Alex Wood takes a deep breath, sets himself, then kicks and fires an 86 mph changeup, low and away. Wood’s pitch hasn’t caught enough of the plate to entice a swing from Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen but someone else senses opportunity: base runner Whit Merrifield launches himself towards second base, attempting to steal.
Doesn’t Merrifield know? You don’t run on Patrick Bailey.
Bailey, the Giants rookie catcher, snags Wood’s pitch and is instantly upright and ready to throw. Bailey steps to his right to get the perfect angle for the throw and in one smooth motion he fires the ball towards Thairo Estrada. The Giants second baseman gathers Bailey’s missile and quickly applies the tag on the outstretched Merrifield.
For a brief moment Merrifield thinks he’s safe, that Bailey and the Giants have been conquered; the umpire spreads his arms wide to indicate Merrifield beat the throw.
Bailey, undeterred, knows otherwise. The catcher casually paces behind home plate, chewing his gum and blowing bubbles as the Giants confirm they want to see the video replay. The pictures on screen confirm what Bailey already knew: Merrifield is out, caught red handed. Estrada slapped his glove down right between the numbers. The call is overturned.
Bailey’s prowess behind the plate has been one of the many revelations for the Giants during this season. Word is getting around that Bailey is a catcher to be feared and runners need to think twice before setting off. Clearly Merrifield never received the memo.
The switch-hitting backstop is no slouch with the bat either, and has proven himself to be a force offensively. After just 28 games between Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Sacramento, the Giants saw enough and called him up to the big club, where Bailey began hitting almost immediately. Over the first 30 games of his major league career thus far, Bailey has an impressive .320/.349/.534 slashline (BA/OBP/SLG) with 4 home runs.
In the same game he threw out Merrifield, Bailey was the catalyst in the Giants 3-0 victory over Toronto. His fifth inning RBI double was one of the few hits San Francisco could muster against our former friend Kevin Gausman, who was utterly dominant. Bailey connected on one of Gausman’s signature splitters, roping it into the right field corner to bring home the Giants’ first run of the game. Catchers who can hit are a rare breed in the modern game and Bailey’s consistent swing makes him even more valuable. Since his call-up on 19 May, Bailey has accumulated 1.7 fWAR, which ties him for sixth best in the entire league (according to Fangraphs). It puts him ahead of guys like Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, Mike Trout, and many of the other household names you’re familiar with.
A lot of that WAR can be attributed to Bailey’s defensive brilliance, which he continues to display on a nightly basis. Giants KNBR beat writer Danny Emerman reported Bailey has thrown out 10 would-be base thieves this year, good enough for a 37% caught stealing rate, which is close to double the league average of 20.3%. With only a couple of months experience in the majors Bailey is already drawing plaudits for his defensive poise and maturity. Some observers have drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez, as both catchers share an affinity for picking off runners; Rodriguez’s 88 pickoffs are the most in major league history so Bailey still has some way to go yet.
Naturally, it’s almost impossible to be an elite catcher in San Francisco and not get compared to the last guy: the one and only Buster Posey. Bailey is a very different player to Posey in many respects but I’m sure the 24-year-old Bailey doesn’t mind having his name mentioned in the same breath as arguably the greatest catcher in Giants history.
Posey’s emergence in 2010 helped usher in a new era of Giants success and fans are already excited about the possibility of history repeating itself with Bailey. The rookie catcher has been promoted this year alongside defensive wizard Casey Schmitt, dynamic outfielder Luis Matos, and surprise package Blake Sabol. Pitchers Tristan Beck and Ryan Walker have also contributed important innings but the best may be yet to come: super prospect Kyle Harrison is within sight of making his major league debut in 2023 and Marco Luciano, the heir apparent at shortstop, may also be knocking on the Giants clubhouse door very soon.
In the meantime, we must savour and enjoy what we have in front of us right now: this fresh crop of new talent has helped breathe life into a Giants club that looked dead on its feet in April. Now, as we enter July, the team has surged into contention and look to be on track for a postseason berth. The old and the new have combined to make the Giants one of the best teams in the entire league for almost two full months.
They’re not just good, they’re fun to watch too. Patrick Bailey is one of the biggest reasons why.
Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter: @AshDay29
Photo credit for featured image by David Berding/Getty Images.