From the Pages of Vine Line: WAR All-Stars—Shortstop
All month, we’ll be unveiling the best single seasons by a Cubs player at each position in the team’s more than 100-year history, using the advanced statistic Wins Above Replacement (WAR). For the sixth installment of our WAR All-Star team, we turn to the six spot on the diamond, where it should come as no surprise Mr. Cub mans the shortstop position. Though Ernie Banks had a Hall of Fame career, it didn’t get much better than his two-year stretch from 1958-59.
Here’s how we chose our team.
What WAR essentially does is aggregate everything an individual contributes—offensively and defensively—into one definitive number that conveys his value, typically ranging from -1 to 10. The purpose of the formula is to quantify how much a team would lose if a player was swapped for an average replacement player.
In order to qualify for our team, each player had to spend the majority of his time at a single position during the season being measured. And because the team wasn’t officially christened the Chicago Cubs until 1903, players who represented the Orphans, Colts and White Stockings were excluded (apologies to Bill Hutchison and his 10.6 WAR in 1892).
For more information or the entire team, be sure to pick up a copy of July’s issue of Vine Line. And watch the blog in the coming weeks for the rest of the roster.
Shortstop: Ernie Banks, 1959—9.7 WAR
When it comes to finding the top season for a Cubs shortstop, it’s not really a question of who but rather when. Ernie Banks’ MVP campaigns in 1958 and 1959 are two of the position’s all-time best—his 1959 WAR total of 9.7 is still the highest for a shortstop since Honus Wagner’s 11.8 in 1908. Mr. Cub’s 45 home runs that year are the second most all time for a National League shortstop (trailing only his ’58 incarnation), while his 143 RBI are the most ever for an NL shortstop. Despite nearing the end of his run as a middle infielder, Banks committed just 12 errors and had an elite defensive season, recording a 23 on the defensive metric total zone rating (where 15 is considered Gold Glove caliber). The late ’50s and early ’60s might not have been the best time for Cubs baseball, but Banks’ play alone was worth the price of admission, especially during his prime.
Rob Neyer’s Take:
“Choosing between 1958 and 1959 is like choosing between chocolate and strawberry. Or maybe between chocolate and just slightly better chocolate, as Mr. Cub’s numbers were nearly identical in both seasons, with deserved Most Valuable Player Awards.”
Other Notable Seasons:
Ernie Banks – 8.7 WAR (1958)
Ernie Banks – 7.8 WAR (1955)