Although "grit" is a famously unquantifiable stat, sports pundits and Kevin Towers love to rank athletes on their perceived grittiness. To rank grit, we've got to understand grit. Natural freak athletes with great work ethic are NOT gritty. Are you even trying? A gritty baseball player is like a scrappy film protagonist - in lieu of natural gifts and talent, "effort guys" are high-hustle players who endear themselves to the fanbase with their tenacious play. Fans and writers find it much easier to identify with these players than the innately talented freaks of nature that populate most of the professional sports world.
In baseball, grit is determined by:
- The speed with which you take first base on a walk
- Total number of positions played x number of positions played adequately
- The number of times your hat flies off while diving or running the bases
- The Eric Owens dirty jersey index
- Total number of hit-by-pitch, the manliest of all walks*
*this is neutralized if player wears elbow pad
- Bunt frequency
- Stealing bases**
**only if you are not fast
- Height and/or physical fitness level (inversely related to grit)
- K% - you can't do the "little things" when you're striking out!
... and a list of inherent cultural and racial biases we don't feel like acknowledging because reasons.
Can pitchers be gritty?
Tough call. In the land of baseball clichés, we tend to gravitate towards labeling over-achieving pitchers as "crafty" or "wily" as opposed to gritty. Interestingly, this tends to follow a distinct left-right platoon split. Sterling Hitchcock is crafty. Woody Williams is wily. On a related note, Woody Williams is the pitching incarnation of Eric Owens.
With the infusion of young talent and flashy offseason acquisitions, the rotation is full of non-gritty GLORY BOY pitchers who throw Smashing Pumpkins-era fastballs (i.e. mid-90s). Ironically, the staff is coached by one of the "craftiest" of all lefties - manager Bud Black. Black himself is a skipper that favors gritty players and more than a little bunting; maybe that's why two of his favorites have been mainstays on the staff for the past several seasons:
The "poor man's Randy Jones," Stults' fastball velocity typically sits in the Dire Straits-era. Hitters can destroy it when they see it coming - which is why Stults used it just 49.1% of the time last season. That number would put him in the bottom-10 in fastball usage among pitchers who threw 200 innings in 2013. Even more remarkable is the fact that almost every other pitcher in that list throws a hard cutter or slider, 3-4mph slower than their average fastball. Stults' remaining pitch selection consists of changeups (23% of all pitches, at 77.3 mph) sliders (16.5% of all pitches, 78.5 mph), and curveballs (11.4% of all pitches at 66.2 mph). Stults, along with Bronson Arroyo and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey appear to be the only starters who throw the majority of their pitches slower than 80 mph. A single tear rolls down Bud Black's cheek.
The Stauff has had a long and dramatic career with the Padres. He has started games, worked middle-relief, pitched as a fireman, and settled nicely into the swingman role last season. Tell that to your coworker who complains when it's their turn to clean the coffee machine. In the absence of truly dominant stuff, Stauffer developed a highly effective cutter-slider hybrid which he uses to devastating effect against both righties and lefties. Further, Stawesome is renowned for his ability to "make some ****ing pitches" and seems to rise to the occasion in big situations. He fields the position well and has 16 career sacrifice bunts, while only grounding into one double play. Lastly, as the team's longest-tenured player, Stauffer earns additional "grizzled veteran" points - surviving five losing seasons while contributing to two division winners and a 90-win team. Like most players, he is far grittier when bearded.
For the purposes of this article, I'm focusing on players projected to make the opening day roster - even though players accumulate loads of hustle points when riding the shuttle between AAA and the big leagues (IT BUILDS CHARACTER).
Tier 3: Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, Kyle Blanks, Yasmani Grandal
Are you even trying? These players are astonishingly good athletes who we've all been jealous of since little league. They have size, speed, and athleticism, so whenever they underperform we pretend its because they weren't trying hard enough. BUT IS CAM NEWTON A "TEAM GUY?" I can't even give Kyle Blanks credit for crashing into the left field wall at AT&T Park because it appears he hurt the wall (and possibly the innocent bystanders) more than he hurt himself.
Blanks exits after hitting wall (via MLB)
The Giants are currently building a Mecha-Blanks in anticipation of Blankzilla's enraged return to the Bay Area.
Tier 2: Jedd Gyorko, Yonder Alonso, Seth Smith (looks like Stauff)
"So you're a professional athlete?" As a minor leaguer, scouts were worried that Jedd Gyorko lacked the natural athleticism to adequately play third base (the position that Miguel Cabrera plays). The somewhat doughy West Virginia product is listed at a generous 5'10 and suffers from a slight case of T-Rex arms. Nonetheless, he managed to hustle his way to a full season of playing time at second base and third base with the big club, producing a fine rookie season. Yonder Alonso has the body of a dominant softball player, and hilariously tried to play third base and left field for the Cincinnati Reds, where he was blocked at first base by GLORY BOY Joey Votto. Yonder loses a few points for having a mildly interesting social media presence (is he a GAMER?!?). Seth Smith kind of looks like Tim Stauffer and was possibly in Home Alone 3, displaying valuable versatility and resiliency.
Tier 1: Nick Hundley, Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Everth Cabrera
FINALLY, SOME HIGH-MOTOR GUYS. Nick Hundley and Chase Headley are somewhat anonymous white dudes, which means baseball writers can project any quality they want onto them and never feel the need to elaborate. "Nick Hundley is just a natural LEADER who wears tighty whities instead of some NANNY BOY boxer brief." Chase Headley plays third base, doesn't hit home runs, but still manages to be a franchise-type player. He also refuses to negotiate a contract extension during the season because he is a definite TEAM-FIRST kind of guy. Based on revelations here at Gaslamp Ball, I too am almost certain that Chase Headley cuts his own hair.
If the Padres were a crime drama, Martin Scorsese would probably cast Joe Pesci to play Everth Cabrera. He's not very tall and allegedly erupts into violent, uncontrollable rage. Obviously, he PLAYS THE GAME WITH FIRE. He's played multiple positions, hit at the bottom and top of the order, is a switch hitter, and a master of bunting. He loses scrappiness points by admitting to PED use to recover from a pre-season injury - A GRITTY PLAYER WOULD HAVE PLAYED THROUGH THE PAIN.
Speaking of playing through pain - the perpetually injured Carlos Quentin hopes to hustle his way into your heart. He also plays for his home town team unlike someone who's name rhymes with Fish Filletdrian Gonzalez. Carlos Quentin's nickname is "The Carlos Quentin" which pretty much tells you all you need to know about his non-flashy, workmanlike approach to the game. Quentin is also behind only scrap-master Chase Utley for the active hit-by-pitch lead among active NL players. Official statistics aren't kept, but he appears to be the active leader in retaliatory collarbone breaks as well.
Eckstein Tier: Alexi Amarista, Chris Denorfia
What position does Alexi Amarista play? Winner. The little ninja plays all over the diamond and tries really really hard despite his comically short limbs. He doesn't do anything particularly well on the field, but his versatility, enthusiasm, and effort always seem to get him a spot in the lineup or off the bench late in games. Amarista is kept in Bud Black's back pocket like an emergency erectile dysfunction pill (I can't be the only one who does this, right?). When the team's bats fail to perform or suffer from a generalized malaise, the little ninja is deployed in hopes of serving as a spark plug that can kindle a fire in the lineup. Alexi Amarista is the hero you deserve when you're watching a low-scoring extra-inning game.
In the time it takes you to read this sentence, Chris Denorfia will have dived for four fly balls. No his dives aren't always necessary, and yes it would be nice to have a faster outfielder who takes less ridiculous routes to the ball, but WHERE'S THE PASSION? Norf earns additional points for single-handedly trying to make mullets socially acceptable, risking his ability to ever procreate. His chestnut hair majestically flows in the wake of his hustle. Denorfia has spent time at all three outfield positions, and is listed as the team's emergency catcher. In a real emergency, he will probably be your prom date.