Patrick Bailey

Can Giants' Patrick Bailey win NL Gold Glove Award as rookie?

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Thirteen minutes after Patrick Bailey's walk-off cleared the left field wall on Sunday, the official Giants account sent out a tweet about a play he had made earlier in the game. 

"Oh btw," it read, "he also throws out runners from time to time."

The throw had ended the top of the ninth and kept the Texas Rangers from getting the tying run into scoring position against Camilo Doval. Bailey had a pop time of 1.71 seconds, the fastest in the big leagues this season and best by a Giants catcher since Statcast began tracking in 2015. 

It was spectacular, and yet with Bailey, that has become routine. 

Nobody paid much attention to the throw when it happened, in part because Oracle Park was stunned by the lost lead, but mostly because Bailey seems to do something special on defense every night. In less than half a season, he has turned himself into a building block in San Francisco and one of the best catchers in the game. 

"The level of impact has been kind of stunning," Farhan Zaidi said earlier this month.

Zaidi has long known the Giants potentially had something special in Bailey. This goes back to the 2020 draft, when he allowed Michael Holmes to draft a catcher in the first round even though the Giants had taken Joey Bart second overall two years earlier. This spring, Zaidi listed Bailey as someone to watch, even though he was coming off a somewhat disappointing 2022 and had not played in Double-A yet. 

But the Giants didn't quite expect this. It wouldn't have been reasonable to even hope for it. 

"Pat is, in my view, the best defensive catcher in the game right now," Zaidi said on the Giants Talk Podcast. "To be able to have that guy behind the plate -- not just his relationships with the pitching staff, which have been huge, and he's done a great job with Doval and all of our relievers -- but obviously the impact on our running game. 

"When you're on SportsCenter almost every night throwing someone out, teams know about you. For him to be able to shut that aspect of any potential offensive threat down entirely, to be able to use that the way we have, again, it's just huge."

The numbers, both traditional and advanced, say Bailey has been a game-changer for the Giants, and he'll hit an important number this week. To qualify for a Gold Glove Award, catchers must play in at least half of their team's first 138 games and Bailey should make his 69th appearance on Friday.

In the first inning against the Atlanta Braves, he'll officially become eligible for the Gold Glove. But can he win it as a rookie?

Even though he didn't debut until May 19, Bailey currently has the most compelling statistical case among NL catchers.

Bailey leads all MLB catchers in Defensive Runs Saved and is starting to pull away from the pack. At 15 DRS, he is well ahead of second-ranked Alejandro Kirk (12), along with Will Smith and Gabriel Moreno (10), who are next up in the National League. Baseball Savant's Fielding Run Value -- which combines multiple metrics -- ranks Bailey as not just the best defensive catcher in baseball this year, but the most impactful defender at any position, period. 

Bailey also leads the National League in Catcher Framing Runs and all MLB catchers in strike rate, a metric where he's the only NL catcher currently above 50 percent. Put simply, he's converting more balls into strikes than any catcher in baseball -- which is crucial to a staff that relies on sinkers and off-speed pitches more than traditional high-octane stuff. 

The only advanced metric that dings Bailey is blocking, but that has resulted in just three passed balls this season. If you just want to stick to more familiar numbers, Bailey leads the NL in runners caught stealing (21) and also has the second-highest percentage (36 percent) among starting NL catchers. He has been so effective because of the second-fastest average pop time in the majors. 

The case for Bailey is very easy to make, but he's trying to do something that doesn't have much precedent. Only four rookie catchers have ever won a Gold Glove Award, and you have to go back to the Marlins' Charles Johnson in 1995 to find the last one who did it. Other than Johnson, Carlton Fisk (1972) and Johnny Bench (1968) are the only NL catchers who have ever won a Gold Glove as a rookie. 

Fisk and Bench are now in the Hall of Fame, which gives you an idea of what kind of company Bailey is trying to join. Yadier Molina and Buster Posey are headed there, but Molina didn't win his first until his fourth full season and Posey's only Gold Glove came in 2016.

There's a reason it takes a while for most players to win a Gold Glove. The award is partly about name recognition, and on this road trip, Bailey will see that first-hand.

This weekend, the Giants will face an Atlanta Braves team that has Sean Murphy behind the plate. He won a Gold Glove with the A's in 2021 and was an All-Star this season, and the Giants staff believes he's the toughest competition for Bailey. 

Murphy is right behind Bailey in Fielding Run Value, and with 20 homers and a .922 OPS his status as a down-ballot MVP candidate might also help him in the Gold Glove race. It shouldn't be the case, but traditionally hitting success has provided a boost for the defensive award. 

After the Braves, the Giants face the Philadelphia Phillies and reigning Gold Glove-winner J.T. Realmuto. He has been below-average by advanced metrics this year, but it can still sometimes be hard to overcome an incumbent. 

While Rawlings now uses the SABR Defensive Index to make up 25 percent of the final decision, 75 percent of the process is still reliant on ballots from the league's managers and coaches. That would seem to harm a rookie who missed the season's first 42 games, but the man in the clubhouse with more Gold Glove Awards than anyone else is hopeful that'll actually help his teammate.

Brandon Crawford had to wait until his fourth full season to win one but he pointed out that the minor league Gold Glove didn't exist when he was a prospect, so Bailey -- having won it last year -- might have come into the league with some extra name recognition. Crawford also noted that Tucker Barnhart crashed the Molina-Posey party in 2017. Last year, there were a record 14 first-time winners across the two leagues. 

It's still very difficult to win a Gold Glove at any position as a rookie, and as a catcher, it's even more of an uphill climb. But Bailey has put together such a long highlight reel in such a short period of time that the Giants are hopeful he can be an exception. 

"Three-quarters of it is still up to a vote," Crawford said, "And I feel like he's been doing this against enough different teams now that maybe that'll help his case."

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