Grit. We're pretty sure it matters, but unclear how much or even what it means.
The first problem with grit is that it's not reliably defined - at all. It's more a subjective take on a player's perceived approach to the game and how he looks, than it is an objective accounting of what he does. Faced with a slump, for example, is it grittier to express anger in the clubhouse, be stoic, or upbeat and positive? That pretty much runs the gamut of human response, yet 'grit', determination or competitive focus could reasonably be manifested by any of those.
Is it gritty to play through injury? Chris Young and Justin Upton did that in 2012, yet apparently neither were seen as especially gritty by Kevin Towers. Perhaps Upton did (or didnt do) something else that displeased the GM. Maybe he didnt join Bloomquist and the coaches in the weight room at 6AM? It's hard to say. What's old news, however, is that an unsettling share of so-called gritty overacheivers tend to be older white players. Is it because the class of African American players lack an objective work ethic or dedication to sacrificial team principles, or does it reflect the fact most player evaluators (fans, pundits, GMs) are also white, which may bias attitudinal expectations and evaluations?
Grit is a subjective input, not an objective result. Even if connected, the results themselves are more independently apparent now anyway, rendering any hidden benefits of grit relatively moot. In other words, we can now measure fairly accurately how Eric Chavez performs Late & Close, or makes productive outs or whatever, regardless of whether he's perceived as gritty or not. We can evaluate actual results, rather than rely on subjective inputs. This applies especially to established veterans. The work ethic or grit of a youngster with a less established record, however, could reasonably alter subjective projections. It logically flows that a good work ethic leads to a more promising upside, etc But most of the time, this annointing of grit applies to older players and it's harder to argue they have much hidden upside. Their makeup and professionalism have presumably been reflected in their career results to date - baked into the statistical cake.
Is there another hidden benefit to grit? Something we cant readily see in the new, more granular stats? There very well may be, like an ability to make teammates better. Rigor requires we remain open to that possibility. But a more practical question, for Diamondbacks fans, is whether Kevin Towers can identify and exploit grit as a market inefficiency. Has Towers identified a hidden competitive benefit to these so-called gritty players that his GM counterparts cannot?
Some of Towers' easily contradicted assertions this offseason - for example his lauding Martin Prado's rather mediocre batting record Late & Close - either suggest he has little special insight as to the value of resolute grit and clutchness. Or perhaps he does, and the erroneous platitudes are some brilliant subterfuge.
The view of Towers, here, essentially splits the difference. I think he understands a great deal about professional baseball that I dont. When you're around something a long time, you can often intuit what works and what doesnt, even if you cant always articulate why. It's a feel and I think Towers has a feel for chemistry, in game leverage and certain aspects of roster construction.
But when he or Gibson go on about grit, they can sound more enamored with idealized personal attributes than they are with real competitive results. They almost sound like they prefer players who they can lift weights with at six in the morning, or hunt with in the offseason. Perhaps younger, idealized versions of themselves, in their own image. Instead of a more talented group of diverse personalities, who need to be professionally managed and assimilated - and who might also be more objectively equipped to help them win.