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Metrics show Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg were worthy MVP winners

Cub's fortunes 1960 will rest as usual with their big man  Ernie Banks National League's Most Valuable Player last

Cub's fortunes in 1960 will rest, as usual, with their big man , Ernie Banks, the National League's Most Valuable Player the last two seasons, Ernie's fielding last year was as good as his hitting.

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Updated: September 21, 2013 6:20AM

Ernie Banks and Ryne Sandberg have achieved more than their share of milestones, and last week brought two of the biggest. First it was announced that Banks will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, then the Phillies gave Sandberg the chance to live his dream as a major-league manager.

The two Hall of Famers share a distinction as Cubs greats who have won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting. Banks was elected MVP in 1958 and 1959 on a pair of sub-.500, fifth-place teams. Sandberg won it in 1984, the season the Cubs broke their 39-year postseason drought.

Both were spectacular in their MVP seasons, with Banks hitting .313 and leading the NL with 47 home runs and 129 RBI in 1958, then following that with a .304 average, 45 homers and an NL-leading 143 RBI in 1959. Sandberg (.314 average, 19 homers, 84 RBI in 1984) had fewer RBI in his
No. 2 spot in the order but led the NL with 114 runs scored.

Metrics, including Wins Above Replacement, are designed to evaluate a player’s whole game. Getting on base, non-homer extra-base hits, defense and baserunning all matter, but they aren’t accounted for in Triple Crown stats. Context matters, too. Each run produced in a pitchers’ park is a larger step toward winning than a run in a park that favors offense.

So by WAR, how did the Banks’ and Sandberg’s MVP seasons stack up with those of their contemporaries?

In 1959, Banks had a 10.2 WAR that was the best in the NL. He was followed by Hank Aaron (8.6) and Eddie Mathews (8.1), both from the second-place Braves. Surprising is that Banks’ WAR got a big boost from his defense at shortstop. He led NL shortstops in assists and was second in putouts and double plays, putting up a 3.5 defensive WAR that led all NL position players. By offensive WAR alone, Aaron (9.1) and Mathews (9.4) led Banks (7.8).

But 1958 was one of nine seasons from 1954 to 1965 in which the Giants’ Willie Mays owned the NL’s top WAR. His lead over Banks wasn’t large at 10.2-9.5 and he had fewer homers and RBI (.347, 29, 96), but he got on base more (.419-.366), had a 1.002-.980 lead in OPS and was a threat on the bases that Banks never was.

In his breakthrough season of 1984, Sandberg led NL second basemen and was fifth among NL defenders overall with a 1.9 defensive WAR. He also was tops in the league in offensive WAR at 7.0, followed by the Expos’ Tim Raines at 6.5. Overall, Ryno’s 8.5 WAR led the NL, with the Expos’ Gary Carter (7.4) second and the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt (7.0) third.

There’s not a lot to quibble about there. At most, it might be said that Banks won the award in a season when he was the second-best player in the NL by a narrow margin to a Hall of Famer who’s elite even among the elite.

In all three seasons, these achievers were the real deal.

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