Catching First Base | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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Catching First Base

By on December 31, 2013

One of the most popular 1B scenarios among Brewers fans is to try Rickie Weeks at first. The argument goes something like this: Since Scooter Gennett broke out in 2013, he deserves the Brewers’ starting 2B job. But, since Weeks is earning too much for a probable trade or bench job, it is worth it for the Brewers to try to get him as many as PA as possible to recover his previous success. One of the drawbacks to Weeks at 1B is that Weeks has not ever played 1B in his professional career. While one might argue that Weeks could make the move to 1B because his primary position is on the tougher end of the defensive spectrum.

If Weeks does not work at 1B, fear not: the Brewers have a set of in-house options, including fan favorite catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers started working Lucroy at first base in 2013, in order to find a way to rest their catcher without taking his bat out of the batting order. That spring crash course at 1B helped the club when the Brewers faced replacement issues during Corey Hart‘s absence. Lucroy made his first 1B start in July, and his experience at first raises a question from fans: why not give Lucroy some starts at 1B?

Instantly, one can find reasons that Lucroy ought not start at 1B in significant time. Specifically, Lucroy is the club’s best catcher. Aside from handling the bat and emerging as a strong offensive catcher, Lucroy also adroitly handles the glove. The Brewers’ equation at catcher is not one of balancing a poor-fielding, good-hitting catcher against a poor-hitting, good-fielding option; while both the Brewers’ catchers are good with the glove, Lucroy has the added benefit of swinging a solid bat. This set of benefits alone should settle the first base debate.

Catching 100 Games
There is another scenario where Lucroy’s work as catcher could impact his playing time at first base: simply stated, catching regularly wears down players and leaves them unable to start a full season behind the dish. Whereas other fielders may be judged by their ability to play 150 games (or more) as a full season, most catchers hardly make it to 120 starts at home plate.

In fact, in the last five years, only 32 catchers have started 100 games or more in the MLB (this includes five catchers that retired between 2009 and 2012). Among active catchers, only Yadier Molina and A.J. Pierzynski started 100 games in each of the last five years. Eight of the 27 active catchers have started 100 games in at least four of the last five years. Indeed, full-time starting catchers are a rarity:

Catcher GS 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009
M. Weiters 134 132 129 121 84
Y. Molina 128 133 131 130 136
S. Perez 126 74 39 n/a n/a
J. Lucroy 122 80 114 74 n/a
B. Posey 119 111 41 75 4
R. Martin 117 116 118 89 133
J.P. Arencibia 115 91 118 7 n/a
M. Montero 111 136 131 75 101
A.J. Pierzynski 111 121 112 123 124
J. Saltalamacchia 111 95 96 6 82
A.J. Ellis 109 128 25 34 2
W. Castillo 107 46 5 n/a n/a
W. Rosario 103 100 14 n/a n/a
N. Hundley 102 56 73 73 71
C. Iannetta 102 71 105 49 87
J. Buck 101 103 129 104 41
A. Avila 96 107 130 84 17
B. McCann 91 113 118 129 124
C. Ruiz 83 95 113 109 100
K. Suzuki 82 113 127 121 132
W. Ramos 77 24 106 14 21
J. Mauer 73 72 47 107 105
D. Navarro 53 16 46 36 105
G. Soto 49 92 119 97 92
G. Laird 33 49 23 76 123
M. Olivo 15 68 120 107 97
V. Martinez 3 n/a 26 106 82
*Excluded (end of career) J. Kendall I. Rodriguez B. Molina J. Varitek R. Barajas

The demands of catching regularly open a new opportunity for Lucroy at first base. Given that catching between 100 and 130 games is quite a heavy workload for catchers, the Brewers could use starts at first base to keep some of that wear and tear away from Lucroy’s body. Yet, the scarcity of good, regular catchers suggests that Lucroy’s value is highest behind home plate. This introduces a new balance for the Brewers: do the Brewers embrace the full value of having a solid hitting, regular catcher, or do they mitigate the risk of potential injury risks by splitting some of Lucroy’s starts at 1B?

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.

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