Patrick Bailey is Suddenly the Giants’ Catcher of the Future — and the Present

Patrick Bailey
Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

The Joey Bart Era, such as it was, may already have ended in San Francisco. Struggling to fill the shoes of Buster Posey — admittedly, a ridiculously tall task for anyone — the 26-year-old backstop strained his groin in mid-May; by the time he was healthy enough to return, the Giants had shifted their focus to a younger catcher they were even happier with in Patrick Bailey. After finishing last season in High-A, the 24-year-old Bailey rocketed through the minors this spring, and upon arrival has hit and fielded well enough to help turn the Giants’ season around.

Recall that Posey retired abruptly after the 2021 season, at age 34. The move shocked the entire baseball world, not just the Giants, who had just won 107 games and planned to discuss retaining him upon the expiration of his nine-year, $169 million contract, whether by picking up his $22 million option or by hammering out a longer-term deal. Yet Posey, who had opted out of the 2020 season in order to spend time with his family, which had expanded to include two adopted twin daughters who had been born prematurely, felt the pull of home. Having checked every box for a Hall of Fame resumé except the padded career totals, the sad decline, and the long goodbye, he hung up his mask.

The Giants pivoted to Bart, who had looked like the heir apparent when he was taken with the second pick of the 2018 draft out of Georgia Tech. In Posey’s absence, he had done the bulk of the work behind the plate in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but his inexperience showed, and he spent most of ’21 in the minors. While he began the 2022 campaign with promise by homering off Sandy Alcantara on Opening Day, he was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento in early June. Though he played somewhat better upon returning a month later, he finished with just a .215/.296/.364 (90 wRC+) line and an astronomical 38.5% strikeout rate in 297 PA, with -3.7 framing runs and a meager 0.6 WAR.

After making a two-inning cameo on Opening Day of this season, Bart landed on the injured list due to a mid-back strain. He additionally missed time in late April due to right groin tightness, then was diagnosed with a Grade 1 left groin strain in mid-May. In between all of the injuries, he hit just .231/.286/.295 (63 wRC+) in 84 PA; while he trimmed his strikeout rate to 25%, he walked just twice (2.4%). He started 22 of the team’s 43 games before landing on the IL a second time, with Roberto Pérez making five starts before suffering a season-ending rotator cuff tear and rookie Blake Sabol starting 16 games.

Enter the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Bailey, who was chosen with the 13th pick of the 2020 draft out of North Carolina State. He entered last season at no. 76 on our Top 100 list as a 50 FV prospect but was downgraded due to his early-season struggles at High-A Eugene, where he had finished the 2021 season. While he finished with a respectable .225/.342/.420 (113 wRC+) line with 12 homers, he missed the Top 100 — not just ours, but every major top prospect list of note throughout the industry. Baseball America, for example, ranked him 27th among Giants prospects, calling him a plus defender with “sound footwork and quick release” but also “a switch-hitter with an inconsistent approach [who] gets in trouble when he starts chasing power.” The publication saw his ceiling as that of “a defense-minded backup catcher.”

It wasn’t until last week that Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin published the Giants’ Top 49 Prospects list here. Ranking Bailey third behind Luis Matos and Kyle Harrison, they began the entry with a mea culpa: “Time to eat double crow here, as Bailey was just outside the Top 100 when he was drafted and throughout 2021 before we rounded his FV grade down during an uneven 2022. When we put together the lengthy Giants Imminent Big Leaguers piece, Bailey was not included, as we didn’t anticipate he’d spend just two weeks each at Richmond and Sacramento before the club decided to insert him as their primary big league catcher.”

Indeed, Bailey moved quickly this spring, hitting .333/.400/.481 (143 wRC+) with two homers in 60 PA in Double-A and .216/.317/.353 (61 wRC+) in 60 PA at Triple-A. He got the call when Bart hit the IL, debuted with a late-inning cameo on May 19, and went 1-for-3 in his first start the next day, singling off the Marlins’ Tanner Scott. The day after that, he clubbed a solo homer off Jesús Luzardo and added another RBI later in a 7–5 win. A week after his debut, on May 26, he went 4-for-5 with three RBI in a 15–1 rout of the Brewers; three days later, he went 3-for-5 with a double, a homer, and four RBI in a 14–4 shellacking of the Pirates.

The hits keep coming, and the Giants keep winning. Bailey is batting .302/.336/.512 for a 128 wRC+ — second on the team behind LaMonte Wade Jr.’s 139 — with five homers in 139 PA. The Giants, who were 20–23 before he was called up, are 27–17 since; they won nine straight from June 11 to 21 and soon after pulled to within 1.5 games of the NL West lead. They’ve since fallen back to third place in the division behind the Diamondbacks (50–37) and Dodgers (48–38) and are three games out at this writing, though they’re in a virtual tie with the Phillies (46–39) for the third NL Wild Card spot.

The one win during the team’s recent 1–6 skid was something of a Bailey showcase. Last Friday (June 30), in the eighth inning of the opener of a three-game series against the Mets at Citi Field, he hit a 432-foot three-run homer to center field off David Robertson, turning a 4–2 deficit into a 5–4 lead. With heat-throwing closer Camilo Doval issuing a one-out walk in the ninth, Bailey then made a perfect throw to nab pinch-runner Starling Marte attempting to steal, thus ending the Mets’ franchise-record streak of 35 straight stolen base attempts. On the next pitch, Doval struck out Brandon Nimmo to preserve the win.

“That was as good as it gets,” manager Gabe Kapler said afterwards. “That was superstar-caliber stuff.”

Getting back to our prospect team’s evaluation of Bailey: while putting a 40 present and 50 future grade on his overall defense and a 45 grade on his throwing, they noted, “He is a skilled one-knee’d receiver, great at beating the pitch to the spot in all parts of the zone, often subtly shifting his body to help him receive borderline pitches with strike-stealing stillness.” The numbers back this up; by FanGraphs’ measure, Bailey is 4.8 runs above average in framing in just 302 innings behind the plate, and by Statcast’s measure, he’s four runs above average. He’s done a great job against the running game, with pop times to second base averaging 1.87 seconds. He’s thrown out 12 out of 31 stolen base attempts for a 39% success rate, nearly double the league average of 20%; Statcast rates him as two runs above average in that department, but one run below average in blocking.

On the offensive side, while Bailey hit well from both sides of the plate in college, he struggled mightily against lefthanders in the minors, albeit in a comparatively small sample, an average of less than 50 PA per year. “A natural righty, he viewed the splits as being in part because of a lack of opportunity — he had just 61 at-bats against lefties last year — and made adjustments this spring to his swing and approach,” wrote NBC Sports’ Alex Pavlovic. “The Giants sent Bailey off to Double-A with a plan to spend more time on his right-handed swing during batting practice since he won’t get as many opportunities in games.”

The practice seems to be paying off, because Bailey has not only been effective against lefties within a very small sample, but he’s also put up insane numbers thanks to a BABIP that’s nearly double what it was in the minors — and quite unsustainable. Those have propped up a righty performance that’s slightly above the league average for a catcher (86 wRC+) but hardly exceptional, with strikeout and walk rates that rate as concerns.

Patrick Bailey Platoon Splits
Minors (2021–23) PA HR BB% K% BA OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
vs RHP as LHB 663 23 13.7% 22.2% .268 .370 .459 .319
vs LHP as RHB 149 2 12.8% 28.9% .173 .289 .268 .241
Majors (2023) PA HR BB% K% BA OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
vs RHP as LHB 103 2 2.9% 30.1% .260 .294 .427 .359 94
vs LHP as RHB 36 3 5.6% 19.4% ..424 .457 .758 .478 228
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Contact-wise, Bailey’s got enough total batted ball events that he’s past the point where the numbers start to stabilize. While the individual platoon splits haven’t entirely reached that point, his actual numbers from both sides are close to his expected numbers — and quite robust:

Patrick Bailey Statcast Profile
Split BBE EV AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA Brl% Hard%
vs RHP 67 88.3 .260 .276 .427 .450 .309 .335 10.4% 44.8%
vs LHP 27 92.4 .424 .418 .758 .700 .512 .491 18.5% 48.1%
Total 94 90.8 .302 .312 .512 .514 .361 .375 12.8% 45.7%

Bailey really is hitting the ball much harder from the right side of the plate, not that anyone should expect him to maintain Rogers Hornsby’s 1924 numbers.

Getting back to the walk and strikeout stuff: Bailey’s rates are out of balance, but it’s not as though his 44.7% swing rate, 29.1% chase rate, or 9.9% swinging-strike rate stand out as egregious or as marks that can’t be attached to reasonable production. Consider, for example, this list of players who are within 0.2 percentage points of his overall swing rate, two points of his chase rate, and one point of his swinging-strike rate:

Patrick Bailey Plate Discipline Comparisons
Player OSw% Sw% ZCon% Con% SwSt% CSt% BB% K% wRC+
Corbin Carroll 29.1% 44.8% 86.2% 81.3% 8.4% 17.5% 9.0% 19.8% 147
Patrick Bailey 29.1% 44.7% 89.7% 77.8% 9.9% 19.7% 3.6% 27.3% 128
Jason Heyward 31.1% 44.7% 87.7% 80.4% 8.7% 17.3% 11.3% 18.7% 127
Donovan Solano 30.8% 44.6% 89.6% 79.4% 9.2% 19.2% 11.3% 21.4% 125
Michael Conforto 28.9% 44.9% 84.2% 75.7% 10.9% 16.2% 11.8% 25.0% 102
JJ Bleday 27.2% 44.7% 87.3% 78.3% 9.7% 15.3% 13.9% 20.0% 101
Taylor Ward 28.1% 44.9% 91.5% 81.2% 8.4% 15.7% 8.8% 19.9% 93
Nicky Lopez 28.0% 44.5% 85.1% 78.8% 9.4% 18.0% 12.6% 17.2% 92
Minimum 120 plate appearances

Those are largely productive hitters, and the biggest difference seems to be that they’re taking fewer called strikes than Bailey en route to more balanced walk and strikeout rates. But again, it’s not like he is extraordinarily passive or aggressive. Note his -1 run rating in the Statcast shadow zone; he’s taking slightly more pitches in that zone than the league average (52% to 47%) and slightly more than average in the heart of the zone (31% to 28%) as well:

Anyway, for now as he’s making his way around the majors for the first six weeks of his career, Bailey has been exceptionally productive. I would caution that while he appears to have taken a significant leap forward from his minor league stats and pre-2023 scouting profile, the Posey comparisons he’s drawn — comparisons to a franchise pillar and future Hall of Famer (seriously, fight me) who began his career by winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2010 — are over the top. “Hey, let’s pump the brakes a little bit,” said Kapler in response to that line of discussion prior to Bailey’s big game in New York. “It’s a month into his career. Let’s let things unfold.”

As for what this means for Bart, he hasn’t exactly been Pipped out of a job given his struggles, but it’s tough to see him getting it back. For the near future, he may be blocked by Sabol, a Rule 5 pick from the Pirates who’s hitting .251/.313/.438 (104 wRC+) and putting up decent defensive numbers while splitting time between catching (26 starts and a total of 228 innings) and left field (183.2 innings). With his versatility, the Giants could carry three catchers, but doing so only to have Bart sit on the bench instead of working to improve at Sacramento probably isn’t in his best interest. For the longer term, he may be a change-of-scenery candidate — a player whose value is currently at the lower end of its range but one who was previously judged to have the makings of an everyday catcher, who has fewer than 500 PA under his belt, and who still has five years of club control remaining. If he doesn’t get another look in San Francisco, somebody out there will give him a shot.

As the Giants approach the August 1 trade deadline, it will be interesting to see if Bart’s name comes up as they shop to fill their needs. In the meantime, we should probably expect Bailey to cool off and should hope that folks cool it with the Posey comparisons; he casts a long enough shadow over the Giants’ organization as it is. Nonetheless, it’s exciting for any rookie to arrive, put his claim on a starting spot, and help turn his team’s fortunes. Let’s see where Bailey goes with this next.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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1 year ago

There’s always gonna be people who overhype new prospects and to compare Bailey to Posey after 150 or so PAs is premature. That being said, in his short time in the big leagues he’s (so far) been an 80-grade catcher in terms of defensive value. His framing, pop time, and stolen base prevention have all really stood out. Giants pitchers absolutely rave about throwing to him.

On the offensive side his statcast numbers and overall batting line are super impressive. I don’t think the walk rate will remain this low, we saw excellent plate discipline numbers from him in the minors. I think we can put his floor as a 100 wRC+ catcher with excellent defense and that alone is a 3-4 win player. Yes, the Posey comparisons are stretching it, but we’re talking about a guy who has essentially matched Adley Rutschmans overall value this season in less than half of the games played. The Giants look like they have the catcher position figured out for the rest of the 2020s and that is an absolutely essential puzzle piece for any team.

Last edited 1 year ago by edges64