Catchers As First Basemen

Positional flexibility is always something coveted on fantasy rosters. Players such as Matt Carpenter help optimize roster construction because owners have the opportunity to utilize him where it best benefits his or her team, as Carpenter can be slotted in at first base, second base, third base or even the outfield.

That’s why I find it rather interesting that six of the top eight fantasy catchers also have first base eligibility. Guys like Jonathan Lucroy and Joe Mauer have recently gained the distinction, while Carlos Santana and Victor Martinez serve as examples of catchers who have long carried dual citizenship.

Although I immediately worked under the assumption that having catcher and first base eligibility would be highly beneficial next season, it recently occurred to me to ask whether that even matters. Would an owner willfully hold two catchers on their roster — such as Wilin Rosario and Mike Napoli — with the designs of playing both on an everyday basis while punting the first base position?

In many ways, this makes a certain amount of sense. Rosario and Napoli are both top-five fantasy catchers this year, so it stands to reason that most teams would greatly benefit from having both catchers starting everyday. However, the catcher with first base eligibility must offer more fantasy value than a mediocre first baseman — meaning someone like Mike Napoli must have higher value than a mid-level first baseman like Adrian Gonzalez or Mark Trumbo.

And we quickly find it doesn’t work.

In ESPN leagues, the top first baseman with catcher eligibility is Victor Martinez, who ranks as the 13th-best option at first base. The other top-tier catching options who can also play first base fall below that mark. Sure, go ahead and start Buster Posey at first base when needed to fill out the roster, such as a Wednesday or Thursday with very few games, but Posey is the 22nd-ranked fantasy first baseman this year. He has no business holding the everyday first base role for any fantasy team.

Here are the first base rankings for catchers that have extra eligibility:

Player ESPN Rank
Victor Martinez 13
Jonathan Lucroy 14
Mike Napoli 18
Buster Posey 22
Carlos Santana 23
Joe Mauer 25

Now, let’s step away for a moment. Injuries happen. Owners who drafted Albert Pujols could be hurting at first base and have been scrounging for a suitable replacement all season. In that case, Victor Martinez or Jonathan Lucroy could be extremely beneficial, assuming the same owner has another playable catcher on the roster.

Down seasons also happen. Anthony Rizzo was a popular sleeper for many owners this spring, and he’s been nothing short of a fantasy disaster. Adam LaRoche wasn’t able to replicate his productive ’12 campaign. Owners who relied upon guys like Rizzo or LaRoche could also be in a position in which almost any of the catching options listed above would be an upgrade — again, assuming the roster has an adequate replacement at catcher.

Scenarios certainly exist in which some of these catchers could be beneficial at first base. Looking forward to next season, though, the overarching point is that owners wouldn’t be wise to rely upon a catcher at first base. Don’t go into the draft with the idea that grabbing two catchers early is prudent due to the positional flexibility. As we’ve seen, if you’re using a catcher at first base, that’s because something went wrong.

Thus, in the end, it’s interesting in a baseball sense that more elite offensive catchers are seeing additional time at first base. In terms of fantasy baseball, though, it doesn’t project to matter much.




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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

10 Responses to “Catchers As First Basemen”

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  1. Brian says:

    The situations where the extra eligibility will be helpful for filling the 1B slot on a fantasy team are limited (as mentioned). However, I think it’s worth noting that when looking at C-eligible players, 2 of the dual-eligible players you mentioned lead in plate appearances (Martinez and Santana), 4 out of top 5 (Posey and Lucroy / Weiters) and 5 out of top 7 (Napoli / Molina). So, while the extra eligibility may not be important to fill a 1B slot, it does provide some assurances that your C will be receiving plenty of at-bats.

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  2. Hawat says:

    Yeah, agreed. It’s the extra at bats that matter. Pretty much only reason 1B is relevant.

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  3. 3Hunna says:

    I carried Rosario and Napoli all season, with Rizzo also on my roster. I received below average first base production but never missed at bats in the catcher slot. If I played it traditional at catcher I would’ve missed a ton of production opportunities since no catcher is playing 150+ games. The added production I could’ve received at 1b would’ve mitigated and possibly completely offset the inevitable black hole days at catcher, but these two guys were easier to acquire than top 10 1b options. It was an OBP & OPS league so Napoli and Rosario both provided added value fwiw.

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  4. Rich says:

    Also, you are taking a top tier catcher away from your opponents.

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  5. Rich says:

    Another interesting way to look at this would be to take the top free agent 1B available and rank them as if they were catchers. So then if you’ve got a Victor Martinez and you’re gonna play him at 1B you look at the available 1B and see how he would play at catcher. Would that guy be better than the other available catchers? As a rough example, would you rather have Brandon Belt active or Mike Zunino? A different way of looking at it for a different type of decision.

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  6. pudieron89 says:

    Drafted Santana/LaRoche and Santana was a lock in my roster all season. Even as I eventually discarded Laroche, Santana’s flexibility helped me on off-days and his 1B/DH playing in real life facilitated him getting more catcher slot ABs than Rosario (who I drafted and traded about 1/3 thru the season), who without the 1B eligibility in real life or fantasy sat every 3-4 games early in the season. As a result I almost always had those two in at some combo of C/1B/1B-3B/UTIL, and I got great production. I think your analysis is too narrow especially considering most fantasy formats have “flex” spots to take advantage of.

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  7. Cybo says:

    Nevermind eligibility, I want 1B type of production from my C positon everyday.

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  8. Matt says:

    As others have mentioned, it’s not the actual eligibility to put them in the slot that matters.

    If a catcher is good enough to plug in at 1B in real life, he’s gonna be damn good for the position and he’s also going to get extra at bats and probably stay fresher throughout the season. You don’t want these guys for positional flexibility, you want them for the extra value they provide at C. And if you’ve got two guys and need to use a different position for one of them… well you probably should be taking advantage of that by trading one.

    Should be a universal rule of thumb: put guys in the scarcest slot they qualify for. If you’ve got surplus, deal it for something you need.

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  9. C says:

    If I draft Buster Posey, and I’m looking at a replacement level catcher or a replacement level 1B, I’m going to want the replacement level 1B every time. If I can have Posey and Alonso, I’d much rather have that than Posey and Maldonado. If I’m going to play Posey at 1B I still need a catcher, if I’m going to catch Posey I still need a 1B, unless you’ve just got an opportunity to pick up someone you think will be a star catcher (maybe a recent callup) off the waiver wire you shouldn’t do it. The positional flexibility provided by HAVING 1st base eligible catchers is potentially helpful in this way, but you almost never want to actually slot them at first base, you’re just weakening your team and allowing someone else to have Yonder Alonso or Todd Helton while you wonder why you’re getting no production out of catcher with Martin Maldonado or Kurt Suzuki.

    Someone in my league this year broke the bank to get Posey and slotted him at 1st base. I can guarantee you he would have gotten better production from a $1 first baseman than he got from his 2 $1 catchers. He should have used Posey as a catcher, this shouldn’t even be up for debate.

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