For Ernie Banks, even today the numbers don't lie

  • Ernie Banks, seen here in 1968. more than measured up as a Hall of Famer even by today's metrics.

    Ernie Banks, seen here in 1968. more than measured up as a Hall of Famer even by today's metrics. Associated Press File Photo

Updated 1/28/2015 1:16 PM

Back in 1958 and '59, baseball stats such as WAR didn't exist.

And we really wouldn't have needed them to tell how good Ernie Banks was. He was the MVP of the National League both of those years.


Even if that newfangled measuring stick was around back then, it probably wouldn't have mattered much to Ernie. After all, it's hard to imagine him being at war with anything or anybody, including WAR.

Stats such as on-base percentage, OPS and OPS-plus existed in the abstract, but they weren't cited much.

Banks died last week, so as another tribute to his memory, we thought it might be fun to take a look at how he fared or would fare in the world of numbers in which we swim today.

Since Ernie provided a poetic prediction of how the Cubs would do each year, he no doubt would have come up with something for the sabermetricians. Maybe, "The pitchers can have FIP and WHIP, but for old Ernie, check out my BABIP."

OK, maybe not.

Just about any longtime Cubs fan knows that Ernie Banks hit 512 home runs for his career, with No. 500 coming on May 12, 1970, off Atlanta's Pat Jarvis at Wrigley Field.

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Ernie was well past his prime by then, but in his heyday -- or his hey-hey day, as Jack Brickhouse might have said -- he was right up there in advanced stats.

During his first MVP season in 1958, Banks ranked second in WAR (wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference) to Hall of Famer Willie Mays. Banks had a WAR of 9.4 to Mays' 10.2.

In '59, Banks led the majors in WAR at 10.2. (American League MVP Nellie Fox of the pennant-winning White Sox had a 1959 WAR of 6.0.).

All time, Banks has a WAR of 67.5, ranking him 81st.

Banks cracked the 40-home run barrier five times during his Hall of Fame career, and he hit 37 in 1962.

Today, so-called slash lines are all the rage, giving the player's batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. For example, Banks' 1958 slash line was .313/.366/.614. Adding his on-base and slugging together, you get an OPS of .980.


Taking it a step further, Banks had an OPS-plus of 155 in 1958. OPS-plus takes into account ballpark factors. An OPS of 100 would be considered league average.

In 1959, Banks went .304/.374/.596 for an OPS of .979. His OPS-plus that year was 156. Banks was 28 years old in 1959, and the '58 and '59 seasons represented the peak of his career, statistically.

Banks' career OPS-plus of 122 places him 305th all time, right behind a bevy of players at 123, including Tim Raines, Jeff Kent, Ted Kluszewski and Bill Madlock.

Another, perhaps more fun, thing Baseball Reference does is list "similarity scores" for each player.

For Banks, his top 10 career similarity scores are Eddie Mathews, Mike Schmidt, Andre Dawson, Billy Williams, Adrian Beltre, Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey and Sammy Sosa.

Baseball Reference also lists a player's similarity score by age. From age 25-28, Banks is most similar to current-day star Troy Tulowitzki. At 31 and at ages 33-36, Banks compares similarly to Aramis Ramirez, the longtime Cubs third baseman. And at ages 37-39, Ernie matches up with slugger Reggie Jackson.

As Cubs fans say their final farewells to Ernie Banks this week, they might not remember all of the numbers and the alphabet soup that accompanies them. They'll remember his smile and eternal optimism.

In the end, the numbers treat Ernie about as well as he treated his beloved game of baseball.


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