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Fan Favorites By The Numbers: Shawon Dunston

How do some Cub fan favorites stack up by "advanced statistics?"

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Tim Huwe has been doing nice articles in his "Minor Parts" series. The article about Shawon Dunston, Jr. got me thinking, which is always a dangerous proposition.

As several posters commented in the "Junior" thread, many of us loved watching Shawon Dunston play for his energy, attitude, and hustle. My sister was largely indifferent to baseball, but loved the man who inspired the Shawon-O-Meter.

Dunston (we're not talking about Junior anymore, from here on out) was the first overall pick in the 1982 draft by the Cubs (his contract: $100,000). He debuted in 1985 and played the first 11 seasons of his major league career as a Cub. He spent a season with the San Francisco Giants before re-signing with the Cubs, who then traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 1997 season. In total, Shawon played 18 big league seasons, earning $24.5 million. He made two All-Star teams and played in a World Series (in which he homered). He collected 150 homers, 668 RBI, and 212 stolen bases while slashing .269/.296/.416 for his career.

Dunston seems to prompt lots of great memories for Cub fans. Sure, he was a free swinger and might throw a ball or twelve into the first base side stands each year, but he was a good player who fans should look back on with fondness.


Tim's article prompted me to look at Dunston's Fangraphs page to see how Shawon stacked up sabermetrically (if it's not a word, it is now). Looking just at Dunston's Cubs' career (so not looking at his entire career stats at this point), we see a player who "advanced stats" do not look back on with fondness.

Fangraphs says Dunston was worth just 6 WAR during his 11+ seasons as a Cub, posting just two seasons of more than 1 WAR and none where he broke the 2 WAR mark. His best value season was 1989 (you might have guessed that, right?), when he was worth 1.8 WAR during the Cubs' surprise run to the postseason. That 1.8 WAR made Dunston the eighth-most valuable shortstop that season in his best year. His wRC+ crossed the 100 threshold just once (1995, his last full season as a Cub). Baseball Reference says Dunston is among the worst OBP players in history among those with 4500+ career plate appearances.

You can scroll through the rest of the numbers, but they're not real flattering for a player many of us liked watching play.

Now, none of this is posted to ruin your memories or change your views of Shawon. The stats gave me pause until I realized one thing: if I'm really honest, they didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. I knew Dunston was a likable player because he played with energy and passion. Fans want winning, but short of that, they want to know the players they root for care. And Dunston did. The evidence was in the all out sprints to first on a two-hop bouncer to short.

But Dunston was also a flawed and limited player, particularly offensively. You remember that part, too, right?

So let this series (I think it will be a series - player suggestions being accepted) be a place to mix some of the old (our memories) with the "new" (a more analytic view) as a way of exploring part of our shared Cubs history.