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

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  • I would rather have Ian Happ at second.

    Rob Richardson 12 min 30 sec ago view
  • that is a hell of a lot of talent to shift for a reliever who's gonna get paid top-scale "free agent" type money in 2017+ after a 1/2 year rental for the remainder of 2016.

    crunch 25 min 2 sec ago view
  • Cubs are going to need a 2nd baseman of the future. I'm still not convinced Baez can be that offensively on an everyday basis.

    johann 1 hour 7 min ago view
  • Updating: Per @Joelsherman1, #Cubs-#Yankees trade, if completed, would be Chapman for Torres, Warren and likely two others.

    Can only imagine they'd only give that much up if he's signing an extension. 

    Rob G. 1 hour 22 min ago view
  • The official police report on Chapman:

    https://www.scribd.com/document/292708682/Chapman-...

    You can draw your own conclusions.

    Old and Blue 3 hours 15 min ago view
  • Where is he going to play for the Cubs?

    Rob Richardson 3 hours 42 min ago view
  • That was, ummmm, you know. A joke?

    Old and Blue 3 hours 47 min ago view
  • Even from an on-field perspective, Torres is a 19-year-old beating up High-A pitching who also plays a great SS. Even if he never develops a legit MLB power stroke, he's still an obvious 4-tool guy with a very high floor. Sucks to trade away his next 6-8 years for a closer, albeit a great one.

    John Beasley 5 hours 16 min ago view
  • "Like the Chapman deal for Cubs from on-field POV, wish I didn't now have to feel lousy following an otherwise likable Cubs team." @jonahkeri

    pretty much sums up my feelings

    Rob G. 11 hours 25 min ago view
  • You mean Yankees?

    QuietMan 11 hours 29 min ago view
  • Cards lose!

    billybucks 11 hours 36 min ago view
  • You do have a point. The TheoJed certainly would need to address this in a transparent way. Milton Bradley was no help to the team.

    The E-Man 11 hours 49 min ago view
  • FWIW, the Cubs would get a compensation draft pick between the 1st & 2nd rounds (around #35) if they extend a Qualifying Offer to Chapman post-2016 (probably about $17M), Chapman declines, and then he signs with another MLB club before next year's draft. 

    Arizona Phil 11 hours 55 min ago view
  • This all assumes Chapman doesn't want to be a free agent and possibly sign a $20MM+/year deal. We all know free agents get overpaid, sometimes dramatically (Hello, JayHey!). Not sure why Chapman would agree to the extension. If i'm is agent, I would tell him I could get I'm a $100M deal as a FA.

    billybucks 12 hours 2 min ago view
  • I'll root for the uniform and imagine it's left-handed Rod Beck or Randy Myers out there I suppose.

    Rob G. 12 hours 26 min ago view
  • Amen to this. I guess it's gonna happen and I'm gonna have to suck it up but I really despise domestic abusers with every bone in my body and cannot stand them on any team I root for.

    johann 12 hours 34 min ago view