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.

Recent comments

Subscribe to Recent comments
The first 600 characters of the last 16 comments, click "View" to see rest of comment.
  • They've mentioned Henry Rodriguez (2013), Chris Carpenter, and Andrew Cashner as Cubs who have gone 100+. They said Rodriguez was tops at 100.8. Who knows before 2008?

    QuietMan 12 min 34 sec ago view
  • Regarding Heyward--

    He'll play regardless of what he does, just like Soriano played for seven years before they finally ditched him.

    What can they do? All I can think of is they can keep hiring and firing hitting coaches until they find one who can get him to stop hitting balls with the handle of the bat.

    (All those broken bats added to his paycheck is just a bit much.)

    VirginiaPhil 13 min 12 sec ago view
  • Lester will probably be all right.

    I think Arrieta might have added too much muscle preparing for that butt-naked ESPN photo shoot. Pitchers are supposed to be loose, not muscled up.

    Seriously.

    VirginiaPhil 19 min 39 sec ago view
  • I have basically written off Heyward for this year -- if you are working on major swing changes in late July, you are going to struggle. Hopefully, he can be more productive at the plate next year. It will be interesting to see what they do with him if the Cardinals keep winning and close the gap. Heyward is dead last in the NL in slugging and in the bottom 5 in OPS -- yet still has a positive WAR. Hunh.

    billybucks 23 min 11 sec ago view
  • Has anybody in a Cub uniform ever thrown a ball 103 before?

    VirginiaPhil 26 min 47 sec ago view
  • He certainly looks better, no doubt, and is a different player than what we saw when he first came up. Full credit to him for changing his approach and saving his career.

    But he has zero walks in 35AB since the break, and 10 in 251 AB all year. He does seem to be able to hit some pitches out of the zone, but, a guy with his pop should be drawing more walks. However, it's easy to forget he is still only 23, and probably trying to make an impact to prove he should be an everyday player.

    billybucks 35 min 43 sec ago view
  • The usual suspects, Molina and Wong. Gyorko drew a walk with two outs, none on. I recall us (particularly Szczur and Bryant) swinging at everything Familia threw.

    VirginiaPhil 37 min 35 sec ago view
  • Yup. Thanks Q

    The E-Man 43 min 21 sec ago view
  • QuietMan 51 min 19 sec ago view
  • I for one hope that Sosa comes back soon.

    Rob Richardson 1 hour 10 min ago view
  • O/B interesting you should mention that. Google ESPN Science Aroldis Chapman and you'll be treated to how his mechanics and delivery are possibly historic. It's the 120% of his body stretch plus the torque. They compare him to the Unit and NRyan.

    The E-Man 1 hour 48 min ago view
  • Amazing how much lower the production gets when Bryant runs into a mini-cold streak. He doesn't stay cold for long. If just one of Zobrist or, gulp, Heyward, gets hot, they oughta have one more really nice winning streak in them. Having a closer that you have absolute confidence in can't hurt.

    Old and Blue 2 hours 32 min ago view
  • I hope they hold onto Jimenez. Outfield depth is questionable, especially with McKinney, who struggled this year but still, gone.

    Old and Blue 2 hours 43 min ago view
  • You don't think he's improved? He looks completely different out there than he did when he first came up. The last I checked his K rate was in the low 20% range - 22-23 or so. When he came up it was 40%+.

    To me, what is scary about him if I'm the other guy is that he IS learning the strike zone. This guy could easily be the MVP someday.

    Old and Blue 2 hours 45 min ago view
  • So, playing .500 for the rest of the year puts them at 91 wins. You would think there is enough talent to do a little better than that, right?

    The E-Man 3 hours 3 min ago view
  • First team to 60 wins! Onward to 70, 80, 90 and 100!

    billybucks 11 hours 33 min ago view