Joey Bart’s struggles this season have been well-documented: his Major League leading strike-out rate, his inexplicable struggle to drive pitches in the middle of the zone, his cold shark eyes staring off into an imprisoning abyss as he walks back to the dugout.
San Francisco Giants fans lost Buster Posey and though no one expected Joey Bart to be Buster Posey, we were all still a tiny bit bummed when he definitely was not Buster Posey.
Expectations are contagious, they’re also a double-edged sword. Some players rise to their lofty heights and others are sunk by the undue burdens.
By June 4th, Bart was crushed. The catcher mustered a mere .156/.296/.300 slash line with 49 strikeouts in 108 plate appearances. The Giants front office and coaching staff had seen enough, sending him down to triple-A to fix his swing and find religion.
It went unsaid, but no one was sure if they’d see him in San Francisco again. Was the demotion a demotion? An act of faith or a banishment? The Giants weren’t going to give up on Bart quickly, but the patience had thinned. As the deadline neared, analysts pitched potential trade possibilities for established backstops like Willson Contreras or Sean Murphy.
But a month later, just before All-Star Break, Curt Casali went on the IL and Bart was called up. He arrived anew: decadently feathered, re-born from his ashes, no longer a joey but JOEY (he’s a phoenix and a kangaroo in this metaphor, if that wasn’t clear).
From July 6th to July 17th, Bart socked an .896 OPS. He only struck out 12 times in 32 PA’s. Progress! His expression hadn’t changed, his face still blank, inscrutable, but something was different. A certain je ne sais quois...jois de vivre...oui oui...parlez vous francais c’est la vie ?
Much like the rest of San Francisco, Bart appeared to have lost some of his momentum coming back from the break, but the front office couldn’t deny the progress of Bart 2.0 and traded veteran catcher tandem Curt Casali to the Mariners at the deadline. Since that vote of confidence, he’s collected 3 consecutive multi-hit games, homered twice (in the entire month of May he went deep just once), and finally picked his batting average up off the interstate.
In these long summer months, our catcher dusted himself off from the proverbial Triple -A desert and got dirty again in the big leagues, inflating his offensive numbers while being beaten by foul tips and scuffed breaking balls and plays at the plate.
Bart has one of the toughest jobs in the Majors and since the all-star break he’s taken ownership of that role. Yes, he might act like a robot, but he’s not one. He is a man who loves and hurts and breaks just like the rest of us. He needs positive reinforcement. He wants support! He’s also done some sneaky freaky / clutch things recently that deserve our praise.
Here’s some of them.
Foul tip into glove for strike 3 to Seth Brown on August 7th vs. Oakland
Duane Kuiper and Javy Lopez say it all from the broadcast booth but its amazing that Bart is able to hang onto this and I’m sure it hurt like hell doing it.
When I first saw it, I thought Brown had swung over the ball and it glanced off the bottom half of the bat barrel and somehow found Bart’s mitt. That’s not what happened, but this pitch was hairy and it became hairier after the contact—still Bart made it stick. It was a big play in the game. Bottom of the 9th, two men on, Brown represented the winning run. He had gone deep off Dominic Leone an inning earlier and was definitely capable of completely and utterly snapping the Giants’ will to live with one swing.
Instead, Bart held on to the foul tip and completed Doval’s K for a huge second out in the inning.
At-bat against Martinez in the 5th inning on August 7th vs. Oakland
Joey is batting .103 in 0-2 counts this season. With 2 strikes in general, he’s authored a .095/ .167/ .152 slash line.
That in mind, with a runner on first and one out, Bart dropping to an 0-2 count was pretty much a guaranteed strikeout and rally killer. Instead, after taking a long meditative trip around the plate, resetting his batting gloves and hand guard, Bart went and scraped a heavy change up off the plate for a single.
Bart is a power hitter. He keeps to his swing path and looks to do damage on mistakes in his zone. The fact that he committed to a pitch, recognized that it was a diving change-up (he had struck out on one an at-bat earlier), and was able to adjust his swing to not only get contact but pull it in the air was impressive. Bart took a deep breath, cleared his head and was able to put bat to ball on a pitch that had no business being hit. The swing was creative, elastic and extended the inning, setting up Austin Slater’s RBI double.
Attempt at pop up in foul territory on August 6th vs. Oakland
This would have been the smoothest catch ever pic.twitter.com/cxFoWNESjr— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 7, 2022
Risky, maybe a little stupid, but the fact that Bart burst from his crouch, tossed his mask and sprinted after a lazy pop up into the obstacle course of camera well and wall and dugout pit to make a sliding, bare-handed attempt tells us that he’s out of his mind…in a good way.
Bart is playing loose and trusting his instincts. He’s not taking anything for granted, even with a 6-run lead in the 9th.
He also went wayyyy deep in this game which makes this attempt cooler.
This Bart train is leaving the Coliseum station pic.twitter.com/R8eiJk09Qf— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 7, 2022
I don’t know what this is...on August 2nd vs. LA
Wait ... how did Joey Bart catch this foul ball?? pic.twitter.com/qq0jSelS2Q— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 3, 2022
Nothing out of the ordinary on this one.
Just another evening out in the yard playing catch with the old man, just another 90 MPH ugly-finder coming at my head from 15 feet away. Bart gave a little flinch to show us he is, in fact, a human, before tossing the ball to the bat boy, chewing through the tiniest of smirks and realizing oh, hmm, yes, I do need a touch more bat wax…
This was about the coolest thing you could do on a baseball field and the coolest way you could handle it.
Bart then proceeded to lay down an unexpected bunt single to load the bases (unnecessary reminder: the Giants did not score).
He had also launched a two run homer in his last at-bat to cap a 5-run San Francisco rally.
Joey Bart homers and the Giants score 5 runs in the 4th inning to get right back in the game pic.twitter.com/3JJxDQRH4a— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) August 3, 2022
Is Joey Bart having fun? He’d never let on, but I think he is.