Last year was a mixed bag for SF Giants catcher Joey Bart and it has been more of the same in 2023. The right-handed bat is slahing .231/.286/.295 (64 wRC+) with zero home runs, four RBI, and eight runs in 84 plate appearances. So, what do the Giants do if his struggles continue?
What do the SF Giants do about Joey Bart's struggles at the plate?
For the time being, the answer might just be nothing. The Giants burned a lot of catching depth at the start of the year after parting ways with both Austin Wynns and Gary Sánchez while losing Roberto Pérez to season-ending surgery.
The other remaining depth options include Ricardo Genovés and Patrick Bailey. Bailey received a quick promotion to Triple-A after a hot start in Double-A, but likely needs more seasoning in the upper minors. On the other hand, Genovés could become an interim option until Bailey is considered ready to go.
Bart along with Blake Sabol are handling the catching duties for now. Sabol has gotten off to an impressive start at the plate as he has registered an .803 in 100 plate appearances. That said, the 25-year-old had only 94 appearances behind the dish as a pro prior to this season and he is still learning the nuances of the position.
Despite his production at the plate, it would be asking a lot to use him as the everyday catcher. He is still working on his pitch framing and blocking while he has flashed a below-average arm. Some of the growing pains are to be expected given his overall lack of experience at the most demanding position in baseball.
If he was more competent behind the dish, Sabol would be in line for the bulk of the playing time. This leads us to Joey Bart. Bart's pitch framing has improved quite a bit this season as he has the second-highest strike rate in baseball at 54.6 percent. That detail holds quite a bit of value, but it comes at a cost. The Giants' emphasis on pitch framing has led to a breakdown in blocking, which Bart grades out quite poorly as he has been worth -3 Blocks Above Average.
Overall, the Giants like what they have seen from Bart's work behind the plate. The bat has been a different story. The right-handed bat posted a 38.5 percent strikeout rate in 2022 and he has seen an improvement in that category to 26.3 percent this season. However, there appears to be a tradeoff.
Perhaps, Bart is sacrificing power for contact. He has recorded just five extra-base hits, all doubles, in 2023. The Giants expected power to be part of Bart's skill set but it has disappeared this season. His 84.3-MPH average exit velocity is unusually low as well compared to a career mark 86.7 MPH. He just is not hitting the ball with authority, reinforcing the narrative that his .581 OPS does not appear fluky at the moment. That could change.
So, what do the Giants do if Bart's struggles continue? The short answer is nothing. Sabol is not experienced enough to merit more playing time at catcher. The remaining internal options either might not be an improvement in the case of Genovés or might not be ready in the case of Bailey.
Unless the Giants search for alternatives outside of the organization, Bart remains the best option. Plus, even if they did find an external replacement, why would a team make that type of move given the scarcity of quality catching depth.
Giants president of baseball operations did recently say that this season might be a make-or-break year for Bart. It seems likely that he will have a long leash in terms of working out of this slump because what else are the Giants going to do at this point? It is Bart's job today and for the foreseeable future. This could change after that, but Bart does have the benefit of not really having to worry about anyone else's shadow at this point.