Jan
22

What is GRIT?

By

All-grit first-baseman Ty Wigginton reacts to a baby smiling at him. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

What makes a baseball player gritty? Is it tenacity? Work ethic? Selflessness? Bravado? Or is it something more tangible, like whiteness. We can presume that having grit will improve one’s chances of scoring a date with a woman with Misty or Dawn or Misty-Dawn in her name. But does having a surplus of it make for a qualitatively better ballplayer? These stubborn questions have pitted baseball fans against each other and have only intensified since the dawn of advanced statistics, when it was revealed that virtually all players with a Fu-Manchu, stirrup socks, or a propensity for bunting every third at-bat were perhaps not as good as advertised.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2007 that MLB commissioner Bud Selig, after an intense barrage of e-mails from the stat-minded segment of the baseball community, finally replaced former Phillies second baseman Mickey Morandini on the All-Century Team with Lou Gehrig, in a posthumous nod to the venerable Yankee. During the 2008 World Series, you might recall that Selig alienated even more people by issuing an awkward half-apology while interviewed by Fox’s Tim McCarver on national TV:

Don’t get me wrong, Gehrig was good. But Morandini was like a welterweight out there, mixing it up – scrapping, hustling, spitting chew, telling people what’s what, and laying down bunt after bunt after bunt. And you wanna’ talk heady? Who else would have the presence of mind to lay down a sac bunt with his team down eight runs or more. Mickey Morandini – fourteen times. But that Gehrig: he was certainly a true Yankee.

Part of what makes the concept of grit so polarizing is its favorable reputation among baseball people who still covet the more intangible elements of the game. In this context, a player who would otherwise get traded or cut for putting up substandard advanced stats like OPS+ or WARP 3 can add years to his Major League career based on an interminable scowl or an uncanny talent for somehow finishing every contest with splotches of blood on his uniform, even in games when he doesn’t play.

The defining moment of the grit controversy occurred in 1996, when Sports Illustrated ran a cover story entitled “The 21st-century ballplayer.” In the piece, which is accompanied by a now famously incendiary pie chart, baseball beat writer Dave Ballaster celebrates the grittiness of the next generation of ballplayer while railing against excess and greed. Here’s an excerpt, per the S.I. archives, along with the graph:

Jaded fans and diminished ticket sales will mean fewer teams, less room for pretenders, and more competition among remaining big-leaguers. In other words, the 21st-century ballplayer will be of tougher, grittier stock and attitude. And it will be a welcome change. Gone from the baseball diamond will be the gold-chain-wearing, Crystal-swilling, diamond-earring-having, seven-figure-earning prima donnas. A new breed of heartier, headier ballplayer will emerge. He’ll slash at an outside pitch instead of waiting for a free pass and seethe when his line drive clears the outfield wall because he won’t have had the chance to stretch a double into a triple. He’ll have convictions, an unsinkable work ethic, longevity and, yes, even a grunginess about him: Think Temple of the Dog, not ‘N Sync; Seven Mary Three, not Ace of Base. They will be throwbacks, to be sure; and here’s what they will be made of:

The saber community revolted; understandably, talk of quantifying a player’s instinct and resiliency vanished. But the real truth was, there just weren’t any tools available at the time that could accurately measure such a nebulous thing. Until now, that is. Enter the newest advanced baseball metric: GRIT capacity.

GRIT is an acronym for Guts, Resolve, Instinct, and Toughness, and was devised by a team of aerospace engineers at NASA when the question arose of which baseball player would be most able to endure the 20 G centrifuge without fainting, power-vomiting, or sobbing uncontrollably. And as for their unanimous answer? Ty Wigginton.

Before I get into the specifics of GRIT, it’s probably important to note that it’s taken some heat lately from sabermatricians. Tom Tango, for example, referred to the advent of GRIT in one of his more recent blog posts as “what would happen if Bill James lost everything, went on a smack binge, and found himself tattooed and naked, at 3 A.M., at the bottom of a Wendy’s dumpster in Bakersfield.” I disagree. Though imperfect, like every advanced stat, GRIT has its utility, providing it’s used in the right context. For example, knowing the overall GRIT capacity of a player can help a manager decide whether or not to play him in centerfield at Wrigley, lest a deep fly ball inspire him to dive face-first into a solid brick edifice.

At its essence, GRIT is a weighted measurement that attempts to accurately assess the overall nature and value of an individual player’s soul, which goes a long way in determining whether or not he would make for a winning teammate. In going about this process, GRIT accounts for aspects of that player’s work ethic, mental toughness, physical resiliency and life philosophy – qualities that are gauged through subjective observation, preconceived notions, and statistics that have, for the most part, fallen out of favor – and then scales them to the venue in which he plays. The ballpark adjustment is necessary because it accounts for individuals who play their home games in stadiums with domes or retractable roofs; it stands to reason that few factors can adversely impact a player’s favorable GRIT capacity as rapidly as a spotless uniform and climate control.

It should be pointed out that GRIT capacity is the only current metric that assesses these dimensions of a player by using an all-inclusive formula. A team version of GRIT (tGRIT) also exists, but for now we’ll focus primarily on the individual player version: As you’ll soon see, things can get pretty complex in a hurry. With that said, don’t let the intricacies intimidate you. While all of the moving parts may seem daunting at first, any numerical miscalculations made in arriving at a player’s GRIT can be easily overridden by one’s gut instinct, personal biases, or mood

Tomorrow, we’ll set off on our pursuit of one particular player’s GRIT capacity by isolating each of the metric’s primary components, starting with guts. We’ll also ponder a very real question that continues to divide fans: Does GRIT transfer to good?

Categories : Whimsy

63 Comments»

  1. awy says:

    :golfclap:

    this article made me feel like alice in wonderland, but covered in gritty man sweat.

  2. Steve H says:

    Is it that lack of beard (a scrappy, messy one) that kept David Eckstein from the top spot?

  3. I’ve always associated grit as an excuse to defend a player who doesn’t have quantifiable stats. I’d rather take the guy who plays his position with ease than the guy who dives on a ball that’s two feet away from him.

    • bexarama says:

      I’ve always associated grit as an excuse to defend a player who doesn’t have quantifiable stats.

      Meh – outside of Eckstein, Pedroia gets held up as the embodiment of grit and he’s actually good. Same with Gardner.

  4. ShuutoHeat says:

    Depending on how much eye black is used, you get +1 in grit.

    If GGBG wore eye black, he would be the King of Grit.

  5. MikeD says:

    I know this posting is in the whimsy category, but it does bring up the idea discussed many times that the term grit seemingly only being applies to white players.

    I’ve heard Brett Gardner called gritty and gutty. Dustin Pedroia is gritty, too. The question, though, is using the term more insulting to white players or black players? In reality, of course, it’s equally insulting to both. It implies some greater athletic ability among black players than white players, which is insulting to white players; it also implies that white players can get by on guts, and drive and intelligence, while black players can’t, which is insulting to black players. It’s really insulting to everybody, yet that’s not what most people think when they use the term, yet it is based on prejudice.

    Would Juan Pierre be considered gritty if he had a lighter skin? I guess he’s not a good example, because anyone with the name Juan Pierre would probably not be bestowed with the “gritty” moniker because of a prejudice of another kind. So who are the likely candidates to get the gritty, gutsy, gamer tags if they were allowed to have it?

    • Mickey Scheister says:

      Juan Pierre would be considered Athletic.

    • Monteroisdinero says:

      only the shortest players on your team can be gritty.

    • roy says:

      all time Yankee Grit Team

      Moose Skowron – 1B
      Billy Martin – 2B (Nutjob)
      Phil Rizzuto – SS
      Graig Nettles – 3B (Tore off Bill Lee’s arm)
      Thurman Munson – C (worst mustache)
      JIm Leyritz – C-3B (very annoying)
      Bret Gardner – OF
      Paul O’Neill – OF (failure is not an option)
      Don Baylor – OF
      Hank Bauer – Reserve OF (Flattop and was at the Copa)
      David Wells – SP
      Orlando Hernandez – SP
      Roger Clemens – SP (Chin Music)
      Andy Pettitte – SP (Needed men on base to be any good)
      Jim Abbott – SP (fielding with his pitching hand)
      Goose Gossage – Closer (Bob Gibson delivery)

  6. This is fantastic. Great job.

    Now, I just wish that I could delete that tweet…

  7. Meh says:

    Yeah, so… how about these sorts of posts stop? I’m all for a good laugh and everything but for that to happen what I read has to be funny. However, these wanna be Onion articles just aren’t cutting it

  8. hogsmog says:

    Jason Kendall: King of Grit

  9. Januz says:

    When people say that terms like gritty and scrappy are related to white players, keep in mind, the current player who best combines all of the GRIT factors is of course, Ichiro.

  10. Kevin Ocala, Fl says:

    Examples of gritty black players: Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan, Tony Phillips, Dave Stewart, Bob Gibson, and I could go on. Some of “those guys” were pretty good.

  11. NJYankeeFan says:

    Gritty player usually means an average or below average player who happens to be a favorite of the fans and more importantly the media and his “grittiness” is used as an argument in his favor to justify his position on the team. Not always but most of the time.

  12. rb says:

    Brock, fun post! I enjoy your stuff. Appeals to my sense of the absurd. :)

  13. Mickey Scheister says:

    The King o’ GRIT would be, without a doubt, Dustin Pedroia, he won an MVP with the advanced tGRIT calculations.

  14. djyank says:

    just dont do a comparison of cano to pedroia because we’re heard it a million times.

  15. CNP says:

    The entire 2004 red sox team exemplifies grit

    • MikeD says:

      Just 2004? I thought all Red Sox teams for nearly the past century were considered grit, trying to overcome the “man” known as the NY Yankees. I mean, that’s what the Boston media and Boston fans seem to think.

  16. mike c says:

    juan uribe = grit

  17. matt :: Sec105 says:

    I get the change of pace from this blogger, but I don’t come here for that.

  18. dalelama says:

    I enjoy these articles more than the ones about which broken down three time TJS survivor we will overpay to take the fifth spot in the rotation. Those articles are depressing.

  19. Tough says:

    The toughest thing to do is write comedy, and the biggest mistake people make is writing what they think OTHER people will find funny, instead of what makes them laugh. That is abundantly clear here.

    • Pasqua says:

      Yes, the toughest thing to do is write comedy, but it’s not like this post is some absurdist form of humor unique to one person. It’s satire. If that means you are not a fan of satire, that’s cool, but to dismiss it as something the author “thinks is funny” is ignoring the actual style.

  20. Rich D says:

    Brock, I’ve read two of your posts and you are 0-2. Not even a foul tip. Hopefully this doesn’t become another website that thinks too highly of itself and forgets why people came to read it in the first place. Unfortunately, I think that has already begun.

    • hogsmog says:

      Hear that, Brock? You are about to STRIKE OUT! By the standards of THE Rich D!

      Put away the sarcasm and start answering the questions we all come here for that nobody’s definitely beaten into the ground over and over-

      “What pitcher could we trade for that’s better than Mitre? Not this guy, because he isn’t better than Mitre”
      “What a nasty bullpen we’ve got, BUT WAS IT WORTH A DRAFT PICK??”
      “This is a picture of a Yankee from the 90s”
      “How good is Jesus: Pretty good, probably”

      Your sort of posts have no place during such a hot news season.

      • Rick says:

        Though the majority of responses seem to be positive, the negative ones all share the same view in the sense that these posts are not what people come to this site for. Monday through Friday, the site is very careful to post thoughtful and analytical pieces about Baseball. Brock has made the weekends more laxed. Whether it’s good or bad, everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, the fact is that it’s a severe deviation from the normal posts and that is the point raised by the negative comments.

  21. Sean C says:

    Probably one of the best captions I’ve ever seen on this site. Oh, and good article too. I like what I’ve seen from you so far.

  22. YFan says:

    Hey Brock, really enjoy your writing, so much so that I find myself looking forward to it, Thanks.

    • Mike HC says:

      Agreed. I was literally, specifically thinking about and looking forward to his/this post yesterday. And he didn’t disappoint. Good article.

  23. Brian Paul says:

    http://www.johnsterling.blogspot.com

    They do this kind of thing too, but it’s funny.

  24. Wil Nieves #1 Fan says:

    Hanley Ramirez is by far the grittiest player I’ve ever seen. The guy’s a shortstop but will not hesitate to chase a ball down in left if tempted.

  25. kpdboyleball says:

    This is one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever read. Loved every part of it and have to commend the author on the tone and style of the article.

  26. Soulstar says:

    Great article! Ty Wigginton is the embodiment of G.R.I.T.

  27. roy says:

    Seriously though, crashing into things is the sin qua non of grit. Baserunners who crash into infielders and catchers; infielders who run headling towards dugout steps, raintarps or the stands; catchers who actually block the plate; and outfielders who run into walls or who are willing to dive for a catch are all showing the intangibles of grit.

    What was the biggest knock against Bobby Abreu? He would not go near the outfield all. So he was seen as half-assed.

    Then again, have you ever noticed how rarely Jeter dives for balls hit up the middle. What is that all about? Jeter does not have to prove his hustle or willingness to sacrifice. But somewhere along the way, he decided that the percentages on diving for over-the-bag singles were not worth it.

  28. florian says:

    Niezwykle ciekawy wpis, prosimy o wiecej – zostane stalym gosciem na stronie :)

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