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.
  • The AZL team with the best record over the course of the full 2016 AZL season and the only AZL team to play .600 ball (the AZL Dodgers) did not qualify for the AZL playoffs, and the AZL East Division team with the best record over the course of the full season (the AZL Athletics) did not qualify for the AZL playoffs, either. 

    That's because of the ridiculous "split season" schedule most of the minor leagues now play, a stupid system that rewards mediocrity at the expense of the worthy. 

    Arizona Phil 3 min 36 sec ago view
  • Despite good movement on his fastball, I think location kept him from getting Ks. Left some pitches up and away that got hammered up and away. Then of course Travis Wood gave up the 2-run double in the 7th, but both runs counted against Arrieta.

    Charlie 26 min 10 sec ago view
  • "i'm gonna make you my main squeeze one day, bro. save the date."

    This level of discourse is #charming.

    #baseballtalk

    Tito 26 min 41 sec ago view
  • I would be having this discussion with anyone who (a) blathered on ad nauseum about the topic. (See, "Olt, Mike, not given an opportunity") or (b) responded directly to what I posted (which you did).

    Have a nice day.

    #baseballtalk

    Tito 29 min 24 sec ago view
  • what would you do without me? aside from having your posting content here cut by 75%+?

    i'm gonna make you my main squeeze one day, bro. save the date.

    crunch 32 min 44 sec ago view
  • In this instance, yes, I care more about the result of this big thing that isn't really a big thing.

    #crunchsplaining

    #willlistentojeffsullivanmorethanyou

    #blessyourheart

    #hitler

    #tcrmartyr

    #billyhamiltonwar

    #baseballtalk

    Tito 33 min 12 sec ago view
  • Two things:

    Fangraphs WAR #s include baserunning and Hamilton is elite at that. He leads in SBs with the 54 and and has an 87% rate which is really good. I'm sure once he gets on base he's able to take the extra base quite often too. Both those things will up his overall WAR value.

    The differences between BR and FG WAR is pretty well documented online and thus If there are discrepancies it's fairly easy to figure out why. It's fairly well accepted that BR WAR is fine as a snapshot but FG is better at predicting future value.

    johann 37 min 24 sec ago view
  • i have no doubt at all you quit reading at that point. you're very enamored with outcomes without caring what it takes to get there.

    the fact it's exploitable, especially without someone to cover the running game for him, as well it's evolution in how people are testing possible exploits is interesting to some people...to me...i'm some people...hurrah.

    some people want to check the boxscore to see who won, some want to know how it went down.

    crunch 49 min 49 sec ago view
  • I read it as him saying it's not really that much of a concern and that the one time it really cost Lester, vs. K.C., was an anomaly.

    #baseballtalk

    Tito 55 min 24 sec ago view
  • if jeff says it, it's cool...when i say it, it's straight from the mouth of hitler.

    aside from the lack of jeff touching on the insane leads runners take and lester's inability to throw if he's fielding, this is a lot of what i've said about the issue.

    exploitable, needs his own personal catcher to control his shortcomings, relies on his ability to get outs along with his personal catcher keeping runners in check before things become further exploited...

    crunch 57 min 34 sec ago view
  • That would be Rice Krispy Treat

    The E-Man 2 hours 15 min ago view
  • "Crunch's cousin"

    Butterfinger or Baby Ruth?

    VirginiaPhil 2 hours 29 min ago view
  • I saw the first three innings and the last three, so I didn't see Arrieta get hit. His stuff looked nasty at first...what happened? Any insight from anyone who watched?

    #baseballtalk

    Tito 2 hours 42 min ago view
  • That question came from CRUNCH's cousin.

    The E-Man 2 hours 45 min ago view
  • He's definitely one of the best

    #baseballtalk

    Tito 2 hours 45 min ago view
  • Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs on Lester:

    Question: Do you think that Lester’s base-throwing yips/lack of the ability to hold runners is a big deal? He’s had a long, successful career despite this, mainly due to being good a run prevention, but it did hurt that one time vs. KC in the playoffs. Should Cubs fans be making a bigger deal out of it, or is it just not that big of a deal?

    Tito 2 hours 57 min ago view