Here’s the setup: In May, a mid-major team thrusts a top prospect into a starting role and, seemingly overnight, their season is transformed. In fact, the club is starting to look like a contender.
This sounds awfully familiar, but the scenario is a little different this time. A year ago, we were talking about Adley Rutschman, the harbinger of a new, much less miserable era of Orioles baseball. In 2023, the young backstop in question is Patrick Bailey, and it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the similarities between the two.
In 2022, the Orioles were 16-24 (.400) before promoting Rutschman and went 67-55 (.549) afterward. (A year later, they have the best record in the American League.) Before Bailey’s May 19 debut, the Giants were 20-23 (.465), already eight games out of first place in the NL West. They have gone 44-34 (.564) since then and, if the season ended today, would be the National League’s second Wild Card.
The Giants’ comeback is beyond belief entirely to Bailey, but his fingerprints are all over the place. At the end of the day, he made his pitchers better. Here are some reasons.
As a general rule, a catcher’s steal rate tends to be a poor measure of his ability, but Bailey, who ranks fourth among catchers with at least 25 attempts (35.6%), is a bit of an exception.
For one, his average pop time at second base trails only that of perennial league leader JT Realmuto, and as of Wednesday, Bailey has the fastest pop time of the 2023 season so far (1.71 seconds).
Fastest average pop time to 2B, 2023
1. JT Realmuto: 1.83 seconds
2. (tie) Patrick Bailey: 1.87 seconds
2. (tie) Garrett Stubbs: 1.87 seconds
4. Christian Bethancourt: 1.88 seconds
5. Sean Murphy: 1.89 seconds
MLB Avg: 2.00 seconds
There’s also his arm — usually his highest-rated tool in the Minors — which averages 84.4 mph in stolen base attempts, ranking 17th of 73 catchers with at least five maximum-effort throws at second base.
Given both of these factors, it’s no surprise that Statcast’s Caught Stealing Above Average, which eliminates the potential impact of a slow pitcher by taking metrics the moment a pitch crosses the plate, absolutely loves Bailey.
Most CS Above Average, 2023
1. Gabriel Moreno: 7
2. (tie) Connor Wong: 6
2. (tie) Patrick Bailey: 6
2. (tie) Ilias Diaz: 6
2. (tie) Shea Langeliers: 6
Basically, Bailey doesn’t just make the plays he needs to make – he also takes outs who have no business converting. Opposing baserunners haven’t made the adjustment yet, and he seems to have caught on (no pun intended).
2) He is MLB’s best in pitch frame
It would be enough for Bailey to command the game, but he is a talented framer. In doing so, he was made for the 2023 Giants, a team that ranks 30th in baseball in four-seam fastball percentage (12.7%, less than half that of the Brewers, who rank 29th) and gives up more runs than any other group. baseball (29.7%). Giants pitchers, in general, are not built to challenge hitters in the zone, and success often depends on their ability to throw strikes without leaving the ball out of the plate.
Fortunately for them, Bailey turns more non-swings in the shadow zone into called strikes than any other qualifying catcher.
Highest strike rate, 2023
Among 60 qualified catchers
1. Patrick Bailey: 53.1%
2. Austin Hedges: 52.0%
3. Cam Gallagher: 50.4%
4. (tie) Jonah Heim: 50.0%
4. (tie) Sean Murphy: 50.0%
Most catcher framing series, 2023
1. Austin Hedges: 11
2. Patrick Bailey: 10
3. (tie) Jonah Heim: 8
3. (tie) Francisco Alvarez: 8
5. (tie) William Contreras: 7
5. (tie) Sean Murphy: 7
When measuring how much of an impact a fielder can have, we can also look at Fielding Run Value, which combines all of Statcast’s defensive metrics to measure all fielders on the same scale. Bailey’s +13 streak — which includes that absurd +10 from framing — tied him for the Major League lead with Rockies outfielder Brenton Doyle, who ranks in the 98th percentile in both sprint speed and hand strength. To be clear, this is a catcher of similar defensive value to a physical center.
Best Fielding Run Value, 2023
1. (tie) Brendon Doyle: +13
1. (tie) Patrick Bailey: +13 (+10 frames, +4 shots, -1 block)
3. (tie) Joey Wiemer: +12
3. (tie) Austin Hedges: +12
3. (tie) Sean Murphy: +12
3) Earned the trust of his pitchers
Since Bailey’s debut, the Giants’ pitching staff’s ERA has dropped by nearly a streak (4.40 through May 18, 3.63 since). While those two things could be unrelated, entering Wednesday’s game, the catcher ERA gap between Bailey (3.41) and backup Blake Sabol (5.10) was the largest among two top clubs of any club.
Some of that is a product of the pitchers they’re working with — Bailey has caught twice as many starts as Logan Webb, for one — but for Webb and Alex Cobb, who have held the Giants’ rotation together, posting a With a combined 3.41 ERA and 4.60 strikeout-to-walk, Bailey’s ability to steal hits has gone hand in hand with their success. Webb, who has an outside chance to win the NL Cy Young Award this year, leads all pitchers with a +36 run value on pitches (Cobb, at +19, is tied for 34th out of 300 qualifying pitchers) and, even so, has a negative run value on pitches in the heart of the zone (-3).
But even we can admit that there is a limit to what can be quantified. For everything else, we have the Giants pitchers themselves.
“It’s his maturity when things get to a tipping point in the game or when he sees that certain pitches aren’t working,” veteran Cobb said of Bailey. This plan. He just has a feel for the game that you can’t teach. I think we’ve all said it already, but he’s far beyond his years of maturity behind the plate.”
According to Cobb, whatever Bailey accomplishes at the Major League level, “nobody’s surprised anymore.” Consider that we are doing what we can to spread the good word.
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