the late, great Ernie Banks. Besides being, by all acounts, a wonderful person and ambassador for the game, he was also undoubtedly one of the best baseball players ever, as his many accolades attest. First Ballot Hall of Famer. 14X All Star. Two-Time National League MVP. Gold Glove Winner. His appearances on the major career leaderboards further illustrate his legacy. More than 40 years after he retired he is still 22nd in Home Runs, 29th in RBI, 35th in Extra Base Hits, 34th in Total Bases, 14th in Intentional Walks. More advanced metrics paint an even stronger picture: Banks is in the top 100 all time in Runs Created, Win Probability Added, and MVP Shares, and Baseball Reference has him ranked as the 119th best player in baseball history and the 82nd best position player in history by WAR.

What makes all of this even more impressive is that Banks really had two careers. The first was as an elite short stop. The second, following a knee injury, was as an above average first baseman. While he continued to put up impressive counting stats and had a few good seasons after the switch, the vast majority of his career value occurred prior to the move. To illustrate, Banks accumulated 54.8 WAR through 1961 (his age 30 season) and then only 12.3 WAR over his remaining 10 seasons. His early peak was so good, if he had simply retired following the 1961 season he would still rank as the 146th best position player of all time--just between Enos Slaughter and Billy Herman, two Hall of Famers.

To more deeply examine just how talented Banks was in his prime, I examined his peak WAR at short stop historically. I followed the Baseball Reference definition of "peak" as a player's 7 best seasons--but I restricted it to a player's seven best season at short stop (a season in which they played more games at SS than any other position). The 7 seasons did not have to be consecutive, though in Banks' case they were. From 1954-1960 Banks was primarily a short stop and he accumulated 49.7 WAR. You can see in the table below how he stacks up historically. If you had to select a short stop and could select any player in history in the prime or peak of his career, Banks would certainly be a top five pick, behind only Wagner, A-Rod, Ripken, and Vaughan.

HERO

I never thought Ernie Banks passing would affect me like this. I'm not the type to be openly weeping but I am. Listening to the radio and hearing story after story of people that wanted to share their personal stories of meeting Ernie and the uplifting impact he had on everyone he touched. We are all little kids somewhere inside and Ernie was magic when it came to Cub fans. He was Chicago's treasure from the 1950's to the present.

The Top 10 Best Seasons Ever by a Cub

As part of this Cubs history kick that started with Wiklifield, I had this idea of trying to figure out what was the best individual season by a member of the Cubs. As I started pouring through the research I decided that the burden of annointing the best Cubs' season ever was too much for this humble Cubs fan. Now I realize as a blogger and top 10 list-maker, I'm suppose to just present my opinion as fact and not accept any other arguments, but I decided for this instance to enlist the rest of the TCR writers.

I put together a list of 27 great Cubs seasons and put it to a vote and would weigh it MVP-style (10 pts for a first place vote, 9 for a second place vote, etc). The criteria for this list were all the Cubs' NL MVP seasons and Cy Young winners and then the best of the rest based on sabermetric dominance in either WARP-3 or Win Shares (Lee in 2005) , historical signifcance  (Wilson's RBI record in 1930) or place in Cubs history (Sutcliffe in 1984). Now there may have been a few names that deserved to be in that
original top 27 list over some other names, but I'm sure I didn't miss
the top season. As I mentioned in the poll, just think of it as the
NCAA tournament...there's a lot of arguments on who deserved to be in
the original 65 picks, but those that are left out never really had a
chance to win the whole thing. 

The only instruction I laid out for their votes was to use whatever
criteria each writer saw fit. Some of us have a sabermetric slant to
the world, some like MVP trophies, some just remember what we saw and
its impact at the time and so forth and so on. Transmission, Cubnut, Dr. Hecht and myself ended up participating and our ballots are listed at the end of the post. The final results for the readers voting is also at the end. We by no means believe this is the list to rule all lists, but it was an interesting exercise nonetheless. I mean if Arizona Phil or Christian had submitted their ballots, the final results could have been very different. Also, we tend to believe with our eyes and hearts and I don't think any of us saw much baseball before 1950 - and for some of us - not much before 1980. Speaking for myself, I had a hard time giving double credit for a player, generally focusing on what I felt to be their best season, even if they had a second or third great season that deserved to be recognized. But this is more art than science and the final results certainly are skewed by a small sample size.

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  • On the other hand, Pries won his first start for Iowa, only giving up two HRs in the process. This trade has got some legs yet!

    Eric S 4 hours 12 min ago view
  • KB now with 0 RBI in his last 10 games and 1 in his last 15, despite having 19 hits in his last 15 games and raising his batting average from .278 to .286 over that span.

    Maybe have Zobrist hit 2 and KB hit 4?

    Also -- no HR in the last 15 games -- time for a bunch. Starting tomorrow.

    billybucks 4 hours 28 min ago view
  • Down a run. Fowler on first. Nobody out. KB singles to left, Fowler makes it to third, perfect throw from Cabrera nails KB trying to stretch for 2nd.

    So, instead of 1st & 3rd and no out, you have 3rd with one out. It was a perfect throw, but why take the chance with 3-4-5 hitters coming up?

    billybucks 4 hours 42 min ago view
  • Must be a Cub thing - our lefties can;t get lefties out.

    billybucks 4 hours 43 min ago view
  • Splitting hairs, but Jake's pitch was poor execution, while KB's play was a poor decision (and the 2nd time he got thrown out trying to stretch in the game). Poor execution happens. Poor decisions are preventable. Speaking of poor decisions -- Baez's steal of 3rd made absolutely no sense.

    billybucks 4 hours 44 min ago view
  • Didn't Jake cost them the game with a pitch to Frazier?

    The E-Man 4 hours 57 min ago view
  • Missed the play w/Bryant. What happened?

    The E-Man 4 hours 58 min ago view
  • Not a good decision by Bryant in the 9th. That may have cost them the game.

    billybucks 5 hours 2 min ago view
  • Can we un-do the Montgomery deal? Please?

    billybucks 5 hours 3 min ago view
  • THAT WAS TURRIBLE.

    crunch 5 hours 6 min ago view
  • Who is this Arrieta guy? Can I get the old one back please?

    The E-Man 6 hours 14 min ago view
  • Well, this is, once again, the whole season for the Sox.

    billybucks 6 hours 19 min ago view
  • ...and the Bryant RBI jinx continues in the 3rd....crap.

    billybucks 7 hours 51 min ago view
  • bryant's in the dugout filling a police report BECAUSE HE JUST GOT ROBBED.

    f'n cabrerra...

    crunch 8 hours 28 min ago view
  • chapman showing up and available tomorrow night.

    i'm sure he'll be a bit hit. hope he doesn't choke. dude has a rifle for an arm. he'll add a bit of punch to the bullpen.

    crunch 8 hours 29 min ago view
  • the 'crosstown classic' sure has lost it's magic with interleague. the excitement level is barely noticable...maybe it's a bit more hype in the city, itself.

    crunch 8 hours 34 min ago view