Giants’ Patrick Bailey Looks Like a Whole New Hitter in 2024

San Francisco Giants catcher Patrick Bailey broke out behind the dish last season. This year, he's proving he's more than just his glove.

Patrick Bailey of the San Francisco Giants bats against the San Diego Padres in the bottom of the fifth inning of a Major League Baseball game at Oracle Park.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 05: Patrick Bailey #14 of the San Francisco Giants bats against the San Diego Padres in the bottom of the fifth inning of a Major League Baseball game at Oracle Park on April 05, 2024 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Patrick Bailey burst onto the scene in 2023 looking like the best defensive player in baseball.

Although he only started 84 games behind the dish (765.2 defensive innings), Bailey led all catchers with a +18 Fielding Run Value, per Baseball Savant. Indeed, he ranked second among all players, trailing only Colorado Rockies center fielder (and fellow breakout defender) Brenton Doyle (+20 FRV in 1023.2 innings).

Bailey also led catchers in the defensive component of FanGraphs WAR (Def) and led all players in Deserved Runs Prevented (DRP), as measured by Baseball Prospectus.

The San Francisco Giants catcher was masterful at controlling the running game; his 1.87-second pop-time to second base was the third-fastest in the major leagues. Bailey caught 29 runners on the bases (caught stealing + pickoffs), second-most in baseball. Only Shea Langeliers of the Oakland Athletics threw out more runners (38), and keep in mind, Langeliers played nearly 30 more games.

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However, it was pitch framing where Bailey really stood out. He led the league in framing runs according to the metrics at FanGraphs (+17.4) and Baseball Savant (+16), while he ranked second at Baseball Prospectus (+22.7), trailing only the long-time framing master Austin Hedges.

All told, Bailey managed to produce 2.7 fWAR in just 353 plate appearances (a four-win pace over a full season) despite his dreadful performance at the plate.

And we’re talking truly dreadful.

In his rookie season, a 24-year-old Bailey slashed .233/.285/.359, good for a 78 wRC+. That tells us his overall performance was 22% worse than league average. Those numbers are poor even for a backstop; MLB catchers combined for a 90 wRC+ in 2023.

Simply put, Bailey had too many flaws in his offensive game. He struck out too much, walked not enough, and didn’t hit the ball hard when he put it in play. He wasn’t providing any extra value on the bases, either. As athletic as he looks when he’s throwing runners out, Bailey is slow – even for a catcher.

Bailey didn’t have to be a good hitter to be a valuable everyday player. He proved as much as a rookie when he finished ninth among catchers in fWAR despite his .644 OPS (and despite spending the first seven weeks of the season in the minor leagues).

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However, the Giants knew that if Bailey could develop into even an average performer at the plate, he could become a perennial All-Star. The switch-hitter spent the offseason working on his swings – his left-handed swing in particular, after San Francisco signed right-handed catcher Tom Murphy as Bailey’s new backup.

Two months into the 2024 campaign, his offseason work is paying off far more than anyone could have expected. Bailey is slashing .292/.347/.461 with a 131 wRC+. He has dramatically cut back his strikeouts while significantly increasing his walk rate; he is now performing slightly better than league average in both areas.

Best of all, Bailey is making much harder (and better) contact. His average exit velocity, which was well below average in his rookie season, is up above the 90th percentile. He is also hitting more balls in the air. His groundball rate is down from 43.2% to 34.8%, while his 30.4% line-drive rate ranks ninth in the majors (min. 100 PA) and his 51.4% launch angle sweet-spot rate ranks first.

A few weeks ago, Bailey discussed the secrets of his success with Jason Mastrodonato of The Mercury News:

“The swing is in a much better spot. I’m using the ground more. I’ve had my highest exit velocities ever. I think the big thing for the higher walk rate is the lack of three-ball chase. And the decrease in the strikeouts comes from the swing change, putting balls in play that I should, and not fouling them off or swinging and missing”

Patrick Bailey on his recent success at the plate

Unfortunately, not long after he spoke about his hot start, Bailey suffered a concussion when he took an Alec Bohm foul ball off the mask. He spent a week on the concussion IL, then came back for a single game before returning to the injured list. It was a tough blow for the Giants, who have suffered far more than their fair share of injuries this season, and it was a tough blow for Bailey, who was finally enjoying some sustained offensive success at the MLB level.

However, Bailey was cleared for game action on Tuesday, and he was back with a bang the following night. In his first start off the IL, he went 3-for-5 with a double, an RBI, and two runs scored, helping the Giants to a come-from-behind 9-5 victory over the Pirates.

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Last season, Bailey missed a week in September on the concussion IL. When he came back, he looked utterly lost, slashing .136/.156/.159 over his final 13 games. He has suggested his end-of-year struggles had more to do with fatigue than concussion symptoms, but still, it would have been fair to worry about the young star’s second concussion in eight months.

Thankfully, Bailey quickly proved that fans have nothing to worry about. He looks as strong as ever.

It remains hard to imagine that Patrick Bailey will be quite this good all year long. Still, it’s clear he has taken a big step forward from last season. With his tremendous defense and his new look at the plate, Bailey is blossoming into a star.

Stats and rankings updated prior to first pitch on May 24.