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).


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Brian
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Brian

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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