What is GRIT?

The fireman and organizational incentives
Open Thread: Jeter's pad
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?

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The fireman and organizational incentives
Open Thread: Jeter's pad
  • awy

    :golfclap:

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

  • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

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

  • http://twitter.com/Carlosological Carlosologist

    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.

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      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.

      • jsbrendog

        Seriously, as much crap as we all talk, as of now pedroia is a crazy good baseball player.

  • ShuutoHeat

    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.

  • MikeD

    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

      Juan Pierre would be considered Athletic.

    • Monteroisdinero

      only the shortest players on your team can be gritty.

    • roy

      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)

  • http://www.richardiurilli.com Richard Iurilli

    This is fantastic. Great job.

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

  • Meh

    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

    • http://www.retire21.com first name only male (formerly Mike R. – Retire 21

      Looks like everyone who has commented is right there with you…

      *Staring at watch, waiting for sarcasm to sink in.*

      • Poopy Pants

        I agree with ‘Meh’, actually. I’ll just skip these articles in the future.

        • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

          Readers have different tastes, i personally find this kind of article better than breaking down who the 24/25 men on the roster will be or another Joba or Granderson/Ajax discussion.

          • Jonathan

            That is very true. I personally don’t come to this site to read anything close to this style but it seems like the majority of people are enjoying it and it is well written. It is definitely completely different than anything else on here which could be viewed as good and bad. As long as this isn’t replacing anything it isn’t doing me any harm. I do wonder if Brock will be doing any other sort of posts since he seems to be a talented writer and I think I’d enjoy reading “serious” posts from him.

        • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

          Okay. you don’t have to comment then.

      • Meh

        Well these are the same mouth-breathers who bitch and moan for weeks when the Yankees sign the best reliever in baseball, so I guess it sort of makes sense.

        • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

          Meh.

          • oh hell

            You have such insightful observations.

            • Meh

              Yeah I know

              • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

                Meh. Thanks for the input though, guys.

    • http://www.blogs.thetenthinningstretch.com the tenth inning stretch

      This article is tagged under the category “Whimsy.” If you don’t like this kind of stuff, look at the tag before you click it, and just don’t read it. Simple enough. Most people seem to enjoy these. I know I do.

    • pete

      how about these sorts of comments stop? If you read any of the other comments you’d realize that most people actually do enjoy Brock’s posts. If you don’t like them, that’s fine, but it’s pretty rude to whine about something that somebody wrote for free on his free time.

      • Meh

        Is that you Brock? Don’t worry, I didn’t think he was getting paid for this.

        • http://www.nerdnook.net Katie

          Just because you’re the kind of person who would write a comment under a fake name just to try and make yourself look better doesn’t mean that other people have such lacking scruples.

  • hogsmog

    Jason Kendall: King of Grit

  • Januz

    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.

  • Kevin Ocala, Fl

    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.

    • pete

      Those guys were all talented, athletic black guys who hit home runs and drew walks and struck guys out. They’re probably worth a combined -139383003099490940 GRIT score.

    • toad

      Joe Black.

  • http://www.blogs.thetenthinningstretch.com the tenth inning stretch

    Kirk Gibson.

    • Pasqua

      Too tall.

      • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

        “Too tall” lmao

  • NJYankeeFan

    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.

  • rb

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

  • Mickey Scheister

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

  • djyank

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

  • CNP

    The entire 2004 red sox team exemplifies grit

    • MikeD

      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.

  • mike c

    juan uribe = grit

    • Yankeefan91 Arod Fan

      Hes dominican only white players are grit (supposedly)

  • matt :: Sec105

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

  • dalelama

    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.

  • Tough

    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

      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.

  • Rich D

    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

      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

        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.

  • Sean C

    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.

  • YFan

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

    • Mike HC

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

  • Brian Paul

    http://www.johnsterling.blogspot.com

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

  • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

    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.

  • kpdboyleball

    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.

  • Soulstar

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

  • roy

    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.

  • http://sebastianlewandowski.wroclaw.pl/ florian

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

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    Przyjrzyjmy się bliżej właśnie tej tematyce, bowiem tego wariantu dokumenty należą aż do na ogół wystawianych i tym samym znajdują się one codziennością w wszystkim przedsiębiorstwie. Kiedy kompozycja VAT oraz jej preparacja owo dla nas czarna magia, wówczas winna również poświęcić chwilę na owo, iżby móc zapoznać się ze specyfiką tego naturalnie dokumentu. Kompozycja VAT zamyka wszystkie kładzione identyfikujące strony www danej transakcji, jak i również owo, co było jej przedmiotem.

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