This is one of those times where a player aced the eye test and the math test and gave San Francisco Giants fans permission to be exuberant. Patrick Bailey’s dominant defense in his rookie season has made him a finalist for the Rawlings National League Gold Glove Award for catcher, announced earlier today.
In last week’s review of Bailey’s season, I dismissed his dreadful September at and behind the plate as the result of fatigue and focused on the positive numbers and vibes he provided the team through mid-August. They were so pure, so fantastic, that I was convinced they should not matter to Gold Glove voters. His statistical case was so strong that it couldn’t be ignored. The Rawlings Gold Glove Award nomination process agreed!
You can view the full set of rules here, which includes the overall criteria used in the voting process, but the SABR Defensive Index component reads:
The SABR Defensive Index (SDI) is a measure of the number of runs saved by a player’s defensive performance over the course of a season, compared to the average defensive player at that position. The SDI combines measures from six (6) different defensive data sources and includes factors that rate the defenders arm strength and accuracy, range and his sure-handedness, along with the number of “excellent” and “poor” fielding plays he makes. The SDI also incorporates a rating for a player’s ability to turn double plays (2B and SS), fielding bunts (primarily P, C, 3B, and 1B) and scoops of throws in the dirt (1B). For catchers, blocking balls in the dirt and stolen bases/ caught stealing are also included. For pitchers, the SDI includes his ability to hold runners on base and control the running game.
The last time that Defensive Index leaderboard was updated was August 13th. Bailey (10.1 SDI) was +4.0 on Gabriel Moreno (6.1) and 11.3 runs better than J.T. Realmuto (-1.2). He was the sixth-best defender in all of baseball, in fact.
If the Giants are ever going to rebuild themselves out of this morass, they’re going to need pitching and defense. In Bailey, they have both: an elite defender who makes his pitchers better. He’s the exact player they needed and he arrived at the perfect time. The Giants will surely strikeout on every big or meaningful free agent this offseason and they’ll have a bunch of injuries and development setbacks that will make it hard to figure the team will be any better than they’ve been the past two seasons, but despite all that, they’ll have Patrick Bailey. A perfect “star” for the type of team the Giants have to be in order to succeed.
Now, does that mean he has a shot in hell at winning the award? Of course not. Absolutely not. LOL never. That was not in the cards. If you’ve been reading this site since his debut, then you know I’ve been charting his chances for some time. He’s not a good or great hitter, for one thing. Another thing: he hasn’t played that many games. His 97 games total is actually just 89 games at catcher; and, he hit 23% below league average (77 OPS+).
A quick scan of the winners of this award took me all the way back to 1990, the most recent time in a non-strike or pandemic-impacted season that an NL catcher who appeared in fewer than 100 games won. That was Benito Santiago for the Padres back in 1990. He appeared in exactly 100 games total, but only 89 at catcher. He hit .270/.323/.419 (102 OPS+), was an All-Star and the incumbent.
Realmuto’s the incumbent, too, and that’s the main reason he’s on this list. Last year, his case was undeniable: +9.2 SDI and a 130 OPS+. This year’s -1.2 pairs with a 106 OPS+. I’m unclear on the voting deadline, since these are locked in before the postseason, but I’m sure J.T.’s .777 OPS in the final two months of this season along with last year’s award win helped him here.
I think even though the best hitters tend to win the defensive award, the actual defense does count, and in that case, Moreno’s 104 OPS+ (.284/.339/.408) might make him the winner. Then again, this is mostly a popularity contest, and maybe that’s where Bailey has an edge? Gabe Kapler was side hustling as a Cameo guy through the season so it’s plausible he’s sent lots of Bailey highlights to eligible voters.
Buster Posey wasn’t a Gold Glove finalist in his rookie season and that’s maybe where the relevant comparisons between a future Hall of Famer and this rookie should end, but I haven’t been this excited about watching a new Giant since Posey. Keep being a transformational figure behind the dish, Patrick Bailey. Your catching might’ve saved the franchise.