Patrick Bailey Is a Unicorn Pitch Framer

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

There are so many great defenders in the majors right now. In the infield, there are elite shortstops, like Francisco Lindor and Dansby Swanson. In the outfield, there are the dudes who don’t let anything drop, such as Brenton Doyle and Harrison Bader. But none of these players are projected to lead baseball in Def, according to ZiPS. That title belongs to San Francisco Giants catcher Patrick Bailey.

Last year, Bailey led all players in Def with 26.8 runs. On the Statcast side of things, he was second in Fielding Run Value with +18, behind Doyle. He is unquestionably one of the most valuable defenders in the game, and much of that is due to his elite framing. He accumulated +16 framing runs and recorded a 52.9% strike rate – both the highest marks in baseball.

If you look at the Statcast framing leaderboard, you’ll notice one color for Bailey: red. He is above average in all nine parts of the shadow zone. That is simply unheard of. Typically, for catchers to be elite in one area, they tend to sacrifice another part of the zone. Take Adley Rutschman, for example. He is elite at the top of the zone but slightly below average at the bottom. Sean Murphy has the opposite tendency. He steals at the bottom while losing some at the top. Bailey is a departure from the norm. He can steal strikes in any part of the zone without sacrificing elsewhere.

That’s an impressive skill that made Bailey stand out last season. It’s also the exact kind of statistical quirk that warrants a video deep dive to uncover how he does it. Before jumping in, let’s discuss the two things we’ll be paying attention to here: Bailey’s pre-pitch stances and glove turns. To be this efficient around the strike zone, catchers not only have to have multiple stances, but they also have to know when to use them. By understanding their pitching staff and their movement profiles, they know when to deploy what stance and how to best use their hands.

The following clips will display how Bailey switches up his approach depending on the pitcher and/or location. Let’s start with Logan Webb – the sinkerballer and command artist:

Sinker

Where Bailey sets up behind the plate dictates his stance. He favors his inside knee down most of the time, but there is some variance depending on the pitcher and pitch. More so than when he is catching other pitchers, he has no problem setting up closer to the edges of the plate for Webb.

The key difference between the two sinkers is how he uses his glove turn in preparation for the pitch. On the arm side sinker, he uses more of a straight down quarter turn. Whereas with the glove side sinker, you’ll notice a more deliberate rounded turn. As a catcher, matching the plane of the pitch leads to the smoothest reception. If you don’t alter the rotation of your glove as you catch the ball, it appears as natural as possible to the umpire, resulting in a better chance at a strike call. Bailey has a perfect understanding of this, which can also be seen when he receives sliders:

Slider

On the arm side, it’s pretty standard. The glove side is where the quarter turn sticks out. Pushing a breaking ball back toward the middle of the plate can often look forced. But if a catcher is already tracing that movement before he receives the ball, it appears natural and can lead to stolen strike calls. Additionally, Bailey’s ability to switch which leg is down lets him be as loose as possible with his movements after the pitch is released. This allows him to smoothly shift his positioning to ensure that he catches the pitch closer to the center of his body, which makes it look more like a strike to the umpire.

While the one-knee catching stance has swept through the league, it’s still not common for catchers to switch from knee to knee as often as Bailey does. It puts him in a better position to handle pitches coming in from different angles. When a catcher has his inside knee up, that leg can sometimes make it difficult for him to reach across his body. Since Bailey almost always has his inside knee down for horizontal moving pitches, that’s not a concern. But there are some situations in which Bailey will alter this approach, such as when Webb throws his changeup:

Changeup

He switched from his typical stance, with his outside knee up, when catching the changeup with the lefty-hitting Jonah Heim at the plate. Bailey is most likely more comfortable putting his right knee up when Webb throws his changeup because that pitch doesn’t get much horizontal movement, and his glove turn probably feels more natural when he has space on his glove side. However, he is forced to switch his stance when there is a runner on first and second base is vacant because he can’t make throws with his left knee down. But that isn’t an issue for him, because he is comfortable flipping his stance.

Now, let’s see how Bailey handles Camilo Doval, whose arsenal — 100 mph rising cutters, 98 mph sinkers, 90 mph sliders — is completely different than Webb’s repertoire. Bailey knows that, so he takes a slightly different approach:

There are a few things to note here. First, Bailey gets in a lower stance with the slider coming and a runner on third, which puts him in a better position to block anything in the dirt. His low glove turn also prepares him to either flip his mitt over to get into a blocking stance or quickly shift it for a backhand pick. With high velocity sliders, a pick can often be more effective than a traditional chest block because there isn’t much time for a catcher to drop to his knees and get in front of the pitch. Meanwhile, Bailey hardly moves his glove in preparation for the cutter. Doval probably needs the high target for a visual marker, and an exaggerated glove turn isn’t needed for high pitches anyways.

Watching Bailey handle all types of high pitches is one of his best skills as a framer. No matter if it’s a heater or breaker, he knows when to attack pitches and when to be more patient. Doval’s cutter is one example of that, but the way he receives high sinkers and high sweepers perfectly displays that dichotomy:

Sinkers

Sweepers

Since Bailey sets up on the edges, it’s important his glove gets to the spot where the sinkers are going before they arrive, so long as that location is within the width of his shoulders. Anything outside of his frame will clearly look like a ball to an umpire, and the whole point of framing is to be inconspicuous. So when he’s expecting a backdoor sinker from Taylor Rogers (top left), he receives the pitch in the middle of his body while slightly pointing his shoulders toward the batter, Corbin Carroll. The pitch was out of the zone but appeared right on the edge because of how Bailey presented it. On the pitch from Alex Wood (top right), Bailey knows to keep his posture high and eyes over the squared bunt. That lets him beat the pitch from going too far out of the zone while giving the umpire a clear look at it. It was a great mid-pitch adjustment that led to another strike on a borderline pitch.

His approach to sweepers is much more patient. This is a pitch that will keep moving as long as the catcher lets it. If it starts out of the zone, letting it travel as much as possible gives it a better chance to scratch the edge of the plate. Even if the pitch passes the plate out of the zone – like against Randal Grichuk (bottom left) – the catcher can let it get deep enough so that it still looks like a strike when he catches it behind the plate. This is a good time to refocus on Bailey’s stances. It’s more difficult for a catcher to let these pitches travel with his leg or knee in the way. Keeping the inside knee down lets him adjust his upper body as needed while giving his arm the space it needs to move freely. The more space for smooth movement, the better prepared he is to let the pitch get deeper into the zone.

It’s hard to consistently do what Bailey does when it comes to switching stances. Not all players have the mobility on both sides of their body. On top of that, Bailey demonstrates an advanced understanding of pitch movement and matching planes with glove turns no matter who is one the mound. It’s the full pitch framing package. With a full season of work, I’m excited to see how much defensive value Bailey can bring. We could be in store for one of the best defensive seasons in recent memory.





Esteban is a contributing writer at FanGraphs. You can also find his work at Pinstripe Alley if you so dare to read about the Yankees. Find him on Twitter @esteerivera42 for endless talk about swing mechanics.

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ねっとりワッフルmember
2 months ago

I’ve watched baseball for so long, and yet it never occurred to me until today that catchers might employ more than one stance, as a situational kind of tool. Wow.